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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Innovations in Teacher Prep Programs

During the past couple years, teacher preparation programs have been taking a lot of heat. Everyone from the Secretary of Education to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is concerned about the performance of colleges of education, calling for teacher education to be "turned upside down" in this country. And the National Council on Teacher Quality and U.S. News and World Report recently announced an ambitious new project to rate the teacher education offerings in all 1,400 of America's schools of education, one might assume in response to concerns about their quality.

The vast, vast majority of new teachers come through colleges of education. And to be honest, I am sure that some of those programs are not so hot. But there are others that have developed innovative strategies to prepare their students to teach in 21st century classrooms -- and we should take care not to lump all programs together in conversations about the state of teacher preparation in this country.

University/District Partnerships in Florida

A recent Blue Ribbon Panel on teacher preparation stressed the importance of grounding the pre-service teacher experience in clinical practice. The University of Florida's College of Education does just that. For over ten years they have worked in partnership with the communities they serve, developing clinical programs that meet community needs while helping their own students gain important experience. For example, in the first field experience the university offers, pre-service teachers work one-on-one with children who live in public housing communities, generally in a recreation facility or center in a public housing neighborhood.

The program was developed with the executive director of the local public housing authority and a captain from the police department as a result of their concerns for children in those neighborhoods, and as a result of feedback from university graduates who felt they lacked preparation in working with children and families from backgrounds different from their own.

The college is also working with school districts to strengthen its ESOL program. All its students graduate with ESOL endorsement from the state of Florida, with ESOL competencies woven throughout the program. But in the area where they are located, there is not a large population of students who speak English as a second language. So the college has partnered with other districts throughout the state -- districts serving a larger population of ESOL students -- to give their students more experience with the unique challenges and opportunities of educating this population so that as teachers, graduates will be better equipped to serve them.

Co-(Student) Teaching in Minnesota

Another innovative approach to teacher education comes from Minnesota's St. Cloud State University. The University's "co-teaching" model of student teaching prepares new teachers for the challenges of the job while keeping master teachers in the classroom. The rationale is two-fold. Research shows the importance of mentoring new teachers, so why not push that mentoring down into the student teaching experience? And also, why do student teaching programs take effective, experienced teachers out of the classroom while novice teachers are learning? They should always be available to work with kids.

In these co-taught classrooms, a student teacher works with a cooperating teacher. The student teacher is actively engaged with children from the first day, assisting the cooperating teacher. As the experience progresses, the roles reverse -- the cooperating teacher becomes the assistant.

The benefits are huge. Not only do student teachers have support in the classroom, but the expertise of master teachers is not "lost" for a semester while a novice teacher takes over. Plus, student teachers learn how to effectively utilize adult resources, helping them maximize the impact of a paraprofessional or parent volunteer in the classroom, for example. And they graduate knowing how to collaborate with other professionals -- a skill that is increasingly valued in educators.

The best part of this model? It benefits children. Four years of research show that students in these co-taught classrooms outperform students in classrooms using other models of student teaching. They even outperform students taught by a single experienced teacher.

The Bottom Line

Given all the negative attention that colleges of education have received over the past several months, it would be easy to write them off -- to dedicate our teacher preparation resources towards alternative (and unproven) preparation programs, rather than university-based programs. But we shouldn't do that. Again, colleges of teacher education prepare the vast majority of our new teachers -- and they are constantly developing innovative new ways to ensure these teachers are ready to be effective in the classroom.

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Greg Young's picture
Greg Young
Educator, Facilitator, School Coach

I'd like to highlight a difference between "Excellent" teacher prep programs and "innovative" teacher prep programs.

This post, and many of the comments highlight what I would consider "excellent" teacher prep programs. Those that give teachers-in-training lots of mentoring and hands on classroom experience that is supported by the classes as well as the schools they are in. Teacher prep programs have a lot to learn from these excellent examples, and I think that would be a huge step forward.

"Innovative" teacher prep programs however are those programs that prepare teachers for a totally different classroom experience. Often, teacher-candidates have no frame of reference for what a non-traditional or "21st Century" classroom would even look like, and most teacher prep programs, even "excellent" ones don't have a large pool of these schools to draw from to place student-teachers.

Some examples that I can point to where teacher preparation truly looks innovative are places like High Tech High, which has its own Master's degree for first year teachers, or the Eagle Rock School which has an onsite Professional Development Center, or Big Picture Learning Schools who have teacher learning plans and spend a considerable amount of time inducting new teachers.

So there is value in calibrating what defines innovation in schools, and building teacher prep programs that truly immerse teachers in these experiences. The question is one of capacity for teacher prep programs to set that agenda when it isn't fully being taken up by the districts and schools that are employing these new teachers.

Anne OBrien's picture
Anne OBrien
Deputy Director of the Learning First Alliance
Blogger 2014

Greg,

You make an excellent point in the need to define "innovative" and the fact that these could just be considered examples of "excellent" teacher prep programs.

I think that in general in education reform/transformation debates, the word "innovation" has lost a lot of meaning. In general, I think it means anything that is different from the standard. Someone might label as "innovative" a teacher evaluation that includes feedback from peer reviews or the impact of the teacher on student achievement. But is that "innovative"? Or is it "excellent"? Is it new and exciting - or the way things should be - or both new and exciting AND the way things should be?

Teacher prep programs face that same dilemma...but I think, especially with the St. Cloud co-student teaching example, I think this IS a whole new way to approach student teaching. I remember having student teachers as a student - and my "real" teachers would leave the classroom. So it is a new way of doing something that has been done for years.

Of course, you are right that innovative programs would also prepare students for the classroom of the future. And I think that programs you cite are also innovative models of preparing teachers.

Also, by the way, the capacity issue you raise is spot on. Without a partnership between a teacher prep program and the districts/schools it serves, the program can be as innovative as can be - and its graduates will not be prepared to handle the issues of the classroom.

Susan Riley's picture
Susan Riley
Arts Integration Specialist
Blogger 2014

I am tending to agree with Greg on this one. Innovative teaching is providing our new colleagues the newest techniques that are proving to be effective. Towson University in Maryland is now offering arts integration training as a part of their teacher prep programs, as is the University of Maryland Baltimore County. I think this is a great example of innovative teacher prep programs because they are requiring these teachers to learn how to engage students in their classrooms using non-traditional methods. Obviously, as an arts integration site coordinator and a blogger on the subject (http://educationcloset.com) I feel like this method has many benefits. But beyond that, I feel strongly that our higher education system in this country is really lagging behind at teacher prep. If we want true innovation in our teaching profession, we must model it through the use of web 2.0, 21st century learning practices and providing as many research-based innovative practice models as we can to give our newest teachers a head start at professional growth and a curiosity to learn more.

Liam Goldrick's picture

Anne,

Thanks for highlighting the best of what is happening in teacher preparation. I thought you and other readers might be interested in some additional information on this topic. In a policy paper I wrote for my employer (New Teacher Center) in 2009 as part of a Carnegie-funded project, I highlighted some promising university-school partnership models of teacher preparation as well as state policies that bridge pre-service education and teacher induction. Hope it may be of interest.

http://www.newteachercenter.org/pdfs/NTC_Policy_Brief-Teacher_Dev_Contin...

Gina's picture

Hi Anne:
Can you please provide me with more information about this statement, "Four years of research show that students in these co-taught classrooms outperform students in classrooms using other models of student teaching. They even outperform students taught by a single experienced teacher." The citations for the research would be helpful.
Thanks!

Gail Phillips's picture
Gail Phillips
Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, Brock University, Ontario, Can.

Ideas and ways of thinking that spark innovations in education, and that have a positive impact on teaching and learning, often become the excellent strategies that we adopt as educators. Based on my experiences and research, the Tribes Learning Community process, developed by Jeanne Gibbs, is an example of an innovation that has the potential to inform best practice at faculties of education and to impact faculty, graduates of the program, the students in their future classrooms, and the communities in which we all teach and learn. The Tribes process is based on relationships and the value of school culture and community-building in order to construct meaningful and safe environments for learning and improved professional practice.

The challenges related to beginning-teacher-education programs are topics of debate in Canada, as well as in the United States. In an extensive pan-Canadian study, Crocker and Dibbon (2008) identified the need for research to inform best practice in beginning-teacher-education, noting that faculties of education are frequently investigating, piloting, and implementing new innovations but rarely examine their impact in the field. I have taught at a faculty of education for eight years. During my second year, I began to implement Tribes, and the results were so significant that I began a research project with former teacher candidates in my cohort groups. The research examined Tribes training as a component of a beginning-teacher-education program. The study involved investigating teacher candidates' perceptions of the effectiveness of Tribes training in enhancing their learning, their concerns about implementing the Tribes process, and their use of Tribes during the beginning-teacher-education year and their first four years of teaching.

Over 86% of my former students (96/111) responded to my request to complete a questionnaire and to participate in an interview. This high response rate did not surprise me because we had maintained the learning community that we had created during the beginning-teacher-education year. The research findings, however, did surprise me. I had anticipated that my former students would tell me that implementing Tribes in the real world of schools was not as easy or as possible as it seemed. I expected that those teaching in JK to Grade 3 would be implementing the process, based on the nature of primary programs ... and that implemention in Grades 4-6 would be happening to some degree ... and that by Grade 7, the demands of a traditional rotary timetable with subject experts, combined with the nature of the adolescent learner, would prevent most teachers from implementing Tribes. In spite of the challenges of being a teacher, particularly for those within their first five years, and of implementing Tribes in an imperfect world, the data clearly indicated that all but two participants were using Tribes with classes from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 Calculus.

Such a sustained effort on the part of beginning teachers to implement Tribes is unexpected, given the competing demands on their time and efforts, and the inadequacy that they often feel. The research indicates that their commitment and perseverance lies in the Tribes training and experiences lived during their beginning-teacher-education year. They described the sense of community that was created and sustained with the other members of the cohort group, and the strength that came from meeting the challenges of teaching and learning together. The collaborative work, the discussion of tough questions, the problem solving, and the reflections on their academic learning and teaching practice, had an impact on their philosophies of education and their belief systems. They wanted to create learning communities for their students as a result of the Tribes experiences that they had shared with their cohort. Learning about the process through discussion, demonstration, guided practice, feedback, and reflection helped to prepare them to go beyond thinking like teachers, and to act upon their beliefs.

My former teacher-candidates identified learning about the Tribes process as one of the fundamental components in their beginning-teacher-education program that helped them to become more effective teachers. In the words of one of them, "Think about what could happen if the Tribes process was carried throughout a student's whole educational experience from Kindergarten to Grade 12. What a tremendous difference it would make in the lives of kids and the world!" Just think about it . . . and imagine.

Gail Phillips's picture
Gail Phillips
Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, Brock University, Ontario, Can.

Ideas and ways of thinking that spark innovations in education, and that have a positive impact on teaching and learning, often become the excellent strategies that we adopt as educators. Based on my experiences and research, the Tribes Learning Community process, developed by Jeanne Gibbs, is an example of an innovation that has the potential to inform best practice at faculties of education and to impact faculty, graduates of the program, the students in their future classrooms, and the communities in which we all teach and learn. The Tribes process is based on relationships and the value of school culture and community-building in order to construct meaningful and safe environments for learning and improved professional practice.

The challenges related to beginning-teacher-education programs are topics of debate in Canada, as well as in the United States. In an extensive pan-Canadian study, Crocker and Dibbon (2008) identified the need for research to inform best practice in beginning-teacher-education, noting that faculties of education are frequently investigating, piloting, and implementing new innovations but rarely examine their impact in the field. I have taught at a faculty of education for eight years. During my second year, I began to implement Tribes, and the results were so significant that I began a research project with former teacher candidates in my cohort groups. The research examined Tribes training as a component of a beginning-teacher-education program. The study involved investigating teacher candidates' perceptions of the effectiveness of Tribes training in enhancing their learning, their concerns about implementing the Tribes process, and their use of Tribes during the beginning-teacher-education year and their first four years of teaching.

Over 86% of my former students (96/111) responded to my request to complete a questionnaire and to participate in an interview. This high response rate did not surprise me because we had maintained the learning community that we had created during the beginning-teacher-education year. The research findings, however, did surprise me. I had anticipated that my former students would tell me that implementing Tribes in the real world of schools was not as easy or as possible as it seemed. I expected that those teaching in JK to Grade 3 would be implementing the process, based on the nature of primary programs ... and that implemention in Grades 4-6 would be happening to some degree ... and that by Grade 7, the demands of a traditional rotary timetable with subject experts, combined with the nature of the adolescent learner, would prevent most teachers from implementing Tribes. In spite of the challenges of being a teacher, particularly for those within their first five years, and of implementing Tribes in an imperfect world, the data clearly indicated that all but two participants were using Tribes with classes from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12 Calculus.

Such a sustained effort on the part of beginning teachers to implement Tribes is unexpected, given the competing demands on their time and efforts, and the inadequacy that they often feel. The research indicates that their commitment and perseverance lies in the Tribes training and experiences lived during their beginning-teacher-education year. They described the sense of community that was created and sustained with the other members of the cohort group, and the strength that came from meeting the challenges of teaching and learning together. The collaborative work, the discussion of tough questions, the problem solving, and the reflections on their academic learning and teaching practice, had an impact on their philosophies of education and their belief systems. They wanted to create learning communities for their students as a result of the Tribes experiences that they had shared with their cohort. Learning about the process through discussion, demonstration, guided practice, feedback, and reflection helped to prepare them to go beyond thinking like teachers, and to act upon their beliefs.

My former teacher-candidates identified learning about the Tribes process as one of the fundamental components in their beginning-teacher-education program that helped them to become more effective teachers. In the words of one of them, "Think about what could happen if the Tribes process was carried throughout a student's whole educational experience from Kindergarten to Grade 12. What a tremendous difference it would make in the lives of kids and the world!" Just think about it . . . and imagine.

Teresita Frazier's picture

Hi Anne,
What a great post! I remembered my internship to teacher prep. I had a fantastic master teacher and professor, both were very instrumental in helping me every step of the way. What I was not trained was the disciplinary component of how to deal with at-risk students and/or troubled students. The math students I taught for this internship were registered in Algebra II and Geometry. I did not encounter any disciplinary problem with these students. My first two years as a new teacher was not how I had expected. I had remedial math classes. These students were not like the students I had during my internship. For this, I would like to know if student teachers are now assigned to both learning settings. If not, why?

Dan Recchio's picture

I agree with many of the things that have been stated on this page. I myself felt very prepared for many of the things my first year of teaching would throw at me. My college had excellent instruction, required me to do several hours of service learning (much of which was done in city schools), I had to sit in a mock interview prior to receiving my degree, and had a great cooperating teacher when I student taught. Now as a teacher, I agree that I can continue to grow, but I find the most value in discussing effective practices with my co-workers. Much of the training I have been involved since becoming a teacher has not benefited me nearly as much as the fine people I met and discussed education with at said trainings. I think many times all of the "innovative" programs are force fed to teachers who are not ready or have not had sufficient training to implement them successfully. I think this time might be better spent utilizing things like PLC meetings and other cooperative practices, until such a times as a district or school is fully committed to adopting some of the afore mentioned programs.

RDuzan's picture
RDuzan
Preservice teacher, University of Florida College of Education

I am currently a student in the ProTeach program in the College of Education at the University of Florida. I appreciate that you called attention to our program, which has definitely given me many experiences that I feel will help me when I become a full-fledged teacher. The program that you mention in your post is called the Bright Futures program (not to be confused with the Bright Futures college scholarship program). The Bright Futures program is one of the first field experiences that UF preservice teachers must complete.

As part of this program, I was placed with a struggling fourth grader in an after school program, and it was my responsibility to work with her parents and her teacher to develop activities to meet her needs. I encountered many frustrations in working with her parents, who never seemed to have time to speak with me, and her teacher, who seemed to have given up on her. By the end of the experience, I was able to meet with her mom, and I learned a valuable lesson: parents who do not meet their children's teachers really do want to help their children, but their other responsibilities can get in the way, and they don't always know how to help. Needless to say, this was a transforming experience for both myself and for my student. (And this is just the first field experience I completed! There is one in every semester that addresses an important aspect of teaching.)

There is hope for teacher education programs! I will graduate in December 2011 with a master's in educational technology - and I feel incredibly prepared to jump right into teaching. :)

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