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Professional Development Opinion

Response: Colleges of Ed Can Make “Lifetime Commitments” to Working Teachers

By Larry Ferlazzo — January 09, 2016 17 min read
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This week’s question is:

How can Colleges of Education best respond to the needs of working teachers?

I think when most of us active teachers think about colleges of education, we tend to think about our past -- when we had to go through a credential program to become a teacher. Today’s column will explore other ways to look at that question with Benjamin Riley, Charis Anderson, Pia L Wong, Megan Allen, Mike Flynn and Jack Schneider. I’ve also included comments from readers. You can listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Alicia, Maria and Donna on my BAM! Radio Show. You can find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

I’ve recently become an adjunct faculty member of the College of Education at California State University, Sacramento, which has increased my desire to learn about possible answers to this question...

Response From Benjamin Riley & Charis Anderson

Benjamin Riley is the founder and executive director of Deans for Impact, a new organization composed of deans of colleges of education who advocate for the improvement of teacher preparation in the United States. Prior to founding Deans for Impact, Riley worked with an international government on education policy, as the policy director for a national education nonprofit, and as a deputy attorney general for the State of California.

Charis Anderson is the director of communications at Deans for Impact. Anderson previously worked as the director of publications for a Boston-based national education nonprofit and also spent more than five years as a reporter at a local newspaper in Massachusetts.

Deans for Impact’s headquarters are in Austin, Texas:

Graduation day - a day that launches many with newly minted diplomas into their profession of choice. But does it also mark the end of their relationship with the college or university that prepared them for their professional careers?

Not in all professions. In legal and medical circles, for example, where you attended school becomes part of your professional identity. It tells people something about you, and it’s probably something you mention when someone asks you about your work. And because the success of alumni reflects back on the programs that produced them, these professional schools are invested in making sure their graduates have the tools and support they need to be successful long after graduation day. (Admittedly, they are often invested in soliciting alumni donations, too.)

Colleges of education haven’t always been as attentive to their relationships with the professionals they prepare, namely, new teachers and schools leaders. Some survey their graduates after a year or two in the classroom, and some provide ongoing professional development, but these programs are the exception to the rule. Many, if not most, pay scant attention to nurturing an ongoing relationship nor are they interested in seeing how the teacher has changed over time and the impact he or she is having on their own students.

At Deans for Impact, we think that’s a missed opportunity.

First, a brief bit of background: Deans for Impact is a new national nonprofit organization composed of deans of colleges and schools of education and other educator-preparation program leaders. We are working together to develop a collective vision of how to transform the field and improve the effectiveness of educators we prepare. By design, the programs led by our member deans serve diverse communities that range from large urban cities to remote rural areas, and hail from a variety of institutions including Johns Hopkins University, USC, University of Texas-Permian Basin, and the Boston Teacher Residency (for a full list click here).

At present, the members of our organization are spending a lot of time thinking about how to create a tight nexus between the programs they lead and the school districts they serve. Just as new doctors cultivate many of their skills and habits of mind in their clinical residencies, we believe that new teachers are deeply influenced in their behaviors by the school environments in which they begin their careers. In our collective view, educator-preparation programs will only be effective if there’s a robust “feedback loop” that exchanges information between programs, schools, and educators.

How might we make this happen? We see at least four avenues for immediate improvement. First, we need to adopt policies that better connect higher education and K-12 data systems; there are a few states making progress on this front, but there’s much work to be done here. Second, educator-preparation programs should prioritize tracking, surveying and collaborating with their alumni to get their perspective about what worked -- and what was missing -- as part of their preservice training and then use those data to transform their own programs. Third, so-called ‘professional development’ that K-12 districts arrange to provide to practicing teachers varies widely in quality, and educator-preparation programs can and should play a larger role in helping districts and teachers identify effective (and ineffective) PD offerings Finally, we need to reorient academic research around issues that practicing educators will find useful, and do a better job of communicating where there is a relative consensus around the best methods for improving student learning.

These are a just a few areas where the connections between colleges and schools of education and practicing teachers might be strengthened. As we work with our member deans on reinforcing the relationships their programs have with the broader education community, we would love to hear from teachers in the field about the type of relationship they maintain with their alma maters. We want to know: Do you receive existing support from the program that prepared you? If so, how would you judge its quality? And if not, would you like to receive more? What sort of support would be most helpful to you in your first or second year as a teacher? What sort of support would be helpful throughout your career when you find yourself struggling with a specific issue or problem of practice?

Educators with answers to these questions or other related ideas are urged to get in touch with Charis Anderson, Deans for Impact’s communications director, at canderson@deansforimpact.org.

Response From Pia L. Wong

Pia L. Wong is a professor in the Department of Teaching Credentials at California State University, Sacramento:

Colleges of education can play a powerful role in ensuring that the teaching force in their service area is implementing effective teaching practices that lead to high quality outcomes for students, particularly those who are low income, English learners, and culturally and racially diverse. Since this blog is read by a national audience, it is important to highlight a few significant features of the credentialing and teacher preparation infrastructure in California.

First, there is no “education” major; most licensure programs are post-baccalaureate and there is not necessarily a strong linkage - on university campuses - between undergraduate preparation and teacher preparation. Second, induction for in-service teachers is required in order for the novice teacher to earn a professional credential (“clear” credential), but this is primarily accomplished through the novice teacher’s place of employment; there is less alignment between teacher preparation programs and district induction programs than there could be, in most cases. Third, for this particular piece, I will be focusing primarily on teacher credential programs - which are an important part of colleges of education, but not the only part. In my college, we have undergraduate degree programs in child development and deaf studies, preliminary teaching credential programs, advanced credentials (administrator credentials, school counselor credentials), Master’s programs (curriculum and instruction, multicultural education, instructional technology, etc.) and an Ed.D. program in Educational Leadership.

With those distinctions made, here are a few important ways colleges of education in California can support working teachers:

(1) Be firmly connected to local schools and classrooms through supervision of student teachers, professional learning offerings, and applied research. The more connected the college of education faculty is to the realities of classrooms, teachers, students, and schools, the better and more relevant the educator preparation curriculum (in all roles - teacher, administrator, counselor, etc.):

a. Supervision of student teachers: this can be difficult to work into a tenure track faculty member’s workload, but the benefits to doing so are enormous. Many faculty members were classroom teachers, but that classroom teacher perspective and knowledge base quickly become obsolete given how dynamic the typical school and classroom setting are. Supervising student teachers serves to keep faculty members’ knowledge base current and provides them with opportunities to create real-world applications for the information they present in their classes. It also offers faculty members an opportunity to connect with classroom teachers around problems of practice, shared research interests and other kinds of issues which they can transform into.....

b. Professional learning offerings: An engaged college of education faculty member should be continually researching ways to advance practice in the profession. By virtue of their training and the university’s expectations and tenure/promotion system, college of education faculty members must engage in research and stay current on contributions of research to cognitive science, student engagement, student assessment, school transformation, policy implementation, and other topics. Working teachers and even those in district offices tend to pay more attention to information promoted by professional associations and textbook publishers. These sources are sometimes rooted in current research, but not always. College of education faculty can play an important role by making cutting edge research accessible to practicing teachers. They can do this by translating it into knowledge and practices that are useful and relevant to teachers. And how will they know? Through...

c. Collaborative applied research: Countries with high performing education systems engage teachers in cycles of inquiry where they have many systematic and supported opportunities to create new knowledge for the profession. In the U.S., teachers tend NOT to be knowledge creators (other than what they do on a daily basis in their own classroom), but rather consumers of knowledge that others have created (and sometimes, these others are not actually educators). Faculty in colleges of education could play an important role in changing this dynamic by working with teachers to develop an applied research agenda and implementing it together. Lesson study, action research, and even evaluation of curriculum projects or intervention efforts can all be ways for faculty and teachers to work together on research that informs the profession.

(2) Offer programs that reflect the typical arc of educator development and provide key supports at different times along that arc of development:

a. Colleges of education should actively create alumni networks so that new teachers have a much needed source of support during their initial years of teaching. New teachers need to be connected to the peers that they completed the credential program with as well as the faculty that taught them.

b. Colleges of education should provide graduate programs that are attractive to a range of different teacher interests. While some might be interested in a traditional master’s program that focuses on mostly academic questions, others may want to engage in a deep study of applied practices. In a similar vein, colleges of education should lead the way on their campuses to assist teachers that want to pursue graduate study that is not just pedagogical in nature but provides teachers with opportunities to deepen subject matter knowledge as well. A high school biology teacher should have an opportunity to complete a master’s program that improves his/her pedagogical knowledge while also gaining better understanding of advances in the subject matter discipline.

(3) Maintain connections with elected officials and policy makers. Through their work on #1 and #2 above, colleges of education can be important advocates for policies and programs that support teachers, improve student learning and transform schools into community assets that promote social justice and educational equity.

Response From Megan Allen & Mike Flynn

Megan M. Allen is a National Board Certified Teacher and the 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year. She currently is serving as the director at Mount Holyoke Programs in Teacher Leadership, which has just launched an online Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership. She has taught for ten years, most as an elementary and special education teacher, serving in Title One schools in Hillsborough County, FL. Megan enjoys blogging for the Center for Teaching Quality at Musings of a Red Headed Teacher and co-hosting #Edugeekchat the 2ndand 4th Thursday of every month (visit the archives here).

Mike Flynn (@mikeflynn55) is the 2008 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and the Director of Master of Arts in Mathematics Teaching at Mount Holyoke College:

How can colleges of education better support the needs of our public school teachers?

Simply put: By knowing exactly what those needs are.

By moving in sync with working teachers--by knowing and feeling the ebbs and flows, the ups and downs of the classroom.

So how can we help colleges of education know exactly what those needs are?

We should preface by saying that we hear the lyrics from “Don’t Rock the Boat” playing in the backs of our minds. This idea is not new...teacher leaders and education advocates have been rallying around this for years. But it needs to be mentioned again, for the “change train” hasn’t budged much (yet). So maybe we need to rock the boat in order to make this happen.

We need more public educators working in higher education, teaching our pre-service teachers. Working as the conduit between K-12 and higher education. We need educators working inside higher education, and more colleges of education classes working inside public education. One way to make this happen: educators-in-residence.

Both of us had the unique opportunity to be educators-in-residence, at University of Central Florida and Westfield State University in Massachusetts. We had a year to be the connection piece between public schools and colleges of teacher education, tackling this question specifically. Almost like “educator splices,” we helped intertwine and deepen the relationship between PK-12 and colleges of education (or start these relationships, in some cases). We worked as public school teachers on leave from our classrooms, teaching in higher education, supervising interns, and working with staff and faculty on both sides of our world in order to better connect the two. One foot in public education, one foot in a college of education, helping to prepare new teachers.

So how often is this happening? Were these two colleges of education anomalies, or is this happening more and more?

We did a quick search on the web, and these seem to be few and far between (* big sigh*).

As we think about the progression of preparing and supporting teachers during their professional life, there is a continuum that begins in our colleges of education, stretches through induction, and then continues with our veteran teachers. There are no stopping points, but instead just one continuous spectrum. Two of the major players that support this development are colleges of education and our public school districts, so why would those two operate in isolation? Or in ways that seem like a partnership, but are not deeply intertwined?

We must do a better job of blending the two players and blurring the line between them. As two players on the same team, working for the same goal, we must do a better job being in sync. Knowing each others needs, with eyes on the prize--our students.

So let’s get more educators-in-residence. More teachers working in higher education, perhaps in a hybrid role or on leave for a year and working inside colleges of education. More teacher education classrooms inside our public schools, in the classrooms of our master educators.

It’s time to rock the boat.

Response From Jack Schneider

Jack Schneider is an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross. He is currently completing a book about how parents and policymakers measure school quality, and is the author of two previous books. Follow him on Twitter @Edu_Historian:

Departments and colleges of education at colleges and universities can best serve working teachers by doing one simple and spectacular thing: making a lifetime commitment.

In the past decade, alternative training models like Teacher Residencies and Teach For America have ramped up their support for working teachers. That isn’t to say that they do it perfectly, or that other aspects of those models should be imitated. But they do offer proof of concept.

Departments and colleges of education can go one step further--offering support to graduates for the duration of their careers. Now, that isn’t to say that such support would be constantly active and consistently robust. A more reasonable model would require tapering down after the first year or two. Nevertheless, colleges and universities are in an excellent position to offer ongoing support to teachers, whether through on-campus PD opportunities, post-graduate coursework, affinity groups, or connections with scholars.

For their part, colleges and universities stand to gain a great deal from a move like this. Increasingly under attack over the past ten years, traditional teacher licensure programs are regularly portrayed as irrelevant and overpriced. They aren’t. But as they continue to make that case, they should also be looking for opportunities to distinguish themselves from lower-investment models. Making a lifetime commitment to teachers would make a powerful statement about what one gets from a college- or university-based program.

One challenge traditional teacher education programs would face in making this kind of lifetime commitment is that of location. Many teachers do not work close enough to their alma maters to take advantage of on-campus opportunities. But there are two ways to solve this problem. One is by leveraging online communities. Certainly there are big questions about the degree to which online learning is valuable; but it is territory worth exploring. The other move colleges and universities could make would be to band together to form teacher education consortia. Imagine a graduate of Holy Cross working in Washington, DC and taking classes at Georgetown, or a Georgetown grad working in San Jose and taking classes at Santa Clara.

Such a shift would certainly require that departments and colleges of education rethink their programming. But much of that is happening already, which forward-looking teacher educators finding ways to better prepare graduates for life in classrooms, and looking to support them as they transition from students to teachers.

Responses From Readers

Thanks to Benjamin, Charis, Pia, Meghan and Jack , and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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