Written by Sherry Sanden, Assistant Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University
With support from a SoTL Travel Grant awarded by the Office of the Cross Chair in SoTL at ISU, I attended the Association of Teacher Educators (ATE) Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida in February, 2017 to present a paper titled Examining the Impact of Multi-Year School-University Partnerships on Pre-service Teacher Learning. In this presentation, my research colleagues and I explained our planning, implementation, and outcomes of the exploration of a university-school partnership that enabled us to prioritize and study three significant components of ISU pre-service teachers’ learning: their classroom field experiences, the in-service teachers with whom they worked, and the university structures that supported them in the field.
In our presentation, we explained how we supported the preparation of ISU pre-service teachers through a collaborative partnership between our early childhood teacher preparation program and a local public elementary school. Important components of the partnership included 1) two-day per week pre-student teaching clinical experiences in the kindergarten through Grade 3 classrooms of the partner school for a full year; 2) weekly collaborative sessions between the pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, and clinical supervisors; 3) a content course for the pre- service teachers, co-taught in the school setting by an early childhood faculty member and in-service teachers from the partner school; and 4) professional learning opportunities in the form of book studies conducted by early childhood faculty members and attended by pre-service and in-service teachers.
Relying on focus groups and interviews with pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, school administration, and university faculty; as well as on observations of pre-service teacher instruction, interactions, and reflections occurring across the school year, we evaluated the ability of the partnership to support the growth of pre-service teachers while maintaining the mission of the school in educating its student population. Utilizing the perceptions of all stakeholders and participants, we determined some aspects of the partnership that appeared to be most beneficial in supporting growth in the pre-service teacher participants, including strong and frequent faculty presence in the school setting, a university course embedded on site, support and mentoring for the pre-service and in-service teachers, and a consistent year-long location for teacher candidates. Demonstrated gains included a) increased pre-service teacher confidence in their practice, (b) improved teaching skills and abilities among pre-service teachers, and (c) stronger relationships and greater collaboration among pre-service and in-service teachers, school administrators, and university faculty.
Implications from this study include more clarity regarding the critical aspects involved with university-school partnerships, a better understanding of how pre- and in-service teachers can be mutually supported, and ultimately, identification of ways that clinical experiences can be maximized through a partnership model. Our interactive presentation provided an opportunity to discuss structures of university/school partnerships in the varied contexts of our presentation attendees. As we explained the results and implications of our ISU partnership practices, we provided opportunities for our audience to share questions or suggestions that further expanded our ideas. I believe this collaborative sharing inspired all of us to delve more deeply into the possibilities for partnerships that move beyond the traditional methods of placing pre-service teachers in schools and toward mutually beneficial collaborative relationships.
Our research work and subsequent presentation at ATE were consistent with the conference theme of Teacher Educators: Inspiring the Future, Honoring the Past in its goal of exploring innovative ways to improve on established methods of teacher education. Having the opportunity to share with teacher educators outside ISU the ways we have studied the learning of our ISU teacher candidates allowed all of us to grow in our understanding of options for building even stronger supports for university/school relationships in support of pre-service teacher growth as well as of methods of studying that important work.