Teacher Education Exposed: Evaluation for the Continuous Improvement of Clinical Preparation Programs by Focusing on Integration

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Teacher education seems to continually face its share of critics, perhaps more so than other fields like engineering and nursing. As professional programs, they all share matters of professional standards, accountability (namely via accreditation), and licensure, certification, or registration of their members. Yet, education is the one profession whereby legislatures and laymen alike hold regular judgment of its practitioners and their preparation. Despite many successes, the synecdoche of the single “teacher of the year,” or the single “bad” teacher prevails in shaping public opinion, and unfortunately, policy. These individual cases are often narrow in scope. But, their impact on the profession can be far reaching.

University-based programs prepare a vast majority of the nation’s teaching force. Even still, there is a growing belief that market-based approaches espoused by the proliferation of alternate route programs are essential for improving the profession. Much of the critique of teacher education has to do with its familiarity and its unknowns. Most Americans have spent a significant share of their formative years in schools, day-in-and-out, working with teachers. This level of access makes teaching familiar and vulnerable to scrutiny. Conversely, even new teacher education candidates are innocently blind to the skillful intricacies of masterful teaching. This is particularly true when each purposefully crafted instructional maneuver appears effortless, making each vicissitude seem easy enough for anyone who dares to think he can, able to teach.

This is just one contradiction defining the political landscape of educator preparation that programs must address directly. Like engineering and nursing, teacher preparation is a theory-to-practice based profession, full of complexities. It is incumbent upon the profession to better manage that which is familiar and that which is unknown to the public; thereby recasting the polarizing, synecdoche-driven narrative to one that fully explains continuous improvement and the positive impact of educator preparation. The one area where programing is most visible and open to critique is the clinical experience. Moreover, programs must harness the nature of critique for its own good.

Both higher education professionals (Cochran-Smith, 1991; Musset, 2010; Purpel, 1967) and teacher candidates (Anderson & Stillman, 2013; Evertson, 1990) agree indisputably that the clinical experience is the most important aspect of teacher preparation programs. The clinical experience in its totality consists of early P-12 classroom-based practica culminating with an extended student teaching segment. The experience encompasses those “hands-on,” experiential learning events, whereby teacher candidates “are provided opportunities to test out theory and practice in authentic school settings, to engage in problem solving and to develop their skills, informed by professional competencies” (Easley & Tulowitzki, 2013, p. 756). While no two teacher preparation programs are exactly alike, most states have established a ten-week minimum for student teaching. This premise and time requirement reflect minimally agreed upon standards for clinical experiences.

Heeding the critique for the improvement of teacher preparation, the NCATE Blue Ribbon Commission, the AACTE Clinical Practice Commission, and other groups have been assembled to examine the national status of clinical programming and to develop roadmaps for effectiveness. Any set of national standards, even when supported by research, warrants deeper consideration at the local level. This is particularly sage, as implementation and practice are highly contextualized within each organization’s existing and evolving cultures. It is at this level, where therubber meets the road, that any set of global standards is further tested, hailed for its benefits, criticized for its limitations, and/or personalized during implementation. It is for the last reason that we understand the true merit of any set of standards—finding the means for efficacy among contextualized capacity.

At Eastern Connecticut State University, the Office of Educational and Clinical Experience continually refines clinical practice in light of the national knowledge base, institutional culture, and feedback from regional community members. The iterative process of change has been embraced along with the need for clear guidelines to evaluate program effectiveness on an ongoing basis. In this regard, evaluation is not operationalized for punitive action but for continuous improvement.

Institutional goals along with the availability of existing community-based resources were major influences for the guidelines development. The work of national commissions has also been instructive. And while these guidelines are unique to the needs and values of our institution, we understand that they may also be of benefit to the profession at large. Their core construction focuses on program integration for the cohesion and effectiveness of clinical preparation in teacher education with five central vectors:  Partnerships; Selection and Development of Clinical Faculty; Academic Faculty; Program Pedagogy; and Evidentiary Practice.

Guidelines for the Evaluation of Clinical Preparation Programs in Teacher Education:
A Focus on Program Integration

Partnerships (consisting of mutually-developed, goals-oriented programming among two or more participating agents) may include school districts, preparation programs, teachers’ unions, state policy makers, and other agencies committed to teacher development.

  • Partnerships are mutually constructed.
  • Partnerships focus on teacher effectiveness and high quality, seamless supports for teacher effectiveness.
  • Partnerships seek to remove barriers for teacher effectiveness.

Selection and Development of Clinical Faculty focuses on all individuals who directly supervise and/or evaluate future teachers during clinical programming.

  • S & D demonstrates evidence of clinical faculty’s understanding of the candidate development cycle, drawing on adult learning theory.
  • S & D demonstrates evidence of clinical faculty’s ability to positively impact the development and learning of teacher candidates.
  • S & D ensures the composition of clinical faculty is diverse and adequate for supporting cultural competency development among candidates.
  • S & D demonstrates evidence of routine opportunities for clinical faculty to collaborate around targeted issues and concerns regarding teacher candidates’ individual and collective development, as well as their own professional development as clinical faculty.

Academic Faculty consist of teacher preparation faculty, including those in Arts and Sciences, who are typically not directly involved in the day-to-day operations of clinical practice.

  • Academic faculty make deliberate connections that bridge content and theory into practice during coursework.
  • Academic faculty are provided data on candidate performance during clinical practice to refine teaching and academic programming.
  • Academic and clinical faculty meet routinely to ensure seamless and developmentally progressive integration of theory, content, and clinical practice.
  • Academic curricula are aligned with national and state standards regarding content knowledge within respective teacher education disciplines.

Program Pedagogy refers to teaching and learning practices within the teacher education program that focus on future teachers’ effectiveness for positively impacting learning and development among diverse P-12 learners and the school communities in which they work.

  • Clinical faculty and candidates mutually employ evidentiary and inquiry based approaches to learning, whereby practice and outcomes are the sources for generating questions for continuous improvement. Systematic processes are used to investigate inquiry-based questions. The results are documented and reflected upon individually and collaboratively.
  • Theory and content knowledge from academic coursework are seamlessly integrated into clinical practice. Clinical practice is employed throughout the academic program of study to reflect candidates’ progressive development.
  • Clinical pedagogy is based on national standards and models of excellence that demonstrate a positive impact on P-12 student learning and development, academic programming, and partnership programming.

Evidentiary Practice defines the intentionality of the teacher preparation program to meet its goals (aligned with state and national norms), to demonstrate teacher candidate effectiveness, as well as a positive impact on the profession of teacher preparation.

  • Practice is based on sound and reliable evidence that candidates are able to support the learning and development of P-12 students (including students of diverse abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, linguistic backgrounds, and cultural backgrounds). The results are documented and reported for decision-making.
  • Clear goals for candidate learning and program effectiveness are developed annually with clear targets.
  • Practice generates evidence that program outcomes (based on goals) are reviewed with partners, clinical faculty, academic faculty, and candidates/alumni. The outcomes are used for further goal setting and the development of strategies to meet goals.
  • Practice is informed by national trends of excellence and peer-reviewed research on clinical programs, and findings are shared and discussed with stakeholders for decision-making toward program improvement.

The last tenet of evidentiary practice takes us full circle by embracing the need to recast the oversimplified binary of the “good teacher, bad teacher” synecdoche by making the profession and its programing transparent. This tenant calls for programs to routinely disseminate effectiveness and continuous improvement reports to internal and external stakeholders for public accountability and commentary.

 

References

Anderson, L. M., & Stillman, J. A. (2013). Student teaching’s contribution to preservice teacher development: A review of research focused on the preparation of teachers for urban and high-needs contexts. Review of Educational Research83(1), 3-69.

Cochran-Smith, M. (1991). Reinventing student teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 42(2), 104-118.

Easley, J. & Tulowitzki, P. (2013). Policy formation of intercultural and globally minded educational leadership preparation. International Journal of Educational Management, 27(7), 744-761.

Evertson, C. M. (1990). Bridging knowledge and action through clinical experience. In D. D. Dill (Ed.), What teachers need to know (pp 94-109). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Musset, P. (2010). Initial teacher education and continuing training policies in a comparative perspective: Current practices in OECD countries and a literature review on potential effects. OECD Education Working Papers, No. 48. OECD Publishing.

Purpel, D. E. (1967) Student teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 18(1), 20-23.

 

Authors: Jacob Easley II, Dean, School of Education and Professional Studies/Graduate Division easleyj@easternct.edu and Mary-Grace Shifrin, Coordinator of Educational and Clinical Experiences at Eastern Connecticut State University shifrinm@easternct.edu.

Combining Skill Sets for Career Success

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Dr. Alex Citurs

In a recent discussion about achieving success in today’s job market, Dr. Alex Citurs, Assistant Professor of Business Information Systems (BIS), highlighted the increasing importance of an amalgam of skills for jobseekers. He explained that the Business Department provides its students with opportunities to develop marketable strengths in more than one area: “Employers are looking for combinations of skills. We try really hard to facilitate the combination of skill sets that employers are seeking for career success.”

Dr. Citurs pointed to Todd Anderson (’14, BUS) as an excellent example of a former student who is using a combination of skills from BIS and Finance to build a successful career. A senior financial reporter at Prudential Financial, Todd will speak and take questions about “Integrating BIS and Finance Skills in BIS Finance Careers” on Tuesday, February 21, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Science Building (301). All are welcome.

Automation and the U.S. Economy

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Dr. Brendan Cunningham

Jobs and the American economy are always relevant topics for discussion, yet today more than ever they dominate the national discussion, which increasingly revolves around international trade agreements. Recently, Dr. Brendan Cunningham, Assistant Professor of Economics at Eastern, shared some thoughts on automation of production, an economic concept studied in his macroeconomics courses that relates directly to the principles of this blog—innovation, design, entrepreneurism, and artistry.

Automation has been expanding for decades, affecting most industries and increasingly evoking the question, “To what extent will machines replace people in the workplace?” In a recent example, Otto, an American self-driving technology company, successfully tested the design of its self-driving semi-trailer truck system in the fall of 2016. Automated driving will clearly disrupt the workers who depend on driving careers, such as truckers and taxi drivers, and it will continue to transform the workplace over time. Jobs that involve routine, predictable tasks will experience effects more quickly than other, more complicated roles. Nevertheless, even white collar workers will be displaced in some cases, especially with the advancement of the most sophisticated form of automation—artificial intelligence. For example, computer-assisted diagnosis may increasingly present x-ray technicians and others with competition.

The last time society experienced this level of economic transformation was at the turn of the twentieth century and primarily involved agrarian industries. Our response was to require expanded universal education, and to develop more skills among workers, preparing them for different jobs. MIT Economist David Autor has used the banking industry as a modern example of this effect, pointing out that the introduction of automated teller machines (ATMs) did not eliminate the need for bank tellers. Despite the ubiquity of ATMS, employment opportunities for tellers are reasonably stable, but their tasks are different—more complicated than they once were. Automation does not eliminate the employment of humans; it changes what people do and what skills they need.

Within the current, spirited discussion of international trade agreements is an argument that we must bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States; however, the decline in manufacturing jobs can be attributed more to the effects of automation than to the effects of trade. If manufacturers return to the U.S., it’s not clear how many jobs would actually be created. It may be that factories operate in the U.S. using robots built overseas, in countries such as China, where robot design is advancing rapidly. In other words, tariffs may encourage companies to locate in the U.S., but fail to create more jobs, highlighting the need to update the education and training of American workers to ensure success in our changing world economy.

Dr. Cunningham’s primary field of research is applied industrial organization, including topics such as media economics, copyright economics, and the economics of higher education. He primarily teaches courses relating to these topics as well as macroeconomics. Dr. Cunningham will present his thoughts on automation of production and Universal Basic Income at UCONN’s Center for Learning in Retirement (http://clir.uconn.edu/) in the Fall of 2017.

A Few Words with SEPS Alum Bonnie Edmondson ’87 (Communication & English)

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Inspiration. Innovation. Integrity. These concepts embody the faculty and students, as well as the work and mission, of the School of Education and Professional Studies (SEPS) at Eastern Connecticut State University. Recently, SEPS staff had the opportunity to talk to a distinguished alum of the Communication and English programs at Eastern, Dr. Bonnie Edmondson, about the relevance of these concepts.

Dr. Edmondson currently serves as an education consultant and program manager at the Connecticut State Department of Education. A highly accomplished athlete and coach, Dr. Edmondson is a member of the Eastern Connecticut State University Athletic Hall of Fame. She also had the great honor of serving as a U.S. Olympic Team coach for Women’s Track and Field in Rio this past summer. Ironically, her hammer throw performance was strong enough to send her to the Olympics in 1992; however, she was denied this significant opportunity because the event was not yet recognized for women.

edmondson-throwing72dpiAs someone who has faced numerous challenges, yet experienced tremendous success throughout her career, we asked Dr. Edmondson to shed light on how inspiration, innovation, and integrity have played a role in her life and her career.

“Inspiration, innovation, and integrity are inextricably connected, with integrity serving as the foundational component; the other areas build on integrity,” she suggested. “If you stay true to your core values and beliefs with the integrity that you establish with other people, they’re more likely to follow and support you as a leader. Once you have that foundation, you can build with innovation and inspiration. Without integrity, how can you move on?”

Dr. Edmondson emphasized the fundamental role of integrity when it comes to achieving true success in sports and athletics. “Building character and having goals are what you need to get in place to accomplish the integrity of fair play, teamwork. It’s not just about you, it’s about cultivating opportunities,” she said.

Asked about how she dealt with the failure to recognize women’s throwing that prevented her from participating in the Olympics, she explained, “I had two choices—be bitter or cultivate the situation and decide how to make it right to move forward. I chose to see the much larger picture, the greater good.”

In fact, Dr. Edmondson worked hard to have women’s hammer throw recognized in the Olympics, and it was, as of 2000. This well-earned victory was further enhanced by her recent opportunity to serve as an Olympic coach.

edmondson-olympic_rotator“As an Olympic coach in Rio, I personally experienced that the ‘Olympic Spirit’ is far greater than any one person or one team. All these people are coming together for a common cause, building character, to make the world a more symbiotic, more synchronistic place.”

As the conversation came to a close, Dr. Edmondson reflected on the time she spent earning her bachelor’s degree at SEPS and Eastern. She explained, “One of the things I remember most [about Eastern] is the nurturing environment. Folks were there to help people succeed. They were always going the extra mile. I remember the ‘warm home feeling’ of the campus, which is a huge benefit for people. The environment is intimate; people truly care and are interested in you as a person. These qualities influence you; you’re surrounded by people who model integrity, and it becomes contagious.”

There can be little doubt that Dr. Edmondson models the very same integrity that once influenced her on the campus of Eastern.

2015 TIMPANI study gets national coverage

On December 7, Eastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education announced the results of its 2015 TIMPANI Toy study. The annual study, which is led by Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, is now in its seventh year of investigating how young children play with a variety of toys in natural settings.

CBS-affiliated WFSB broadcast a story on the findings, which has been picked up by other network affiliates across the country.

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Eastern Partners with National Organization to Diversify the Teaching Profession

Eastern Connecticut State University introduces national partnership program for growing the state’s teaching force. The new Holmes Masters program is designed to attract and prepare educational change agents from historically underrepresented populations. The initiative is the first of its kind within the region and reflects a partnership with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education’s (AACTE) Holmes Scholars program. The inaugural cohort of Holmes Masters is scheduled to enroll summer 2016.

The Eastern Holmes Masters program is poised to draw applicants from a national pool. Participants will have to meet rigorous admission standards set forth by both the Holmes network and the University. With a focus on equity and diversity, participants will also participate in university-school partnership programming that supports teacher preparation and PK-12 student learning. Holmes Masters will be supported with ongoing mentorship coordinated at the university and national levels.

To learn more about Eastern’s Holmes Masters program or to apply, visit the Graduate Division online or phone 860.465.5292.

Graduate Fair

Come learn more about the graduate degree offerings at Eastern. Faculty will be available to answer questions about our Master’s programs in Accounting, Organizational Management, and Education.