The Teacher Prep Tide Is Turning: Innovations in How We Teach Teachers
Teacher preparation is evolving quickly to become increasingly flexible, adaptive, and inclusive. It is striving to accommodate the diverse needs of today’s schools and students. The theories and models of teacher preparation, however, are experiencing some serious growing pains, infighting, and obstacles as different educational climates call for dramatically different approaches to address unique issues – especially in classroom environments that blend children with a wide range of learning skills and needs.
Finding ways to best reshape or sometimes even break the status quo mold and keep everybody happy doesn’t come easy. One thing most pedagogy experts will agree on though is that the teacher is the biggest factor in determining her students’ academic success.
So, If It’s All About the Teacher … What Will Make the Teacher Most Effective?
While having a strong command of the academic subject matter has always been considered important, to be truly transformative, teachers must also consider how they choose to handle “classroom management, lesson delivery, real-time data analysis, and relationship building,” according to Thomas Arnett, a teacher education and professional development researcher.
Arnett stresses that one of the best methods for learning such classroom skills and improving teacher efficacy is “putting prospective teachers through numerous cycles of real-world type practice followed by constructive feedback.” Arnett also recognizes, however, that simply having student teaching opportunities isn’t enough.
According to Arnett, there is a “need to reinvent” teacher preparation. Although he observes that hands-on training or even a teaching residency is more often required these days than it ever has been before, such experiences may not be enough to abate high levels of attrition or low efficacy.
Can Teacher Evaluation and Student Surveys Improve Teacher Performance?
Teacher evaluation legislation has passed in more than 30 states with the clear intent to improve classroom instruction. Studies indicate this kind of evaluation can be instrumental in professional teacher development.
Such evaluation can take different forms. Surveys, like Cambridge Education’s Tripod Student Survey that not only take student and teacher perspectives into account, but also parents’ opinions, have shown to be a highly informative way to assess and address teacher performance, according to Rob Ramsdell, the institution’s vice president.
The Kansas Department of Education has also had some success with its KEEP (Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol) program, which takes input from all district stakeholder groups and requires educators to complete a goal-setting and tracking system to monitor and improve teaching practices. Individual Growth Plans and Individual Professional Development Plans are based on evaluation scores.
The National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality published a study touting the benefits of job-embedded professional learning for teacher evaluation and development. The 2012 study found learning through practice is key to bolstering and sustaining teacher efficacy over the long haul, especially if support for teachers in the classroom is optimized.
Academic Modeling vs. Strict Guideline Following … or a Combination of Both?
In order to be fully prepared to teach and lead in a variety of environments, today’s aspiring teachers may increasingly need a combination of real-time field practice coupled with experienced mentoring. That’s in addition to a more rigorous approach to traditional academic and theoretical learning in which communication, collaboration, data-driven technology, and constructive feedback are explicit.
Debra Meibaum, a program associate for the Improving School Performance program at at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, suggests that course work, fieldwork, job placement, and professional oversight are all necessary for teachers to holistically and organically work through challenges, adapt, and thrive as they teach.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education took a more comprehensive approach in an attempt to build an “educator accountability system” to monitor adherence to relatively strict state standards as described by Paul Katnik, its director of educator development. The goal of the system is to hold various stakeholders accountable across the board – from teachers, principals, and school boards to the preparatory programs that instruct the instructors.
Similar efforts by the Hawaii Department of Education include in-person information sessions and conversation protocols so school teams can share the latest requirements and best practices for implementation.
Other increasingly popular and innovative new tools for teaching teachers include:
- Practice videos that illustrate and clearly demonstrate different means of classroom instruction as a dynamic and multimedia-based way to supplement learning and development
- Gallery teaching that promotes kinesthetic learning in which learning items are placed around a room so teachers appreciate how to give their students a more physical, tactile way to learn
- Co-teaching that pairs student teachers with experienced mentor teachers who can guide, assist, and model these new teachers and make adjustments in real time
What’s the ‘Common Core’ Throughout These Major Changes in Reimagining Teacher Prep?
Pun intended, of course, but the importance of needing measurable standards that ensure the basics are effectively taught is no laughing matter. A bevy of respected and world-renowned educators considers these new methods a crucial component of delivering and receiving a sound education. Jonathan Schorr sums up the new teacher prep approaches in his article “A Revolution Begins in Teacher Prep”:
- Theory is important, but practice – or a residency in an actual school – makes perfect
- Learn from the best of the best in the form of modeling, coaching, and mentoring
- Teacher and program accountability: How new teachers perform in the classroom is key
- Make the preparation rigorous or at least as rigorous as the first year of teaching
Teacher preparatory programs that can meld these new approaches seamlessly together stand a much better chance of producing teachers who can more easily adapt to eclectic classroom environments and work to improve schools as a whole. Such teachers are also less likely to be overwhelmed or discouraged, more likely to stay in the teaching profession, and more likely to have a positive impact on preparing the next generation of students to succeed.
- Thomas Arnett, "Challenges to reforming teacher preparation," Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation
- Stephen Sawchuk, "Standards Pose Teacher-Prep Challenge," Education Week
- "Concurrent Sessions I: Implementation Challenges for Teacher Preparation, Development, and Support," Center on Great Teachers & Leaders at American Institutes for Research
- Jonathan Schorr, "A Revolution Begins in Teacher Prep," Stanford Social Innovation Review