Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

School/University Partnerships: Rhetoric, Reality, and Intimacy

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

School/University Partnerships: Rhetoric, Reality, and Intimacy

Article excerpt

The rhetoric of school/university partnerships is no doubt familiar to everyone. But the reality is another matter. And how to handle the intimate relationships between the people involved presents the hardest question to answer. The authors share their experiences, especially with this final question.

THE GOAL OF school/university partnerships is the simultaneous renewal of colleges of education and of K-12 schools.1 In theory, this improvement comes about as university and K-12 faculty members work together to mentor preservice teachers in the best possible environment. Ideally, as they participate in these collaborations, the faculty groups do a better job together than either could accomplish alone, and both become better educators.

However, achieving this goal is difficult. It is difficult because, until the collaboration has begun and problems arise, partners cannot know what particular challenges each partnership will face. We cannot know ahead of time how best to address those challenges, nor can we know what kinds of solutions will be practically and politically possible. This does not mean that partnerships are doomed. If all partners assume responsibility for the success of the partnership, the collaborations can succeed and teacher education can improve. As part of assuming responsibility, each partner needs to try to understand as fully as possible, in the beginning and along the way, that behind the rhetoric of school/university partnerships, there is reality and that behind the reality, there is intimacy. Each of us needs to be willing, every step of the way, to ask and address hard questions, which we might prefer to avoid. These questions are not only about the intimacies of our particular partnerships but also about policies, practices, and relationships within our home (K-12 or university) institutions.

These are challenging responsibilities. Neither university nor K-12 faculties know much about collaborative professional relationships. Both K-12 teachers and teacher educators are more used to working independently than to collaborating with their colleagues. In making a decision to form a partnership, K-12 and university educators are making a commitment to learn together how to do something on shared turf that neither group necessarily knows how to do on its home turf. We commit to an intimate relationship with one another but bring little prior experience with professional intimacy.

As a faculty member at the University of Hawaii, Diane Stephens spent seven years working with two different university/public school partnerships. Diane and her colleague Joe Tobin first worked with an elementary school to pilot a field-based program that prepared students to be elementary school teachers. Three years later, Diane and Joe piloted a program with a K-12 Hawaiian immersion school, helping prepare students to become teachers in elementary and secondary Hawaiian immersion classrooms.

As a graduate student, Gail Boldt coordinated the field-based program for the University of Hawaii's Kauai Teacher Education program and then worked as an instructor and field supervisor for elementary cohorts on Oahu.

As we've looked across our particular experiences with these partnerships, we've identified four questions we believe partners need to be willing to address if the partnership is going to survive, let alone thrive. These are questions that need to be raised as close to the beginning of the partnership as possible and then raised again and again throughout the life of the partnership.

These questions are not discrete but overlapping, and they can each be approached from successively deeper layers of complexity. The first layer is that of rhetoric, and at that layer, the questions seem easy. At the second layer, reality, the questions seem impolite. At the third layer, intimacy, the questions are hard and often painful. We have come to believe that it is only by asking and collaboratively addressing the hard questions that partnerships can survive and education can improve. …

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