A Theme-Based, Cohort Approach to Professional Development Schools: An Analysis of the Benefits and Shortcomings for Teacher Education Faculty

Article excerpt

One of the goals of Professional Development School (PDS) programs is to provide preservice teachers with opportunities for developing in-depth knowledge and experience as they learn to teach (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2001). A theme-based PDS adds value to the PDS program model because it allows faculty members to share their particular expertise and research interests with preservice teachers and with teachers at the PDS school site. Additionally, a theme-based PDS enhances university faculty members' opportunities to conduct research in their field as a part of their PDS work in preparing prospective teachers. The purpose of this article is to evaluate the theme-based PDS as a model of linking university teacher development goals with the professional interests of university faculty. To this end, we describe three examples of theme-based PDSs, share the results of a faculty surveys about how themes enhance the PDS experience for them, and triangulate the survey results with a follow-up faculty survey regarding the costs and benefits of theme-based PDS work.

Before describing three theme-based cohorts (Paideia, Environmental Education, and English as a Second Language) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), we share examples in the literaturerse of other theme-based PDSs partnerships (Anderson, 1997; Barnes, 1987; Shroyer, Wright, Kerr, & Weamer, 1996). The Holmes PDS model, which provides the overarching theoretical framework for the theme-based PDS, is discussed widely in the literature (e.g., Abdal-Haqq, 1997; Book, 1996; Clark, 1999; Fullan, Galluzzo, Morris & Watson, 1998). However the PDS literature does not address the impact of working in a PDS partnership on higher education faculty. Instead, much of the focus of research is on graduates of theme-based programs; specifically, their knowledge structures (Roehler, Duffy, Conley, Hermann, Johnson, & Michelson, 1987) and program evaluations (Fotiu, Freeman, & West, 1986).

As one example of the earliest theme-based PDSs, Barnes (1987) describes the Michigan State University (MSU) model. The cornerstone of the MSU program is their conceptual framework, and the theme provides direction for the development of courses and practicum experiences. The outcomes of the themes are related to societal expectations of schools and teachers. Examples of MSU's PDS themes include the (a) Academic Learning Program; (b) Heterogeneous Classrooms Program; (c) Learning Community Program; and (d) Multiple Perspectives Pro-gram (Barnes, 1987). In the MSU model, the themes are established and the faculty fit into existing themes. According to Barnes the benefits of a theme-based model is that "the theme provides a clear and distinctive conception of teaching that is firmly grounded in research and understandings of effective teaching practice" (Barnes, 1987, p. 15).

Kansas State University's College of Arts and Sciences and the Manhattan-Ogden Kansas Public Schools developed a Math, Science, and Technology (MST) theme for prospective elementary school teachers (Shroyer, Wright, Kerr, & Weamer, 1996). The goal of this program was to integrate science and mathematics content with educational pedagogy applied to real world classroom teaching experiences (Shroyer, Bolick & Wright, 1996).

Another example of a theme-based PDS is the Wichita Kansas Public Schools and Wichita State University partnership, which developed an English-as-a-Second-Language (ESOL) PDS. Their purpose was to prepare preservice teachers to meet the needs of and enhance the learning of ESOL students (Anderson, 1997). Studies revealed that this partnership was successful and that preservice teachers, inservice teachers, and university faculty all benefited from the project (Anderson, 1997). In her research on the ESOL PDS, Anderson (1997, p. 23) highlighted four key factors of an effective PDS:

1. Goals and objectives must be mutually derived in an environment where everyone's views are valued. …