Academic journal article Education

Redesigning Teacher Education: Lessons from a School-University Collaboration

Academic journal article Education

Redesigning Teacher Education: Lessons from a School-University Collaboration

Article excerpt

Increasingly, institutions of higher education are responding to concerns about elementary and secondary teacher preparation programs. Roth (1992) summarizes the main criticisms aimed at teacher education programs: "ill conceived and poorly taught education courses, the worst students, the least amount of funding, highly theoretical lectures from faculty in university ivory towers, and not enough time in schools to gain practical experience". The reform attempts have been faulted as well. Sarason (Sarason, Davidson & Blatt, 1986) claims that many recommendations for addressing these concerns have "been offered countless times in the past without discernible effect". His overriding concern has been the unaddressed need "to better prepare teachers for the realities of the classroom, the school, and the school system".

What has been encouraging in recent years is the growing perception that collaborations between public schools and universities offer a powerful, more creative means for effecting change. This paper reports conflicts and lessons learned from one such collaborative effort.

In School-University Partnerships, Lieberman discusses the arrival of school-university coalitions as "serendipitous because these partnerships come at a time when research universities are being called to task for having grown distant from the real problems that schools are facing while school people are being criticized for having been so immersed in their daily problems that they have spent little time or energy reflecting on how schools could be improved" (Sirotnik & Goodlad, 1988, p. 69).

Collaborations have taken many forms. Based on the notion that "individual programs need to be analyzed, shaped, and developed around the beliefs and experiences of local participants" (Sikula, 1990, p. 80), public school teachers and administrators are being asked to participate in a variety of university program improvement efforts. In our project, five school and four university members worked to redesign the structure and curriculum of an elementary teacher preparation program in a research university. We believe there is much to be learned from the experience: about what happened, why we think it happened, and what things we would have done differently had we been wiser in understanding the nature of collaboration and the culture of the university.

Case Study Overview

The revision effort began when an assistant professor was hired to replace a retiring professor in elementary education. Other new appointments were slated to replace some of the limited term instructors who had served the program for several years. The plan was to use this opportunity to re-evaluate the elementary program that had not been changed in over twenty years. The new professor was given the task of organizing and chairing a committee to revise the elementary teacher education program. Having been trained in organizational development and collaborative change, she immediately moved to form a committee represented equally by respected school and university members. Her tenets of planning were "you help promote what you help create" and "trust the process," which refers to the necessity of "keeping the faith" through the sometimes difficult moments in consensus decision making.

The planning model, based on the work of Russell Ackoff (1974), involved envisioning the ideal which was, in this case, the ideal elementary teacher to be graduated from this university, and developing a structure and curriculum to realize the emerging vision. Essential to the change process were ongoing team and consensus building to develop trust among the committee members who had not previously worked together. A study phase included a review of the literature and visits to exemplary programs. Next came the development of a philosophy statement and the generation of a knowledge base to be possessed by the ideal teacher. Existing courses were then dissected and modified, and new courses designed. …

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