Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Separations, Divorces, and Open Marriages in Professional Development School Partnerships

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Separations, Divorces, and Open Marriages in Professional Development School Partnerships

Article excerpt

Institutions typically launch professional development school partnerships (PDSs) or similar collaborations with great hope for the potential symbiotic gains they offer. Sometimes there are formal ceremonies including speeches about the mutual benefits of the collaboration and the long-term nature of the commitment each institution is making.

Although many PDSs have had substantial impacts on renewing schools and teacher education (Osguthorpe, Harris, Harris, & Black 1995; Teitel, 1992, 1993; Zeichner & Miller, 1997), not all relationships work out as planned. Some struggle in continuing relationships meeting the needs of neither party. In others, participants cut back on promised commitments and maintain a nominal connection, sometimes simultaneously developing relationships with other partners to help meet their initial or evolving needs. In other cases, dissatisfactions lead to a severing of ties, after which one or both parties may explore relationships with other institutions. The marriage analogy implicit in the title is at least partially apt: Many partnerships are initially like marriages, with partners intending a primary or exclusive long-term relationship with one another. Like unsuccessful marriages, unsuccessful PDS partnerships may limp along unhappily, ending in divorce or separation, or reconfigured into open marriages including new partners.

Attention to the importance of PDS partnerships in simultaneously improving schools and teacher education has increased (Darling-Hammond, 1994; Goodlad, 1988, Holmes Group, 1986, 1990; Levine & Trachtman, 1997; Petrie, 1995). Definitions of PDSs vary, but a consensus definition has emerged in the last 2 years: collaborations between schools and colleges or universities (and sometimes community agencies) focusing on high-quality education for diverse students, the preparation of preservice educators and other school-based personnel including administrators, nurses, social workers; continued professional development of experienced educators and related personnel at school and college; and continuous inquiry into improving practice. These activities are guided by reciprocity and parity (PDSs are not about the university fixing the school or vice versa) and by commitments to shared beliefs about teaching and learning and issues of equity.

A growing body of literature documents the growth of the PDS movement (See Book, 1996; Teitel, 1996b). This literature includes investigations into why forming stable partnerships is difficult (Brookhart & Loadman, 1909; Teitel, 1994) and case histories (Darling-Hammond, 1994; Levine & Trachtman, 1997) of the successes and challenges of actual partnerships. Breakdown or reconfiguration of school-university partnerships is largely absent in the literature. Occasionally a panelist at a national conference will mention, in passing, how the university had to drop one PDS because it turned out the school wasn't ready or the teachers were not interested. Publications or discussions of the details or underlying issues between schools and universities are rare to nonexistent. In this article, I report several case studies of partners that have separated, divorced, or reconfigured their relationship to have their needs met by another partner.

The research draws on 5 years of longitudinal study of a network set up by a state department of education (DOE), with major foundation support. The network, started in 1990, grew to encompass 10 partnerships between 12 middle schools and eight universities or colleges involved in simultaneously restructuring the middle school and developing or improving middle school teacher education programs. Although many of the project's partnerships have been very successful, some partnerships never flourished and participants believed they were not getting their needs met. By the third year, there was one divorce and a remarriage; by the fourth, one school opened its previously exclusive relationship to expand connections to another college; by the fifth, one partnership separated, never formally withdrawing from the project, but ceasing to have anything to do with one another. …

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