Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Cultivating a School-University Partnership for Teacher Learning: A Partnership between a Research University and Two Schools in Its Community Shows the Power of Collaboration to Address Achievement Gaps While Also Preparing Future Teachers

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Cultivating a School-University Partnership for Teacher Learning: A Partnership between a Research University and Two Schools in Its Community Shows the Power of Collaboration to Address Achievement Gaps While Also Preparing Future Teachers

Article excerpt

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How can we combine the resources of public schools and public universities to benefit children, families, and educators? What structures and tools can sustain this kind of hybrid union? Those were the questions that confronted us when we launched the Mitchell Scarlett Teaching and Learning Collaborative (MSTLC), a partnership between the teacher education program at the University of Michigan and a pair of Title I schools--Mitchell Elementary School and Scarlett Middle School--in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

When we began in 2010, we knew that working together would be challenging, given that our institutions had very different stakeholders, responsibilities, goals, and problems that needed solving. The University of Michigan needed to identify school sites with diverse enrollments, where it could implement and refine its new practice-based elementary teacher education curriculum (Davis & Boerst, 2014). The Ann Arbor Public Schools needed to address the achievement gap in its two lowest-achieving schools, which enroll the system's largest numbers of Title I-eligible students.

In spite of our differences, though, MSTLC has grown into a thriving partnership that benefits both the university and the schools, leading not just to better outcomes for local students but also to opportunities for experienced educators, teaching interns, teacher educators, and family and community members to learn from each other through and in practice (Ball & Cohen, 1999).

As Ken Zeichner (2015) puts it, our goal is to "democratize" school improvement by tapping the wisdom that each party brings to the table: Veteran teachers and administrators contribute their deep knowledge of everyday school life and the ways in which current practices do and do not succeed in engaging children; teacher educators offer their research expertise and their experience of helping novice teachers to translate their content knowledge into effective beginning teaching practices; aspiring teachers bring their intelligence, energy, and understanding of what it means to grow up and become educated in today's complex, high-tech society; and parents and community members bring their intimate knowledge of their children's talents, needs, interests, and goals.

The partnership in practice

At its core, MSTLC represents an effort to redesign teacher education by shifting the emphasis from university-based coursework to carefully structured and well-supervised clinical practice experiences (CCSSO, 2012; NCATE, 2010). Instead of taking methods classes at the university and then being given a student-teaching assignment, aspiring teachers are placed in full-year internships in the partnership schools, and much of their teacher education coursework is embedded into the regular school day, offered in designated classrooms at Mitchell and Scarlett. Intern Luke Willson characterized his clinically based teacher education experience in this way: "Not only are we learning the theory of teaching, we're putting it into practice in real classrooms. For a beginning teacher like me, it's an incredible opportunity. What makes it work is being able to collaborate with and get real-time feedback from experienced field instructors and mentor teachers."

Traditionally, most teacher education courses have been designed and taught by university faculty working on their own. In MSTLC, though, many of those courses are cotaught by teacher educators and supervising teachers, and they are designed to follow along with what students are learning in their elementary or middle school classes. The idea is to anticipate the parts of the curriculum that are likely to be challenging for those young students and which can provide opportunities for the interns to help them, typically by offering one-to-one or small-group support. In the process, the interns learn essential "high-leverage" teaching practices (Davis & Boerst, 2014). …

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