Bridging the ethical dilemma in professional development school relationships

Sam Hausfather
Elizabeth Strehle

(2001) The Campbell Monograph Series on Education and Human Science, 2, 5-15.

Teacher education involves an accumulation of many diverse inputs: the core liberal arts, the foundational human sciences, curriculum and methodology, and multiple opportunities for application of theory within school environments. Professional development schools (PDSs) represent a nation-wide effort to create new institutions focused on partnering between stakeholders in teacher education (Levine, 1998). Through partnerships between liberal arts faculty, teacher education programs, local public schools, and school districts, PDSs aim to improve teacher preparation and professional development and to encourage collaborative inquiry in real school contexts. “Professional development schools are regular P-12 schools that have entered into partnerships with universities to assist in the preparation of future educators and to serve as sites for research and development” (Sykes, 1998). As such, they should reflect best practice educational environments as well as commitment from both school and university to support the partnership. Although this sounds simple, it involves complex new relationships for both university and school practitioners.

Professional development school relationships raise issues of status, power, care, and equity. Zeichner (1995) maintains that there is a divide between the interest of the academy and the interest of school and that academic inquiries are essentially irrelevant to the school inquiries. He reports that researchers who use classrooms to explore questions are not sensitive to the complex work place of school, do not involve teachers in data analysis, and do not find time to engage in dialogue about research results. Teachers on the other hand often view research as conducted on the outside by those on the outside with the knowledge produced used by academics, not by teachers (Nixon, 1981). Colleges cannot impose their own agenda on schools, an approach ineffective in promoting change (Lewison & Holliday, 1999; MacNaughton & Johns, 1993). To go beyond this gap, collaboration must be a necessary condition of partnership relations among university and school personnel.

Relationships form the basis for successful PDS efforts (Darling-Hammond, 1994; Hausfather, Outlaw, & Strehle, 1996). As relationships between university and school partners grow over time, differences in status are equalized. Relationships are created through caring, and a collaborative relationship is necessarily a caring one (Vare, 1997). A caring relation is one where a connection between two human beings is defined by becoming open and receptive to each other (Noddings, 1992). This description of caring acknowledges that decisions in caring relationships lead to decisions based in ethics of goodness. As we apply this to PDS relationships, we are concerned with relationships that extend over time, “characterized by equal relations; that is, the parties alternate as carers and cared-fored” (Noddings, 1992, p. 91). Relationships based on friendship, in the broadest sense, provide us with an ethical direction useful to the development of PDS efforts.

Aristotle (1986) has written extensively on the ethics of friendship. The Greek word philos expresses a concept much broader than the term “friendship” (Cooper, 1980). It covers family relationships, civic friendship, business relationships, and community memberships. Aristotle defines friendship as doing well by someone for her/his own sake, oriented toward a mutual well-wishing and well-doing out of concern for one another (Cooper, 1980).

Aristotle (1986) outlines three categories of friendship. The first is friendship based on utility and is motivated by a common purpose shared by both parties. An example of this exists in business relationships and changes according to circumstances. The second category of friendship is based on recreation and involves pleasure in being with one another. There is more of a sense of openness to dialogue about personal and professional issues as interactions move beyond the business realm. Both these types of friendship involve “a complex and subtle mixture of self-seeking and unself-interested well-wishing and well-doing” (Cooper, 1980, p. 305). Finally, there is friendship based on goodness, where people “desire the good of their friends for the friends’ sake . . . because each loves the other for what [who] he is” (Aristotle, 1986, p. 263). This mutual form of admiration is the highest form of friendship and demands equality. This level of friendship takes time to cultivate and is difficult to attain. Equality in relationships exists when respectful attention to social customs and principles results in consideration for each other (Noddings, 1992). For PDSs to be successful over the long term, we must strive for perceiving each other as equal in status.


This study reports on the work of two teacher educators involved in a collaborative effort with the faculty and administration in a rural elementary school in the southeast. The authors were involved in different roles, one as a teacher-education faculty member working as the PDS site coordinator, and the other first as director of field experiences and then as the director of PDS initiatives for a private liberal-arts college. The researchers became participant observers as they initiated relationships with classroom teachers, school-level administrators, and preservice teachers. The use of portraiture as a method of inquiry and empirical description captured the essence of the relationship between the authors and their colleagues to shape an authentic “portrait” of the human experience in a social and cultural context (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 1997, p. 3). Initially, action research projects, written reflections, records of meetings, and conversations with classroom teachers and administrators provided the data for capturing the voice of the partnership in three descriptive narratives. The narratives were then coded by generating categories, themes, and patterns to identify the connections between the inquiries (Ely, 1991; Miles & Huberman, 1994; Strauss & Corbin, 1990).

From an analysis of the descriptive narratives a model emerged creating an organizational framework (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) reflecting the themes of relationships, learning community, and reflection and change. These themes became a clear model to align the grassroots work of the evolving partnership at the elementary school to the NCATE Draft standards for Professional Development Schools (NCATE, 1997). During the final analysis an ethical dimension emerged which was then aligned with Aristotle’s stages of friendship.

Development of a Model of PDS Relationships

A developmental model is postulated that reflects the relationships formed in our PDS work. The model consists of the following three stages: developing relationships, creating a learning community, and sustaining reflection and change.

Stage I: Developing Relationships

In this stage, the teacher educator, the cooperating teachers, and the principal get to know each other through listening and sharing common concerns. Intersections of common interest define the place for dialogue that fulfills each person’s own agenda. The key to the development of relationships between the teacher educator and the cooperating teachers is listening to each other’s concerns (see Figure 1). Dialogue involves listening, responding to each other’s concerns, and valuing each other’s voice. Dialogue moves back and forth between listening, responding, and coming to an appreciation of what the other is saying and doing. This forms the basis for developing an equitable relationship and is similar to Aristotle’s friendship of utility. This happens when the teacher educator and the classroom teacher are both interested in the preservice teachers’ success. The teacher educators acknowledge the success of the preservice teachers as an opportunity to enhance student learning. The cooperating teachers focus on the preservice teachers’ ability to assist the academic achievement of their pupils. For us, this process began the evolution of a community based on care for each other focused on a genuine concern for the learning of students, both school and college.

Even before this study, our college and this elementary school had an ongoing relationship focused on placing preservice and student teachers in classrooms. The second author was assigned to the school to supervise her elementary curriculum and methods courses. Her entire class was placed with teachers throughout the school. One of the first efforts to establish a link between the college and school was to invite teachers to campus to discuss classroom issues with the elementary education students. A research project between one classroom teacher and the second author became a catalyst to involve others. Through the classroom teacher, others at the school became interested in collaborating on projects. Through discussion and shared interests, the principal and the teacher educators collaborated in creating goals for the college and the school to develop a learning community. Other teachers began thinking about their role in collaborating with the college.

A two-day retreat in October gave every teacher an opportunity to spend one day on the college campus discussing the relationship between the college and the school. The retreat focused on three goals: an opportunity to share visions of what our PDS might look like, effective practice in supervising preservice teachers, and defining expectations and goals for the partnership. As teacher educators, we came in with our agenda for strengthening placements for our preservice teachers. Teachers came in wondering what they were going to get out of the relationship. Our goal was to have each teacher think of her/himself as a teacher-educator. We hoped to empower them to understand their strengths as teachers and to articulate their tacit pedagogical knowledge (Elbaz, 1991) through writing vignettes of effective practice. Each vignette described something special in their teaching from which preservice teachers might learn. Teachers came away from the retreat with a clearer idea of their roles as a teacher educators. They began sharing perspectives openly as individual barriers began to break down. Through the process of listening and building dialogue, teachers felt, some for the first time, that what they had to say was valued and important.

A number of initiatives began involving individuals and groups in collaborations with the college. A project involving one K-2 grouping (family) of teachers explored in-depth involvement with preservice teachers. A research inquiry extended the placement for several preservice teachers and studied the impact of this lengthened placement from the perspective of both preservice teacher and cooperating teacher. A professor of literacy received a grant allowing seven teachers and the principal to study reading methods in depth and develop a summer reading clinic. At the same time, the school principal served on a college committee studying field-based practice and helped make recommendations for the development of professional development schools. We furthered our relationship with the principal by inviting her to attend a workshop in Washington D.C. focused on National Board Certification collaborations. During that weekend away, we were able to collaborate with the principal to write a grant to NCATE to field test the new PDS standards in her school. Being away from school and college provided us the opportunity to develop a personal relationship based on shared experiences together.

These activities and shared expectations reflect the pre-threshold stage as defined in the NCATE draft standards (NCATE, 1997). Relationships had been created and care was exhibited among the participants. Through dialogue, multiple opportunities were created for listening to the concerns of each other. A relationship of care and mutual commitment focused on understanding each other’s individual concerns.

Stage II: Creating Learning Community

Institutional supports and an ethic of caring laid the foundation for the movement from partnership to PDS which occurred in stage II (see Figure 2). A learning community is built as teachers collaborate on ideas and daily conversation turns into dialogue between individuals and collective inquiries. The basis of a learning community is an inquiry-oriented approach based on asking questions about student learning of elementary school pupils and preservice teachers (Levine, 1998; NCATE, 1997). Within a learning community, learners share their new knowledge through public teaching and dialogue about their teaching. Dialogue and public teaching involve both cooperating teacher and teacher educator in planning and collaborating around the learning of preservice teachers and classroom pupils. This newly-generated knowledge impacts the institutional structures, allowing for broader dissemination.

Institutional commitment comes with the support of the principal, the school district administration, college administration, and the broader school and college faculty. As defined by the draft PDS standards (NCATE, 1997), the threshold stage focuses mainly on the institutional commitments that support the development of the PDS. An organizational structure was necessary to provide the support and resources to move our collaborative efforts forward. In April we met with the School Improvement Team to present our goals for establishing a PDS site at the school. Teachers were excited about moving forward with a partnership. In May, a meeting with the district superintendent and college dean allowed us to discuss the progress in our partnership and secure the institutional supports necessary to fulfill the movement from partnership to PDS.

It was important to continue to involve all teachers in the school if it was to be a learning community. In creating a PDS steering committee, all grade levels, viewpoints, and interests were represented. The committee was designed to represent the concerns and interests of the teachers, giving them “an equal voice” with the teacher educators. Through a process of brainstorming and conversation, the steering committee identified broad goals and specific objectives for the Professional Development School. The three goals established involved studying literacy approaches, effectively utilizing technology, and developing a learning community among teachers and teacher educators.

Other activities, such as picnics, retreats, discussions, and sharing classrooms, led to the development of relationships based on Aristotle’s friendship of recreation. Spending time with each other inside and outside the classroom gave us time to explore our mutual interests. In September, a Saturday picnic focused on team-building gave those involved an opportunity to share meaningful memories and feelings. We were no longer teachers and professors, no longer detached professionals, but instead friends talking and listening to each other. The “secret society” of school culture had been opened to include college colleagues.

A visit to the PDS school reveals a welcoming atmosphere. Teachers smile as they converse with you while leading their class through the halls. A circle of friends in the office warmly brings visitors into their conversation. Preservice teachers stand side by side with teachers, collaboratively assisting and instructing their pupils. In so many ways, the environment reflects a feeling of care for pupils, preservice teachers, and visitors. “Democratic” and “equitable” were words that began to frame all the activities of the partnership. The aspect of care was an underlying force that moved our relationship forward, creating opportunities for trust between partners.

Stage III: Sustaining Reflection and Change

Trust emerges as the learning community sustains reflection and change. This movement through the stages of dialogue allowed for the development of an ethic of care among the people involved as they changed their view of the classroom and each other. The principal’s comment, “Now I trust you,” highlighted for us the changes that were occurring. People were responding ethically as they supported each other, moving to the level of friendship characterized by mutual admiration. This involved respecting the decisions made by each other, based on the trust generated by really knowing each other. We had become a community that respected and listened to each other. Trust led those involved to operate with the other’s concern in mind, to see the other’s viewpoint. Stakeholders gained confidence in each other’s decisions. The principal opened up as a learner and saw the college as a vital part of the school.

Stage three reflected the maturing of the PDS as the effort took on a life of its own, characterized by its own goals and initiatives (see Figure 3). In the movement from individual projects to the broad PDS goals, the focus included building on existing relationships, connecting individual inquires to broad PDS goals, and collaborating to bring all faculty into the PDS efforts. We saw in the study of literacy, study groups piloting different approaches to literacy and sharing their findings with the whole group. As stakeholders worked to utilize technology initiatives through the support of the PDS relationship, major leaps in technology occurred in the elementary school. Several teachers had already participated in state technology training, but the lack of technology access did not allow them to make use of their new knowledge. Through the efforts of the PDS steering committee, the school was empowered to break out of the limiting constraints from the district office. They began to educate district-level administrators to the importance of technology in an elementary school. Using the clout of PDS status, they were able to change the thinking of the higher administrators and connect all classrooms to the Internet. This then created a “need to know” from the teachers as their interest in technology was piqued. Indepth state training was provided to all teachers which encouraged the school to move forward rapidly to take control of their technology, using the PDS partnership as a resource in their quest to improve the school.

To sustain this stage, dialogue and collaboration around ideas and interests provided opportunities for trust to be maintained. This still requires institutional commitments but also requires broad structural supports. Broad structural support could include time, money, and/or structures that encourage participants to move beyond the everyday and embrace other forms of professional development. The steering committee focused on how to recognize teachers for their work with the PDS. Several ideas were presented to the college, including a teacher-in-residence. The college has moved ahead to create a teacher-in-residence position jointly supported by the school district and college administration. This teacher-in-residence team teaches courses at the college, supervises preservice teachers, and helps coordinate PDS efforts. The teacher is a curriculum broker for the role of the classroom teacher in a teacher education program, helping college faculty and administrators understand the realities of day to day practice. The teacher also brokers the role of the college in the PDS, helping classroom teachers and administrators understand and appreciate the concerns of higher education in educating future teachers.

The financial impact on the college and school has been minimal through this process. The college has committed to funding the teacher-in-residence but is using a faculty line previously allocated. The district is paying the higher salary required of the teacher-in-residence while having a new teacher in the school, however this cost is covered through state allocations. The financial commitment of the college to this process continue to evolve. Release time given to faculty to develop PDS relationships is negotiated by various faculty, although it never seems enough. Various ways to recognize the work of classroom teachers are being considered including a field-based faculty card with campus privileges. The college has supported several teachers to present with college faculty at professional meetings. These initial financial supports need to continue to promote a sense of collective action.

As a result of sustained reflection and change, the teachers developed a stronger sense of voice, evident in individual and collaborative projects. The school culture began to change toward an openness to new ideas. Teachers became proactive as learners, implementing, exploring, and experimenting with new ideas. As teacher educators, we became much more students of teaching, listening to the voice of the teachers and their concerns in educating our students and their children. The academic achievement of the elementary school pupils became our concern too. Decision-making became informed by the friendship of goodness, where the teachers’ goals became as important as our goals. The focus of our work included their success.


The model we have created highlights issues in the ethical development of PDS relationships. Stage I focuses on initially developing the relationships upon which a structure must depend. Through listening, care and dialogue are promoted. It is a friendship of utility based on the common goals of teacher educators and classroom teachers. Caring and commitment move the PDS relationship to stage II, the creation of a learning community. Preservice teachers and classroom pupils become a focus of the dialogue as teacher educators and classroom teachers plan and collaborate. An institutional commitment supports and structures the relationships. The friendship of recreation develops as people spend more time with each other, becoming open to dialogue about personal and professional issues. Over time, trust grows out of these relationships, allowing the movement to stage III. Broad structural support is necessary to sustain the community that has formed. The goal is a level of trust that allows for the friendship of goodness to emerge, marked by an ethical concern for the well-being of the other. It seems friendships that emerge out of genuine concern and interest for each other are ones that are successful. When these friendships include genuine concerns of teachers they lead to opportunities for collaborative efforts between friends.

As teacher educators, we believe these are steps necessary to establish PDS sites that can survive over time. While these stages have parallels with those outlined in the NCATE Draft PDS Standards (Levine, 1998; NCATE, 1997), they go beyond the NCATE stages in their emphasis on ethical considerations. Activities focused on collective inquiries allowed our relationships to develop. But the inquiries derived from the interests of the teachers and led to clear benefits for their pupils. Equity is necessary for caring to become the basis for further relationships. Teacher education classroom practice moved from the college to the PDS site. We needed to be in the schools physically on a regular basis. We also needed to change the nature of our discourse, as we focused more on the shared goals of elementary pupil learning as an aspect of our goals for preservice teacher education.

Through an intense focus on our preservice students, cooperating teachers, and the ongoing work of the professional development school, we have changed in the knowledge we are constructing to improve practice. As teacher educators, we are deepening our understanding of the dynamics of learning to teach. In moving instruction to the school classroom, we constantly examined teaching and learning, asking about its effectiveness in reaching all pupils. This habit of inquiry and reflection became a model for teacher interns. Schools cannot be understood without the teacher’s classroom. College classrooms are not dynamic unless they are involved with children in real classrooms.

We have concluded that sustaining PDS efforts requires a strong base of ethical involvement that develops over time. Tensions can put strains on the individuals involved in these relationships. In this case, the university faculty found themselves overwhelmed by the effort to work with the school without adequate reassigned time from their existing course load. The tension of making a choice between school work and college work resulted in the first author leaving the current position to find a university that supported the PDS effort institutionally. If PDS work is dependent on long-term ethical relationships, how can partners sustain their efforts when key people leave? This challenge faced us as the PDS coordinator left the state. While this might set efforts back somewhat, we assume we have reached a level of “empowered teachers” as leaders, institutional commitment, and broad structural support to uphold a continuing relationship. The tenuousness of PDS relationships must be countered with clear institutional commitments. New connections will be established based on a past pattern of ethical behavior in the college-school relationship.

Institutional commitments appear vital in sustaining the PDS relationship. Those directly involved in PDS efforts must continue to give attention to maintaining the commitment of the institutions involved. This involves educating those in positions of power within the institutions of college and school district. From the dean to the president, from the principal to the superintendent, those making institutional decisions must continually be reminded of the value of ongoing PDS efforts. PDS relationships must move beyond grant activities, personal initiatives, or institutional add-ons if they are to survive (Abdal-Haqq, 1998). Not much has been written about the institutionalization of PDSs (Teitel, 1998). Clearly, tensions might exist between relationships based on ethical behavior and those based on institutional necessity. As PDSs become a way of life, we must continue to negotiate this tension so that institutions provide support to the continuing grass-roots efforts of teacher educators and classroom teachers in PDSs.


PDS communities move through stages as they develop. There is a sense of flow and movement in the development of PDS relationships that lead to optimum conditions for growth and learning. Optimum conditions involve the stakeholders constantly working and thinking together, in the process experiencing change in their views of schooling. It takes a long time. Relationships are important. Structures do not create relationships; relationships are created based on an ethic of care and friendship through dialogue about professional questions and issues. As teacher educators collaborate in the development of PDSs, they must view PDS efforts through the lens of a classroom teacher. Until teacher educators take an ethical stand, PDSs will not reach the potential to truly impact the lives of all learners involved. It is only in and through friendship that “we can come to know ourselves and to regard our lives constantly as worth living” (Cooper, 1980, p. 332).

The results of this study reflect the efforts of individuals with intense commitments and the support of both K-12 and higher education institutions for PDS work. This represents beginning the reinvention of higher education to create a new paradigm of learning for preservice teachers, cooperating teachers, and higher education faculty. Moving beyond “it takes an entire college to educate a teacher,” we begin to understand that “it takes an entire educational community to educate a teacher.” The findings point to some meaningful insights into the ethical fiber and disposition of college faculty working in schools. Perplexing questions continue to exist, including:

1. How do institutions support and reward college faculty and K-12 teachers for working in schools together to achieve their goals?
2. How do colleges of education train teacher educators to view PDS sites as a place to learn about schools and the value of developing relationships with a K-12 faculty
3. How can we ensure that those involved in PDS relationships have a disposition toward ethical behavior?

These complex questions surface as PDS sites move beyond a view of school as a research site to observe the successful implementation of policy, programs, and procedures to become organizations that care about individuals and the school culture.


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