Emerging field experiences within multiple college-school partnerships
Samuel J. Hausfather
Mary E. Outlaw
Elizabeth L. Strehle
The professional development school concept represents a fundamental change in teacher education that can impact the teaching of methods classes, interaction within college classrooms, supervision of students in the field, and relationships with classroom teachers (Zeichner, 1992). This chapter describes the restructuring of education courses at a small liberal arts college and the resulting impact on relationships within both college and school classrooms.
The restructuring of the college education program will first be described, with special attention to the revision and integration of field experiences into college coursework. The relationships of college faculty, classroom teachers, and preservice teachers will be shared in describing a work-in-process. A preliminary analysis reveals benefits to college students accruing from the close supervision and intense experiences, yet little movement toward larger school reform goals. The many questions that remain will be explicated as important markers on the road to providing quality field experiences for all teacher education students within schools committed to thoughtful reform.
Relationships with schools
Berry College is a 1600–student private liberal arts college located in northwest Georgia. The college is founded on the commitment of Martha Berry, our founder, to serve the needs of those who might otherwise not have the chance for an education. Berry College provides scholarships and an intensive work program to help support many first–generation college students. At the same time, the college serves a population of mostly white, middle–class students attracted to its academic reputation, small-school atmosphere, and beauty. Education forms the largest major at the college.
The field experience program has long comprised an important component of the teacher education program. As the School of Education began preparations for reaccreditation by the state and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the office of field experiences coordinated a reorganization of the field experience program to meet accreditation standards. Various criteria were considered as important in the modifications to be instituted. Changes impacted all students in early childhood, middle school, and secondary levels of teacher preparation. Students had to be exposed to a variety of field experiences including placements in diverse multicultural, rural and suburban environments and at a variety of grade levels within the grade range for which they were being certified. Placements had to involve supervision by both college personnel and classroom teachers. Finally, placements represented an understanding of the theoretical models of education reflected in the students’ college coursework.
Supervision of students in the field appeared to be a major stumbling block. Working in a small college without graduate assistants, college professors provided all the supervision given in the field. Two core courses existing within each education program, a general curriculum course and a general methods course, were restructured to become field–based courses. Four major modifications were made to each course. The course time was changed to meet during an entire morning two days a week. The field experience time was blocked into the course time such that one day the course would meet on campus and the other day of each week the course time would be used for the field experience placements. Placements would be made at a limited number of schools so that the course professor could be on site during the field experience placement, available for supervision of students and consultation with classroom teachers. The course content was restructured according to clusters that were shared across program areas and that built upon the assignments completed during the field experiences (see Figure 1).
To make it feasible for one professor to supervise his or her class on the alternate days in the field, all students had to be placed either in one school or in two nearby schools. This arrangement required multiple placements, using many model cooperating teachers, in one site. The decision was made to place students in pairs within each classroom placement, allowing for more intensive coverage within a school building. Pairing students with a student partner for their classroom placement allowed more opportunities for students to get feedback on their classroom behavior. Partners observed each other teaching and working in the classroom, thus enabling them to provide each other with a different perspective on their activities. Partners provided mutual support, aiding each other in planning as well as responding to the pressures of classroom life. Beyond supporting the program goals, pairing enabled preservice teachers to see the value of collegial reflection, in contrast to the emphasis on individuality that, according to Zeichner (1992), is so prevalent in schools.
Establishing professional development relationships with schools was a natural outcome of the proposed field experience changes. Discussions began with the surrounding two school districts, the first item of business being to identify schools with which to begin collaborating on the expanded field experience placements. We identified these schools by targeting those where we had already built relationships through ongoing placement of field experience students or through adjunct faculty relationships with the school’s principal; where we felt a sense of sincere welcome to our field experience students; or where diverse student body was represented. Six schools were chosen, involving a feeder elementary, middle, and high school within the city school district and similarly within the county school district.
Relationships with teachers
During the fall of 1993, the director of field experiences and college faculty involved in the site supervision began making presentations to faculty at each school site at the beginning of each semester. These presentations evolved during these three years as we implemented changes in our thinking and moved toward partnership relationships with classroom teachers.
The classroom teacher’s role was critical to the success of field experiences. It was acknowledged that teachers are restricted by their realities of time, resources, and context in their work with field experience students. At the same time, teachers were asked to find time to talk to the students about their planning and lessons, and to share the thinking behind the decisions they make. We requested field experience students be allowed to teach at least three lessons, one to a small group, one to the whole class with their partner, and one alone to the whole class. Structures designed to promote conversation between preservice and classroom teachers have been added. We introduced a framework for understanding the developmental levels of preservice teachers based on their own history and experiences (Strehle, 1995). We discussed the developmental levels of the field-experience students, providing teachers with a framework for understanding the field experience students (see Figure 2).
Under each developmental level were listed tasks preservice teachers may engage in during their time in the field. Supervising teachers were encouraged to add to or delete from the list, making it their own. We also presented a rubric for observations by teachers or fellow students that emphasizes the concepts covered in the college classroom and that allows for regular structured feedback by the classroom teacher (see Figure 3).
Teachers are also encouraged to maintain a conversation notebook with their field experience students where questions, concerns, and notes may be written by teacher or student, allowing for questioning and responding to concerns within the busy schedules. We closed our meetings by looking to the future, with the hope that closer communication between the college and the school would provide an opening for collaboration between practicing teachers and college professors. The desire and need to learn from each other was emphasized as we shared a glimpse of the professional development school vision. Field experience students were then introduced and met with their supervising teacher to introduce themselves and see the classroom for the first time.
Following prearranged schedules, college faculty and students were on site approximately one full morning a week. College faculty made the rounds, visiting classrooms and observing both preservice teachers and the regular goings–on in the classroom. Conversations over practice and the concerns of preservice and inservice teachers occurred after observations, in hallways and classrooms, and through journals.
Reflection by the field-experience student was emphasized through daily journal entries focusing on analysis of significant episodes (Posner, 1993). Field experience students were encouraged to move reflection beyond merely the technical level. Through classroom discussion and written responses to their journal entries, college faculty emphasized three levels of reflection (Adler, 1990):
Technical Rationality – reflections on WHAT happened; focuses on events relying on personal experience and/or observations without regard for a system or theory (Cruikshank, 1987);
Practical Action or Contextual – reflections on WHY decisions were made; concerned with clarifying the assumptions and predispositions underlying competing pedagogical goals and with assessing the educational consequences toward which a teaching action leads (Schon, 1983, 1987);
Ethical or Critical Reflection – reflections on what SHOULD be; concerned with the worth of knowledge and the social circumstances useful to students (Van Manen, 1977; Zeichner & Liston, 1987).
The college classroom became the location of an essential dialogue between preservice teacher and college professor. Both were active participants in this conversation which was designed to yield understanding of practice. We were able to take advantage of an important developmental time in the construction of preservice teachers’ concepts of education – a trying-out time in which preservice teachers tested and reflected on what education is and can be, in which theory and practice intersected. Where as student teaching is more oriented toward testing and reflecting on student teachers’ identity as a teacher and their role in ethical, context, and power issues, early field experiences provide a formative time of even greater need for ongoing supervision, guidance, and guided reflection on experience.
Tomorrow’s Schools (The Holmes Group, 1990) confirmed that teachers are one of teacher education’s biggest untapped resources. Teachers, however, have been quick to point out that the realities of classroom conditions do not allow for quality mentoring or reflection time. Therefore we decided to set aside time when classroom teachers and college faculty could step back from the process and reflect on what we had learned and where we were going. In the spring of each year, a full–day retreat has been held for classroom teachers, school administrators, and college faculty committed to collaboration between the college and evolving professional development schools.
The retreat has focused on supervisory techniques, curricular dialogue, and program refinement. Its goals have been to plan for sustaining the field–based relationships, to share appropriate supervisory techniques, and to begin the design of a continuing relationship. Groups have discussed the goals and expectations involved in the field experiences accompanying specific teacher education courses. There has been much discussion and delineation of suggestions for improvements in the field-experience assignments, with a list generated of specific suggestions for improvements. These included such areas as how much assistance or guidance students should be given, concern about accuracy and sharing of journal entries, planning time and procedures, teacher expectations, and the role of preservice students in classroom management. Time to mentor and reflect continues to pose a significant problem without an easy answer within the classroom context. Teachers have expressed the desire for more support and sharing, both with college faculty and with school faculty at other sites. Participants have expressed interest in increased collaboration in the future to create new roles for school and college faculty.
The retreat provided an opportunity to emphasize the importance of building relationships between the college and the involved schools. A clear sense of direction was developed, along with a core group of committed staff at each of our field-based sites. This core group expressed a clear appreciation for the teacher education process and the supervision of field-experience students. More important, they have become colleagues with whom we can continue the conversation. The retreat provided an excellent basis for the long-term relationships necessary between school and college practitioners. It begins with this person-to-person communication between school and college faculty which facilitates our working together to achieve the short- and long-term goals we have together delineated.
Preservice teachers building relationships in schools
Connie sits cross-legged on the sidewalk outside the kindergarten classroom carefully stuffing straw into the body of a scarecrow. The five-year-olds beside her take the straw from the ground and carefully place it between the buttons of the scarecrow’s blue plaid shirt. Inside the classroom, Jennifer asks questions about baby animals to a group of children clustered around the book center. At the far end of the room three students seated at a small table cut out farm animals and match them to their mother. The cooperating teacher and aide are at the back of the classroom pouring juice for the afternoon snack.
The preservice teachers field experience offers an opportunity to practice teaching through designing lessons and working with children. The teacher education program is complex with the core of the education courses concentrated in the junior year. The curriculum class is the beginning of the focus of the junior year block; it enables preservice teachers to begin examining the practice of teaching in the context of their field experience. The college instructor has the task of designing the class to meet the individual needs of the students as well as supporting their field experience by observing them, providing written feedback, and offering an opportunity for reflection. The field experience is an integral part of the dynamic process of giving students an opportunity to integrate their understanding of teaching and discuss their practice with a professional educator. The pre-service teachers find their field experience an opportunity to put into action the lessons they plan. The classroom always adds a dimension of problem solving the preservice teachers have not had the opportunity to explore until this time.
Conversation among the preservice teachers extend to discussions concerning how to implement the tasks the lessons they are assigned to teach in their college classes. In the pre-kindergarten class of four-year-olds, Marilyn and Ellen are always wondering how to implement literacy tasks into a preschool curriculum that does not emphasize the reading and writing connection. Through conversations with their supervising teacher and college instructors Marilyn and Ellen were able to design literacy activities that would meet the needs of the four-year-olds in their pre-kindergarten classroom. The result: a group of four-year-olds huddle around Marilyn and listen to a story about bears. After listening for a moment or two, one student gets up, goes to the book shelf, and selects her own book. She begins to read to herself, making up the story as she goes along.
Preservice teachers who teach lessons together in the context of a small group are given the opportunity to learn about collaborative teaching. Ellen and Linda, best friends and roommates, showed tremendous growth in planning lessons and working with students as they continually talked about teaching through two semesters of working together in a field experience. After the confidence they received presenting discovery lessons in small groups, they began to implement discovery lessons in large group’s when they taught in a fifth grade classroom the following semester. Working in pairs the pre-service teachers had the opportunity to generate ideas, plan lessons together, and begin to think of teaching as connecting lessons to the students. As a result: the third graders gather around a small table and listen to instructions from Ellen and Linda. Gently the children place their hands into a pan of sticky-gloopy-green slime. They move their hands across the bottom of the pan and then lift them up. There is no end to discovering all the different ways to make the slime go. Slime runs down hands onto the table and eventually onto the floor. After a quick trip to the bathroom one little girl rushes through the door and heads toward Ellen. “What is the recipe for that slime? I want to show my mom.”
The relationships that develop between the preservice teacher and the classroom teacher are the beginning of an ongoing dialogue about students and teaching. The opportunities to see teaching in a positive light are often left up to the classroom teacher and teachers who value the education of future teachers enthusiastically share their classrooms. The college instructor provides instructional time to help the student make connections between the theoretical concepts and the manifestation of these concepts in the classroom of the cooperating teacher. This type of instruction presents teaching as problematic and interactive giving preservice teachers an opportunity to see teaching as a decision-making process based on their own beliefs about teaching.
Conversations about teaching are vital during field-based classes (Hollingsworth, 1992). The conversation with the college instructor provides opportunities to connect what is learned in the classroom with what is being learned in the field experience. The conversation with the cooperating teacher provides a framework for reflection on the curriculum and the students that a college classroom discussion does not offer. The contribution a classroom teacher makes in the development of the preservice teacher impacts the pre-service teacher’s understanding of teaching. In Connie’s case, the cooperating teacher was concerned that Connie did not share many of her teaching ideas when paired with Jennifer a more aggressive partner when it came to initiating instruction. Through ongoing observation and conversations about Connie with the college supervisor, the cooperating teacher stated that Connie, though not a strong initiator of her ideas, participated effectively in the development and implementation of lessons developed for the thematic unit. The time the cooperating teacher spent with Connie and Jennifer in giving feedback from the lesson planning and lesson implementation were opportunities for Connie and Jennifer to begin to reflect on their own teaching. Though these experiences Connie and Jennifer were given opportunities in considering how they could work together more effectively. Concern for Connie’s feelings about her participation in sharing lessons with Jennifer extended to a dialogue between her college instructors and cooperating teacher where they shared their own observation about her growth. Connie left her field placement confident of her contribution in planning and working with kindergarten students. When preservice students are given ongoing feedback that supports their growth, they gain confidence and become eager to talk about their teaching with another professional.
Preservice teachers enter the field with a focus on providing educational opportunities that are developmentally appropriate for the students in their classrooms. This practice extends into knowing and understanding the social, physical, and psychological development of students and striving to develop a curriculum that invites students to learn. Learning through active involvement is a goal that preservice teachers provide for their students in classrooms that many times are not set up for this method of learning. The classrooms in which preservice teachers are placed do not always reflect the theories that the students teachers are learning about in their college classrooms. Rich conversations exist when students enter the field and find that their understanding of teaching is not necessarily what they see in their practicum. When the preservice teachers described their relationship with their supervising teacher they said such things as, “I like her as a person but did not agree with a lot of her teaching methods,” and “I saw things that I don’t want to, which was good, but I didn’t see things I wish that I had.” The conversations exist when students are supported and encouraged to reflect on the issues in the classrooms and to reflect on how they feel the classrooms could be.
The preservice teachers are given the opportunity to think about their own practice and what choices they have teaching in the classroom of their cooperating teacher. Preservice teachers are asked to reflect and articulate their own beliefs about practice. College faculty have observed preservice teachers maturing in personal and professional behaviors and decision making abilities. The worth of the effort is evident in the remarks of a student regarding the benefits derived from early field-based experiences: “comfort and confidence in my teaching ability, a greater enthusiasm for ‘getting out there’, going into new situations with different students with a more positive ‘can do’ attitude, a greater desire to help bring about change, improvement and progressivism in the field of education, improved interpersonal skills–dealing with a variety of students/building relationships with professionals, peers, and superiors, and a much greater knowledge base/resource base upon which I will construct my philosophy as an educator!”
Evolving relationships: Preliminary evaluations
The program has been in place for two years, with students from the first field-based courses now having completed student teaching. Implementation of the field experience has been monitored through direct observation by college faculty, questionnaires completed by students and teachers, informal conversations with teachers and students, faculty presentations in schools, planned retreats for college and school faculty, and evaluations completed by student teachers. Throughout this time period various modifications have been instituted on the basis of continuing feedback and discussions among college faculty, students and school faculties.
Initial dialogue with the teachers showed immediate concern for having time to devote to mentoring our college students. Teachers were quick to point out that the realities of classroom conditions did not allow for quality mentoring time. During the semesters of implementation, discussion of the time issue has continued and adjustments have been initiated in an attempt to address the concern. For example, in spring 1995 students were assigned five hours as “free” hours to be scheduled outside of the regular morning time block. This designation provided time for meeting during the teacher’s planning period, or after school, and also gave the student credit for the additional time. Many students and teachers had already chosen to meet at other times in order to plan lessons and to discuss the complexities of the specific classroom. Each semester the authors observed teachers taking more ownership in the process of educating preservice teachers and finding the time needed for effective mentoring.
Observations by teachers of student performance during the field experience proved to be insightful and supportive of the goals of the program. One teacher commented that she “did observe quite a bit of personal growth in both students. As the semester progressed there was improvement in presentations and in relating to the needs of the students.” Another teacher observed that the students “are still growing and learning about being a teacher.” The students also reflected on the experience. One stated, “I’ve been able to see some ideas I have had work and flop. Sometimes the ideas floating around in my head seem great, but when I implement them all types of questions come up. This gives me the chance to think about things I wouldn’t normally think about.”
The use of student pairs has been helpful in most cases. Student reports on working in pairs included the following comments:
was wonderful–lots of support and encouragement, bounced plan ideas off each other;
I did not get much feedback from the classroom teacher, so it really helped to have someone there to bounce ideas off of and to give me suggestions;
Always had someone to fall back on;
Very helpful–relieves a lot of stress; and
Like the moral support.
Teachers noticed the positive aspects as well, including statements such as
they seem to feel more comfortable working together;
This was great for them and for me. Working together really helped boost their confidence level and made the experience much less intimidating; and
the two pooled their strengths and talents. They seemed to feel less threatened.
On occasion, student pairs have had difficulty. Working together over an extended period requires interpersonal skills that some students have not had the opportunity to develop.
Effective communication among all parties is an on-going process in which we are all engaged. During the first year some teachers noted that they “never had time to talk to the college instructor,” and that “It was more difficult to communicate with professors than students though the communication was somewhat better than in other similar experiences.” Another teacher wrote, “Since the guidelines were clearly stated, little communication was really necessary.” The college faculty saw the need for improved communication when a teacher complained, “I think too many assignments were given to the Berry students. I don’t mind having practicum students, but it took too much of my teaching time.” The benefit many teachers derive from participation in the field experience is the additional teaching assistance the practicum students provide.
Graduates of Berry who completed the first cycle of early field experiences in the field based courses and who have recently completed student teaching rated the experiences highly on the Student Evaluation of the Teacher Education Program. In response to the question “What aspects of the Education Program at Berry College were most helpful in preparation for your perceived career?” graduates made comments like the following: “All the practice experiences and field experiences,” “The practicums were the most helpful, because we put into practice what we learned,” “The number of field experiences linked to course work” (16 others mentioned this), “Field experiences, student teaching, student working at the elementary school,” “The field experiences combined with reflection journals and excellent courses.”
Time and opportunities for communication seem to be the major challenges for continued progress in effectively collaborating for the benefit of both classroom teachers and our preservice teachers. This is not unusual within professional development school efforts. Creating a climate of open communication and facilitating that communication are seen as key aspects of many professional development efforts (Robinson & Darling-Hammond, 1994). Given the different cultures, roles, and status between colleges and schools, misunderstandings are inevitable. Recognizing and accommodating these differences involves increased personal open communication (Green, Baldini, & Stack, 1993).
The relationships between the college faculty and cooperating teachers have resulted in a desire to empower the classroom teacher to share in the responsibility of educating the preservice teachers. This task begins by sharing the responsibility of supervision with the classroom teacher. As the cooperating teachers engage in conversations with the preservice teacher, they contemplate theoretical implications as well as practical issues involved in teaching. We see our greatest challenge is to rethink the role of the classroom teacher as equal partners in the teacher education effort. Through an emphasis on relationships, we begin to see connections with schools as an essential component of our college teaching. An effort to link the college methods classes to the field experience is accomplished through observations of the preservice teachers, reading their reflective journals and responding to feedback from the cooperating teachers. The understandings gained allows the college faculty to integrate issues in the classroom.
Bringing teachers in as equal partners is problematic. Given the different cultures of school and college, misunderstandings are inevitable (Green, Baldini, & Stack, 1993). Preconceived concepts of role and status difference can lead to hesitation and difficulties in collaboration. These individual differences must be recognized and accommodated in order to develop relationships with schools. Colleges cannot impose their own agenda on schools, an approach found to be ineffective in promoting change (MacNaughton & Johns, 1993). Professional development schools must be cultivated through a collaborative effort at seeking solutions to commonly defined problems. Collaboration involves equality, balance, and cooperative relationships (Hall, 1993). It is a long and time-consuming process that cannot be rushed! If change is to be longstanding, it must result from a developing coherence in perspectives between school and college faculty (Stoddart, 1993). This will take time, energy, and commitment.
The college faculty is committed to the goal of incorporating professional development school relationships into our teacher education program. Building relationships with the supervising teachers is a journey that is time-consuming and developmental. The degree to which we can be effective is based on the level of involvement of college faculty and the interest of school faculty. Our goal has been to serve all students in the school of education. We have made significant progress with our elementary education model, but have much further to go with our secondary model. Only through dedication and hard work does change happen. Developing relationships takes time. Sustaining relationships takes time. Just to make time to listen to each other is progress.
Our goal is to carefully place preservice teachers with caring professionals where they will be able to begin to reflect on their own understanding of what it is to be a teacher. As college faculty and classroom teachers get to know each other and become partners, we see the potential for a better environment for understanding teaching for preservice teachers, supervising teachers, and college faculty.
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Figure 1. Course content clusters: Field-based courses
1. Foundations and organization of curriculum
2. Development of observation and reflection skills
3. Writing lesson plans
4. Working with parents, volunteers, and paraprofessionals
1. Classroom management
2. Writing unit and lesson plans
3. Teaching strategies
4. Classroom evaluation techniques
Figure 2: Developmental Flow of Field Experience
OBSERVER: Building a relationship with the supervising teacher
*observing lessons taught
*observing classroom management
Completing clerical tasks
Directing routine activities
Completing college assignments
*making seating charts
*writing notes for journals
PARTICIPANT-OBSERVER: Developing relationships with students
Assisting individual students
*helping with seat work
*one on one reading
*conference with student writing
*assisting student with make up work
Teaching lessons in small groups
*implementing lesson plans
CO-PARTICIPANT: Matching supervising teacher’s classroom management
Exploring individual concept of teaching
Sharing classroom responsibilities
*plan and teach lesson to class
*lead discussion of current events
*implementing classroom management
*accompany on a field trip
Adapted from Strehle, 1995
Figure 3: Rubric for co-participation in field experience lesson
|Pre-conference with cooperating teacher concerning content of lesson planned.||plan approved|
use of prior knowledge/review
use of visuals
connection to previously learned material
abstract concept made concrete/concrete made abstract
|Relationship to students:
use of oral language
behavior (management) techniques
learning strategy used to engage students in learning
involvement of all students
connect to specific content areas
review of concept introduced/reviewed