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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
May 1, 2000
Vol. 57
No. 8

A Community of Learners

Preservice, novice, and veteran teachers learn from one another in a supportive professional development school partnership.

At the end of each school year, the Colorado State University Professional Development School Partnership and each of the five high schools it works with celebrate and reflect on the year's accomplishments. Here is a snapshot of such a celebration at one of the high schools: Almost before the lunch bell finishes ringing, the minitheater fills with student teachers and their cooperating teachers; teacher candidates and their corresponding match-up teachers; and other administrators, faculty, and staff members from the university, the high school, and the school district. Laughter and collegiality characterize this meeting of the 70-member collaborative partnership.
The school's principal approaches the microphone and thanks the group for its energy, time, and hard work, noting that the partnership produces benefits for all involved. She thanks the student teachers and the teacher candidates for choosing to further their education at the high school and, amid applause, invites program participants to take center stage to share partnership experiences. Several teachers and university students tell anecdotes about a university general methods and assessment course taught at the high school—one of the unique aspects of the partnership program.

The General Methods Course

Two university professors team-teach the course to university students who are a semester away from student teaching. We match these teacher candidates with high school teachers for the purpose of connecting theory and practice. Teacher candidates attend the course every Tuesday and Thursday, from 7:30 to 9:20 a.m., and then spend a minimum of two 90-minute block periods with their match-up teachers.
The course provides theoretical information on planning, methodology, classroom management, assessment, and learning and teaching styles. It also focuses on professionalism, technology, and democratic principles. Over the first few weeks of the semester, teacher candidates study components of lesson planning and five teaching methodologies. Using materials provided by their match-up teachers, teacher candidates write a lesson plan using the components and at least one teaching methodology. Then the teacher candidates teach the lessons to students. Throughout the course, the teacher candidates meet with their match-up teachers to discuss their lesson plans and the educational theories.
A social studies teacher illustrates the benefits of this arrangement. It started out when my teacher candidate and I talked about doing a cooperative-learning lesson on World War I. He spoke with one of the university professors, got some feedback on his lesson plan, and brought it back to me, and I made suggestions. When he taught the lesson plan the first time, it went well, but not perfectly. Then the university professor, the teacher candidate, and I got together at lunch to reflect on the lesson. The teacher candidate turned right around and taught the same lesson plan with a few adjustments—the high school students loved it.What I got out of it was a cooperative-learning lesson that I've been thinking about for five years, one that works for teaching about World War I and that would be applicable for U.S. History and World History. I ran over to Kinko's right afterward and copied all the pages and put the lesson plan in my envelope for next year because I really think it was outstanding. I hope to do more of the same types of lessons and am looking forward to working with my teacher candidate as a student teacher in the fall. The collaboration between school and university staff demonstrates the professional development school's mission to offer opportunities for simultaneous renewal in which educators share ideas and work and learn together.

A Community of Learners

  • preservice teacher preparation
  • inquiry into educational practices
  • professional development for practicing professionals
  • exemplary education for all students
In that spirit, the general methods and assessment course provides one forum for discussing democratic principles, educational theory, and best practice. New, first-year, and veteran teachers are invited to participate in the collaborative process of learning or relearning theory and connecting it to practice.
On this particular day, one of the university professors, Diane, welcomes the high school teachers to a session on classroom management and asks them to suggest some topics that novice teachers need to know. A language arts teacher in her 23rd year of teaching mentions that she never received training in behavior management when she was a preservice or new teacher. Now she uses behavior management frequently and would like to know more. The teacher's statement shows the preservice teachers that educators in all stages of their careers need and want ways to keep their methods current.
Diane explains to the teacher candidates that teachers at the high school attend the methods class because The professional development school is an integral part of this high school. We develop together and learn together. You learn from your match-up teachers, and I learn from all of you. What we really are is a community of learners. A collaborative effort using the abilities and energy of new and preservice teachers, combined with the experience and expertise of professional teachers, is a catalyst for simultaneous renewal.
In addition to modeling lifelong professional learning, the course treats the university students as professionals and encourages collaborative professional learning. For example, when discussing an upcoming methodology assignment, a teacher candidate asks whether the class can take a few extra days to complete the assignment. Diane models a democratic process: "I'd rather have you do a good job than rush. What do you want to do?" The students decide that taking a few more days will improve the quality of their work. Diane reminds the students to send her e-mail updates on their progress so that she can monitor which students need help.

Connecting Theory and Practice

Once the assignment date has been negotiated, the day's lesson requires students, working in small groups, to draw on the literature and theories that the class has been studying to identify zero-tolerance classroom situations that require immediate teacher response. Before anyone is able to respond, Diane asks two teacher candidates to share a recent experience.
Ann and Hal describe a fight that occurred outside the school building while the high school students were leaving campus. The two teacher candidates broke up the fight and dispersed the students. Hal and Ann telephoned Diane to ask her what to do next. Rather than give an answer, Diane asked them to describe their actions. Ann replied, "We did what we could do. I yelled at [the student] until I realized he was bigger [than I]. We also talked to the peace officer. I was all shaky afterwards."
Diane encourages the class of teacher candidates to identify Hal and Ann's appropriate actions. Diane compares those actions with the information found in the text that the class is studying. Ann and Hal's story helps the class make a direct connection to practice. Next, Diane refers the students to her original assignment to identify zero-tolerance situations. The students identify physical and verbal abuse. Diane offers reinforcement: You hear a student call another student a name. You stop them. Zero tolerance. You tell them, "That's not OK in this class." Give them clear messages. By pretending you didn't hear it, you're condoning it. As an adult in the classroom, you are a role model. The teachers and the teacher candidates offer several other examples of zero-tolerance situations and how to respond.
Another goal of the methods course is to encourage the teacher candidates to recognize discipline styles but also to reflect on their styles, to be themselves, and to resist becoming replicas of their match-up teachers. Diane writes three headings on the board: Canter's Assertive Discipline (assertive teachers clearly communicate behavior requirements, enforce them appropriately, and maximize student compliance without violating the students' best interests); Dreikurs' Logical Consequences (all behavior produces a corresponding result); and Glasser's Classroom Meeting (a democratic classroom and curriculum that meet students' basic needs, motivate students, and reduce misbehavior) (Charles, 1989).
Diane asks teacher candidates to place their match-up teachers and themselves in each category. One teacher candidate responds that she has a combination of assertive and logical styles and that her match-up teacher falls into the logical-consequences category. Diane concludes: Teaching is not about what you must do; it's about finding your comfort zone. You can watch your match-up teacher. You can try some things yourself in this safe atmosphere. See what works. You can get feedback from your match-up teachers and your peers.
Diane then poses a series of questions to the group: How much student talk are you going to allow in your classroom? How much down time? How much student movement? What procedures will you have for turning in work? Does the teacher dismiss the students or does the bell? She asks the teacher candidates to talk about classroom management strategies that work or that they have seen and about what they would choose to do in their classroom. She gives the class time to think, share, discuss, and problem solve among themselves.
Next, the group looks at the policies and expectations given to them by their match-up teachers. The bell signals the end of class, but Diane holds the teacher candidates for a few more minutes to ask them to volunteer to observe one another teach lessons to the high school students and to offer feedback.

Benefits for All

Educators involved in the general methods course see themselves as both learners and teachers; they recognize the value of dialogue and risk and reinforce the importance of connecting theory and practice. The preservice teachers provide opportunities for veteran teachers to reflect on and implement new, or perhaps forgotten, ideas and approaches. Preservice teachers learn from one another and from teachers with all levels of experience in a supportive, real-world environment.
The students at the high school also reap the rewards. In the students' words: "I like the program. There are twice as many people to help me." "There's more variety because student teachers learn that there is more than one way to teach." "I like that the student teacher can teach the teacher, too."

Charles, C. M. (1989). Building classroom discipline: From models to practice. New York: Longman.

Clark, R., & Hughes, D. (1994). Partner schools: Definitions and expectations [Pamphlet]. Seattle, WA: Center for Educational Renewal.

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