Unfinishedness: Striving for a Viable Partnership Between TFA and its University Partner
by Barbara Meyers, Teresa R. Fisher, Monica Alicea & Kolt M. Bloxson - 2014
Background/Context: Teach For America (TFA) affiliates with universities in most of its 40 regions nationally; however, few researchers intentionally study the content and processes of a partnership between TFA and a college of education.
Purpose/Research Question/Focus of Study: To ensure that investments both organizations were making had a direct and positive relationship with the constituents, leaders from TFA and Georgia State University began a joint study of our partnership. Researchers believed that participatory collaborative research, utilizing the emic insights, could illuminate needed modifications to best serve novice teachers. Research conducted by only one of the partners is less likely to promote mutuality of respect, reveal salient cultural reference points, honor all stakeholder voices, and enhance a common understanding. The driving question for this strand of this comprehensive 5-year inquiry: What happens when two seemingly disparate institutions with the same mission for educational equity come together to develop urban educators?
Participants: Thirty-three purposefully selected stakeholders were individually interviewed and included (a) university and TFA leadership (e.g., executive director, deans, department chairs) who were involved in the initiation of this partnership (n = 16); and (b) university coaches, faculty, and TFA Program Directors (PDs) who worked as supervisors and mentors in the field and/or instructors in coursework (n = 17). Additionally, 45 TFA Corps Membersí written reflections about their participation in their degree program provided feedback and analysis of their program and the partnership.
Research Design: University faculty and TFA personnel codesigned a multiyear qualitative examination of their joint enterprise of developing urban teachers to promote equitable educative opportunities for all children. A contribution of this study is the empirical and coconstructed nature of its design.
Data Collection/Analysis: The team analyzed data from transcribed verbatim interviews conducted with university and TFA participants, and documents/publications such as Web sites, Memoranda of Understanding, mission statements, emails, meeting memos, program handbook, course syllabi, and TFA Corps Member reflections.
Findings/Results: An examination of this partnership revealed struggles with: (a) contract negotiation, (b) communication, (c) procedural and pragmatic congruence, (d) response to constituent needs, and (e) creation of an authentic and sustainable partnership.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Our partnership fluctuated between an instrumental process focused on survival of complexities and triaging crises and self-focused explorations of organizational priorities and possibilities. Stakeholders collaborated to move beyond institutional paradigms for practices toward more mutually constructed engagements. Recommendations are offered to guide other university/TFA partners as they collaborate for the purpose of urban teacher development.
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