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A New Conceptual Model for Principal Involvement and Professional Collaboration in Teacher Education

by Anita M. Varrati, Mary E. Lavine & Steven L. Turner - 2009

Background/Context: Beginning teachers often identify the school principal as a key figure for support and guidance. Few teacher education conceptual models exist that significantly integrate the building principal into the clinical experiences of teacher candidates. The rationale behind initiating discourse on principal involvement grows out of current policy and reform initiatives that require increased accountability for improved student performance. The call for more deliberate principal involvement in preservice also arises in regard to teacher attrition and retention concerns. Having the principal engage in active mentoring during preservice may positively address these issues by providing a more complete socialization and enculturation process into today’s context of schooling.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The major research questions for this study were: (1) What are the level and types of support that building principals provide for the preparation of new teachers? (2) What are the obstacles that may be preventing principals from becoming more involved with teacher preparation? (3) What are the types of activities that make sense for principal involvement with field experience and student teaching? (4) What are suggestions for more meaningful collaboration between schools and teacher/administrator preparation programs?

Research Design: The study was designed as an interpretive qualitative research project that attempted a measure of self-reporting through in-depth interviews.

Conclusions/Recommendations: M³—A new conceptual model of collaboration (three supports for preservice teacher: mentor, university supervisor, and principal) was presented to include the principal with the preservice teacher, university supervisor, and cooperating teacher in a community of practice for teacher preparation. To build on this research and continue the discourse about the principal’s role, several implications and areas for future study are presented: (1) investigation of teacher preparation programs more in depth to get further information about how principals are involved in teacher education, (2) implementation of the M³ conceptual model in a pilot capacity during field and student teaching experiences to gather more data about collaboration, especially the role of the principal, (3) the collaboration of principal preparation and teacher education programs to address this aspect of supervision in course content and internships, (4) the difference in perceptions of prospective and practicing principals regarding their role with teacher candidates during preservice, and (5) study of professional development schools to see how the principal is involved in a supervisory and instructional leadership capacity with preservice teachers.


The recent history of teacher education has been characterized by comprehensive, somewhat unfavorable reports of the status of teacher preparationA Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983); A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century (Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, 1986); Tomorrows Teachers: A Report of the Holmes Group (Holmes Group, 1986); What Matters Most: Teaching for Americas Future (National Commission on Teaching and Americas Future, 1996); and Educating School Teachers (Levine, 2006). Each report calls for reform and bold proposals for teacher education programs. Present among each initiative are ardent calls for stronger partnerships between K12 schools and schools, colleges, and departments of education (SCDE). One of the strongest links between K12 schools and SCDEs yet to be fully used is collaboration between the school principal and teacher preparation programs (Vann, 1988; Watkins, 2005).

A major part of school reform and restructuring involves the evolution of roles, responsibilities, and relationships between teachers and students, and between teachers and school administrators (Danielson & McGreal, 2000). Beginning teachers often identify the school principal as a key figure for support and guidance (Blase & Blase, 2004; Brock & Grady, 1998; Vann, 1986). Effective principals are considered instructional leaders for their school, leaders who present their school as a learning community engaged in continual improvement. The principal must be the key figure in establishing and sustaining a supportive community environment consisting of school faculty, students, and parents (Cawelti & Protheroe, 2001; Schmoeker, 2001; Sergiovanni, 2001). This community of practice should be expanded to include preservice teachers who are provided professional development opportunities through field experiences and student teaching with the support of university professionals (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002). Preservice teachers orientation into the teaching profession actually begins during early clinical field experiences and student teaching. Because these activities actually represent the beginning of the induction process for preservice teachers who are taking their initial steps into the profession, a more significant emphasis must be placed on the interactions between the preservice teacher and the principal. Although early field experiences for preservice teachers outline roles for the student, university supervisor, and cooperating teacher, little attention is paid to the principals role in these experiences. Few teacher education conceptual models exist that significantly integrate the school principal into the clinical experiences of teacher candidates.

In this article, we review early teacher support, socialization into the profession, teacher attrition, and retention. In addition, we identify barriers that principals reported that prohibit their involvement with teacher candidates in university teacher preparation programs. We conclude by presenting a new conceptual model for principal involvement in teacher education: M³ (three supports for preservice teacher: mentor, university supervisor, and principal). We believe that the new model we propose offers a more comprehensive method for collaboration and principal involvement in teacher education.

The information gained from the school principals perspective may serve to inform teacher education and administrative preparation programs. It may also facilitate the development of a new four-way multidimensional collaborative model for teacher education that consists of the teacher candidate, cooperating teacher, university supervisor, and school principal. Specific information related to school principals involvement in preservice teacher preparation that this study identified included (1) the level and types of support that school principals currently provide to the preparation of new teachers; (2) the obstacles that may be preventing principals from becoming more involved with teacher preparation; (3) the types of activities that make sense for principal involvement with field experience and student teaching; and (4) suggestions for better collaboration between schools and teacher/administrator preparation programs.


Three areas that impact the profession of teaching will be explored in the literature: early teacher support, socialization into the profession, and teacher attrition and retention. Regardless of whether the current climate of high-stakes testing and school accountability is a contributing factor, teacher attrition has long been a critical issue in education because teachers leave their profession much earlier in their careers than do professionals from other fields (Dove, 2004). The resulting impact on both the quantity and quality of new educators entering the profession of teaching is a growing concern (Rebore, 2007; Seyfarth, 2005). This study seeks to begin the dialogue on how teacher preparation can make a positive connection with these issues through a collaborative model for teacher education that not only includes the traditional triad of student teacher, cooperating teacher, and university supervisor, but also introduces a defining role for the school principal.


For the purposes of this article, professional educational field experiences prior to student teaching will be called early clinical field experiences (including practica, microteaching, and classroom observation). Professional educational internships that occur near the end of a teacher candidates course work involving 10 or more weeks of supervised classroom teaching are referred to as student teaching.

Early clinical field experiences

Conceptual frameworks for teacher education and teacher preparation are strongly influenced by ideas developed from the context of individual practice, perceived best practices, and research about what is known and understood about teaching and learning. Transfer of what is learned in teacher education programs has been strongly linked to whether there were opportunities for teacher candidates to develop knowledge about teaching by experiencing and reflecting on authentic classroom situations (Moore, 2003). For this reason, early field (clinical) experiences and the student teaching experience are often regarded as two of the most significant aspects of teacher preparation programs (Bell & Robinson, 2004; Weasmer & Woods, 2003). Both the clinical field experiences and student teaching are meant to provide the teacher candidate with authentic classroom experiences and practical knowledge to help him or her develop a context for understanding and facilitating the complex relationship between learning and teaching.

Often occurring concurrently with university classes, clinical field experiences offer considerable opportunities for teacher candidates to learn and acclimate themselves to their chosen profession while building discrete pedagological skills, dispositions, and classroom expertise. Typical opportunities and areas of growth for teacher candidates during field experiences include planning lessons and units, improving classroom management techniques, and differentiating and assessing their instruction to meet the individual learning needs of their students.  

How are field experiences in teacher education arranged? Typically, many teacher education programs follow a medical school internship model. Field experiences are used to engage and build teacher candidates knowledge and understanding and to accelerate their growth toward expert pedagogy (McDermott, Gormley, Rothenberg, & Hammer, 1995). A group of teacher candidates are placed in a K12 school (clinical environment) and experience the total ecology of classroom teaching while working with pupils within their intended area of licensure.

Teacher candidates generally begin their licensure-area coursework before they begin a clinical field experience. The clinical field experience contributes considerably to the professional learning and development of teacher candidates, and its effect is to underscore the scope and complexities of working in an authentic learning environment (Graham, 2006). Learning to teach is a multifaceted process determined by the interaction of personal factors, such as the teacher candidates knowledge and beliefs about teaching, learning, and subject matter, and situational factors, such as expectations, demands, and feedback from key actors in the university and public school settings (Borko & Mayfield, 1995). In the field placement, teacher candidates generally work under the guidance of a university faculty member and cooperating teacher who share their expertise and work to support the intern.

Although many teacher education programs have early field experiences as part of their requirements, there is not widespread agreement on the expected design, duration, or intensity of the field experiences (Darling-Hammond, Hammerness, Grossman, Rust, & Shulman, 2005). Although poorly designed field experiences are much less common now than in times past, they do exist (Strand & Johnson, 1990). Consequently, for some teacher candidates, field experiences may not lead to the intended analysis, reflection, and growth (Anderson, Barksdale, & Hite, 2005; Guyton & McIntyre, 1990). Why does this happen? Often, field experience sites are chosen unseen, and cooperating teachers are not always the most experienced or qualified teachers at the site; they are more likely to be teachers who are willing to take on the added responsibility of an intern (Giebelhaus & Bowman, 2002; Strand & Johnson, 1990). Though there is extensive research examining effective mentoring practices for preservice teacher candidates (Graham 2006; Sinclair, Dowson & Thistleton-Martin, 2006), except in the most innovative teacher education programs, that knowledge is not regularly communicated to cooperating teachers who participate in field experiences (Giebelhaus & Bowman).

The importance of early field experiences to teacher education and the opportunity it represents to immerse the teacher candidate in the profession cannot be overstated; however, whether field experiences are an indispensable part of teacher preparation is contested. In Texas, the state board of education recently has allowed teaching applicants to work as fully licensed teachers without taking any education course work (National Council on Teacher Quality, 2004). Other districts hire new teachers as teaching interns (who may or may not be affiliated with a college or university teacher education program) to work in schools while obtaining their permanent teaching credential (Kellough & Kellough, 2007). These less than rigorous teacher preparation practices greatly contribute to the deprofessionalizing of teaching (Ryan & Cooper, 2004). Teachers new to the profession must develop a theoretical and practical understanding of their work, and the experience of learning to teach under the supervision of skilled educational professionals can increase professional teaching behaviors and promote habits of mind not easily acquired in campus-based methods coursework (McDermott et al., 1995). One of these professionals with whom the student teacher needs to associate is the school principal. As the buildings instructional leader, school principals greatly reinforce the institutional culture of the school, providing guidance and support and offering instructional and institutional resources, yet teacher candidates report minimal interaction with the principal during their clinical field experiences (Liebert, 1992; Vann, 1988). The role of the school principal in conveying the intricacies of the macroculture (schoolwide) is just as significant as the role of the cooperating teacher in conveying the details of the microculture (classroom).

Student teaching

Early field experiences can be considered snapshots of a teaching career, whereas student teaching (by definition involving more time in schools) may be said to represent a whole album of experiences and opportunities heralding the transition from teacher candidate to teacher. How is the student teaching experience distinguished from field experiences? The student teaching experience exemplifies the concept of learning through experience, encourages professional goals that are internally imposed rather than externally imposed, produces a high degree of positive emotional involvement, stimulates personal and professional growth, and allows teacher candidates to be introduced fully into the teaching milieu (Conderman, Morin, & Stephens, 2005). Student teaching is the final developmental stage for a teacher candidate in which he or she accomplishes three primary tasks: (1) acquire knowledge of students, (2) use that knowledge to modify and construct his or her personal identity as a teacher, and (3) develop standard procedural routines that integrate classroom management and effective instruction (Kagan, 1992).

Student teaching is the capstone event for a teacher candidate enrolled in a teacher education program. As student teachers gain more classroom experience, they move from initial concerns about self and basic teaching competencies to more sophisticated concerns about their students learning (McDermott et al., 1995). In student teaching, it is the authentic integration of theory and practice that is the primary tool that facilitates teacher candidates becoming reflective practitioners who can develop a strong rationale for instructional decisions (Moore, 2003). As with most outcomes in education, a successful student teaching experience is built through intensive collaboration. This collaborative effort involves several interdependent factors, including a teacher candidate committed to growing and learning, a cooperating teacher willing to share his or her knowledge, and placement in a K12 school that welcomes educational interns and student teachers.

A teacher candidates student teaching can significantly influence whether a new teacher decides to pursue a career in schools or, conversely, chooses to leave the profession; this means that cooperating teachers have a considerable amount of responsibility during student teaching. Given the current emphasis on high-stakes testing and achievement tests in K12 schools, allowing a novice teacher to share or deliver classroom instruction time for a semester or longer can be seen, instructionally, as a professional risk. In theory, the selection and placement for student teaching are generally selective; student teachers, cooperating teachers, and school principals participate in an interview process (Liebert, 1992). However, the formality, consistency, and inclusion of each of these important contributors tend to vary from school to school. The risks can and should be lessened if the university and clinical site have a strong communication link and are philosophically united.

One of the best predictors of an effective student teaching experience is the amount of preparation and planning that occur before the student teacher arrives. Ideally, the university faculty and cooperating teacher work closely together prior to the interns arrival to collaborate on placement logistics and align the universitys goals with the K12 students instructional needs.

How important is student teaching to the overall growth of a teacher candidate? Many teachers have identified student teaching as the most important element in their preparation (Darling-Hammond et al., 2005). Student teaching experiences have been linked to efficacy and teacher attrition rates (Plourde, 2002), and one recent survey of early-career teachers (Oh, Ankers, Llamas, & Tomyoy, 2005) reported their first-year teaching as a disappointment and not what they expected after successful student teaching. It should be noted that student teaching can also socialize teacher candidates into existing school cultures and patterns that may not represent effective practice (Conderman et al., 2005). Likewise, placement with teachers who take instructional shortcuts or who are simply ineffective also can have a deleterious effect on teacher candidates professional development.

Traditionally, the role of the cooperating teacher is so complex because he or she is responsible for both evaluation of the teacher candidate and mentoring (Weasmer & Woods, 2003). Effective cooperating teachers carefully guide the teacher candidate toward an authentic classroom experience. A survey of cooperating teachers perceived their role and responsibilities as including modeling, mentoring, and guiding teacher candidates (Anderson & Shannon, 1988). Although the university supervisor has mentoring and evaluation responsibilities similar to those of the cooperating teacher, and he or she is generally regarded as a liaison between the student teacher and the cooperating teacher, assuring a quality clinical experience, cooperating teachers do all the heavy lifting in preparing new teachers (Power & Perry, 2002, p. 408). The triad of cooperating teacher, university supervisor, and student teacher is meant to be a close, mutually beneficial relationship, but if role expectations, responsibilities, or philosophies are unclear, the triad can fail and interfere with the teacher candidates induction into teaching (Bullough & Draper, 2004). Student teachers can successfully navigate this important stage in their career with the help of cooperating teachers, university supervisors, and the principal (Bell & Robinson, 2004; Vann, 1988). Integrating the school principal into the triad of cooperating teacher, university supervisor, and preservice teacher reinforces the collaborative nature of teacher preparation and ensures that work of the group is geared toward the common goal of supporting the teacher candidate through mentoring, observation, evaluation, and feedback.


Teaching is a complex profession that places many demands on the novice teacher, often overwhelming and frustrating these new professionals (McCaughtry, Cothran, Kulinna, Martin & Faust, 2005). The novice teachers enter the profession eager, excited, and ready to make changes in schools (Johnson & Birkeland, 2003). However, they are not always prepared for the challenges of teaching.

The challenges for novice teachers include planning and motivating students, understanding and implementing a curriculum already in place, developing a rapport with students, parents, colleagues, and administrators, and learning to navigate the organizational structure (Kent, 2000). Additionally, the novice must learn how to negotiate the introduction of new ideas and practices learned during teacher education preparation (McCaughtry et al., 2005). Interviews with novice teachers revealed that they often worked in isolation, were faced with multiple academic preparations, or were left to sink or swim without any organized support from colleagues or administrators (Johnson & Birkeland, 2003; McCaughtry et al.). Preservice teachers are socialized into becoming professionals throughout their undergraduate training. However, the education and socialization should not end upon graduation. Teachers continue to learn and become socialized into the profession throughout their teaching career.

The challenges that a new administrator faces can be overwhelming because staff and teachers look to them to cure all ailments of the school. Principals must learn how to manage their subordinates and meet the demands of their superordinates. Some of these administrators are transitioning from being one of the teachers (i.e., having come from the teaching ranks) to now being considered one of them (administration). The socialization process on the new administrator can be just as daunting as that of the novice teacher. Both novice teacher and new administrator seek to be accepted and achieve competency while trying to change or challenge the way things are done. For both the novice teacher entering the profession and the new administrator, who has grown professionally into this new role, the social systems they face can be powerful.

Socialization can be a powerful determinant for induction to the profession and for professional growth. The theoretical framework of socialization has been defined as the the processes by which people learn social behavior (Waters & Crook, 1990, p. 91), which is learned through training and internalization of social patterns (McDonald, 1999). Research on preservice teacher candidates and novice teacher induction is grounded in the theoretical perspective of occupational socialization. The extensive findings of Lawson (1986) have defined occupational socialization as all kinds of socialization that initially influence persons to enter the field of education (which can be applied throughout a teaching career) and later is responsible for their perceptions and actions as teacher educators and teachers (p. 107). Lawson (1983) determined that occupational socialization has three phasesacculturation (recruitment), professional (preservice), and organizational (entry to the profession)which most likely molded teachers perspectives about their subject and pedagogical practice. Socialization is the process by which persons recruited into education acquire the knowledge, values, sensitivities and skills endorsed by the profession (Lawson, 1988, p. 267). The acculturation, which begins at birth and continues throughout the schooling process, has been considered to have a powerful impact on recruits (Hutchinson, 1993; McGuire & Collins, 1998; Woolger & Power, 1993). These experiences during childhood and adolescence, and interactions with significant people have led to their understanding of what it means to be a teacher (Curtner-Smith, 2001). These experiences have been called apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975) and have held a traceable influence on the individuals decisions, pedagogies, and philosophies as teachers (Schempp & Graber, 1992).

Typically, preservice teacher education students exit their training programs with new pedagogical content knowledge and new methodologies for application that have been practiced in field and student teaching experiences. Once the preservice teachers complete their education preparation programs, they take with them a shared technical culture readiness for the work of teaching (Lortie, 1975). As they enter the profession, novice teachers must acclimate to the organizational climate; they are socialized into the work culture and systems.

Professional socialization has been defined by Lawson (1983) as the process by which teachers acquire and maintain the values, sensitivities, skills, and knowledge that are deemed ideal for teaching (p. 4). Several researchers have found that teacher education programs seem to have relatively little impact on preservice teachers beliefs about teaching that were shaped during their youth, and although these are challenged, they are not easily changed (Curtner-Smith, 1999; Evans, 1992; Green, 1998; Matanin & Collier, 2003; Placek et al., 1995). Preservice teachers use course content, field experiences, and student teaching as a means to confirm their beliefs rather than to challenge or modify these beliefs (Doolittle, Dodds, & Placek, 1993; Matanin & Collier; Solomon & Ashy, 1995).

Organizational socialization is the process by which educators learn the knowledge, values, and skills required by the work organizations (Lawson, 1988, p. 267). Van Maanen and Schein (1979) defined organizational socialization as the process by which one is taught and learns the ropes of a particular organization and its role (p. 211). It occurs when prospective and novice teachers acquire and maintain a custodial ideology and the knowledge and skills that are valued and rewarded by the organization (Lawson, 1983, p. 4). Zeichner and Tabachnik (1983) referred to the concept of institutional press, in which the schools culture is transmitted from one generation to the next. The bureaucracy of the environment greatly influences teachers (Lawson, 1986; Schempp, 1989; Van Maanen & Schein, 1979), and it is this bureaucratic socialization that often leaves prospective and novice teachers few opportunities to be innovative and encourages the adoption of a custodial approach to their work (Lawson, 1986; Tierney, 1997). The induction years have become a year of survival in which young teachers learn to survive the complexities of teaching and the operations of the school system (Huberman, 1989; McCaughtry et al., 2005; Schempp & Graber, 1992). In addition to the socialization that occurs, most specifically, the novice educator faces marginalization and often struggles for academic legitimacy (Schempp, Sparks, & Templin, 1993; Solomon, Worthy, & Carter, 1993; Stroot, Faucette, & Schwager, 1993). This struggle adds another layer of pressure that often overwhelms the prospective and novice teacher, forcing young and innovative teachers from the profession. The time has come for socialization into the profession to be more carefully planned and orchestrated by the school principal. Missing from the process is greater involvement by the school principal. The principal plays, or should be encouraged to play, the critical role of making sure the school environment and its pressures dont drive teachers away. Collaboration between the school and university to integrate the socialization aspect into course content and experiences could redefine ways that a principal can guide the novice to a deeper understanding of the contextual aspects of education and schools.

Sarason (1990) maintained that unless schools become places where teachers can grow and develop, they will not be able to create optimal learning conditions for students to grow and develop. Because the overall organizational culture and climate influence the work of individuals, leaders at the school level have the critical responsibility for providing initial and ongoing support to all teachers, beginning with those at the preservice level. Understanding the culture and climate of a school depends on interpreting how societal and other issues impact the organization, especially in the areas of teaching and learning. Loosely defined, culture pertains to what the people in a particular school value. Shared values define the basic character of a school and give it a distinctive identity (Hoy & Hoy, 2006). A schools culture provides a compass for its members because it defines an organizations meaning and purpose.

Inferences about a schools climate can be made by looking at how the staff and students in a school behave. In addition to influencing member behavior, a schools climate embodies a set of internal characteristics that is very contextual and distinguishing (Hoy, 1990). For a newly hired teacher, understanding the culture and climate of his or her new school can be daunting. Their perceptions of teaching are shaped by a variety of factors related to their work location, including the beliefs, attitudes, and practices of the people who work there, and the communitys expectations (Bartell, 2005). The influence of the schools culture and climate can be a strong factor for shaping the beliefs and practices of new teachers. Sometimes those cultural beliefs and practices are in conflict with what was learned in teacher preparation programs. The school principal can perform a significant role by providing new teachers with an explanation of how behaviors observed in his or her school reflect the core values of the organization. Such an orientation additionally assists in bridging the gap between the philosophical perspectives of the teacher preparation program and the school (Nolan & Hoover, 2004). According to Sergiovanni (2001), the school principal is in a key position to communicate the collective ideology and can answer questions about what makes a school unique, including what members value and why they function in a certain way. By providing such insight, new staff members can gain a better understanding of their own role and purpose within the organization.

Another socialization and contextual perspective involves the knowledge and understanding of the students and community. Although the students in our nations classrooms are becoming more diverse, the demographic profile of K12 teachers remains homogenous (Valli, 1996). Future teachers, who will be mostly White females who attended small-town suburban schools, are more likely to teach children with backgrounds different from their own (Pease, 1996). In addition to the diversity issues related to a broader racial and ethnic mix of students, our schools are dealing with some other major student characteristics. Conditions that novice teachers will face include poverty, homelessness, single-parent families, and increased incidence of mental illness in their students. How new teachers develop the efficacy to deal with todays students is dependent on how these issues are addressed within teacher preparation programs. The problem of low expectations for achievement of some minority populations is a mindset that is shared by both novice and experienced teachers (Zeichner, 1993). Current reform efforts are forcing schools to address the historical foundations of low academic achievement. Strong leadership is of primary importance in guiding teachers to develop requisite skills and strategies that promote the learning of all students.


The National Center of Educational Statistics has predicted a significant shortage of teachers reaching far into the 2000s (Rebore, 2007). In addition to retirement projections, there is the issue of getting recently educated teachers into our classrooms and keeping them there. Only about 60% of those prepared to teach actually do so. New teachers who do get into the classroom mark the highest attrition rate within their first year of teaching (Whitener, Gruber, Lynch, Tingos, & Fondelier, 1997). Current attention on retention has stemmed from the report released by the National Commission on Teaching and Americas Future (1996), citing that 30%50% of beginning teachers leave teaching within their first 5 years. Studies indicate that teachers leave because of dissatisfaction with the profession; of these, the most often cited reason for the dissatisfaction is lack of administrative (principals) support (Zumwalt & Craig, 2005). These teachers reported the desire to have the principal more engaged in mentoring and overall development as a teaching professional in their school system. Ingersoll (1999) further blamed the level of teacher dissatisfaction on inadequate support from the administration (p. 6). He noted that retaining teachers is a function of organizational conditions and that the solution to the revolving door lies not only in recruitment but also in the retention of newer faculty (as cited in Zumwalt & Craig).  By understanding the conditions that lead to teacher attrition, principals can provide structured support to both teacher and organization to promote professional growth and community. Structured support can be exhibited by providing feedback about job performance, helping candidates connect with students and parents, and fostering the practices that the principal has deemed important in meeting the educational goals of the school. Principals know what changes are needed to improve or show continual growth, and this is their opportunity to establish those changes. Principals can also use their knowledge of the ramifications of organizational context on teacher attrition to help preservice teachers whose realm of awareness has been primarily focused on the workings of the classroom.

Two additional reasons that first-year teachers leave the profession are the discrepancy between their preparation and the actual requirements of the job, and the disparity between the first-year teachers expectations and the realities of the job (Brighton, 1999). Perhaps the real key to the problem of teacher attrition lies in the ability of a school to provide ongoing support, assistance, and training to new teachers.

Induction programs with an especially well-designed mentoring component raise retention rates for new teachers by improving their attitudes, feelings of efficacy, and instructional skills (Darling-Hammond, 2003). Many states now require beginning teachers to go through an assistance or induction program. Although the structure of induction programs may vary from state to state and from district to district, most are designed to assist the first-year teacher with the many procedural, instructional, and professional responsibilities associated with successful teaching. Managing a classroom, planning and organizing instruction, motivating and evaluating students, and using effective teaching strategies are a few areas in which most beginning teachers require assistance (Gordon & Maxey, 2000).

One major ingredient of an effective induction program is the assignment of an appropriate mentor from the ranks of experienced teachers (Gold, 1996; Smith & Ingersoll, 2004; Wright, 2001). Mentoring programs can provide the novice teacher with assistance in transitioning from student to teacher, guidance in learning a new curriculum and school system, and a reflection on teaching practice (McCaughtry et al., 2005; Smith & Ingersoll; Stedeman & Stroot, 1998). The mentoring relationship is also based on a larger system of multiple supports aligned with district and school goals, which promotes ongoing professional learning (Wong, 2004b). The literature rarely cites the principals role with induction beyond the assignment of mentors. However, principals who are true instructional leaders have much more to offer. Through both formal and informal mentoring activities, the principal can also provide another level of support and guidance throughout the induction process. Beginning teachers view the principal as the leader who sets the schools expectations for teaching and learning. As such, they are anxious to both please and receive good evaluations from the principal (Brock & Grady, 1998). Induction provides the principal the opportunity to share perspectives from the vantage point as instructional leader of the school. It is this 360-degree perspective of the connection between the classroom, school, and community that is viewed best through the eyes of the school principal.

New teacher induction programs should be designed according to three components: professional development, support, and retention (Wong, 2004a). Similar components should be found in field-based preservice activities in which training is emphasized through the attention placed on the transition from formal, academic knowledge to the need to develop practical knowledge gained from practice in the field (Nolan & Hoover, 2004). Support is demonstrated through the student/cooperating teacher/university supervisor relationship, which represents the traditional triad for field-based preservice activities. Research on beginning teachers indicates that they view principals as central to successful socialization and induction (Brock & Grady, 1998). A principals diligence in developing a relationship that guides and assists preservice teachers may help allay preservice teachers concerns about being able to meet expectations. Introducing the principal as part of the support group during early preservice field work could prove beneficial as to how new teachers view the role. The third factor, retention, is not formally considered in preservice programs. The issue of retention assumes that a well-defined and organized induction program potentially reduces the attrition rate of new teachers. There may be some value in considering the impact of teacher attrition and retention during preservice, which could be directly affected by the active involvement of the school principal.


This study reports barriers that principals indicated prohibit their involvement with teacher candidates in university teacher preparation programs. The information gained from the school principals perspective adds a missing element to teacher education and administrative preparation programs and facilitates the development a new four-way, multidimensional collaborative model consisting of the teacher candidate, cooperating teacher, university supervisor, and school principal. An interpretive qualitative research approach was employed (Cresswell, 1994; Erickson, 1986; Fraenkel & Wallen, 2003; Merriam, 1998). Interpretive qualitative research offers opportunities for specific understanding through the documentation of interviews, statements, and details from local practice; considers the meaning that behaviors, knowledge, beliefs, and events have for participants; and offers comparative understanding between and beyond the immediate circumstances of the local setting (Erickson). The technique for gathering data employed in this investigation was the process of in-depth interviewing. Described as a conversation with a purpose (Kahn & Cannell, 1957), in-depth interviews are much more like conversations than formal events with predetermined response categories. The researcher explores a few general topics to help uncover the participants perspective but otherwise respects how the participant frames and structures the response. Ten principals participated in interviews that were audiotape-recorded and transcribed verbatim, with dialogue attributed to each speaker. The constant comparative method was used to determine major themes, patterns, and categories. These themes were then used as the framework for discussion.

The major research questions for this study were: What are the level and types of support that school principals provide for the preparation of new teachers? What are the obstacles that may be preventing principals from becoming more involved with teacher preparation? What are the types of activities that make sense for principal involvement with field experience and student teaching? What are suggestions for more meaningful collaboration between schools and teacher/administrator preparation programs?

Of the 16 principals contacted, 10 elected to participate in the study. These principals came from rural and suburban K12 schools in northeastern Ohio. The selection of participants was representative of purposive sampling. Table 1 details the demographic information of the principals who participated in this study. The main criteria for selecting participants were (1) that principals had at least 2 years of experience in the position and (2) representation from K12 schools that accommodated teacher candidates for early field and student teaching experiences.

Table 1. Principal Interview Demographics















The primary researchers contacted each principal to explain the study, gauge interest, and arrange a meeting. Primary data collection occurred during the fall semester of 2006. To identify barriers to involvement in teacher education, the principals participated in structured interviews to identify and describe their current and traditional involvement with teacher education, and that involvement was analyzed to identify to what extent principals were involved in teacher education. The interviews for this study consisted of structured and open-ended questions that encouraged meaningful responses and facilitated opportunities to share experiences and allow areas of importance to emerge. The interviews were designed to elicit, investigate, and record the extent of the principals involvement in, critical knowledge of, beliefs about, behaviors toward, and experiences with teacher education. The dual-structured/emergent factors of the interview were designed to (1) allow participants to disclose their administrative methods, ways of knowing, skills, beliefs, and practices for involvement with preservice teacher candidates and (2) facilitate explanations for what extent they determine their involvement in teacher education to be.

The rigor and quality of an interpretive qualitative research project can be examined by the representation of four criteria: credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). To establish credibility (internal validity) regardless of whether the findings match what is really occurring, this proposed study used the three recommended strategies of triangulation, member checking, peer debriefing, and disclosure of researcher bias for qualitative research (Merriam, 1998).

This study attempted a measure of self-reporting through interviews. A conceptual limitation may be attributed to the interviews, which were used as significant tools for evaluation and information, but they may not be completely accurate because of participants concerns about self-disclosure and confidentiality. Additionally, the data and information were filtered through the authors own personal perspectives and the conceptual framework that guides this study.


All principals regarded interaction with preservice teachers as being quite important. However, these findings appeared to be at odds with what preservice teachers reported during an earlier study involving principals actual interaction with teacher candidates during field experience (Varrati, 2006). That study surveyed prospective and practicing principals regarding activities conducted with preservice teachers. Preservice teachers were additionally surveyed and interviewed to ascertain how principals actually interacted with them during field experiences and student teaching. That study concluded that principals perceptions differed from their actual involvement with preservice teachers; it was very limited or nonexistent. The current study interviewed principals to identify barriers to more deliberate involvement with preservice teachers. Principals were shown the results of a prior study (Table 2), which showed a discrepancy between principals perceptions of their role with preservice teachers and what student teachers actually experienced (Varrati, 2006).

Table 2. Perceptions Versus Practice of Principals With Preservice Teachers







%Occurred/Did Not

Meets with university supervisor

44.4     55.5

28.6     71.4

Welcomes preservice teachers

100       0

28.6     71.4

Shares school mission

83.3      16.7

15.9     84.1

Introduces teacher to cooperating teacher

94.5      5.6

14.3     85.7

Introduces preservice teacher to staff

77.8      22.2

9.5      90.5

Acquaints preservice teacher with student population/demographics

66.7     33.3

17.5     82.5

Makes periodic visits to classroom

83.4     16.7

15.9     84.1

Observes a lesson and gives feedback

72.2     27.8

9.5      90.5

Meets with cooperating teacher concerning

preservice activities

77.8     22.2

20.6     79.4

Conducts an exit interview

72.2     27.8

14.3      85.7

Information gleaned from principals was categorized into the following topics: (1) level and types of support that principals currently provide for the preparation of new teachers, (2) obstacles that may be preventing principals from becoming more involved with teacher education programs, (3) types of activities that make sense for principal involvement with field experience and student teaching, and (4) suggestions for better collaboration between schools and university teacher/administrator preparation programs.


The principals reported taking a back seat to the cooperating teacher and university supervisor. Principals felt that it was important for the teacher candidates to have a good learning experience in which they were supported as they practiced applying course content to the classroom setting. Most seemed to take their role in selecting the cooperating teacher very seriously and saw their position as auxiliary to the cooperating teacher and university supervisor:

Support, my contributions have been willfully small . . . so I would say being careful who I place the student teacher with and to make sure that its a strong teacher, a teacher who really believes that all students can learn. . .  I try to put them with very strong cooperating teachers. (PW)

Like I said before, maybe the support to the teachers. . . . Sometimes I never have to be involved. Theyre typically very good student teachers that dont need any intervention. . . . so I am more or less a coach to the cooperating teacher, to make sure the teacher offers them those kinds of opportunities that they need. (DS)

It becomes evident from their expressions that these principals see their role purely from a support standpoint. Other principals expressed their views as being more of an employer; they would wait for the student teacher to contact them for a teaching evaluation or mock interview.

My biggest contribution, I believe, has been when I get the one on one conversation. When they come to me with their interview form and questions. . . . During that time I always bring up what life will be in the first year of teaching. (WR)


The time constraints and job demands that principals have in meeting the needs of the students, teachers, and staff of their schools had them placing preservice teacher experiences relatively low on the priority list. Many reported that being involved with students was more the role of the assistant principal or, more important, the cooperating teacher. Others felt that their time was better spent serving their own teachers, whom they saw as their main responsibility: It still comes back to that priorities, time. . . . If you want to, you could be in this office all day because theres so much stuff to do that if you wanted to be self-consumed it would be possible (JS).

Well I think time is one of them, thats always a big obstacle but sometimes that is a cop-out. Also priorities, because I think thats what gets in the way more. . . . And, the last thing probably has to do with clear expectations of what the principals role is. We all have great intentions, as principals, of doing these things, but the reality is, we cant get it all done. (RS)

Most expressed time constraints, but one principal felt that she needed structure and guidelines from the university. I think some things that would help would be if we could have that initial meeting with the university person to kind of set up the expectation (PW). She expressed willingness to become more involved, but more in terms of fulfilling the expectation of the university. She also felt that her role was better spent touching base occasionally, being very hands-off. This was the only principal who saw the obstacle differently.

Another perceived barrier that came across was the time emphasis on managerial versus instructional types of activities: fixing copiers, fixing the computers, managing 60 staff members . . .600 kids (MC). Another key concern was time devoted to school reform activities: I think, whether accountability of No Child Left Behind . . . of every decision you make and just getting things done day to day (DK).


Principals reported enjoying the opportunity to meet the preservice teacher in a more informal way. Although most felt it was important that the cooperating teacher take the lead in observing the student teacher, principals would observe and offer feedback if asked. They were primarily interested in doing a classroom observation if the student teacher was someone they could consider for a teaching position. All principals reported liking to take time to address the student teachers in their building as a group at some point during the field experience. Exit interviews and initial meeting. That would be where we should start, and if we started there, we would be much more likely then to meet with, and at least observe, that student teacher (PW).

Most definitely, sitting down and talking with them, introducing them, all the things that everyone said that they want to do but dont do . . . making sure I get into the classroom and doing an observation, being able to go over that with them, sort of interview them like I would hire. (JS)

These principals had some ideas for activities, meetings, interviews, and classroom observations that they felt were important. They admitted that time and job demands were barriers to actually accomplishing these activities. One principal in particular was very aware of the difficulty that these student teachers were having with the socialization and acculturation into this new professional role. Like I said, that interview is kind of good . . . I think its really difficult for the college students to transition from being a student to the teacher role, so that piece is really important because they dont know (DS).  Another principal saw the importance of the interview to practice needed employment skills. The other thing I will do with the student teacher if they so desire is go through a mock interview with them . . . I have an interview which I rate them on, grade them (MC).


Principals indicated that they saw the importance of being in the loop with university faculty in the planning and coordination of site experiences. They also saw the importance of being part of the process by setting some clear expectations and making time to meet with the university supervisor, cooperating teacher, and preservice teacher. Principals saw how this would elevate their responsibility and provide for collaboration among all parties in the teacher education process, which needs to be a priority. Clear expectations, provide a meeting time with the student teacher, cooperating teacher, university supervisor, and principal . . . that would be a great start. This elevates the responsibility of the principal in a cooperative way (RS).

I think . . . you come a week before everyone, before it really gets crazy here or a couple of days after school lets out . . . to collaborate and talk about are there better ways . . . then follow up, not only with student teachers, but also have some follow-up with the principal . . . its again its about timing. . .  I think there is a communication piece on both ends that doesnt get done. (DK)

Collaboration with the university supervisor has been largely the responsibility of the cooperating teacher. These principals expressed that having an established procedure and responsibility should be a priority and not left to chance.

If the person who is in charge of the student teacher would make that initial appointment with the principal, I think that would get the ball rolling. I think it would be nice to understand what the universitys expectations are of that student teacher in terms of their classroom performance. (PW)


The field experience represents a pivotal point in students preparation to become teachers because it is when theory meets practice and students discover whether they can or even want to teach (Slick, 1995). If the field experience activities are designed to replicate the experience of the first-year teacher, there seems to be a missing component: the formal, active involvement of the school principal. Traditional field experience supervision models comprise a triad consisting of the university supervisor, the cooperating teacher, and the student teacher. Rudney and Guillaume (2003) have outlined specific contributions that can be made to the field experience by the university supervisor and cooperating teacher. These contributions are categorized by specific features relevant to the field experience such as focus, priorities, special expertise, scope, professional concerns, and qualifications. In terms of focus, the university supervisor is primarily concerned with student teachers and how they are fulfilling the college programs expectations. The cooperating teachers focus is on how the student teachers are functioning in the classroom. However, the emerging trend is a movement toward mutual responsibility, including collaboration between faculty and administrators from the teacher education unit and members of the local school (Burrett & Slick, 1995). Accordingly, an additional area of focus should come from the school principal, who would be concerned with how the student teachers become knowledgeable about and function within the larger context of teaching from a school, community, and global perspective. Therefore, a new model for collaboration in teacher preparation (Figure 1) might be applicable (Varrati, LaVine, & Turner, 2007). Table 3 provides an overview of this models breakdown of the roles and responsibilities assumed by the university supervisor, the cooperating teacher, and the school principal.

Figure 1. M³A New Conceptual Model for Principal Involvement and Professional Collaboration in Teacher Education

click to enlarge

Table 3. Member Roles in M³A New Conceptual Model of Collaboration for Professional Practice Designed as a Unified System to Support the Professional and Personal Growth of Preservice Teachers

Student Teacher

University Supervisor

Cooperating Teacher


Building knowledge of students and teaching, constructing personal identity as a teacher, and developing standard procedural routines for class management and effective instruction

Ensuring that the teacher preparation program philosophy is met while creating balance and support for the preservice teacher, cooperating teacher, and school principal

Supporting authentic practices through a variety of rich opportunities for preservice teachers to build a context for understanding and facilitating the complex relationship between teaching and learning

Providing the connection between teacher preparation coursework and the educational context that includes how classroom practices interact with district/school mission and goals, the conditions and dynamics of a diverse community, and the global issues and forces affecting teaching and learning

The results of this study show that although principals see the importance of positively interacting with preservice teachers, they have a difficult time putting these intentions into practice. Three major barriers became evident: (1) demands of the principalship, (2) time to give sufficient attention to the issue of principal involvement as part of collaboration, (3) prioritization of demands and time to be fully engaged. However, the overarching barrier, one that principals did not directly address in their interviews, is that there appear to be no formal expectations regarding the principals role in teacher education.

If the M³ model is ever to become a reality, there is a need to address both the perceived barriers and actual barriers to principal involvement. One way to do this is to reconceptualize the principals role in teacher supervision and evaluation. It also requires new thinking about how we consider the preservice teachers present and future impact on students, schools, and the profession. By defining clear and supportive roles for the preservice teacher, university supervisor, cooperating teacher, and school principal, a true community of practice can be realized. In such a community, the professional growth of each member, including the preservice teacher, is viewed as an important instructional leadership responsibility of the principal. Developmental and differentiated supervision promotes the use of a variety of professional growth activities, from directive supervisory approaches to group processes (Glatthorn, 1997; Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2007; Nolan & Hoover, 2004). These supervisory models are designed so that principals and supervisors, which can include university supervisors and cooperating teachers, can give needed one-to-one attention to the most inexperienced and needy teachers. During site experiences, preservice teachers become part of the schools professional learning community. By taking part in their professional growth at this level, principals provide the early administrative support that is very important to new teachers (Wong, 2004a).

The principals in this study overwhelmingly targeted the demands of the principalship, time, and prioritization of time and demands as key barriers to being more actively involved with preservice teachers. Many also indicated the desire for the site experience process to include preplanning with the university supervisor and cooperating teacher prior to and during the experience. Principals also indicated that they would like prescribed roles and responsibilities. Table 4 describes 10 things that principals can do with preservice teachers (Varrati, 2006). These are introduced to provide the principals role in the M³ new conceptual model of collaboration with activities that can complement the roles and responsibilities of the university supervisor and cooperating teacher.


Recent research has shown that only about 6 out of 10 graduates of teacher preparation programs actually take jobs in the field, and of those who do enter teaching, between one third and one half leave the profession within the first 5 years (National Governors Association, 1999, as cited in Seyfarth, 2005). Many reasons for this attrition have been discussed, including the reality shock experienced when novice teachers are initially immersed into the job, the nature and scope of the working conditions, and the demanding accountability measures of current school reform. Lack of adequate support from the school administrator has been indicated as a reason that novices leave the profession early (Ingersoll & Smith, 2004). Central to this discussion is how we prepare, orient, and socialize novices into our teaching profession. One issue concerns the role of school principal. This study gathered information from principals who indicated that there were barriersincluding job demands, time, and how to prioritize their demands and timethat precluded active involvement with preservice teachers.

 Table 4. 10 Things Principals Can Do With Preservice Teachers






Meets with university


A critical starting point in identifying the principals role in teacher education.

Occurs before selection of the cooperating teacher

Welcomes preservice


The seeds are sewn for a more positive and open relationship when teachers can identify the school principal as a key figure for support and guidance very early on.  

Done individually as teachers begin site experience

Shares school mission

Provides the big picture of how classroom instruction relates to school and district goals. The principal stresses the importance of school as a community of learners that includes staff, students, parents, university, and other stakeholders. The nature of this interaction serves to instill the spirit of teaching as a collaborative endeavor and breaks the chain of isolation.

Can be done as a group as a part of topical meetings conducted by the principal with preservice teachers

Introduces preservice

teacher to cooperating teacher

Sets the stage for an ongoing relationship among the student, cooperating teacher, university supervisor, and principal.

Done individually.

Introduces preservice teacher to staff

Accepting the preservice teacher as a member of the school team depicts the school and the profession of teaching as environments based on collaboration and support.

Can be done at faculty or special meeting for this purpose at the beginning of the site experience

Acquaints preservice teacher with student population/demographics

Includes various characteristics such as language, culture, and socioeconomic status, which must be given serious consideration concerning issues pertaining to teaching and learning. Through the principals broad lens, the teacher can better understand the connection between the student population and schoolwide instructional planning.

Can be done as a group as a part of topical meetings conducted by the principal with preservice teachers

Makes periodic visits to classroom

According to Blase and Blase (2004), principals who make unannounced classroom visits enhance teachers motivation, self-esteem, sense of security, and morale. Effective principals also use such visits as another way to monitor instruction and provide helpful, critical feedback to teachers. Early exposure to this informal interaction between principals and teachers can lesson the anxiety new teachers feel about supervisor expectations.

Done individually

Observes a lesson and

gives feedback

Helps the teacher see lessons within the context of the school and district curriculum and instructional program that other supervisors dont possess. This perspective is even more appropriate within the current climate of school reform because what happens in a single classroom is no longer viewed in isolation.

Done individually

Meets with cooperating

teacher concerning

preservice activities

Being open and available to the cooperating teacher makes the process a positive and beneficial experience for everyone. This interaction further enables the teacher and principal to coordinate the activities where the principal can be engaged, such as classroom visits, and lesson observations. The student teacher, through these coordinated activities, begins to identify the active role that a principal fulfills as the schools instructional leader.

Done individually

Conducts an exit interview

Helps the teacher reflect on the site experience from the unique perspective of having a broader lens on the students, staff, and school community. This meeting also serves to help the principal evaluate the quality and effectiveness of site experience activities.

Done individually at the conclusion of the site experience


Principals also indicated a desire to have better planning and a more prescriptive role in teacher preparation. M³a new conceptual model of collaboration was presented to include the principal with the preservice teacher, university supervisor, and cooperating teacher in a community of practice for teacher preparation. This model also suggested specific activities for principal engagement.

In pursuing this line of research, it became clear that a considerable gap does exist regarding the role of the principal in teacher education programs. In order to build upon this research and continue the discourse about the principals role, several implications and areas for future study are presented. One area is to study teacher preparation programs more in depth to get further information about how principals are involved in teacher education. Implementation of the M³ conceptual model in a pilot capacity during field and student teaching experiences would provide a means to gather more data about collaboration, especially the role of the principal. Principal preparation programs need to collaborate with teacher education programs to address this aspect of supervision in course content and internships. To inform administrator preparation programs, the perceptions between prospective principals and practicing principals regarding teacher candidate interaction need to be pursued.  Finally, a study of professional development schools should be done to see how the principal is involved in a supervisory and instructional leadership capacity with preservice teachers within those programs.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 2, 2009, p. 480-510
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15222, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 11:22:44 AM

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About the Author
  • Anita M. Varrati
    Kent State University
    E-mail Author
    ANITA M. VARRATI is an assistant professor of educational administration at Kent State University. Her research interests center on the effects of external/internal policy on educational practice, and the characteristics of organizations and leaders who effect change in the areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment to promote and sustain continual educational improvement. Recent publications include “Is NCATE the Answer to Current Criticism of Educational Leadership Preparation Programs?” in AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, with A. Tooms and S. Thomas (2006); and “The ESA: Is It an Effective Link Between Top-Down and Bottom-Up Reform? in Perspectives: A Journal of Research and Opinion About Educational Service Agencies (2005).
  • Mary E. Lavine
    Kent State University
    MARY E. LAVINE is an assistant professor of sport studies and physical education/teacher education at Kent State University. Her research interests center on the socialization of preservice and novice teachers and on mentoring practices for preservice and novice teachers to affect the high attrition rates and to promote and improve continual professional development and lifelong learning. Recent publications include “Development of a Learning Community in Undergraduate Physical Education” in The Physical Educator, with S. Mitchell (2006); and “Physical Activity Patterns of PETE Majors: Do They Walk the Talk?” in The Physical Educator, with C. Ray (2006).
  • Steven L. Turner
    Kent State University
    STEVEN L. TURNER is an assistant professor of middle childhood education at Kent State University. His research interests include the knowledge base on the learning sciences (science of learning) and its influence on how students learn and how teachers teach; methods for preparing teacher candidates to teach effectively in an era of high-stakes-testing; and the retention, support, and professional development of first-year middle and secondary school teachers.
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