Innovation and Impact in Teacher Education: Community-Based Organizations as Field Placements for Preservice Teachers
by Morva A. McDonald, Kersti Tyson, Kate Brayko, Michael Bowman, John Delport & Fuyu Shimomura — 2011
Background: Research shows that students who are overrepresented when it comes to failure are underrepresented when it comes to being taught by highly qualified teachers who are well prepared to teach students from diverse backgrounds. Teacher education, as one aspect of the educational system, plays a critical role in preparing teachers with the necessary principles and practices for improving the academic, social, and intellectual opportunities available to students of color, low-income students, and English language learners. Acknowledging this responsibility, teacher education programs continue to search for structural, curricular, and pedagogical approaches to prepare teachers to teach in increasingly diverse contexts. One response has been to connect preservice teachers with community experiences, an uncommon strategy that has been asserted at various times over the past century. This study examines one teacher education program’s innovation of placing preservice teachers in community-based organizations (CBOs) to better prepare candidates to teach children whose backgrounds are different from their own—and particularly children who attend high-needs schools.
Purpose of Study: This study addresses questions of both implementation and impact, specifically examining the participation of preservice teachers in CBOs and the outcomes of this innovation on their opportunities to learn. Through this research, the authors aim to advance the field of teacher education’s understanding of community experiences, and in particular to highlight the ways in which partnerships with community organizations advance the preparation of teachers.
Setting: The University of Washington’s Elementary Teacher Education Program (ELTEP), a five-quarter postbaccalaureate master’s in teaching program.
Participants: Participants in this study include case study preservice teachers from two cohorts: faculty who teach in the teacher education program, and staff who work in the community-based organizations in which the preservice teachers are placed.
Intervention: During the first quarter in the program, preservice teachers spend 60 hours each in CBOs that serve diverse youth. The intention behind the community-based placements is to (1) build connections between prospective teachers, community organizations, and local schools, (2) give prospective teachers opportunities to develop a holistic and assets-based view of children and youth, (3) acknowledge education and learning as a process that occurs in multiple contexts, and (4) place students, families, neighborhoods, and communities at the center of teaching and education.
Research Design: We designed a 3-year longitudinal study in which we follow two cohorts of preservice teachers from their teacher preparation through their first year of teaching. We employ qualitative methods of interviews, focus groups, observations, document review, and survey methods. Data analysis occurred as an iterative process. For this article, we systematically coded individual and focus group interviews for concepts that reflected participants’ participation and outcomes in regard to the program innovation.
Findings: Findings highlight specific dimensions of teachers’ participation in CBOs and indicate ways in which the community experiences added to the resources for learning provided by the teacher education program. The authors also classify outcomes of this innovation and explicate the kinds of opportunities such experiences provide preservice teachers. Specifically, the authors identify instances of how placements in CBOs afforded preservice teachers new ways of seeing and understanding children beyond school and across difference. These findings are preliminary and are based on data and analysis from the first year of our 3-year study.
Conclusions: Through the in-depth case study of the University of Washington Elementary Teacher Education Program’s community-based partnership innovation, we contribute to an overall understanding of such efforts in teacher education. By building on a strong conceptual foundation based in sociocultural and activity theories, this study provides preliminary evidence that field placements in community-based organizations are a promising approach to supporting preservice teachers’ opportunities to learn to work with children from diverse backgrounds. In particular, partnerships with community organizations may move teacher education efforts closer to the overall goal of preparing teachers with knowledge of children that allows them to incorporate the complexity of children’s lives into the classroom in ways that ultimately improve children’s opportunities to learn.
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