Partnerships for New Teacher Learning: A Guide for Universities and School Districts
reviewed by Joan Y. Pedro - May 21, 2012
Title: Partnerships for New Teacher Learning: A Guide for Universities and School Districts
Author(s): Stephen Fletcher, Anne Watkins, Janet Gless, & Tomasita Villareal-Carman
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807751839, Pages: 112, Year: 2011
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There are many valuable insights in Partnerships for New Teacher Learning: A Guide for Universities and School Districts. This text is informative and well written and makes a valuable contribution to the literature on how to form and sustain effective school partnerships to support teacher development. The authors involvement in partnerships has led them to question the lack of knowledge about how partnerships are formed (Woods, 2001), and they seek to fill the gap by directly addressing many questions concerning teaching standards, the motivation that leads to building a partnership, and the processes that would sustain partnerships. Having taken a cursory look at existing literature on school partnerships, it is my view that this text is instructive and can serve as a handbook for higher education institutions, school districts, and other organizations seeking to form partnerships. The authors provide a framework for developing successful partnerships by sharing principles and practices from their work with school districts and universities. They also provide many examples and resources from their work in the New Teacher Center, a national organization dedicated to the improvement of student learning by sharpening the effectiveness of teachers and school leaders.
Practices indicative of what really happens in partnerships and the degree of success experienced based on specific principles are detailed in this text, along with guidelines for planning and implementing different configurations of partnerships. The content of each chapter considers a particular piece of the puzzle grounded in the literature and informs the reader of major principles and premises on which to hinge effective partnerships. The text is organized in a sequential manner and begins by defining partnerships, followed by the examination of personnel, purpose, leadership roles, and how to create and sustain good partnerships. The effort to ground this work in the community is evidenced in Chapter 7. Illustrations of different leadership styles provide some insight into effective and ineffective models. The authors attempt to provide a framework for evaluation to choose the right leader. Useful evaluative tools such as the continuum of teacher development, a midyear review, and a self-assessment summary are clearly described and displayed in charts that can be copied by other partnerships.
The authors propose the characteristics of the community of practice (Wenger & Snyder, 2000) as a necessary condition for establishing partnerships for new teacher support. This community of practice includes a joint enterprise, mutual relationships, and a well-honed repertoire of ways of reasoning with tools and artifacts. They cite the New Teacher Centers collaboration with the school districts as having a common set of standards and a common set of tools that guided discussions of teacher development and institutional accountability. These two conditions correlated to the successful result of 90% new teacher retention for their partnership (Strong & St. John, 2001). The community of practice is worthy of replication to provide support for new teachers and boost teacher retention.
An examination of who should form a partnership leads to some important guiding principles regarding thinking about relationships, engaging people, starting small, and avoiding lopsided engagement. The authors give the important advice that institutions must define a desire and then find another institution that shares that desire to form a partnership. The strengths and challenges of different types of partnerships are explicated with examples of constraints and opportunities of both programmatic and strategic partnerships. The authors make the case that the vision, mission, and values must align with an institutions own philosophy, and they feel that it is also important for a common purpose across institutions. They share the example of how the New Teacher Center developed trusting relationships, a common framework and language, and collaborative inquiry, and shared data with the K17 partnerships. The alignment of the continuum of teacher development, with its levels of beginning, emerging, applying, integrating, and innovating, serves as a guide for reflection, assessment, and conversation.
In any change effort, leadership skills are essential to providing vision and management of the change. The leadership models discussed highlight the strengths and weaknesses of certain districts and university leadership and pinpoint reasons for ineffective leadership. Some insight from the literature on leadership models may have enriched the narrative and point to the behaviors of effective leaders. The authors provide a set of questions that should be considered in evaluating whether a partnership has the right leader. These questions are not exhaustive, and I contend that there should be a rigorous evaluation of any leader, given that the success of the partnership is correlated with the leaders vision, communication, and effective management skills.
Many pertinent questions are explored regarding the viability of partnerships: Is it an experiment or a real partnership? Is the commitment there? Are real work and innovation involved? The authors agree that there is no secret formula and present three factorsmutuality, clarity of purpose and roles, and positive impactas important when defining the nature of the partnership. The use of mutually agreed-on language, tools, and protocols is paramount to maintaining a healthy partnership. There should not be mistrust and cross-purposes if there is a clear division of labor and roles are clearly defined. An important distinction is made in the redefinition of mutuality as the return of the investment as equally valued by the partners. The authors also reiterate the importance of honest respect and a mutual desire to benefit from each others assets rather than fix each others failings.
The authors clearly articulate what is needed to sustain partnerships while reiterating the foundational attributes. They call for the agreement of the philosophy, mission, and goals of the partnership and the ongoing data analysis to assess impact and make informed decisions. They remind readers that the continuum of program development is a means to pinpoint areas of success and challenges and to provide data that will help them assess the value and impact of the partnership. They emphasize the importance of maintaining a viable, robust, and effective partnership through the use of multiple sources of data that can be collected through surveys, focus groups, and interviews with the various stakeholders, resulting in a richer analysis and offering greater clarity of next steps. The strengthening and systemization of a partnership may require funding from organizations, but the authors caution against the creation of partnerships just for funding purposes and provide examples of strong and weak partnerships based on the focus of mutual need and commitment.
The prevailing perception that educational institutions are alien to the community is addressed in the text. The authors seek to answer questions related to community involvement and the communication and utilization of community resources relevant to student achievement. There is also the idea that teacher preparation can be responsive to the needs of the community when institutions make use of federal or other resources available to them and share these resources with the community entities. The authors emphasize the importance of having the community as the center of the school and university partnership; if the goal is success for all children, the Harlem Childrens Zone is a fitting example of successful community involvement that involves hard work, commitment, and a direct link to the community.
It is difficult to be critical of this work, which is replete with examples of successful partnerships, along with the strategies employed to make educational endeavors a success through partnerships. A fitting conclusion is that educators have a moral obligation to build the foundation that would help us better prepare our students to be successful. Of note is that it is wise for future partnerships to engage in an honest evaluation and to take small steps while implementing a leadership structure and putting systems in place. The authors advocate accessing human and financial resources and continual evaluation of the partnerships progress. It is vital to build interdependence across institutions and to always be prepared for changes to occur. There is potential for continuing this work, which could aim at the examination of other partnerships that adopt the processes outlined in this text. Data gathered that delineate the success of new partnerships can lead to identifying new strategies that may be unearthed because of contextual differences. In these troubling times for educational institutions, it is very refreshing to read about successful outcomes. The course that has been charted by these authors holds great promise as a guide to building successful partnerships that I believe can indeed promote student success in the future.
Strong, M., & St. John, L. (2001). A study of teacher retention: The effects of mentoring for beginning teachers. Santa Cruz: New Teacher Center, University of California at Santa Cruz.
Wenger, E. C., & Snyder, W. M. (2000). Communities of practice: The organizational frontier. Harvard Business Review, 78(1), 139145.
Wood, A. L. ( 2001). What does research say about teacher induction and IHE/LEA collaborative programs? Issues in Teacher Education, 10(2), 6881.