The Educational Achievement Team recently completed our annual round of “milestone visits.” (The photo below is of the visit to Minnesota State University, Mankato.) At these check-ins we meet with the presidents and provosts of our higher education partners, and with those institutions’ project teams and their P-12 school district partners—the people who collectively are changing the way teachers are recruited, prepared, placed and supported.
This is our third year of milestone visits, and each year we’ve learned about our partners, about ourselves and about the process. The nuggets I took away from this year’s visits are both inspiring and sobering.
Traveling to and convening these meetings is well worth it. There is a huge payoff to being on those campuses and in classrooms, really being in the thick of it. It’s one thing working over the phone or meeting in a conference center for a summit, but going to their campus and meeting them where they live and work adds a whole new level of appreciation for the tough work they’re doing and the ways they are succeeding.
It was great, in particular, to observe the synergy and connection that’s evolved this past year between each campus and its P-12 district partners. That the teacher prep programs and districts are working together is one huge change in the education system. And principals and school administrators told my team that they’re also working among themselves differently. They said these new two-way relationships have let them open up about what districts need and want from the programs that prepare teachers.
The team was also inspired by obvious successes around the practice of co-teaching—bringing teachers-in-training into P-12 classrooms to work collaboratively with experienced teachers. Through co-teaching, teacher candidates take part in longer, more realistic teaching experiences, where they actively participate in lesson planning, classroom management and even parent-teacher conferences. We went to classrooms to watch co-teaching in action and listened as senior teachers told us how co-teaching had benefited them. Not only did the less-experienced teacher gain valuable in-classroom training, but mentor teachers said the opportunity to teach alongside a young teacher meant that they got better at their job, too. They also talked about the shifting perception of co-teaching among their peers—experienced teachers who might have hesitated to undertake the extra work of a traditional “student teacher” now wanted to pursue co-teaching.
Our partners’ many successes aside, the visits were also sobering. One of the biggest practical challenges we observed this year is how the changes in the economy impacted labor markets, which in turn affect the chances of new teachers getting a position in their area. We set a goal in 2008 of bringing 25,000 new, effective teachers to classrooms over a decade and are working to gauge the impact that the labor market changes might have on that goal. Our partners aren’t letting these discouraging facts keep them from doing everything they can to recruit great teacher candidates, prepare them well and support them in the first few years of teaching. They’re flexing their curricula to enable students to pursue additional training in high-need areas like special education, English language learning and STEM that can raise their resumes to the top of the stack. The teacher preparation programs are strategizing with students about how to get hired, which is something that had not happened as much before.
We’ve learned through this process we must be flexible as a funder too. Our partners are all progressing at different speeds. If we want our partners’ revamped programs to be sustainable, we need to allow for that variability. We can’t have a “tough luck, it’s just too bad” attitude about a school if it’s running a bit behind the curve. Instead, we’ve committed ourselves to listen to and learn alongside our partners, and offer additional support where we can, to ensure their success and sustained change.
Impressed by our partners’ progress and committed to helping our partners overcome any barriers, the Educational Achievement Team is excited about what will happen over the course of this year and what we have to look forward to learning at next year’s visits.