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Collaboration Between Unit and School Partners

Student learning for all students in all places is at the heart of UMM Teacher Education Program’s conceptual framework. As we blend theory and practice to help our candidates reach this goal, there is a concurrent field experience with all university-based professional education courses. Our school partners are essential to the success of this vital program element and are partners in the design, delivery, and evaluation of the field experiences.

Our partners include the cooperating teachers and principals at the placement schools (NCATE Table 10) where our candidates complete field and clinical experiences. Most initial field experiences involve local placements with area schools within a 60-mile radius. We call these our regional placements. We also have non-regional centers which include both large metropolitan school districts (schools in and around the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul; Chicago, Illinois; and El Paso, Texas) and a small Dakota school (Tiospa Zina near Sisseton, South Dakota). Finally, international student teaching placements are available through UMM’s Global Student Teaching Program.

The UMM TEP, like the institution itself, is small, personalized, and collaborative. UMM TEP faculty members teach the education courses, supervise student teachers, and make field placements. This combination of roles allows us to build relationships with our school partners and makes meaningful communication and interaction possible. Importantly, we easily bring the feedback from our school colleagues to decision-making meetings.

Our school partners are also invited to be a part of the UMM Teacher Education Advisory Council. This committee is an informal group that consists of unit faculty, UMM administrators, members of the UMM Teacher Education Committee, and school personnel. The council has allowed us the opportunity for an exchange of information and ideas.

Contributions of Our School Partners

Our partnering school districts and cooperating teachers have contributed to the design, delivery, and evaluation of the unit’s field experience through multiple opportunities for communication, discussion, and decision-making.

The UMM TEP assumes primary responsibility for the design of field experiences especially in consideration of increasing accreditation demands. However, we believe that our responsibility to design meaningful, feasible, and valuable experiences includes careful and thoughtful collaboration with our school partners. We depend on their professional commitment and expertise to help our candidates attain competency as beginning teachers.

Because unit faculty members make placements and supervise student teachers, we are able to maintain open and ongoing communication. Student teaching observation visits by university supervisors allow frequent opportunities to discuss candidate needs and program elements with cooperating teachers. Cooperating teachers provide formative and summative evaluations and are able to convey suggestions and comments regarding assignments, preparation, or the needs of individual candidates. Cooperating teachers are key participants in the evaluation of candidate knowledge, skills, and professional dispositions. They complete key assessments, and their evaluations are essential to the unit. To be sure to give our partners opportunities to provide feedback and suggestions, we have initiated district or school meetings with cooperating teachers and principals and have conducted meetings at their request. The meetings have resulted in ideas that have helped improve the experience for all involved. For example, in response to feedback from cooperating teachers, the secondary education program altered their scheduling of the education course work to enable the candidates to have extended, consecutive days of teaching in their practicum. As another example, feedback from the cooperating teachers this spring affirmed the importance of the Analysis of Student Learning assignment.

UMM Teacher Education Advisory Council meets on an annual basis. This meeting allows UMM TEP faculty to explain new projects and initiatives. We solicit feedback and suggestions especially in regard to field experiences but also involving any aspect of the program. The group has responded to the topics of the analysis of student learning, changes in student teaching assignments, increased demand for reading instruction, and use of technology.

The unit also administers special surveys to increase participation and insure that we are responsive to the needs of our partners. In the Fall 2007 UMM Teacher Education Survey, we surveyed over 200 school partners to solicit feedback on our program communication, expectations, and perceived benefits. The response rate was 28.6% with 62 partners returning the survey. 100% of the responders agreed or strongly agreed that expectations for the cooperating teachers and the candidates were clear and that the evaluation forms were clear and useful in reporting feedback on knowledge, skills, and dispositions. We were especially pleased to learn that 100% of the respondents indicated that they felt comfortable contacting UMM faculty with questions, concerns, and ideas, and that the faculty used the information they had provided.

We look forward to continued partnerships locally, within the state, in out-of-state centers, and in international settings.

Placement Procedures

Clinical experiences are chosen and assigned to allow students to work with diverse populations. Multiple experiences allow students to work with a variety of students in a variety of schools. Candidates choose from required or open placements to best gain a breadth of experience. Most work in small and large schools and in rural and suburban schools. All complete at least one field experience in a cross-cultural setting. Elementary and secondary candidates complete practicum experiences and student teaching in a variety of grade levels representing the scope of their licensure.

Practicum placements are made with involvement of the candidates, principals, cooperating teachers, and University faculty. For placements in all schools in Minnesota and our three out-of-state partners (Chicago, El Paso, and Agency Village), program coordinators and faculty members follow the school’s designated or preferred system to make placements. In all cases, the university and the school district share in decisions about grade level and cooperating teacher choices. Supervision for these placements involves a local supervisor, a university-based contact, and program directors.

Elementary candidates complete four field experiences (totaling approximately 240 hours in classrooms) prior to student teaching, and secondary candidates complete one comprehensive advanced field experience (150+ hours). The placements are selected to ensure a balance of experiences in different grades within the scope of licensure and within the appropriate content fields. The initial request for location, subject area, and grade level is determined by candidate preference and the program faculty’s assessment of candidate need. Decisions are made to insure breadth of experience in classrooms.

The university faculty member making the field placement at a particular school works with the appropriate administrator (usually the principal in our regional placements) to determine the cooperating teachers who meet qualifications and may be contacted. The administrator may make the placements or may give approval for the faculty member to contact the teacher directly. Because of our close relationship with area schools, the cooperating teachers and university faculty have built close relationships that make placement conversations clear and effective. For certain placements, candidates may elect to complete the field experience outside of our regular partner sites. We make these placements using formal written contacts followed by telephone calls and Email as needed. Clear information about the candidate, the requirements, and the expectations of the cooperating teacher is provided for each placement.

Elementary candidates may complete the clinical experience in any of the UMM student teaching centers. In Minnesota, candidates can select placement in Alexandria, Willmar, the Morris region, and in the Osseo School District located in a suburb of Minneapolis. Placements are also available in Chicago, IL, El Paso, TX, and the Tiospa Zina Tribal School in Agency Village, SD. Because it is more difficult to place secondary candidates who must be assigned to a cooperating teacher who is highly qualified in the area of licensure, secondary candidates are not restricted to specific schools for their placements.

When working with partner schools, elementary education faculty follow the school’s preferred method for placing student teachers. In most cases, they meet with the principal, discuss the candidates, discuss what teachers might be interested and qualified, and determine the method of contact. Information packets assist cooperating teachers in making their decision. In secondary education, the discipline coordinator makes contact with the appropriate administrators at the requested schools by mail. The contact includes detailed information and invites telephone or electronic questions of the school personnel. Student teaching contracts are signed by the candidate, the cooperating teacher, and the principal. The unit also maintains a file of signed agreements with the districts in which we place our candidates for their clinical experience.

Both elementary and secondary candidates can apply to fulfill their clinical experience in the UMM Global Student Teaching program (GST). This program offers a variety of international placements. GST makes the placements according to the preference of the candidate and with the approval of the program faculty.

Shared Resources

The UMM TEP and its school partners work together to provide the best support for candidates’ learning in field experiences and clinical practice.

Cooperating teachers in field and clinical field experiences are models and mentors for our candidates. They are experts in their content and in the needs of their learners. As shown in the online handbooks for elementary and secondary cooperating teachers, these partners assume tremendous responsibility to orient the candidates to the culture of the school and community, to guide the candidate in establishing classroom routines and policies, to provide support for planning and instructional implementation, to assess candidate performance, and to provide ongoing informal and formal feedback. Cooperating teachers complete several observations, assess candidate disposition, and complete a summative evaluation.

Most of the university supervision is conducted by professional education faculty with support from clinical faculty at our non-regional sites. The professional education faculty members are fully knowledgeable of the program’s goals, instruction, candidate performance expectations, and evaluation procedures. Most have built close relationships with the candidates they supervise because they have served as their instructors and/or advisors. The adjunct clinical faculty are experienced teachers who have earned a master’s degree or higher in the field of education or their content area. They often are recent retirees with sound knowledge of school life, curriculum, and teaching. Adjunct clinical faculty are supervised by a university-based faculty member, often the program coordinator, who explains expectations, clarifies assignments, answers questions, and offers support in any way possible. All university supervisors, including professional education faculty, have been licensed to teach and have at least three years of teaching experience in public schools.

The cooperating teachers and the university supervisors share the goal of helping the candidate achieve high performance standards in their field and clinical experiences. Frequent communication, a goal of the UMM Teacher Education Program, enhances the shared efforts of the two supervisors.

Though still considered part of our regular programs, many candidates do complete their clinical experiences at school sites beyond the 60-mile radius of the university. For placements in all schools in Minnesota and our three out-of-state partners (Chicago, El Paso, and Agency Village), program coordinators and faculty members contact schools and work within the school’s preferred system to make placements. In all cases, the university and the school district share in decisions about grade level and cooperating teacher choices. Supervision for these placements involves a local supervisor, a university-based contact, and program directors. A professional education faculty member typically visits the site once during the placement to meet with the local supervisor, cooperating teachers, candidates, and administrator. During the visit, candidate observations may also be conducted. Candidates participating in the Global Student Teaching program have been supervised by clinical faculty under the supervision of the GST director. In Spring 2008, each GST participant was assigned a UMM-based faculty member who communicated regularly with the candidate and graded the candidate’s analysis of student learning assignment. In the restructured program, a closer connection to UMM TEP faculty and candidates in international placements is expected.