A Connected Community Supports Students – and Educators, Too

As the school year nears its end, teachers everywhere are contending with mounting time pressures, waning resources and energy reserves, maybe even an epidemic of spring fever. For some teachers, though, the frenzy and frustrations seem to last all year–and they may feel isolated, underappreciated, and powerless to change the situation. AACTE President/CEO Lynn M. Gangone has this message to encourage them to strengthen their capacity to both support students and thrive as successful members of the professional community.

As a teacher, you’re focused on helping students. You draw from your content knowledge, determine appropriate pedagogy for the particular child and context, and forge connections with resources to support each learner’s growth. What’s more, these practices benefit more than just the young people in your care–teachers, too, thrive with a rich support network in their community and tailored opportunities to learn and grow as professionals.

While you can achieve professional learning and build connections in many ways, one model in particular delivers a powerful boost for educators at all levels in their careers: clinical partnerships between schools and universities. These symbiotic relationships are cultivated primarily to nurture the pipeline of future teachers by providing school-embedded clinical practice. But what we keep hearing from the mentor teachers and host schools is how much the partnerships benefit them.

Whether a model is labeled a “residency,” “professional development school,” or something else, clinical practice is increasingly central to high-quality teacher preparation. Through authentic experiences inside schools and throughout the community, teacher candidates are empowered to take an active role in developing the professional skills and identity that are requisite to leading–and persisting in–their own classrooms. As they develop a well-rounded support system for their students and themselves, they also deepen their capacity to provide culturally responsive, learner-centered practice.

If you’re a mentor teacher, the partnerships provide not only leadership opportunities but a refreshing chance to reflect on and articulate your practice, incorporate new research and ideas from your interns and university partners, and serve your students better by having another teacher in the classroom. And the university faculty gain current insights into today’s schools and engage with practitioners in putting the latest research into practice–which in turn informs further research.

Cultivating teacher leadership through clinical practice is empowering, and it’s important that school leaders establish a culture that supports and amplifies your work as a professional. You can also find support through initiatives such as Teach to Lead summits, which elevate teachers by leveraging their ideas and expertise to inform and develop education policy that will advance student learning.

If you’ve had the opportunity to participate in a summit for teacher leaders or a clinical partnership, you understand their value. If not, you might just have to exercise your professional agency and expertise. Take charge of shaping and renewing your profession. Build networks, communicate and collaborate, connect with your peers down the hall and at the local university to learn, innovate, and advocate together. Clinical practice is not only an entry point but an ongoing vehicle to empower teachers as leaders, both within and beyond the walls of their classroom.

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