Demystifying Clinical Practice in Teacher Preparation

This post also appears on the Public School Insights blog of the Learning First Alliance.

Educators from PK-12 schools and higher education share the goal of preparing preservice teachers in a way that develops candidates’ skills, contributes positively to student growth, and stimulates mutual renewal of schools and collegiate preparation programs. The conception of clinical experience as a few weeks of student teaching not only is antiquated but runs counter to our professional commitment to quality. Instead, today’s preparation programs are nurturing complex clinical partnerships with yearlong residencies or internships that both produce beginning teachers who are practice-ready and support a process that strengthens the schools’ capacity to deliver high-quality education for their students.

This work is not easy, but such partnerships are well established as the vision of modern educator preparation. The National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER) has a strong track record of supporting these partnerships, as does the National Association of Professional Development Schools (NAPDS). Even the federal government has helped programs to blaze this path, providing incentives through the Teacher Quality Partnership Program, and the proposed Educator Preparation Reform Act would extend this support. In 2010, the Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships of the former National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education issued a report laying out the case for including robust clinical practice in the preparation of all teachers. Since that time, state alliances working through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and AACTE’s own state chapters have developed local protocols and policies around setting up clinical partnerships. All of this work in the field has now matured enough to compel us to call the question: What is this new state of the art? (Hint: Six weeks of student teaching do not suffice.)

In pursuit of common understandings and a solid map of the terrain, AACTE has assembled a Clinical Practice Commission charged with developing definitions, protocols, and actionable recommendations for the field. For this important exercise we are linking arms with our colleagues in practice who have inspired the vision of rigorous clinical experiences for all educator candidates by virtue of their own courageous experience. To tap their expertise, we collaborated with NAPDS, NNER, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and other partners to build a roster of educators whose real experiences will contribute important perspectives to the commission’s work. They are teachers, principals, professors, and graduate students who have split their time between school buildings and college campuses, collecting strategies along the way for bridging gaps, surmounting roadblocks, and improving the learning of both students and teachers.

Over the next 6 months, this group aims to refine the lexicon and develop a white paper that captures a common understanding of effective partnerships for field practice. Thanks to a very productive kick-off meeting and robust online collaboration, this work already is well under way. Soon commissioners will be calling on the broader field for input on their drafts, and the final products will be shared and discussed in a major forum at AACTE’s Annual Meeting in February.

We have arrived at an important milestone in the development of clinically based teacher preparation, where going to scale is more possible because individual programs will not have to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch. We can build on the rich legacy of the profession’s pioneers by providing a common language by which we can support each other and hold ourselves accountable as a professional community. As such, we will benefit from the guidance of those who have been toiling to get it right and now have lessons to offer.

All educators share a mission to both prepare teachers well and provide a great education for students, and we can all get behind the need to ensure that what residents and interns are doing is authentic, useful work that contributes meaningfully to student growth. By capturing a common vision and mapping the complexities of clinical practice and partnerships, the commission promises to speed the pace of change by demystifying it—lighting a path for the profession.

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Sharon Robinson

President and CEO, AACTE