Spotlight on Colorado State University’s PDS Partnership

The latest video installment to AACTE’s Research-to-Practice Spotlight Series features university faculty, students, PK-12 cooperating teachers, and school leaders discussing the professional development school (PDS) model of clinical practice they use in Fort Collins, Colorado. For this blog, one of the partnership’s leaders—Donna Cooner, director of Colorado State University’s School of Teacher Education and Principal Preparation—spoke with AACTE Director of Member Engagement Tim Finklea about how this model works. Key lessons from their discussion are highlighted below.

Innovation: Cooner says the biggest benefit of the PDS clinical model is the ability to fully immerse teacher candidates in schools over four semesters. At places like Colorado State University (CSU) where this model is in use, the notion of “traditional” teacher preparation is radically altered, as candidates spend most of their time with real students, in real classrooms, with real teachers. CSU candidates engage in a scaffolded learning cycle that introduces them to theory in seminar settings and then gives them a chance to apply the theory immediately in classroom contexts.

Commitment: Although the CSU partnership has been in operation for more than 20 years, Cooner says it has not always been easy work, as it requires continued commitment and communication among all involved stakeholders. Over time, though, the shared dedication to the vision of effective clinical practice has transformed the way all members speak about the partnership; now, it’s simply “how they do teacher preparation.” The relationships built on mutual respect and a common purpose thrive between university and PK-12 partners.

Professional Development: Practicing educators from CSU’s partner schools play an essential role in the preparation of new teachers. Not only does the clinical model depend on classroom teachers as mentors throughout the four phases of the program, but these experienced teachers also coinstruct many of the on-site seminars with CSU faculty. Theory and practice go hand in hand, because everyone involved is both teaching and learning, and a continual cycle of improvement yields an effective, integrated learning system.

Faculty: A university’s expectations for faculty research and publishing can compete negatively with the faculty time needed to sustain the partnership. Cooner is careful to acknowledge that faculty members need to be able to teach—and to inhabit and interrelate the worlds of research and practice.

Challenges: Cooner says the partnership faces many common challenges in reconciling fundamental differences between university and PK-12 school systems. For example, reward systems, calendars, governance, personnel, and different objectives can pose obstacles. However, these two systems also share the key goal of improving student learning. Through frequent communication and discussion of where systems collide, the partnership continues to thrive and meet its mission.

Mutual Benefits: The partnership has been able to produce numerous mutual benefits. Fortunately, Cooner says, all stakeholders benefit from the relationships. Teacher candidates and their university advisers benefit from hands-on lessons in quality clinical settings; schools enjoy on-site faculty development, more assistance for students, and the opportunity to hire new teachers whom they have observed in action over the course of 2 years.

Recommendations: Cooner acknowledges that the complexity of the systems can be a huge hurdle, but she advises starting the partnership conversation by identifying a shared mission. Together, partners can define their space to work together to unite organizations to support mutual goals.

Want to learn more? Watch Cooner and her colleagues, students, and PK-12 partners discussing their PDS work in this video in AACTE’s Research-to-Practice Spotlight. View other Research-to-Practice Spotlight materials here.

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Christine DeGregory

George Mason University - AACTE intern