Developing School-University Partnerships: Three Engagement Keys From edTPA Minnesota Summit
The sixth annual edTPA Minnesota Summit, held October 7 at St. Cloud State University, focused on an issue that is essential to high-quality, comprehensive teacher preparation: securing and maintaining partnerships among higher education institutions and PK-12 school districts.
The summit brought together nearly 100 Minnesota educators to discuss strategies and best practices for creating strong bonds between educator preparation programs and the schools that will host and hire their students.
Minnesota State University at Mankato’s Lori Piowlski, assistant professor of elementary and early childhood, and Elizabeth Finsness, director of field experiences, kicked off the summit with a keynote address telling the story of the partnership between their institution and a local school district. That presentation provided three key takeaways that can help all educators in Minnesota and beyond to develop their own strong and collaborative PK-12 partnerships.
1. Build Strong Personal Relationships in Schools
“It’s all about relationships,” said Piowlski of the partnership’s success. “Initially the mentor teachers were afraid that edTPA would become an impediment to their teaching. Letting them know that edTPA would not be a burden to them was one of the first hurdles we encountered.” On a more fundamental level, demonstrating that the preparation program shares a commitment to the schools’ interests is the foundation of a successful partnership.
Piowlski emphasized that to do so, higher education faculty must get inside the schools and meet principals in person. She recalled a visit to a local school at which the principal was getting antsy—he clearly needed to be out and about in the school building. Piowlski asked, “May I walk with you?” As they walked, she asked about the children in the school, the teachers, and the school climate, conveying a genuine interest in aligning her candidates with the culture. As a result, she was able to determine how Mankato candidates could be best served in that school while making sure the candidates were supporting the school’s academic mission.
2. Bring Local Schools to Campus
Building partnerships involves active participation of both parties. In addition to Mankato faculty and candidates going to schools, principals are invited to campus to speak directly to teacher candidates. Principals can share important local context, said Piowlski, such as changing demographics or language barriers. She described one principal who encouraged Mankato teacher candidates to improve their cultural competency so that every student in the classroom feels welcomed and inspired. This kind of message carries extra weight when it comes from someone with daily experience in local schools.
3. Encourage Professional Communication Between Candidates and Cooperating Teachers
Piowlski also discussed the transformation of the candidates themselves and how this has impacted their relationships with cooperating teachers. Student teachers from Mankato are “talking about their practice at the Xerox machine,” not only with each other but with their cooperating teachers. Piowlski emphasized that candidates should be encouraged to seek out these opportunities for professional discussion, such as Professional Learning Community gatherings. Creating a bond among candidates, cooperating teachers, and university supervisors strengthens partnerships and helps all parties benefit from their shared experiences. Another successful practice that encourages these collaborations is the “sharing” of a PK-12 teacher who works with both the school district and the university to assure that communication is clear and expectations are high.
While Minnesota State University at Mankato has enjoyed local PK-12 partnerships for decades, Piowlski and Finsness said that edTPA has helped bridge theory and practice. In-service teachers in Minnesota are now required to include in their professional development many of the same elements that edTPA is designed to measure (planning, instruction, and assessment). As a result, discussions between novice and mentor teachers are more focused and rich, and the relationships between educator preparation and PK-12 partners continue to get stronger.