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Community-Based Programs Boost Candidate, Student Learning

In an AACTE major forum held March 3, a panel of teacher educators from three state universities discussed the power of partnering with nonschool sites in communities to help prepare effective teachers. “Community-Based Teacher Preparation as Praxis: Preparing Effective Educators Through Research-Practice Partnerships” was organized by the editors of the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE)to bring attention to pioneering work under way on this emerging practice.

JTE Coeditors Dorinda Carter Andrews and Gail Richmond of Michigan State University served as moderators for the panel, which included the following presenters:

  • Robert Lee, Illinois State University
  • Eva Zygmunt and Kristin Cipollone, Ball State University (IN)
  • Kenneth Zeichner, University of Washington

Andrews and Richmond opened the forum by acknowledging the growing popularity, albeit more in concept than in practice, of integrating deep community-based experiences into teacher preparation programs. (Richmond recently explored this phenomenon in an editorial; see the January/February 2017 issue.) Despite increased calls by scholars to have candidates work with youth in nonschool as well as school-based settings, little is known about how such experiences can be integrated meaningfully or about their impact on candidates’ beliefs and practices. The editors designed the Annual Meeting symposium to showcase examples of successful programs and tease out some of the key challenges and solutions developed to date.

Lee’s work with the Chicago Teacher Education Pipeline (which won an AACTE Best Practice Award in 2008) has helped to turn public schools into community-driven learning centers while significantly transforming candidates’ development and practice. Illinois State offered an internal course development grant to faculty members, charging them with redesigning courses to be more embedded in the community, without “cultural excavation” but rather serving the children in schools and communities first. Faculty selected experiences carefully to avoid reinforcing candidates’ stereotypes of students of color and to make sure they recognize White saviorism and other cultural biases. “When you partner the right way,” Lee said, “teacher candidates engage and learn about practical and culturally respectful examples of what social justice can look like. […] No one needs to be ‘saved.’” He also noted that the model “reinforces a shift in who constructs the knowledge and whose knowledge matters.”

Zygmunt and Cipollone, whose Schools Within the Context of Community Program has also won numerous awards from AACTE and others, described their ongoing longitudinal study of the impact of the program on teacher candidates, the community, and PK-5 student learning. Based in the highly mobilized Whitely neighborhood, a predominantly Black section of Muncie, Indiana, the program brings preservice candidates into not only schools but also churches and other centers of activity with their community mentors. Contrasting students’ experience in mainstream classrooms with the traditions of the Black church that dominates community life, Cipollone noted that in schools, too often, “children are expected to check their culture at the door,” and the kind of spontaneous speech and movement that is embraced in church instead lands students in the principal’s office. “I never thought that I could learn how to become a more effective teacher by going to church,” one candidate reflected. The 8-year study under way, grounded in theory from scholars such as Nel Noddings and Peter Murrell, shows candidates are successfully confronting their preconceptions, internalizing the local culture of care, and viewing the community as a valued asset. (Learn more about the program and related research in this article.)

Zeichner’s remarks, delivered by Richmond in his absence, drew on his research into ways to more closely connect the field and campus components of teacher preparation and to measure the impact of community engagement on both candidates and the community. Titled “The Essential but Elusive Role of Communities in Teacher Preparation,” his presentation identified the persistent problem of school isolation and disconnectedness from their own communities, despite teachers’ acknowledgment that they should be connecting with families; they say they just don’t feel prepared to do so. Zeichner said that preservice programs still largely ignore the expertise of families and communities as sources of learning, despite notable exceptions such as those presented in this forum. Moreover, community work “can act as a form of social control,” as noted by Lee, whereas research shows the more effective community-based learning is mediated, founded on mutually respectful relationships and trust, and linked to the rest of candidates’ preparation. Zeichner suggested ways to normalize the expertise of communities including seeking endowments rather than grants, advocating for changes in state program approval regulations, and hiring community-based teacher educators.

To view the forum’s recording and download the slide presentation, visit the AACTE Learning Center.

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