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Overcoming Challenges, Reaping Benefits of Clinical Partnership in Queens

Two new videos are available this week on AACTE’s Research-to-Practice Spotlight Series highlighting the St. John’s University (NY) School of Education clinical preparation program known as RISE, or the Residential Internship for St. John’s Educators. This week’s video interviews present faculty and administrators discussing various challenges they’ve had to overcome in setting up and sustaining the RISE Program – and why the results are worth the effort.

The School of Education at St. John’s University (SJU) and its Residential Internship for St. John’s Educators (RISE) have hit a stride with their clinical partnerships to prepare new teachers – but it wasn’t always easy. To get to this point, all parties have worked to overcome hurdles and cultivate strong relationships that set them up for successful navigation of future bumps in the road.

On the university side of the partnership, the first challenge is making sure St. John’s faculty are supported to participate, says Judith McVarish, chair of curriculum and instruction. She works to offer them flexibility with their other assignments, checks in with them regularly, recommends them for merit pay, and otherwise facilitates their involvement in the program.

Dean Michael Sampson says he works to dispel the view that faculty in doctoral programs are more important than undergraduate faculty by emphasizing the value of the RISE Program. He also shows support by spending time in the partner schools himself.

A challenge for St. John’s professors early in the program was having interns spread across several partner schools, meaning that faculty had to travel more and teach just a few students in a course – which required some accommodations from the college. They’ve since moved to place interns in clusters to enable faculty to teach them together.

Another early challenge was just getting faculty comfortable working in schools, with actual students present, rather than on the university campus. “We struggled in the beginning, but just as we’re teaching our students, the real learning comes on the other side of the struggle,” McVarish says. “It’s the best professional teaching I’ve had in my 40-plus years.”

At the school level, Associate Professor Mary Beth Schaefer says the relationship between the interns and cooperating teachers doesn’t immediately start out as mutually beneficial, but they have plenty of time to build trust and companionship. The same goes for relationships among the seasoned professionals at the school and university level. Schaefer says it’s important to set a collaborative tone right from the start, even with appearances – such as by wearing a sweater rather than a suit to look more approachable. “I’m Mr. Rogers,” she jokes.

Judy Henry, principal of the Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School, says they sometimes encounter challenges such as having too many student teachers in one area, but they work things out together – because the benefits of the partnership are great.

Nearly everyone talks about the program’s length – a full school year – as a major asset. RISE Faculty Director Liz Chase says the formal requirements of student teaching, such as official observations, are much easier to accomplish in this timeframe, as is the developmental process of learning to teach.

“We have a much longer runway for our student teachers to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes and try it all over again,” Chase says. She explains that a one-semester student teaching placement is rife with pressure for students to acclimate to a new role while also navigating certification exams and other end-of-degree deadlines.

Student teachers say that having a whole year affords them a more relaxed transition period to progress from observer to leader, and also allows them to really get to know students. They like having enough time and encouragement for some trial and error, with feedback and opportunity to try again.

Principal Henry says she values the RISE interns’ deep investment in her school’s students – which bodes well for their success as teachers. “The teachers they’re paired up with are very passionate.”

St. John’s faculty and administrators share this passion, saying their own presence in partner schools provides authentic settings for their lessons and also keeps them fresh. Together, the partners are changing the dialogue of what it means to be a teacher by bringing in passionate faculty, valuing practitioners as experts, and modeling professional collaboration to help students succeed.

Visit the Innovation Exchange to catch the previous segments of AACTE’s Research-to-Practice Spotlight Series, and stay tuned for our final segment on St. John’s University in 2 weeks!

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