Rigor and Relevance: Partnering to Advance Clinical Practice Research


AACTE members are committed to high research standards and to producing scholarship that contributes to educational practice. Although the complexity of educator preparation presents a vast spectrum of subjects for scholarly inquiry, I’d like to highlight the importance and timeliness of studying those related to one particular domain: clinical practice. In fact, the new report of AACTE’s Clinical Practice Commission (CPC) unearths a fertile field of opportunities for research that is both rigorous and relevant.

Last month, the CPC hosted a briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, where it offered a thorough conceptual framework and explanation of clinical practice, along with recommendations for implementation. The report released at the event, A Pivot Toward Clinical Practice, Its Lexicon, and the Renewal of Educator Preparation, sets forth 10 proclamations for effective clinical preparation, thus signaling that AACTE is “intentionally committed to a bold voice” in teacher education.

Those proclamations – issued as a follow-up to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) Blue Ribbon Panel’s 2010 study, Transforming Teacher Education Through Clinical Practice: A National Strategy to Prepare Effective Teachers – are as follows:

  • Clinical practice is central to high-quality teacher preparation.
  • As pedagogy is the science of teaching, the intentional integration of pedagogical training into an educator preparation program is the cornerstone of effective clinical practice.
  • Clinical practice includes, supports, and complements the innovative and requisite skills, strategies, and tools that improve teacher preparation by using high-leverage practices as
    part of a commitment to continuous renewal for all learning sites.
  • Clinical partnerships are the foundation of highly effective clinical practice.
  • Sustainable and shared infrastructure is required for successful clinical partnership.
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities of both school and university partners set the stage upon which to build future success.
  • Clinical partnerships are facilitated and supported through an understanding of the continuum of development and growth that typifies successful, mutually beneficial collaborations.
  • As emerging professionals, teacher candidates are essential contributors and collaborators within clinical programs and partnerships.
  • Boundary-spanners, school-based teacher educators, and university-based teacher educators play necessary, vital, and synergistic roles in clinical educator preparation.
  • Coalescing the language of teacher preparation and teaching around a common lexicon facilitates a shared understanding of and reference to the roles, responsibilities, and experiences essential to high-quality clinical preparation.

The CPC’s clinical practice proclamations have set a path before us. Now we must venture along it.

Has our research established a “bold voice” for the education and preparation of the next generation of teachers? I think not. We have made progress, yes, but we have much more to accomplish.

As a field, teacher education needs to overhaul the focus of our research and advance production of scholarship related to clinical practice. Should we reject curriculum rooted in course work unrelated to school-based experiences? Should we ensure our research focuses on the use of tools and strategies that will be most effective in the preparation of the next generation of teachers? Can clinical preparation and its research base be both rigorous and relevant? I think so. Only then will we successfully prepare teachers for 21st-century classrooms – and we must.

The key word here is we.

Due to limited state and federal funding, institutions of higher education can – and should – invest their own resources to advance scholarship and knowledge production. For example, several institutions in Southeast Ohio are combining and sharing their resources to study specific and emerging clinical practices designed to improve PK-12 learning. While each region is unique, many research findings can have implications state- and nationwide.

I challenge AACTE member institutions to join forces and combine resources with other institutions in your region to engage in rigorous clinical practice research that can positively influence PK-12 student learning. The CPC’s recommended pathways to clinical practice yield fertile research opportunities.

There are countless questions that must be asked – and answered – along the way. For example: What are the essential ingredients of an effective partnership? What evidence can we identify that documents successful outcomes in the ever-changing educational climate? What empirical research can we produce that shows the benefits of clinical partnerships in specific regions or states? What are the national implications of such research?

AACTE member institutions will continue to take this work to heart. We will continue to hold ourselves to high research standards. We will determine how to not only operationalize clinical practice, but also understand the most effective educator preparation methods, practices, and models that will best impact PK-12 student learning.

This work will not be easy, but I believe we can achieve it. We are on the right path. The CPC’s proclamations are based on research that is responsible for where we are today. Now we must build on it.

Getting out of our institutional silos, we will establish research partnerships and collaborations with teachers and schools and fellow institutions of higher learning. Pooling resources, both fiscal and human, will empower us to pursue research that matters. It will help us discover teaching practices and strategies that benefit PK-12 students. It will position us to have a “bold voice” that cannot help but be heard.

Renée A. Middleton is 2017-2018 chair of the AACTE Board of Directors and dean of The Patton College of Education at Ohio University.

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Renée A. Middleton

Ohio University