Ensuring Clinically Rich Experiences for Teachers and Principals

“The education of teachers in the United States needs to be turned upside down.” So reads the first line in the November, 2010 Executive Summary section of the NCATE Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning. For those in P-12 education who may be unaware (as I was before entering higher ed),  NCATE is the acronym for The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, and the Blue Ribbon Panel is comprised of educators, administrators, deans, provosts, non-profits, national and professional organizations, and others concerned with ensuring schools of education prepare and graduate effective teachers, specialists, and administrators for our nation’s schools. NCATE’s influence on education is much like that in the old E.F. Hutton commercial, “When NCATE speaks, people listen.”

Given NCATE’s leverage as an accrediting body through it’s merger with TEAC to form CAEP (you got to love the acronyms), the Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations for Clinical Practice are significant: 1) More Rigorous Accountability; 2) Strengthening Candidate Selection and Placement; 3) Revamping Curriculum, Incentives, and Staffing; 4) Supporting Partnerships; and 5) Expanding the Knowledge Base. Finally! Exactly what the education “profession” needs! After all, we know there is no greater impact on student learning than teachers, and right after teachers come school principals. The Panel’s recommendations are more than appropriate if we truly want the best educators and school principals in front of our students. It’s tricky, though, and the devil will be in the details.

“I’m having difficulty placing student teachers” says one higher ed official. “I can’t possibly take on a student teacher this year. The stakes are too high,” says a 7th grade math teacher. “Who’s going to pay for this?” says everyone? Unlike the medical profession which welcomes the inexpensive, skilled labor of interns, education is reticent at times to offer clinically rich experiences to novices. With mandatory testing, APPRs, school report cards at all levels, and financial woes, the realities of current clinical practice are disheartening. However, with a “glass half full” mindset, we are on the cusp of serious reform and improvements in all areas of teacher and school leader preparation.

Once again, there is no question the business of teacher and principal preparation needs revision and refinement, but let’s be sure there is ownership across the P-20 spectrum. It is not the sole responsibility of higher education, P-12 schools, or state departments of education to get the important work done. Not at all. Rather, it is a P-20 responsibility. Actually, it is our country’s responsibility to do whatever necessary to ensure every student has an effective teacher and school building leader.That is where the critical role of partnerships comes in. If we want skilled supervising teachers (and school building leaders), referred to as Clinical Educators in CAEP’s Accreditation Standards and Evidence: Aspirations for Educator Preparation, then higher education, P-12 education, and state education departments need to talk.

To ensure our education program students are placed in rigorous and relevant clinical experiences, we must find the very best teachers and principals to serve as Clinical Educators. To do so, we will need to collaboratively answer the following questions: 1) What are the qualifications to be a teacher or principal Clinical Educator?; 2) What are the expectations for such clinicians?; 3) What will be their roles and responsibilities?; and 4) How will we incentivize the process? To help answer these questions, the NYS Professional Standards and Practices Board (PSPB) is working on Field Supervisory Model Recommendations that can help the New York State Education Department in its quest to improve student achievement across the state. Given the P-20 membership within PSPB, the outlook for a meaningful and thoughtful set of recommendations on Field Supervisory Models and effective Clinical Educators look bright.

Big questions. Big opportunities. NCATE has put us in a position where we can “turn the entire system upside down,” and that is not a bad thing. Meanwhile, let’s all work to partner with one another and find solutions to provide rigorous and relevant clinical experiences for our future teachers and principals. Let’s look past the stressors of school reform and do what’s best for the profession and our democracy. Let’s make the NCATE Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations our own guideposts as we do the important work that lies ahead. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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