Experts in education discuss how teacher preparation can advance in the digital age

teacher-preparation As the U.S. education system shifts to accommodate a digital world in which 21st century skills are the norm, and not the exception, many stakeholders say teacher-preparation programs must evolve to fulfill student learning expectations.

“Teacher-preparation programs must evolve to ensure that teacher candidates have a deep understanding of pedagogy and curriculum to personalize learning, utilize data and assessments effectively, and incorporate digital learning as an integral part of their instructional strategies,” said the Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE) report, “Expert Perspectives: Future of Teacher Preparation in the Digital Age.”

The report is a round-up of thought leaders’ tips and advice on the topic of teacher-preparation programs in the digital age. It discusses advice for prospective teachers, transitioning to a learner-centered instructional model, state certification requirements, and the need for qualified teacher to support English Language Learners.

(Next page: 6 ways to modernize teacher-prep programs)

“As the U.S. education system embraces digital learning, the teaching profession needs to change the way the nation’s teachers are prepared,” said Bob Wise, president of AEE and former governor of West Virginia. “Who better to ask how to make this change than people in schools and classrooms who see the need every day?”

Each question posed in the report is answered by representatives from national organizations, such as the Center for Teaching Quality and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

[Responses edited for brevity]

1. What advice would you give to a student hoping to become a teacher or a career switcher interested in a teaching career?

“They should be encouraged to visit schools, informal learning places, and other way to shadow educators. They need to be encouraged to write down their questions and be able to get them answered. This is done typically in ‘Introduction to Education’ types of classes, but that can be expanded by having stories of what educators’ lives are like, with making sessions such as ‘Think You Want to Be a Teacher?’ available.

“In some states, there is a formal program called Career Switcher; in this program, potential teachers must have degrees in what they want to teach, experience in practicing their profession, and then they may take a few classes but complete their internships as teachers with a lot of support.”

– Dr. Lynne Schrum, dean, West Virginia University College of Education and Human Services

2. In terms of legislation and certification, what can state policymakers do to help improve teacher-preparation programs and the connection to the needs of districts?

“Ultimately, certification systems need to become performance-based. We can no longer rely solely on multiple-choice and selected response tests to determine a person’s readiness to teach. We need aspiring teachers and in-service teachers to demonstrate their ability to manage classrooms, develop lesson plans, teach diverse students, create, implement, and analyze assessments, etc.

“The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), in collaboration with Stanford University and Pearson, have created such a performance assessment—edTPA—for those preparing to teach. This assessment was designed by teacher educators, teachers, and school principals. It is scored by national panels of teachers and teacher educators who are trained to apply specific rubrics designating various levels of competence.

“This assessment represents the entry standard for novice teachers indicating that they know how to teach. Several states are using edTPA as a requirement in their program approval and individual licensure processes.”

– Sharon Robinson, president of the American Association of College for Teacher Education

3. What do you think is being done in college and university teacher-preparation programs to ensure that future teachers know how to create a learner-centered instructional model in their classroom that is driven by high-quality digital learning and the effective use of technology?

“My belief is that we must approach this from two direction simultaneously. We must help faculty in teacher-preparation programs become comfortable in modeling effective, student-centered teaching that incorporates technology in appropriate ways. It is time to eliminate the three credits, just-in-case-you-need-it type of class that lumps all technologies into one class. Instead, we need to reconfigure methods classes to reflect the research-based approach, Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK).

“At the same time, we need to support schools (and in particular school leaders) in using technology in rich and authentic ways. We need to foster the notion that teacher candidates and their mentor teachers have a lot to learn from each other about teaching, but also about using new technologies, social media, and alternative assessment models that take advantage of the affordance of the technology.

“In order to accomplish this, both locations—universities and K-12 classrooms—need to have access to the same types of technology.”

– Dr. Lynne Schrum

(Next page: 3 more tips)

4. How can the K-12 and higher education systems collaborate to ensure that teacher candidates can transition seamlessly from higher education institutions into a learner-centered classroom where personalizes learning for each student includes rigorous content delivered through technology in a collaborative environment?

“If the starting point of the conversation is about how to recruit and retain better prepared teachers for this community, then the two institutions can develop some shared strategies with shared accountability, such as:

  • Clinical experiences during teacher prep;
  • Recruitment pipelines/agreements for earlier hiring and orientation; Induction for first-year teacher teachers or teachers needing support when assignments change;
  • Selecting and overseeing mentoring relationships;
  • Development of collegial support;
  • Integration of new teachers into the school and community;
  • Online communities that engage current, mentor, and future teachers; and
  • Alumni support groups for teachers placed from partnering higher education institutions.”

– Tom Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF)

5. When it comes to teacher preparation, there are “traditional” and “alternative” routes to certification. Should teacher-preparation programs be different for each of the two groups of teacher candidates?

“For candidates to truly be prepared for the educational needs of students, both traditional and alternative programs should incorporate several key elements. In a recent Center for Teaching Quality publication, Teaching 2030: Leveraging Teacher Preparation 2.0, several master teachers and other experts articulate core components for teacher-preparation programs. These include, but are not limited to, residencies in real teaching and learning environments that are cohort based; interdisciplinary education; competency- and performance-based assessments and progressions; and face-to-face and online collaboration.

“Programs that address these core components may look very different, but they can all strive to provide a rich experience for candidates that allow them to grow in their content knowledge, pedagogy, and application of instructional strategies.

“An underlying message in this set of components is that content knowledge, learning about pedagogy without practicing strategies, and reflecting without a cohort of peers and experts are not enough by themselves. However, programs that allow candidates to develop this set of skills and knowledge, while allowing them to learn and reflect with a cohort and apply strategies in a real-world setting, will much better prepare candidates for the teaching profession.”

– Dr. Mary Ann Wolf, president of WolfEd

6. It seems as though institutions of higher education are often playing catch-up, in that they are constantly reacting to new policies and practices in K-12 education by integrating them into existing structures. What concrete steps can be taken now to get ahead of the curve in this area?

“Communication and collaboration with local education agencies (LEAs), district and school leaders, practicing educators, and policymakers are both critical for teacher-preparation programs to ensure that they are preparing candidates for the education systems they will become part of and the roles of the teacher that they will be asked to fill. This communication and collaboration can benefit the districts, policymakers, and teacher-preparation programs by ensuring alignment with policies that direct the teacher certification requirements, preparation experiences, and day-to-day realist and expectations of the K-12 schools.

“Progressive teacher-preparation programs are working with LEAs to develop programs that make sense; collaborate during teacher-preparation residencies and into the induction period; and provide and solicit feedback on the performance of program graduates.” – Dr. Mary Ann Wolf

For more responses to these questions for other notable experts, as well as more information about teacher-preparation programs and ELL, read the report.