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Panel: Teacher preparation needs overhaul

Reshaping teacher preparation courses can not only enhance student learning, but also keep the U.S. competitive globally, many experts agree.

Today’s digital-age students are expected not only to communicate effectively, think critically, and collaborate with one another, but also to analyze information while meeting rigorous state and national benchmarks.

To meet these challenges, teacher preparation programs must be reexamined and restructured in order to promote what digital learning consultant Mary Ann Wolf calls “learner-centered education.”

“Learner-centered education dramatically impacts the work of educators and educational systems, and schools must empower teachers to apply their pedagogical knowledge, instructional skills, and digital tools and resources to meet the needs of individual students,” Wolf wrote in a recent Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE) report.

Wolf said she believes a teacher must embody several roles to attain success: facilitator of learning; user of data and assessments; collaborator, contributor, and coach with peers; and curriculum adapter and designer.

Based on AEE’s research, Wolf said teacher preparation courses must address the teaching of specific curriculum content, while also aligning with school improvement priorities and goals. Creating a collaborative network of teachers through teacher preparation courses is especially critical, she added.

Barnett Berry, president and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality and author of Teaching 2030, agreed.

“We need to have a teacher [preparation] system that fuses the resources of both universities and school districts,” Berry said in a recent AEE webinar. He said community-based organizations should be partners as well, because this will allow “the kind of seamless preparation [and] induction support of lifelong teachers” that is necessary.

(Next page: Key challenges to digital-age teacher preparation—and how to overcome these)

Berry repeatedly stressed the importance of preparing teachers to become “learning architects.” Experienced teachers could mentor new teachers, he said, and professional networks could thrive with the constant influx of new educators. Berry pointed to the partnership between West Virginia University and the University of Central Florida (among others), whose teachers-in-training are currently connecting through augmented reality and virtual learning tools.

Berry argued that modernizing teacher preparation programs is critical, as is recognizing the apparent shift from content-based learning to performance-based learning. In formulating modern teacher preparation programs, he said, universities need to consider highlighting cohort-based residencies, interdisciplinary education, community-based internships, blended lesson studies and virtual networks, performance assessments, and competency over seat time.

This won’t be easy, but “if we … fuse those resources of K-12 systems and universities, and hopefully … community-based organizations, we can easily afford to do the kind of teacher preparation that [we need],” he said.

Another challenge is that teachers tend to teach the way they were taught themselves, which is why it’s critical to transform the pedagogy of teacher preparation programs to reflect the kind of teaching students will be expected to demonstrate.

“I think with teaching especially, it’s very hard to teach in ways that you haven’t learned yourself, because teaching and learning—they’re inextricably bound,” said Ronald Thorpe, president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “They complement each other, and if you haven’t learned in a certain way you can’t imagine how to teach in that way. So I think teach preparation programs everywhere face a challenge that no other profession [faces].”

Teachers can learn new methods not only by collaborating with other teachers, Thorpe said, but also by gaining an understanding of how successful teachers achieve their results. The National Board, for example, has recorded thousands of videos submitted by teachers across the country displaying their 21st-century teaching methods.

“These are 15-minute videos that show how accomplished teachers work in a classroom, but just as important are the reflective papers which identify how accomplished teachers think,” said Thorpe. “I believe if we could immerse undergraduates [and] pre-service candidates in a world where they’re looking at multiple examples of what accomplished teachers look like, and how they think, then we can start to make major inroads into changing the process that we employ with our students today—sometimes that’ll include technology, and sometimes it won’t.”

Teachers must embody the role of a researcher, also. This, Thorpe believes, is the key to educational success throughout the world. Too often, he said, educators take new technology and use it in the same way that they used older technology. Instead, teachers should constantly be learning and experimenting with new innovations in order to enhance their practices.

“When I first heard [the term “teacher as researcher,”] I didn’t quite know what to make of it,” said Thorpe. “[Then] I started to realize that as a teacher, everything I do in class is a mini-research project. I’m trying to see what kind of impact I have on my students by introducing a variable into the mix, and I’m trying to figure out whether it worked or not and why.”

Optimizing classroom time, and giving teachers in training some free rein, is the key to successful teacher preparation, according to Lynne Schrum of the College of Human Resources and Education at West Virginia University.

“We [need to] value risk-taking, and we [need to] value people trying to take new ways of teaching and learning and then reflect on it,” said Schrum. “None of us work alone these days, but often we ask teachers to do that.”

Schrum believes teachers in training would benefit from observing other accomplished teachers in session. Learning through observation and by example, she said, new teachers could pick up skills or generate ideas they might not have otherwise.

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