Here’s how these teacher educators are building a community of practice to transform their teacher preparation program
TeachingWorks Director of English Language Arts Dr. Monique Cherry-McDaniel spoke with University of St. Thomas Faculty members Dr. Amy Smith and Dr. Muffet Trout about how being fellows in the TeachingWorks Practice-Based Teacher Education Certificate Learning Sequence is supporting them to implement program-wide change in their department.
As an educator, implementing even the smallest change in your instruction can seem like a daunting task. But what types of positive, long-lasting impact can teacher educators have on teacher preparation when they collaborate to design and implement change together?
Meet Dr. Amy Smith and Dr. Muffet Trout, both Associate Professors of Teacher Education at the University of St. Thomas. Amy additionally serves as the Chair of the Department of Teacher Education and the Director of K-12 Reading Endorsement. Both Amy and Muffet are two of 29 fellows in the TeachingWorks Practice-Based Teacher Education (PBTE) Certificate Learning Sequence. With support from TeachingWorks, Amy and Muffet are collaborating with three other St. Thomas teacher educators who are also fellows in the certificate learning sequence to implement practice-based teacher education that intertwines content knowledge, teaching practice, and advancing justice across their teacher preparation program.
“Having five and six faculty members who have been through some of the training or all of the training has been huge,” Amy said. “The academic language of TeachingWorks and the high-leverage practices and practice-based teacher education has been really able to be taken up by all of our faculty. And what we’ve been able to do is spend time together over the last year and a half mapping our high-leverage practices onto each course. And part of that is not just the high-leverage practices, but what that lens of social justice brings to the high-leverage practice. So we have this really cohesive, consistent through-line of equity that’s not added on, it’s integral.”
TeachingWorks Director of English Language Arts Dr. Monique Cherry-McDaniel, who is the co-director of the certificate learning sequence, spoke with Amy and Muffet to learn more about how they’ve worked together to refresh their teacher preparation program by using the skills and techniques they have learned from their participation in the certificate learning sequence.
Monique: You joined the certificate learning sequence already having a long and successful career as a teacher educator and the chair of your program at the University of St. Thomas. How has working with TeachingWorks and being a fellow in the certificate learning sequence improved your practice as an expert in the field?
Amy: I’ve been at St. Thomas for 20 years and I’ve enjoyed teaching so much. And teaching for me has really always been a real strength. But teaching and learning through the TeachingWorks program has been a real game-changer. It has allowed me to continue my professional growth. The TeachingWorks programming that I have been part of has been the single most important professional development of my career. Over time it has been my pursuit to always be a better teacher, to be better at my job, to better support students so that we can have an impact in the P-12 schools. But TeachingWorks has been an invigorator, and a re-energizer. It’s changed our department. We have enough people involved who are also doing this work that is really moving the needle on how we are preparing our teachers. It’s exciting to see real change happening. This TeachingWorks programming has been an incredible boost to my own professional development at this stage in my career where I can use it to leverage greater impact through our department and then into schools.
Muffet: Before I talk about my practice, I just want to go back to something that Amy said. Because Amy, to begin with, is an outstanding teacher. And so to have Amy talk about the fact that this program has been the best professional development she’s experienced is saying a lot.
Social Studies is the content that I ground myself in. In social studies, one of the challenges is to articulate not necessarily what are the social sciences, but what is the content and what’s the pedagogy? The field is really still doing a lot of work in that area. And that’s been a struggle for me and my methods classes as well. What pedagogy should I focus on in preparing social studies teachers? But with TeachingWorks, what was really helpful to me was the focus on really helping teacher candidates develop content knowledge and also with a lens towards equity. So this practice-based teacher education, really having all three of those things at one time has really helped me focus. And then to pick a couple of high-leverage practices, that’s been kind of the anchor. So to have the high-leverage practices that I’m going to focus on in my class and then to be building the content, the equity focus, and attending to my pedagogy really has kind of brought it together in a way that I’ve never felt so comfortable with before. And it’s felt like a much better, cohesive class that I was able to teach this last fall.
Monique: So you all represent the largest group of faculty from one university in the certificate learning sequence. And that’s one of the things that TeachingWorks has been really intentional about, trying to create these spaces where you could continue the work independently with a group of people that are like-minded and can support you to continue to improve. How has it been to have such a large cohort at your university? What support have you been able to provide each other and what kinds of things have you been able to implement in your program?
Amy: As department chair, I’ve had a role in facilitating some trajectories across our entire program. So we’ve been focusing on our elementary undergraduate teacher preparation program. Having five and six faculty members who have been through some of the training or all of the training has been huge. The academic language of TeachingWorks and the high-leverage practices and practice-based teacher education has really been able to be taken up by all of our faculty. And we’ve spent the last year and a half together mapping our high-leverage practices onto each course. And then each high-leverage practice is also mapped through the learning cycle so that we can have really intentional conversations about how we’re preparing students and who is responsible for what parts of things. So the scope and sequence that we are developing that maps high-leverage practices onto every course and the learning cycle on every course is allowing us to be really intentional about the work.
And part of that is not just the high-leverage practices, but what that lens of social justice brings to the high-leverage practice. One of the things that we wanted to make sure we weren’t doing was just having equity be a course that’s added into our program. We want a through-line. So we are also mapping culturally-sustaining practices as a result of the work that we’ve done with TeachingWorks. So we have this really cohesive, consistent through-line of equity that’s not added on, it’s integral. And we really believe that it’s moving the needle. It’s changing the teachers who graduate from our program.
Muffet: To me, what’s really valuable about that is that we can be thinking about how to spread this even further. So one of the aspects of the certificate learning sequence has been one-on-one mentoring and also having small groups in which we meet on a regular basis. Over a long extended period of time, we continue to think about these ideas and make changes and then come back together and talk about them. And so having this core group in our teacher education department makes it easier for us to engage in that kind of pedagogy with each other, to mentor each other.
Amy: I’ve learned how to mentor other people into this work because I’ve had such beautiful mentoring from the TeachingWorks faculty and staff. It’s been really clear how to invite people into what can sometimes feel like very vulnerable spaces. It has really been an excellent model for us to take up the practice within our own community.
Monique: We’ve had a chance to talk about how this work has impacted you and your individual practice and how it’s impacted the work that you do with your colleagues. But we also want to know how it has impacted your teacher candidates. So can each of you talk a bit about how the work with TeachingWorks has helped you so redesign individual courses in the program? And how has that affected the way teacher candidates are learning and even talking about the work of teaching?
Muffet: I majorly reorganized my class and one of the changes was to spend the first two weeks really thinking about equity. What does that mean? What would that look like in a social studies classroom? This was really helpful in framing the rest of the work for this semester. When I think about changes that I saw in my students, I’m going to turn to those decompositions that TeachingWorks has created for the different high-leverage practices. Having those decompositions that articulate all these different elements of each high-leverage practice, that’s where we can really start building this common language with our students, and also focus on just one little aspect of a high-leverage practice. So, for example, setting up and managing small groups, was a high-leverage practice that I focused on in my class. And so just being able to focus on the aspect of how do you actually give directions for group work? So the decompositions are really valuable because it makes it easy for students to know if they’re doing them or not. It’s easier for them to analyze. They were able to recognize growth in themselves in a way that I’ve not experienced before.
Amy: The high-leverage practice I focused on was leading a group discussion, which is very complex. And we did, with our teacher candidates, many peer run-throughs, coached rehearsals, video analysis, and transcript analysis to help prepare them to lead an interactive read-aloud and then launch a group discussion. They took videos of themselves out in the field, launching their group discussion. When they come back and they share their video in a triad and use one of the teaching observation protocols to interrogate their own video with colleagues, to me, that is the most exciting day of the semester. They are so excited to share their work and to have other people comment. And they don’t comment any more the way they used to do. I had done video review in my class before, but often peer responders would say something like, “Oh, you did a really good job.” or “Gosh, I liked how the kids all paid attention.” They didn’t really get deep into the practice at all or notice the sort of detailed decomposition pieces that were in there. Now, when our students are talking about their videos, it’s this professional level of engagement with their task that is years beyond what I have been able to accomplish in the past. And these students are talking to each other about missed opportunities or discretion. They’re using the term “discretionary space” in this particular area. Why did you choose this and not that? They’re stopping their videos and asking, “What should I have done here? What would you have said?” They are more comfortable receiving and giving feedback, which is a professional disposition that is critical for your first year of teaching.
Monique: That makes me think of another question because this is an 18-month program and it requires your presence and requires you to take risks. It requires lots of collaboration. So what would you say to someone who is thinking about applying for the upcoming cohort? What would you say to them as they’re making their decision?
Muffet: I would say that I feel like I’m part of something much bigger than myself and my department. We owe this to the professionalization of teaching. Really, this articulates what teaching is all about. And for those of us in teacher preparation, I would just assume we love teaching. We think about teaching. And this is a way to really help us all develop this common language to be thinking about what is it that we do and what is it that we’re helping novice teachers learn how to do that is so incredibly important for all of the children in our nation’s schools. It’s a moral calling. I’m just incredibly thankful. It’s been a wonderful professional development opportunity.
Amy: And I would echo that. Having this continuity of mentorship, I’m just beyond grateful. It’s been an experience that I’ve not found in any other kind of professional development that I’ve been part of. So I would really just want anyone to know who was considering this, that the level of support is so great and the level of community that is built is so strong that you’re set up for success. Even when you’re trying some things that might feel vulnerable, like teaching in front of your colleagues and doing some of the practice-based teacher education pedagogies that maybe you haven’t tried before. It’s such a wonderfully safe space to really think about your own practice. I cannot say enough about the TeachingWorks staff and faculty that they have. They’re second to none.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Explore the Resources in this Article in the TeachingWorks Resource Library
The TeachingWorks Resource Library is our free, online repository of practice-based teacher education curriculum materials.
- You can learn more about the high-leverage practices here. High-leverage practices are the fundamentals of teaching. These practices are used constantly and are critical to helping students learn important content. The high-leverage practices are also central to supporting students’ social and emotional development. These high-leverage practices are used across subject areas, grade levels, and contexts. They are “high-leverage” not only because they matter to student learning but because they are basic for advancing skill in teaching.
- You can learn more about the practice-based teacher education pedagogies here. Teacher education pedagogies are the practice-based instructional structures and routines — such as rehearsals, use of video, or field tasks — that teacher educators can routinely use to support and scaffold novices’ learning of teaching.
- You can learn about the learning cycle here. Novice teachers learn high-leverage practices through carefully sequenced classroom and field-based learning experiences.
- You can learn more about the high-leverage practice leading a group discussion here. In a group discussion, the teacher and all of the students work on specific content together, using one another’s ideas as resources. The purposes of a discussion are to build collective knowledge and capability in relation to specific instructional goals and to allow students to practice listening, speaking, and interpreting, agreeing, and disagreeing.
Writers: Alyssa La’Dawn Brandon, TeachingWorks Communications Coordinator; Dr. Monique Cherry-McDaniel, TeachingWorks Director of English Language Arts
Producers: Alyssa La’Dawn Brandon, TeachingWorks Communications Coordinator; Gloria Li, TeachingWorks Graphic Designer