Innovation and Impact in Teacher Education: Community-Based Organizations as Field Placements for Preservice Teachers

Aug. 10, 2011

Source: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 8, 2011.

Purpose of Study

This study examines the participation of preservice teachers in community-based organizations (CBOs) and the outcomes of this innovation on their opportunities to learn. Through this research, the authors aim to advance the field of teacher education’s understanding of community experiences, and in particular to highlight the ways in which partnerships with community organizations advance the preparation of teachers.

The University of Washington’s Elementary Teacher Education Program (ELTEP), a five-quarter postbaccalaureate master’s in teaching program.

Participants in this study include case study preservice teachers from two cohorts: faculty who teach in the teacher education program, and staff who work in the community-based organizations in which the preservice teachers are placed.

During the first quarter in the program, preservice teachers spend 60 hours each in CBOs that serve diverse youth. The intention behind the community-based placements is to (1) build connections between prospective teachers, community organizations, and local schools, (2) give prospective teachers opportunities to develop a holistic and assets-based view of children and youth, (3) acknowledge education and learning as a process that occurs in multiple contexts, and (4) place students, families, neighborhoods, and communities at the center of teaching and education.

Research Design
The authors designed a 3-year longitudinal study in which we follow two cohorts of preservice teachers from their teacher preparation through their first year of teaching.
The authors employ qualitative methods of interviews, focus groups, observations, document review, and survey methods. Data analysis occurred as an iterative process.


The findings highlight specific dimensions of teachers’ participation in CBOs and indicate ways in which the community experiences added to the resources for learning provided by the teacher education program. The authors also classify outcomes of this innovation and explicate the kinds of opportunities such experiences provide preservice teachers. Specifically, the authors identify instances of how placements in CBOs afforded preservice teachers new ways of seeing and understanding children beyond school and across difference. These findings are preliminary and are based on data and analysis from the first year of our 3-year study.


By building on a strong conceptual foundation based in sociocultural and activity theories, this study provides preliminary evidence that field placements in community-based organizations are a promising approach to supporting preservice teachers’ opportunities to learn to work with children from diverse backgrounds. In particular, partnerships with community organizations may move teacher education efforts closer to the overall goal of preparing teachers with knowledge of children that allows them to incorporate the complexity of children’s lives into the classroom in ways that ultimately improve children’s opportunities to learn.

Updated: Oct. 27, 2011