From Mediated Fieldwork to Co-Constructed Partnerships: A Framework for Guiding and Reflecting on P-12 School–University Partnerships

January 1, 2020

Source: Journal of Teacher Education. Volume: 71 issue: 1, page(s): 122-134

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this article is to describe the various levels of university–school partnership development the authors experienced in restructuring the Graduate School of Education (GSE) at Rutgers University’s teacher education program.
They present those levels in a continuum, the University– School Partnership Development Framework, that was used to reflect on and guide their work in teacher preparation.
They offer it as a lens through which schools of education could review and reflect on their university–school partnerships and guide the practices they use to bridge the gap between university coursework and clinical practice.

Partnership Framework
In evaluating their teacher education program and reviewing the literature, the authors found multiple examples of university– school partnerships.
This work resulted in a framework consisting of six levels to describe the continua of work with schools in the preparation of teacher candidates (TCs):
Taking From Schools, Borrowing From Schools, Emerging Partnership, Developing Partnership, Co-Constructed Partnership, and Learning Community.
The authors found it useful to delineate the different levels as a means to discuss their work and set goals for future practice.

Level 1: Taking From Schools
At this level of the framework, the local schools’ classrooms act as opportunities for TCs to observe, analyze, and reflect upon practical experiences using university course curriculum. While university coursework and clinical practice experiences are conducted simultaneously to enable explicit connections (Grossman et al., 2009; McDonald et al., 2014; Tigchelaar & Korthagen, 2004; Zeichner, 2010), with no systematic relationship to connect the teacher education coursework with the classroom-based field experiences, assignments may or may not align well with TCs’ experiences.
Links between coursework and clinical practice therefore can be quite serendipitous, if they occur at all.
Level 1 is also indicative of little to no oversight of field experiences.
This can be evidenced through decisions made by schools about where to place TCs, a lack of supervision by university faculty of early practicum experiences, no university faculty present in partner schools (Role of University), and the use of anecdotal examples of practice in coursework.
This speaks to the disconnect between the quality of field experiences and teacher education programs in Level 1.
Due to these factors, this relationship is primarily characterized as the university taking from the schools.
The university–school partnership mostly serves the needs of the university in providing spaces for required field hours. However, this does not ensure that any of the parties are benefiting in meaningful ways.
The lack of systematic coordination with schools in Level 1 partnerships cannot ensure cohesion between course goals, assignments, field experiences, or a process to evaluate the quality of the practicum placement.
In addition, the relationship is not reciprocal, as the university teacher education program is only taking from, and not giving back to, the partner schools.

Level 2: Borrowing From Schools
The presence of university faculty members in schools may facilitate understandings of current school practices, which can lead to richer discussions in teacher education coursework.
As the authors sought to make these connections stronger, they recognized the need to send faculty to the field while the TCs were completing field experiences.
In this early stage of their partnership work, they were limited by the fact that they were essentially guests in schools and cooperating teachers controlled the types of pedagogy welcomed into their classrooms.
In this way, instructional time is borrowed from the schools providing practical experiences and opportunities for TCs to deliver instruction (Role of School).
There was still no shared understanding between the cooperating teachers and their faculty of common practices for teaching.
Therefore, Level 2 is characterized by faculty interactions in schools almost entirely limited to university faculty observing TCs, engaging in follow-up conversations with them and making more references to TCs’ field experiences in course discussions.

Level 3: Emerging Partnership
As a partnership began to emerge, opportunities to strengthen connections between teacher preparation and practice began to unfold in their work.
As the first author filled the role of methods professor and partnership coordinator, she regularly spent time in the partner schools, enabling her, to identify high performing teachers to serve as cooperating teachers for independent observations (Decision Making), and who were open to collaborative relationships.

While Level 2 partnerships entail select faculty observing practices in the field to borrow examples for coursework, emerging relationships at Level 3 offer opportunities for university faculty to work with classroom teachers in the preparation of TCs.
The time in the field shifts from observing and providing feedback to TCs, to building relationships with classroom teachers that allow artifacts and expertise to enter TCs’ coursework and for purposeful placement of TCs in cooperating teachers’ classrooms.
In Level 3, deliberate decisions are made by the university to align coursework and clinical practice experiences and placements to target classroom teachers whose instruction is exemplary and aligns with the university’s goals.
This begins to transform the randomness of placements in Levels 1 and 2, though it still may be difficult to find sufficient numbers of exemplary cooperating teachers who share common beliefs with university faculty about teaching and learning.

Level 3 partnerships are where emerging relationships can lead to developing trust among the university faculty and P-12 teachers and administrators that facilitate opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration and better means of serving TCs in their development. While more elements of practice are bridged at this level, the relationship is still emerging and it takes time to develop trust.

Level 4: Developing Partnership
Level 4 relationships are characterized by a mutual valuing of both the contributions of P-12 schools and the teacher education program.
These relationships are indicated by intentional placement of TCs in mentor teachers’ classrooms who share common beliefs and practices, coordinated observations of selected teachers, and inclusion of those teachers in the teacher preparation process.
The process of helping TCs make sense of classroom teaching and teaching methods, through the application of theoretical concepts addressed in coursework, is no longer solely the province of the university faculty and thus, some control is surrendered.
Therefore, at this level, specific decisions about teaching practices have been identified and discussed with classroom teachers and are used intentionally by mentor teachers as well as university faculty. In this way, a boundary between the preparation of teachers and classroom practices may be bridged.
However, desired practices and principles of teaching are still decided by university faculty and the teachers who align with these are carefully selected to participate in the teacher education program.

Level 5: Co-Constructed Partnership
Level 5 is characterized by a shared understanding of principles and practices between the university and schools that guide the preparation of TCs, in coursework and the field.
This requires building common definitions, goals, and language.
Beginning at Level 5, common goals are needed to realize Darling-Hammond (2014) vision: “strong relationships, common knowledge, and shared beliefs among school and university based faculty jointly engaged in transforming teaching, schooling, and teacher education” (p. 548).
This means a relinquishing of some decisions on principles and practices within teacher education, which is a major shift of control in preparing TCs.
Teacher education faculty can still be contributing to the school in all of the ways mentioned in Level 4, but with commonly held beliefs about teaching and learning, those contributions are usually seen as more substantive.
Although, rather than the schools deciding placements as in the early levels, or teacher educators deciding which teachers align with their principles as in Level 4, the shared understanding of common principles allows for collaborative placement of TCs (Placement).
The overriding characteristic of this level is one of negotiation that allows for co-construction of language, curriculum, and field experiences.
However, the roles across the contexts are not typically blurred with a sharing of personnel across the contexts.
Level 5 then reflects a growing openness on the part of the teacher education program to release control of the content of teacher education through negotiating the principles and practices within the teacher education curriculum.
However, this work is only beginning to be reciprocal toward the practices in partner schools.

Level 6: Learning Community
The alignment at Level 6 characterizes co-constructed program goals, co-construction of knowledge, and a sharing in the preparation of TCs.
Strong school–university relationships have a shared vision concerning the purpose of their work (Allen et al., 2013; Grossman et al., 2009) and a clear understanding of the roles of the stakeholders in achieving that vision (Bullough, 2005; Bullough & Baugh, 2008).
In Level 6 of the framework, university faculty and school-based administrators and teachers construct knowledge together.
Their partnership work involves a simultaneous restructuring of school programs and teacher education programs (Darling-Hammond, 2014).
To achieve this Learning Community, university and school faculty negotiate and agree upon best practices and collaboratively develop a shared language for talking about practice (Bullough & Baugh, 2008). Developing this type of learning community requires schools and universities “to work closely with one another as equal partners to address long-standing, tough problems” (Goodlad, 1991, p. 58) that both institutions face.
District policies, laws, and mandates from accrediting bodies can lead to competing, and even conflicting, demands on both parties that can negatively impact this process.
Clear communication and respect of these differing demands necessitates transparency and flexibility and, as such, cannot be achieved without a high level of trust.
Thus, these relationships take years to develop so both sides trust each other to negotiate through difficult issues to work toward mutually beneficial goals.

The road to partnerships may be long and traverse many ups and downs, but it is a road worth traveling.
The potential to transform the preparation of TCs, as well as P-12 education, is real.
In building partnerships, the authors think making known that they want to transform P-12 schools is important.
However, they also intend to have P-12 teachers and administrators change the work they do as well.
It is the co-construction of teacher education that they think has the potential to move both schools and teacher education forward.

Allen, J. M., Howells, K., Radford, R. (2013). A ‘partnership in teaching excellence’: Ways in which one school–university partnership has fostered teacher development. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 41(1), 99-110.
Bullough, R. V. (2005). Being and becoming a mentor: School-based teacher educators and teacher educator identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21, 143-115.
Bullough, R. V., Baugh, S. C. (2008). Building professional learning communities within a university-public school partnership. Theory Into Practice, 47(4), 286-293
Darling-Hammond, L. (2014). Strengthening clinical preparation: The holy grail of teacher education. Peabody Journal of Education, 89(4), 547-561.
Goodlad, J. (1991). School-university partnerships. Education Digest, 56(8), 58-61.
Grossman, P., Hammerness, K., McDonald, M. (2009). Redefining teaching, re-imagining teacher education. Teachers & Teaching, 15(2), 273-289.
McDonald, M., Kazemi, E., Kelley-Peterson, E., Mikolasy, K., Thompson, J., Valencia, S., Windschitl, M. (2014). Practice makes practice: Learning to teach in teacher education. Peabody Journal of Education, 89(4), 500-515.
Tigchelaar, A., Korthagen, F. (2004). Deepening the exchange of student teaching experiences: Implications for the pedagogy of teacher education of recent insights into teacher behavior. Teaching & Teacher Education, 20(7), 665-679
Zeichner, K. (2010). Rethinking the connections between campus courses and field experiences in college- and university-based teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1), 89-99. 

Updated: Jul. 06, 2020