Teacher-training program cutting edge for TC, USD 410

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ALEEN RATZLAFF
The idea behind professional development schools is everyone involved wins.

That’s a primary incentive for Unified District 410 and Tabor College joining forces in this innovative approach that aims to produce high-quality teachers.

“In teacher education, the new move is toward professional development schools,” said Donna Bagley, chair of Tabor’s education department. “On the national and state level, professional development schools are coming into their own. And the findings are that both the higher-ed institution and the local school district benefit.

“The aim for everyone is to increase student learning.”

PDS refers to local schools that create partnerships with higher-education institution to enhance teacher-training programs.

“The benefit for the higher-education institution is that our students get out in schools more,” said Bagley, local PDS project director. “The more in-school experience we can give our students, the better.

“For the local school district, the benefit is having additional hands and additional bodies in school.”

In Kansas, 16 out of 22 institutions with teacher-training programs have professional development schools.

Last fall, Kansas State Board of Education approved a grant for $13,300 that would provide federal funding to initiate the local program. Bagley applied for the grant after talking with USD 410 Superintendent Gordon Mohn, who endorsed starting the PDS project in Hillsboro.

Grant funding has paid for luncheons for planning sessions, field trips, videotape series and a laptop computer for the education department.

“In and through the next year, we have to redesign our program to meet the new (state) standards,” she said. “We don’t have to implement, but we have to have a program in place because it has to be available to the freshmen class of 2003.”

Bagley said the local program is eligible and probably will receive another year’s funding.

“We’re going to use the grant money to explore the possibility of cooperation among school districts country-wide,” she said.

Since November, project participants have met to discuss various options for the local program.

“We had a series of different types of meetings,” Bagley said. “This is probably notable because I’m not sure anyone has tried to start three different professional development schools. Each had a different team.”

The three teams-one for each building-include USD 410 administrators and teachers, and Tabor students. Also, Bagley and Tabor education faculty Joanne Loewen and Bruce Anthony each sit on one of the teams.

“We tried to use our areas of expertise,” said Bagley, a member of the middle-school team.

Bagley also co-chairs with Mohn a group that oversees the teams.

In June, the teams participated in summer institutes, where they met to design partnership models for the professional development schools.

“I really felt that for a project like this, the best approach was to bring people together to talk, and what we would come up with might be different than what anyone else has ever done before, but it would (suit the particular schools),” Bagley said.

“Each of the three teams has gone in a completely different way. I’m so excited what they’ve come up with after our summer institutes.”

For the middle school, collaboration between USD 410 and Tabor means education majors in their junior year will be in the classroom twice weekly and teach a couple of lessons during the spring semester, Bagley said. Another program component is possibly having a public-school teacher teach a class of Tabor students on site.

“Unless we had come together, (the innovative ideas) never would have happened,” Bagley said. “It’s a win-win proposition.”

Hillsboro High School social-science teacher Jim Robb was invited to participate on the high-school team.

“I thought it looked like a good opportunity,” said Robb, an educator for 28 years, nine of those at HHS.

“I found myself asking questions about the relevance and the importance, and whether this (project) is going to be something that we do or just something to fulfill a grant.

“When it became apparent to me that we were really going to try to do something with this, then I felt it was good to get involved.”

Robb said the team focused on ways to increase interaction between HHS faculty and Tabor professors, share resources and provide models of good teaching for the college students.

“The whole idea would be to make sure the teachers who are turned out by Tabor College through the Hillsboro professional development school would be some of the best teachers available-that would be the ultimate goal,” Robb said.

Besides recommending that a list be compiled of books, teaching materials and other resources available at both schools, the team focused on ways to enhance communication on several levels.

“We want to improve communication lines between the two institutions so that if high-school faculty have a question in their content area, they would feel good about going to college faculty in order to try to get that clarified,” he said.

The grant paid for several field trips for team members. The high-school team traveled to Manhattan High School, where Kansas State University has set up one model of professional development school.

At Manhattan, a Hillsboro team saw various approaches for immersing college students in the classroom setting. Some teachers-in-training were in the classroom to observe and play the role of teacher’s aide, while others focused on more purposeful observation-“looking for specific things and doing a little bit of getting in front of the classroom,” Robb said.

Hillsboro Elementary School principal Pat Call backs the local project.

“I see it as a way to help prepare teachers coming in and helping improve the quality of the teachers that we could possibly even hire,” Call said. “Also, I see it as a way for our teachers to share their expertise and also a way to help (elementary) students.”

As teachers-in-training, college students who spend more time in the classroom will be better prepared for the student-teaching block.

“Back in the Dark Ages when I did my student teaching, that was the first major time I was in the classroom-outside of being a student,” Call said. “We did very short, very limited exposure…. But if you are a senior and you don’t like it, that’s not good.”

Call said classroom teachers are key to the success of the PDS program. They will need to spend time helping college students learn how to work with children, he said, and a teacher’s time is limited.

“But on the other hand, it will give them the extra set of hands they need in the classroom,” Call said. “I guess I see that’s where teachers will buy in-a way to help (their) students learn.”

In what ways can an “extra set of hands” benefit teachers?

One possibility is a college student working as an intern in the HES library, which would enable the library to be open more hours for use by children and teachers. Another option is college students helping develop learning centers for such subjects as math and reading.

“Teachers, at times, can’t always necessarily take the time to develop materials (for such projects),” he said.

Tabor College senior Julie Krich said she thinks the PDS program will allow Tabor’s teacher candidates to develop more one-on-one time with teachers and children in a classroom setting.

“It’s always better to have more time in the classroom,” said Krich, who serves on the elementary team.

Krich, an education major, plans to complete her student-teaching block in spring. She will graduate from Tabor certified in elementary education with a special-education endorsement through the Associated Colleges of Central Kansas, of which Tabor is a part.

“What I see as my role is to bring the perspective of a Tabor student and what things can enhance what Tabor students are already doing in a fine program,” Krich said.

“When (team members) talk about different ideas, I can talk about what’s feasible, what’s practical, what would fit into a college student’s schedule.”

As a team participant, Krich not only gives input about her peers’ needs and concerns, she’s also learning how the collaborative process works.

“That’s one of the good things about this,” Krich said. “I was a little skeptical because I didn’t know what I was getting into. But one thing I’ve learned-and probably even more so for a special-ed teacher-is collaboration is so important to a student’s education. So this is good experience working with different team members who have different areas of expertise.”

Krich said incoming freshmen education majors at Tabor may not be aware of ways the PDS project will enhance their teacher training, but “for me, I’m a little envious.”

She said she has no doubt the project will benefit college students, but they will have to carry their share of the load.

“I think it will require on the part of a Tabor student a lot of discipline and responsibility to be successful in this program,” she said. “But those are all things they will need as teachers.”

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