Cato College shattering silos to reimagine teacher prep

While Cato College of Education students enjoy summer break, for the second year in a row, the college and education stakeholders from across the region are working to reimagine the way those students are molded into effective teachers. Drawing 75 participants, the three-day 2018 Teacher Education Institute continued to develop a shared understanding of critical teaching practices for teacher-candidates.

UNC Charlotte faculty and clinical educators (the K-12 teachers who host education students) spent much of the daylong sessions developing their skills coaching future teachers in three key areas: facilitating whole group discussion, setting up and managing small group work and eliciting and interpreting student thinking.

“This work allows us to collaborate on the same playing field to discuss, practice and reflect on best practices to support our student-candidates. We all have the same end goal in mind: to create and support effective new teachers that stay in this profession,” said Debra Diegmann, student teaching supervisor at the Cato College of Education, who co-led Teacher Education Institute 2018 (TEI 18).

The institutes have been planned and facilitated in close collaboration with Deans for Impact, a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve student-learning outcomes by changing the way America prepares its teachers. Cato College of Education Dean Ellen McIntyre is a member of the organization.

Topics for TEI 18 included “Facing the Fears of Feedback,” with participants reviewing videos of clinical educators and teacher-candidates and engaging in small group and larger discussions.

Clinical educators stated the model emerging from TEI allows them to feel more engaged with the process of instructing teacher-candidates.

“This year’s TEI really looked at continuing to shift toward a coaching model. Teacher-candidates have a lot to think about, and now they are able to receive feedback in the moment, and they have consistently told me they find that helpful,” said Patrick Kennedy, a third-grade teacher at Crown Point Elementary in Charlotte.

The two-year pilot program is funded by a grant of more than $230,000 from the Belk Foundation and backed by the in-kind support of the Cato College of Education.

Organizers polled participants from the 2017 TEI and used the feedback to adjust the focus and approach of the 2018 iteration.

“It’s exciting to see how much progress has been made in building relationships across roles, cultivating a shared understanding of teacher-candidate practice, and learning new coaching and feedback skills,” said John Roberts, Deans for Impact program director. “The work is now more than an annual institute; it’s embedded across UNC Charlotte in the form of new ways of working with each other and with teacher-candidates.

TEI organizers have scheduled a series of “get-togethers” throughout the academic year to reinforce the lessons from the summer sessions, allowing participants to discuss implementation in content specific groups

“We’ve shared UNC Charlotte’s approach with leaders from other programs and think it will be helpful as these leaders think about how to create alignment within their local contexts,” Roberts said.

A scheduled evaluation of the pilot program will include a comparison of 60 pilot candidates’ scores on their student teacher observation protocol, externally scored portfolios and senior exit surveys against 120 non-pilot candidates’ scores.

Ultimately, Cato College of Education leaders anticipate the dialogue advanced through TEI will change the way future teachers are trained for their first years in the classroom. Early comments from 2017 teacher-candidates involved with the program suggest it’s trending that direction.

“The communication, that openness and the sense of really going for it. I had never really been trained like this before,” said one teacher-candidate.