How School and University Supervising Staff Perceive the Pre-Service Teacher Education Practicum: A Comparative Study
Practicum: A Comparative Study How School and University Super vising Staf Perceive the Pre-Ser vice Teacher Education
Jeanne M. Allen jeanne.allen@grifith 0 1
0 Central Queensland University
1 Bald Hills State School
How School and University Supervising Staff Perceive the Pre-Service
Teacher Education Practicum: A Comparative Study
Jeanne M. Allen
University of Tasmania
Central Queensland University
Bald Hills State School
Abstract: This paper reports on research conducted in two Australian
universities to evaluate factors that are perceived to significantly
impact on the professional experiences of pre-service teachers during
practicum. Contextualised within teacher education programs in an
urban university in Tasmania and a regional university in
Queensland, the particular focus of this paper is the beliefs and
experiences of school and university supervising staff members
regarding the efficacy of the practicum in enabling students to
integrate into practice the knowledge and skills they have acquired in
their university coursework. Findings generated from the comparative
analysis of both mixed methods studies revealed some differences but
predominantly a number of similarities between the perceptions of the
two samples of school practitioners and university staff members
towards practicum. Three key findings are presented and discussed in
Use of Terms
?Colleague teacher? is the school teacher who supervises the pre-service teacher during
?Lead teacher? refers to the (usually senior) school teacher in the Queensland program who
has oversight of the group of pre-service teachers doing practicum in his/her school and acts
as their mentor.
?Portal tasks? are the assessable tasks pre-service teachers in the Queensland program must
undertake in their practicum school.
?Practicum? refers to the pre-service teacher?s professional or field experience.
?Teaching School Model? (TSM) is the term used in the Queensland program to refer to the
field experience component of the program.
?University coordinator? refers to the academic staff member responsible for liaising with
the school and for monitoring the progress of the pre-service teacher/s in that school during
The merit and indeed relevance of university pre-service teacher education programs
have long been contested. Particularly in current times with many western governments and
commentators demanding higher levels of accountability in teacher performance, questions
are increasingly being raised about how well teachers are prepared
Neville, Sherman, & Cohen, 2005)
. In Australia, the context of this study, a range of recent
reports and policy responses
(Churchill, 2007; Eyres, 2005; House of Representatives
Standing Committee on Education and Vocational Training, 2007; Masters, 2009)
evidence of the issues associated with the gap between theory and practice in pre-service
teacher education. According to
, a widely held concern is that we run the risk
of preparing teachers who know much about theory and nothing about practice. Others
suggest that separating theory from practice creates a false dichotomy and that teaching is a
profession in which theory is embedded in and inseparable from practice
2007; Sch?n, 2003)
. Nevertheless, ?theory,? ?practice? and the so-called ?theory-practice
gap? are commonly used and widely understood terms in the context of teacher education and
in the literature
(Kessels & Korthagen, 1996; Zeichner, 2010)
. For the purposes of this and a
previous paper (see Allen & Wright, in press), we therefore follow
the term ?theory? to represent the broad range of concepts and skills associated with the
declarative and procedural knowledge taught to student teachers on campus; and the term
?practice? to refer to the classroom pedagogy and activities of the teacher. This is not to
suggest that we view all campus work as theoretical or all classroom activities as representing
practice only. Rather, we acknowledge that the theory-practice binary is complex and that
theories and beliefs about how theoretical knowledge is applied in practice are diverse and
(Connelly & Clandinin, 1995)
In highlighting concerns about disconnections between theory and practice, the
teacher education literature demonstrates how the practicum can be especially problematic in
(Allen, 2011; Allsopp, De Marie, Alvarez-McHatton, & Doone, 2006;
Bloomfield, Taylor & Maxwell, 2004; Cochran-Smith, 2009; Darling-Hammond, 2005,
2010; Korthagen, 2007; Vick, 2006)
. Many argue that one of the major reasons for the
perpetuation of the theory-practice gap in the practicum is the continuing separation of
teacher education responsibilities between universities and schools
(Dean, Lauer, &
Urquhart, 2005; Korthagen, Loughran & Russell, 2006; Valencia, Martin, Place, &
Grossman, 2009; Zeichner, 2010)
, p. 30) call for ?stronger partnerships
between schools and teacher education institutions? echoes others in promoting the need for
reform. Indeed, the forging and fostering of school-university partnerships has been
identified as one of the critical components in creating more powerful and more effective
teacher education programs
(Darling-Hammond, 2006; Louden & Rohl, 2006)
arrangements that meet certain criteria, including a genuine engagement in the learning
process, have been shown to deliver the most positive results to pre-service teachers
et al., 2006; Cochran-Smith, 2009; Darling Hammond, 2010)
In her study of seven highly successful and long-standing United States teacher
argued that programs including
wellconstructed, collaborative and effectively-coordinated field experiences contribute
significantly to equipping trainee teachers with requisite knowledge and skills to serve
diverse learners well and to learn continuously from their practice
. Central to the success of such programs are: coherence, based on a common, clear
vision of good teaching grounded in an understanding of learning; a strong core curriculum,
taught in the context of practice; extensive, connected clinical experiences that support the
ideas and practices presented in coursework; an inquiry approach that connects theory and
practice; school-university partnerships that develop common knowledge and shared beliefs
among school- and university-based faculty; and assessment based on professional standards
that evaluates teaching through demonstrations of critical skills and abilities
However, there are a number of identified barriers associated with establishing
models of this kind that depend on meaningful and sustained collaborations between schools
, for example, points to the range of time and resource
constraints experienced by staff in both sectors, which can intrude on the creation of effective
partnerships. This can result in a lack of reciprocity between academics and school teachers
in acknowledging the differences between their cultures, histories and workplace
. An associated concern is the lack of clarity surrounding the
expectations and responsibilities of those involved in supervising the pre-service teacher
(Allen & Peach, 2007; Allen & Wright, in press; Cherian, 2007; Trent & Lim,
, which can result in very different stakeholder interpretations of what practicum entails
(Bullough & Draper, 2004; Hayes, Capel, Katene, & Cook, 2008)
and a less than optimum
experience for the pre-service teachers involved (Allen & Wright, in press). In Australia, a
2007 federal government report into the nation?s teacher education programs highlighted
problems associated with the practicum and advocated the need for ?major reform? (House of
Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Vocational Training, 2007, p. 73).
While there is productive work being done in this area
(see, e.g., Allen, Howells, & Radford,
2013; Turner, 2006)
, there is a pressing need for more progress to be made in this area.
This paper reports on the way the theory-practice gap is addressed in two diverse
Australian pre-service teacher education programs, one of which is located in an urban
university in Tasmania, the other in a Queensland regional university (Australia comprises
six states and various territories. Queensland, situated in the north-east of the country, is the
second-largest and third-most populous state. Tasmania is an island state located to the south
of the Australian continent. It is the smallest and least populated of the states). The particular
focus of the paper is the beliefs and experiences of school and university supervising staff
members regarding the efficacy of the practicum in enabling students to enact theory in
practice. In conducting a comparative study of both programs, a number of findings were
generated, three of which are presented and discussed in this paper.
As well as being located in diverse geographical areas (rural Queensland and urban
Tasmania), the two pre-service teacher education programs discussed in this paper are quite
differently constructed. An overview of (primary) program structures, current at the time of
the respective studies, is provided in Appendices A and B. Both programs offer primary and
secondary teaching strands. The Queensland program is offered in on-campus and mixed
oncampus/online delivery modes while the Tasmanian model offers on-campus, mixed mode
and fully online modes.
The Queensland under-graduate (four-year - an accelerated three-year program is
offered to eligible students) program, named the ?Bachelor of Learning Management,?
(BLM) was created in the early 2000s with the core aim of creating a paradigm shift in the
provision of pre-service teacher education
(Turner & Lynch, 2006)
. Appendix C provides an
overview of ways in which it was significantly reconceptualised from its Bachelor of
Education (BEd) predecessor. For the purposes of this paper, we focus on the field
experience component of the program, entitled the Teaching School Model (TSM), which is
claimed to go far in addressing the theory-practice gap in the practicum
(Smith & Moore,
2006; Turner 2006)
. Based on the concept of the teaching hospital, the TSM seeks to build
the practicum around partnerships between the university and schools and school systems.
Teaching staff from both the universities and the schools take part in the conceptualisation,
design and implementation of the practicum. A group of pre-service teachers is assigned to
each of the ?teaching schools? which must meet certain criteria demonstrating the school?s
capacity to function effectively within the TSM.
A key element of the TSM is that of the number of days the pre-service teacher
spends in school during the in-field component. The pre-service teacher spends
approximately 140 days in schools over the course of the four-year program, which
represents 60 more days than are prescribed by the program accrediting authority. School
practicum visits are divided into weekly day visits followed by a block of time in the first,
second and fourth years. A culminating six-week internship takes place in the final year.
Additionally, students undertake 10 days of school work experience in each of their first and
second years. The extended period of time spent in schools is intended to provide additional
opportunities for pre-service teachers to integrate theory and practice
(Smith & Moore, 2006)
Furthermore, the pre-service teachers are required to complete tasks, known as ?portal tasks,?
explicitly associated with the coursework being undertaken at university. In many instances,
the pre-service teachers complete the theoretical aspect as part of a task, which is assessed by
the university lecturer, and then implement the task during the field placement that is
assessed by the supervising school teacher, henceforth, ?colleague teacher.? The pre-service
and colleague teachers are supported during the practicum by the university coordinator who
communicates primarily with the lead teacher. The latter is a role generally filled by a senior
teacher who provides professional learning for the colleague teachers and has oversight of the
group of pre-service teachers doing practicum in his/her school. The university coordinator
also visits the school in order to confer with and gather feedback from the school staff
regarding the program.
The Tasmanian program, the Master of Teaching (MTeach), is also newly developed
and accredited, having been implemented for the first time in 2010. The MTeach, which
replaced the previous Bachelor of Teaching, is a graduate-entry program designed to build
upon tertiary qualifications and experience, enabling students to complete a teaching
qualification in two years. The minimum entry requirement is the successful completion of
an initial degree at an approved tertiary education institution. The program aims to extend
previously-acquired communication and interaction skills so that the pre-service teacher is
prepared, upon graduation, to work effectively with students of diverse abilities, interests and
backgrounds. The coursework and integrated field experience are intended to provide
theoretical and practical opportunities that enable the aspiring teacher to practise what they
have learned in supported environments
(University of Tasmania, 2011)
The MTeach involves a more traditional approach to the pre-service teacher education
practicum than that of the TSM. Although-school university partnerships exist and are
deemed important in the success of the field experience program component
(Allen et al.,
, stakeholder responsibilities are generally quite separate in terms of the construction
and implementation of the practicum. That is, teacher educators design coursework and
prepare pre-service teachers for practicum through coursework and teachers and leaders in
schools mentor and supervise them during their in-field experience (a small number of
preservice teachers annually receive Scholarships under the National Partnerships Smarter
Schools Initiative. Partnership arrangements function differently under this initiative and are
(Allen et al., 2013; Independent Schools Tasmania, 2011)
arrangements during practicum involve a university coordinator who maintains contact,
generally via email or phone, with the pre-service teacher and his/her colleague teacher in the
school. Due to budgetary restrictions, school visits only occur during the third and fourth
placements, unless the student is deemed at risk of failing. Several students might be
assigned to a particular school, but placements are generally made on an individual basis.
The Faculty?s practicum office arranges placements within the State and nationally
and internationally according to the pre-service teacher?s location. A TSM model along the
lines of the Queensland model would be not feasible, given the broad geographical spread of
students. Four placements are undertaken during the course of the program, one per
semester, during which pre-service teachers need to demonstrate competency against set
criteria relevant at each developmental stage (Prac 1, Prac 2, Prac 3, Prac 4). While
university teaching staff may set observational tasks for pre-service teachers during
practicum, assessment of the field experience is the sole province of the colleague teacher
who is responsible for awarding a non-graded Pass/Fail mark. Placements are in full-time
blocks and, at the time of the study, totalled 70 days which exceeded registration
requirements by ten days. (This has since been reduced to the prescribed 60 days.)
Methods and Data Sources
This paper reports on a comparative study drawing on data from two
previouslyconducted studies in two Australian universities. The study was framed by the central
research question: In the view of participating school and university staff, what are the
enabling and hindering factors in the integration of theory into practice during the
preservice practicum? In each of the original studies, purposive sampling
used to select school and university staff involved in the pre-service teacher practicum.
However, samples and the numbers of participants differed slightly between the two studies
(see Table 1). For the purpose of readability, the same nomenclature (e.g. ?colleague teacher?
and ?university coordinator?) is used here for the two programs, despite some differences
between the terminologies currently in place.
The sample in the Queensland study was drawn from one campus involved in the
development and operation of the TSM. Thirty-six schools from the education district
associated with that campus constituted the research sample. Two hundred and forty-two
TSM practitioners represented by principals, lead teachers, colleague teachers in schools and
university coordinators were invited to take part in the research, conducted in 2009. In the
Tasmanian study, the sample was drawn from a much broader geographical spread in light of
the fact that many MTeach students study in the fully online mode and are located throughout
the State as well as nationally and, in some cases, internationally The pre-service teachers
involved in this particular practicum (n=265) were the focus of an aligned study, reported in
Allen & Wright (in press). Therefore, purposive sampling was used to collect data from
colleague teachers in schools and university coordinators involved in one particular
practicum, namely, the second practicum of the 2010 first-year MTeach cohort. This
represented a sample of 166 potential participants.
Once ethical clearance had been obtained
(Central Queensland University, 2009;
University of Tasmania, 2010)
, a sequential mixed-methods approach was adopted for both
studies, using online survey instruments and follow-up interviews (Tasmania) or focus groups
(Queensland). A mixed methods approach was chosen because the use of qualitative and
quantitative approaches was deemed to strengthen the studies (Greene, 2007). The online
surveys, which were administered to large samples and, in the Tasmanian study, over a large
geographic area, provided an efficient way to gather data on participants? perceptions of the
practicum. Both surveys comprised a Likert scale questionnaire. The Queensland
sevenpoint scale questionnaire included 44 closed questions and drew a response rate of 32% (76
valid responses) and the Tasmanian five-point questionnaire constituted 30 closed questions
and a set of six open questions. The 43 valid responses in the latter study represented a 26%
response rate. The questionnaires sought to gain an understanding of how school and
university staff perceive the efficacy of the practicum in facilitating pre-service teacher
learning and were tailored according to the group in the sample (e.g., questions were slightly
rephrased for the colleague teachers and university coordinators). The Queensland survey
sought to gain insights into a range of features of the TSM while the Tasmanian survey
focused specifically on stakeholders? perceptions of the integration of theory and practice in
Preliminary analysis of survey data was used in both studies as a basis for the design
of the interviews and focus group schedules. The interviews/focus groups provided the
researchers with the means of gathering more contextual data and allowed them to further
probe the key issues that had emerged from the survey data
(Cohen, Manion & Morrison,
. In the Queensland study, members of the survey sample were also invited to
participate in one of five focus groups. Focus groups consisted of six participants each and
they were conducted in schools to facilitate access to staff, and at the university.
Participants were drawn from those performing one of four roles in the TSM, namely,
principals, lead teachers, colleague teachers and university coordinators. Each group
comprised participants performing the same TSM role, with two sessions being held for
colleague teachers and university coordinators. In the Tasmanian study, semi-structured
interviews were conducted with 28 individual participants, of whom there were 16 colleague
teachers and 12 university coordinators. This number represented all those who elected to be
interviewed in a question inviting participation at the end of the survey. Interviews lasting
between 45 minutes and an hour took place either at the university or by phone, depending on
participant location and choice.
Data analysis methods used in the two studies were somewhat similar. The
Queensland study used SPSS Version 17 to generate descriptive statistics and for factor
analysis of the quantitative study while the Tasmanian study used Rasch analysis of Likert
scale items also to generate descriptive statistics. Categorical analysis of the qualitative data
was undertaken in both studies. For the purposes of this comparative study, researchers
focused on the qualitative data only because these data were more helpful in responding to
the research question. The qualitative data across both sets, i.e., focus group, interview and
open ended survey question responses, were analysed following
Coffey and Atkinson?s
coding and categorical analysis techniques, which enabled researchers to discern the
most salient themes concerning school and university staff members? perceptions of the
integration of theory into practice during practicum.
242 in sample
166 in sample
?Teaching School? staff,
principals, lead teachers
and colleague teachers
Online survey comprising
a seven-point Likert scale
questionnaire of 44 closed
76 valid responses (32%
Five focus groups of six
Colleague teachers in
Online survey comprising
a five-point Likert scale
questionnaire of 30 closed
questions and a set of six
43 valid responses (26%
Quantitative data collection
Qualitative data collection
Quantitative data analysis
SPSS Version 17 to obtain
descriptive statistics and for factor
Rasch analysis of Likert scale
survey items to obtain descriptive
Qualitative data analysis method
This paper focuses on three key themes that emerged from the comparative analysis of the
data from both studies, namely that, in the view of participating school and university
1) Linking assessable university coursework to the practicum is an important way to
integrate theory and practice and has the potential to facilitate professional learning by
the pre-service and practising teachers. The implementation of this form of
assessment is problematic.
2) Effective school-university partnerships, in which the respective roles and
responsibilities of school and university staff are clearly defined, articulated and
enacted, are crucial to the success of the practicum.
3) Such partnerships can only be sustained where there is open, regular and meaningful
communication between stakeholders.
The importance of these particular themes lies in the fact that, despite the diverse
programming arrangements for practicum between the two universities, school practitioners
and university coordinators held a number of similar beliefs about how practicum can most
effectively bridge the gap between theory and practice. Table 2 lists the themes and selected
associated findings across the two programs.
Linking assessable university
coursework to the practicum is an
important way to integrate theory
and practice and has the potential
to facilitate professional learning
by the pre-service and practising
teachers. The implementation of
this form of assessment is
partnerships, in which the
respective roles and responsibilities
of school and university staff are
clearly defined, articulated and
enacted, are crucial to the success
of the practicum.
Such partnerships can only be
sustained where there is open,
regular and meaningful
During practicum, pre-service
teachers are required to
undertake tasks, known as
?portal tasks,? to demonstrate
the application of knowledge
presented on campus in the
? University coordinators
considered the portal task of
central importance to the
Teaching School Model,
claiming that it facilitated the
interaction of theory and
? Principals and lead teachers
perceived the portal task to be
effective in that it required
?specific? and ?practical?
action from those working in
Many colleague teachers noted
associated with the
implementation of the task.
? School staff expressed a strong
commitment to the Teaching
School Model and its inherent
? Strong collaborative
arrangements between school
and university staff were seen
to signal the strength of the
? Faculty policy stipulates that
pre-service teachers should not
be required to perform any
assessable coursework during
? University coordinators
supported the inclusion of
assessable coursework into the
practicum and many were
concerned that this was
? Colleague teachers supported
the in-principle notion of linking
assessment to the practicum but
were to an extent dissuaded by
the practicalities of such an
? School and university staff
supported the fostering of
school-university partnerships as
a means of enhancing the
? Both university coordinators and
school staff believed that their
roles and responsibilities
regarding communication were,
in the main, clearly demarcated
and articulated, but that they
were not always effectively
? Both school staff and university
coordinators noted that they
would welcome more
involvement by the university
? A number of impediments to the
success of current partnership
acknowledged by both groups.
The three themes identified across both programs are discussed in this section.
Participant quotations are drawn from focus group, interview and open-ended survey
Linking Assessable University Work to the Practicum
Most school and university staff in both studies supported the inclusion of assessable
university coursework in the practicum. Currently, programming arrangements in this area
are distinctly different in the Queensland and Tasmanian models. As noted earlier,
preservice teachers in the Queensland model are required to undertake tasks, known as ?portal
tasks,? to demonstrate the application of knowledge presented on campus in the workplace.
Portal tasks are an inherent feature of the practicum and, indeed, of the Teaching School
. By contrast, in the Tasmanian model, Faculty policy stipulates that
pre-service teachers should not be required to perform any assessable coursework during
practicum. (Written reflections of observations of practice are encouraged.) Rather, they are
assessed on a number of performance indicators in the areas of professional knowledge,
professional relationships and professional practice. Colleague teachers are responsible for
awarding a Pass (ungraded) or Fail.
The Queensland research demonstrated that, in the view of most school and university
participants, the portal task underpins much of the activity in the TSM and is integral to
fulfilling the model?s aim of bridging the gap between theory and practice. Principals and
lead teachers were particularly supportive of the inclusion of the portal task, noting that it
determined the ?specific and practical action? required by themselves and pre-service
teachers in the application of knowledge and skills learned at university. They also
commented that the portal tasks meant that expectations of the pre-service teacher were set
high early in the program and allowed pre-service teachers to decide if teaching was an
appropriate career for them. These comments are indicative:
I particularly like ? portal tasks that I think do marry up that theory-practice nexus?
[the portal task] is not a feature of any of the other universities that I deal with and I
particularly like it because it gives these students some real life opportunity to get
their teeth into the nuts and bolts of the job. (Principal)
And the assessment tasks ? from other universities seem to be just lots of written
stuff [that doesn?t] seem to impact the classroom really, or impact the school.
Probably no one would even know what they were doing and I probably wouldn?t
even know what real assessment tasks the students were doing within my classroom.
But I do know with this university the [pre-service teachers] do impact the school, in a
good way, and it makes changes in your room. (Lead teacher)
This second data extract points to a key feature of the portal task, as identified by principals
and lead teachers, namely that it also provided professional learning opportunities for those
already in the profession.
Colleague teachers, who work most closely with pre-service teachers in the practical
implementation of the portal task, were, however, somewhat ambivalent about its merit.
While they acknowledged that it could provide opportunities for pre-service teacher learning,
they viewed some of the requirements of the portal task as problematic. In particular, they
commented on the difficulty they had in giving pre-service teachers the opportunity to
complete them, and of the terminology presented in the portal tasks. This difficulty was
expressed in terms of the conflicting pressures placed on mentor teachers, as illustrated in the
The match doesn?t always gel beautifully just simply because [of] what imperatives
we [have]. I mean [the pre-service teachers] have got theirs coming from the
university, and we also have ours ? from HOCs and headmasters.
University coordinators also expressed some uncertainty about the efficacy of the portal task.
On the one hand, they expressed their belief that it was theoretically sound and an important
element of the TSM, which potentially provided pre-service teachers with the opportunity to
apply knowledge and demonstrate their capacity to undertake the duties of a teacher. On the
other hand, they noted that it had lost some of its initial academic rigour and that there were
problems with its implementation, arising predominantly from school curricular priorities
taking precedence over the task.
Data in the Tasmanian study suggest that the Faculty policy prohibiting the linking of
assessable coursework to practicum is contested? to differing degrees?by both school and
university staff. University coordinators supported the inclusion of coursework assessment
into the practicum and were somewhat disconcerted that this was proscribed. Many
expressed concern that the gap between theory and practice was widened, rather than
reduced, under current arrangements and that this would remain the case for as long as
coursework was disassociated from practicum work, as explained by this participant:
I feel that students are still not explicitly making those links between theory and
practice and that often they see no connection between some of what they do at Uni
and what they do in the classroom.
At the very least, they argued that they should have some involvement in the practicum
The [university coordinator] should have the right to have a say in the assessment of
students. (Too often weak students have been passed with glowing reports.)
Nevertheless, a number of predominantly pragmatic issues were acknowledged, such as
catering for pre-service teachers following non-traditional program trajectories and ensuring
that colleague teachers were ?on side? with supervising any set tasks. This comment is
From my experience, colleague teachers don?t like students doing assessment tasks
during prac. I think this is something we need to work on.
For their part, colleague teachers were not particularly open to the idea of coursework being
assessed during practicum although some noted that such an assessment method, if replacing
the current approach, could enhance pre-service teachers? learning. Several viewed it as a
more effective alternative to the status quo:
So if you both have the idea that schools are dynamic places and we need to keep up
with what is happening at university and university needs to keep up with schools
then you already have a culture of change and so it is not hard to make another little
Most colleague teacher participants, however, stated that they were dissuaded by the
practicalities of overseeing the implementation of university tasks, as evident in the
Teaching is all consuming; doing it properly is all consuming. [Assessable
coursework during practicum] is probably a great idea in theory, but I don?t think it
I just sense that with the people I have had that the assessment part is such a burden
that interferes with them having time to prepare lessons and just get on with it.
In summary, there was strong support for linking assessable coursework to the
practicum, with principals and lead teachers in the Queensland study and university
coordinators in both studies noting very positive (potential) benefits of such an approach to
pre-service and in-service teachers. Those who were most closely involved in the day-to-day
practicum supervision, however, voiced concerns about the practicalities of coursework
assessment. In particular, colleague teachers expressed, if not opposition, then serious
concerns about the impact of this approach on classroom life and those involved in it. On
balance, it would seem that, according to views expressed in this study, the notion of
assessing coursework during practicum is conceptually strong but, as it is currently
conceived, somewhat flawed in its application.
Notable in this finding is that, in one of the two studies (Queensland), strong
collaborative partnerships, which have been shown to deliver the most positive results to
(Allsopp et al., 2006; Cochran-Smith, 2009; Darling-Hammond, 2010)
in place at the time. Regardless, it would appear that more work is needed, at least in so far
as the programs in question are concerned, at the ?grass roots? level.
The need to create and foster strong partnerships in teacher education has been widely
(Darling-Hammond, 2006; Louden & Rohl, 2006)
. In particular, the move to
the professionalisation of teaching in the 1960s and the associated separation of theoretical
and practical learning has highlighted the need for alignment between the two sectors
2009; Bullough & Draper, 2004)
. The Queensland research revealed that, according to
participants, many of the key elements of a successful school-university partnership can be
found in the TSM. Participants from both the school and university sectors claimed to hold a
shared philosophy around the practicum; they believed that both sets of stakeholders played
active, rather than passive or ?at a distance? roles; and they generally voiced strong support
for the work of each other. Identified as central to the success of the TSM partnerships was
the clear definition, articulation and enactment of the respective roles and responsibilities of
school and university staff. These comments by principals about others? roles are
We are very clear about the purpose for both the students and the [colleague teachers]
that they are with and we talk about the professional development [of lead teachers]
and BLM students. This is then managed by one of the school?s deputy principals.
I like to have that one constant person at the uni that I can talk to, liaise with, seek
Lead and colleague teachers talked about the existence of a ?culture? and ?community? that
the university coordinator role brings to the teaching school. People in this role were seen as
supportive, ?very productive? and ?very professional,? particularly in the case of any difficult
or complex situations that arose in the teaching school. Similarly, colleague teachers valued
the clarity around what was expected of others as well as of themselves:
Our role ? is like the conduit between the university and the school. So
theoretically, that?s an advantage of the ? role as I see it, we have a conversancy with
the coursework, with the theory. And ? we also have a conversancy with what is
being asked of students out in schools. So we know whether there is a match or a
mismatch and how we can work with our schools to bring that into a closer alignment.
These results indicate the existence of a partnership consistent with Zeichner?s (2010,
p. 89) ?hybrid space to more closely connect campus courses and field experiences in teacher
education.? Zeichner (2010, p. 89) suggests that this ?hybrid? or ?third space? is required to
overcome the traditional dichotomy of academic and practitioner knowledge and to resolve
one of the ?central problems that has plagued? university-based teacher education, namely,
?the disconnect between the campus and school-based components of programs.?
Findings in the Tasmanian study show that school and university staff members
believe partnerships play an important role in enhancing the pre-service teacher experience
during practicum. Both at the level of personal engagement and also at a systemic level,
participants noted ways in which the partnership can impact on pre-service teacher
engagement and learning:
Community needs to be valued and we all need to engage with schools. This should
occur in a one-on-one capacity, such as during prac, but we also need to have it
written into our role. There should be an expectation that we work to establish
partnerships, just like there?s an expectation that we write our unit outlines and that
sort of thing. (University coordinator)
If the uni doesn?t talk to the school and vice versa you might as well give up.
Systematised changes would really help create/sustain relationships. (Colleague
Participants also noted a number of shortcomings, mainly due to limited time
availability, in current partnership arrangements. Both colleague teachers and university
coordinators expressed concern that they did not have the capacity to invest more heavily in
fostering partnerships for reasons that have been previously highlighted in the literature, such
as time and resource constraints
(see, e.g., Bloomfield, 2009)
. Many university coordinators
were also sympathetic to their inter-sector colleagues who they believed faced similar
workload constraints as themselves, as exemplified in this university coordinator?s comment:
The frantic, professional life of colleague teachers means that they often don?t have
time to get involved. There?s so much going on for them, as there is for us.
Others were more critical of the ways in which colleague teachers fulfil their roles:
I don't believe that colleague teachers do always help students to link theory and
practice because they are not aware of what theory the student has covered or even, in
some cases, not up to date with their own theoretical knowledge.
This second quotation points to the roles and responsibilities of the respective school and
university supervising staff. Most participants believed them to be clearly articulated (mainly
through documentation circulated by the university) but acknowledged that the lived
experience did not always match the role descriptions, as indicated in the following:
It?s not that I am not sure of what the [university coordinator] role is, but I only see
them coming and making a visit. I don?t really see how involved they are in the PE
that the student is dutifully doing. (Colleague teacher)
Some of [the colleague teachers?] work is below standard. They do not model good
literacy skills or structure their tasks thoughtfully to encourage maximum student
engagement. They don?t always do what?s expected of them.
Evident here is the tension to which
refers that can arise between school and
university staff in establishing and maintaining partnership arrangements.
A number of possible solutions were put forward as a means of strengthening the
partnership. Resoundingly, participants called for more personal contact between university
and school staff through such initiatives as regular, formalised discussions and social events
and more frequent visits to schools by university staff. Several university coordinators
suggested that there should be more consistency in the allocation of university staff to (the
same) practicum schools.
In summary, it is clear that the participants in the two studies considered the
schooluniversity partnership to be a very valuable component of their teaching degrees. In the
Queensland study, we identified that mutual understandings of and active participation in the
roles associated with partnership can create strong partnerships that connect teaching schools
and the university together in a ?hybrid? space
(Zeichner, 2010, p. 89)
. Those in the
Tasmanian study understood their roles and were keen to be active participants, but were
unable to always do so due to a number of constraints. In particular, we identified that a
dearth of time, resources and workload flexibility restricted the activity of the university and
school staff in building partnerships. The differences in findings between the two studies
highlight that the support provided for staff by university and school systems is crucial to the
development of a partnership that is valued and sustainable
(Martin, Snow & Franklin Torrez,
Sustained and Open Communication Between Stakeholders
Not surprisingly, school and university staff in both studies expressed the belief that
sustained and open communication was critical to the success of the practicum, particularly in
ensuring the enactment of theory into practice. From the research results of the Queensland
study, it was possible to identify two pivotal roles in this regard. Specifically, effective
intersector communication was seen by both school and university staff to ?hinge? on the roles of
the lead teacher and the university coordinator. Focus group data revealed that the lead
teacher is the ?go to? person within the teaching school for all involved, namely, the
preservice teacher, school staff and leaders and the university coordinator. Most participants
believed that lead teacher roles were successfully enacted and that staff in these roles had
effectively opened up communication channels both within the school and with the
university, as evidenced in one principal?s comment that lead teachers had ?transformed
practice? in terms of how schools approached hosting pre-service teachers, and in the
I think that having the [lead teacher] really does try to pull [the TSM] together ? they
understand very clearly what the expectations [are]. I think it brings that consistency
and quality control into it. (Principal)
I think the [lead teacher] is a key person from many different aspects, for students, for
[colleague teachers], for university contacts and for admin too. (University
The university coordinator role was seen as equally important to effective inter-sector
communication. Principals and lead teachers noted how easy their access was to those in this
role and commented on the timely responses they provided to school-requested support.
Comparisons were made to other pre-service programs in which responses were less
forthcoming and in which contact with the university was often limited to administrative staff
with little knowledge of the pre-service teachers. The university coordinator was perceived
to have ?explicit knowledge? of the program, as highlighted in this principal?s comment:
I would [no longer] be comfortable dealing with an admin officer? I want to talk
with one of the lecturers, or coordinators, from the university.
University coordinators also commented on the ways in which the open communication
channels in the TSM strengthened partnerships, particularly insofar as they benefitted the
preservice teacher experience during practicum.
Research results from the Tasmanian study highlighted a perceived fracture between
ways in which, on the one hand, responsibilities regarding communication were defined and,
on the other, how communication actually occurred. That is, the university documentation
(mentioned earlier) was seen as effective in informing all those involved in the practicum of
what was expected of them in interacting with each other and with their inter-sector
colleagues. However, there were differences of opinion about how well individual
stakeholders performed this function of their role, as illustrated in the following:
If I have problems [university coordinators] would be the people I should ring aren?t
they? I?ve not. Why bother? I have always worked through with the problems
myself. (Colleague teacher)
There should be stronger communication between the three parties to regularly
discuss the theory/practice integration. (University coordinator)
Interestingly, many university coordinators iterated the types of concerns held by
preservice teachers that have been reported in the literature (see, e.g., Allen & Wright, in press)
in arguing that they themselves need to collaborate more effectively with school staff in order
to gain shared understandings about how best to support the pre-service teacher during
practicum. This comment is indicative of many others:
There are misunderstandings, contentions [and] the reality is we could do more to
communicate between the uni coordinator and the colleague teacher.
Many said they were unable to adequately support their students ?from afar,? given that
school visits only occur during the third and fourth (of four) practicum placements and that,
in such circumstances, communication with school staff was virtually non-existent:
As uni lecturers we need to also visit schools and build up an understanding of what
they are doing and why - and of their contexts. We don?t really communicate with
[school staff] at all, unless the student is placed a risk. So, a deficit model.
School staff echoed many of the university coordinator concerns, claiming that they would
welcome more opportunities to talk and to encourage more meaningful university
involvement in the practicum, as reflected in this colleague teacher?s comments:
While you are at work and you are even supervising a student teacher and you?ve got
a [university coordinator] coming in to interview you and asking how they are going it
is a difficult situation to try and think about what you need to say and find the time to
do it. The whole structure of [how we communicate] is not ideal.
In summary, sustained and open communication was identified as an important factor
in the practicum, particularly insofar as it related to the efficacy of the school-university
partnership. The two studies highlighted that the availability of time and resources impacts
significantly upon meaningful communication between university coordinators, lead teachers
and colleague teachers. Participants in the Queensland study identified that the allocation of
sufficient human and time resources to the Teaching School Model fostered partnerships that
benefited the development of pre-service teachers. In contrast, the Tasmanian study indicated
that the lack of such resources impeded upon the efficacy of the partnership, despite the
intentions of the program. This finding is particularly evident in regards to the university
practicum documents provided to the schools; although Tasmanian participants described
them as comprehensive, they became more of a structural guide, open to individual
interpretation, than practical and accessible communication tools
(Douglas & Ellis, 2011)
Summary and Conclusion
The findings reported in this paper on a comparative study into two diverse
preservice teacher education programs are threefold. First, the study showed that, across both
the Queensland and Tasmanian programs investigated in the study, school and university
staff considered the linking of assessable coursework to the practicum as an important way to
integrate theory and practice. In the Queensland model, prescribed practicum tasks, known
as ?portal tasks,? were deemed by both sets of stakeholders to be integral to the facilitation of
theory-practice integration. Further, the completion of such tasks was seen to provide the
potential to facilitate professional learning by both pre-service and colleague teachers.
However, the implementation of the portal task was perceived by those most closely involved
in supervision (colleague teachers) as very problematic. The Tasmanian practicum policy
currently proscribes embedding coursework assessment into the practicum, a policy principle
contested by many in both the school and university sectors. Although they acknowledged a
number of mainly practical constraints to linking assessment to the practicum, many
participants in the Tasmanian study argued that doing so would help to align university
theory with classroom practice.
Second, stakeholders across both programs considered effective school-university
partnerships to be crucial to the success of the practicum. In the Queensland study, school
staff expressed an ongoing commitment to the Teaching School Model and its inherent
partnership arrangements. Strong collaborative arrangements between school and university
staff in this program were seen to signal the strength of the inter-sector partnership. In the
Tasmanian counterpart study, school and university staff supported the fostering of
partnerships as a means of enhancing the practicum but acknowledged a number of
impediments to the success of current partnership arrangements. Several possible solutions
were put forward as a means of strengthening the partnership.
A third and associated finding was the importance of sustained and open
communication between stakeholders. The studies demonstrated how such communication is
facilitated and hindered in the two programs. On the one hand, participating school and
university staff in the Queensland study saw the lead teacher as playing a fundamental and
largely successful role in facilitating open communication between the pre-service teacher,
colleague teacher and university coordinator. University coordinators were considered
critical to bridging the gap between knowledge taught at university and what is learned in
schools and were deemed to fulfil this role as it was intended. On the other hand, both
university coordinators and school practitioners in the Tasmanian study believed that
although their roles and responsibilities regarding communication were, in the main, clearly
demarcated and articulated, they were not always effectively enacted. Both sets of
stakeholders said they would welcome the opportunity to communicate more meaningfully
with each other.
In conclusion, this study provides insights into how two diverse teacher education
programs construct and implement the pre-service practicum. Each program serves a
distinctly different ?clientele? and, as such, the successes of one program might not
necessarily be achievable in the same way in the other. Similarly, the same impediments
might not apply. Nonetheless, the perceptions of key stakeholders reported above shed some
light on ways in which teacher educators and school staff might work collaboratively to
design practicum experiences that best assist the pre-service teachers with whom they work
to integrate theory into practice. Importantly, this study shows that the development of
genuine partnerships between schools and universities can assist in narrowing the
disconnectedness between theory and practice and in enhancing the practicum experience for
both pre-service and colleague teachers. However, sufficient resources must be provided if
both sectors and, by association, pre-service teachers, are to derive a benefit from the
Appendix A: Program Structure of the Queensland Bachelor of Learning Management (Primary)
Embedded Professional Learning 5
Work Experience: 10 days
Prac 1: 20 days
Work Experience: 10 days
Prac 2: 30 days
Prac 3: 20 days
Prac 4: 20 days
Internship: 30 days
Note: Embedded Professional Learning refers to courses whereby the students are placed in a teaching school for their
practical experience. Along with portal tasks to complete, the students actively engage in observations and reflections and
participate in the everyday routines of the classroom.
Appendix B: Program Structure of the Tasmanian Master of Teaching (Primary)
Appendix C: Ways in which the Bachelor of Learning Management is Differentiated from its Bachelor of
Education Predecessor (Adapted from Smith & Moore (2006, p. 14))
Semi- and informal relationships with schools and
Academic staffing and reputational work based on
Governed by chunky bureaucracies
Bachelor of Learning Management
Teacher education as a disruptive innovation in
Transformation of teaching and teachers? work as
Emphasis on pedagogical practice and the science
Knowing what with emphasis on the how and
Design of pedagogical strategies that encompass
curriculum content and context management
Establishment of a common language, core concepts
Professional identity based on a shared, systematic
professional endeavour and improvisation
More mature profession
Graduates workplace ready and futures-oriented
Mixed academic and practitioner staffing focused
on generating capability
Network-centric work distributed across
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