Sustaining School Colleagues’ Commitment to a Long-term Professional Experience Partnership
Sustaining School Colleagues' Commitment to a Long-term Professional Experience Partnership
Judith Peters 0
0 University of South Australia
Sustaining School Colleagues? Commitment to a Long-term
Professional Experience Partnership
University of South Australia
Abstract: This paper presents findings from a qualitative study that
investigated school participants? perceptions of the benefits, challenges
and supportive factors related to their involvement in a long-term
school/university professional experience partnership. Data were
collected through interviews with coordinators and a written survey
completed by mentor teachers from 4 schools. The findings indicate that
participants perceived the program to have a number of benefits for
both staff and school students and that participation was supported by
effective communication, flexible funding arrangements, local autonomy
to interpret and adapt the program and the continuity arising from the
long-term nature of the partnership. The benefits and supportive factors
appear to have compensated for challenges such as organisational
demands, negotiating university expectations and stresses on workload,
time, space and resources. The discussion focuses on features that
appear to have contributed to the sustainability of the partnership over
Studies of pre-service teachers, beginning teachers and stake-holders
consistently find that experience in schools is considered to be a critical aspect of
preservice teachers? learning
(e.g. Le Cornu, 2010; Peters & Le Cornu, 2006)
. As a result,
policies in Australia and overseas consistently endorse the role of professional
experience in teacher education. For instance, in Australia the report of the House of
Representatives Standing Committee and Vocational Training (2007) found that
professional experience is ?a critically important part of teacher education courses and
is consistently valued highly by student teachers? (p. xxv). Benefits cited in the report
include the opportunities for pre-service teachers to integrate ?theoretical knowledge
and professional practice? and have diverse experiences in ?a range of school contexts
and with a variety of students? under the guidance of experienced and expert
practitioners (pp. 73-74).
The benefits and challenges of professional experience for pre-service teachers
have been the subject of many studies
(e.g. Peters, 2009, 2010; Haigh & Ward, 2003)
but it is also important to consider the impact of professional experience on school
colleagues such as coordinators and mentor teachers
(Hastings, 2004; Le Cornu,
. Universities depend on the goodwill of school-based colleagues to find
professional experience placements for pre-service teachers but it is becoming
increasingly difficult in Australia and overseas to find sufficient places
2009; Walkington; 2007)
attributed this difficulty to increased
pressures on schools from higher numbers of professional experience days and levels
of enrolment in teacher education, while
blamed ?the ineffectual
nature of the relationships between schools and universities? (p. 292) and school
colleagues? ?frustration at the lack of acknowledgement for efforts through time
allowance, rewards or other incentives? (p. 281).
School/university partnership approaches to professional experience have long
been seen as one way to develop closer relationships between pre-service teachers,
teachers and lecturers for the purpose of facilitating the pre-service teachers? learning
(Smedley, 2001, p. 190)
. Sixteen years ago
noted that ?the creation
and development of collaborative and cooperative relationships between universities
and school authorities concerns teacher education institutions throughout North
America, Europe and Australia? (p. 174). Since then, in Australia and elsewhere there
has been a growing emphasis on teacher educators working in partnership with
schools to construct professional experiences that maximise pre-service teacher
engagement and learning
(House of Representatives Standing Committee and
Vocational Training, 2007)
Although the literature provides many insights about the interpretations,
benefits, outcomes, challenges and support of school/university partnerships
example Kruger, Davies, Eckersley, Newell & Cherednichenko, 2009; Edwards &
Mutton, 2007; Peters, 2002)
, there is general agreement that there are many questions
that need to be pursued further through research. Aspects where current knowledge
and understandings have been perceived to be inadequate include:
participants? motivation for becoming involved in partnerships
& Burke, 1995; Sinclair, Munns & Woodward, 2006)
the impact of partnerships on participants? learning and practice
(Whitford & Metcalf-Turner, 1999, Le Cornu, 2010)
the processes for negotiating democratic, equitable, mutually
beneficial and sustainable relationships between teachers and tertiary
(Smedley, 2001; Bloomfield, 2009)
the circumstances, factors or conditions that facilitate partnerships
(Peters, 2002; Scott & Burke, 1995)
the cultural and structural impediments to partnerships (Peters, 2002;
Clearly it is important for teacher educators to become more aware of school
colleagues? perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of participation in
professional experience partnerships so they can address concerns, optimise potential
benefits and provide them with appropriate support to meet any challenges
& Ewing, 2008)
. The study reported in this paper provides useful insights from a
longterm professional experience partnership that are intended to support the development
of better partnerships in the future.
I coordinate the first year professional experience course for junior
primary/primary pre-service teachers in the four-year undergraduate degree at the
University of South Australia. Two stages of professional experience are completed as
part of the first year course. Stage 1 comprises an introduction to teaching and the
profession over five consecutive Thursdays. Stage 2 comprises a seven-day
professional experience in a different school (with a country placement as an option).
This study focused on Stage 1 in 2010.
For nearly two decades a small number of primary schools (years R-7) have
been involved in a school/university partnership approach to professional experience
in the Stage 1 Program. One day a week for five consecutive weeks in
August/September each school in the program provides a highly supportive and
structured introduction for up to thirty pre-service teachers (per school). One or two
people in each school take responsibility for coordinating the program. Most other
teachers in the schools are involved in the program as mentor teachers who host the
pre-service teachers in classrooms and/or contribute to other program activities.
In 2010 five schools worked in the Stage 1 Program and accommodated 145 first
year pre-service teachers. These same five schools have been involved in the program
for many years (periods ranging from 7-19 years), with two of them having been
involved since the program was initiated in 1991. Over the five days of the Stage 1
Program the schools ran special activities around the five themes of:
an introduction to the school;
learning is an active process;
self esteem influences learning;
language is basic to learning; and
resources, organisation and management.
The programs featured input from staff members to the whole group of pre-service
teachers about the theme for the day, modelled lessons illustrating the theme in action
and placement of pairs or small groups of pre-service teachers in home classes for
observation of mentor teachers and teaching of prepared lessons to small groups of
children. University lectures and workshops over those weeks focussed on the same
themes and provided the opportunity for pre-service teachers to debrief, share and
develop their learning from each school visit.
In earlier studies
(see Peters 2009 and 2010)
I focussed on the pre-service
teachers? perceptions of this program and found them to be highly positive in terms of
their increased confidence, the kinds of support they received and their learning about
aspects such as planning and teaching, classroom management, students? diverse
needs and the role of relationships. To complete the picture of the extent to which this
program is supportive for all those involved, I felt it was important to also find out
about the school participants? perceptions through a more rigorous approach than the
informal feedback they had provided over the years.
The aim of this research project was to identify school participants? perceptions
of the benefits, challenges and supportive factors arising from their involvement in the
Stage 1 Program. The research questions were:
What are the benefits and challenges for school participants involved in a
school/university partnership approach to professional experience in a first
year teacher education course?
What supports and sustains the work of mentor teachers and school program
Although all five schools were keen to be involved in the study, one school was
forced to withdraw when the coordinator unexpectedly needed to take long term leave.
Participants from the other four schools were five coordinators of the Stage 1 Program
(there were two co-coordinators at one of the schools) and 23 mentor teachers (MTs)
involved in the program. Coordinators participated in an individual semi-structured
interview (Fontana & Frey, 2000) of approximately 30 minutes in length. Questions
addressed their roles as coordinators of the program, reasons for the schools?
involvement, preferred aspects, benefits and challenges of the program, helpful and
hindering factors and suggestions for improvement and further support from the
A brief written survey was distributed to the MTs. The survey asked them to
rate the professional experience program on a 3-point Likert scale from ?not very
beneficial? to ?very beneficial?, and to respond to open-ended questions about their
reasons for involvement, the benefits for members of the school community, the
challenges of involvement and suggestions for improvement and further support from
the University. Surveys were distributed to 54 MTs and 23 were completed and
returned (roughly 43%). It was not anticipated that the return rate for surveys would
be high given the busy life of teachers and that survey distribution and return were
managed at a distance through the program coordinator in each school.
Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1992)
lamented the absence of
teachers? voices from much research about partnership. To address this absence, this
research was based largely on qualitative data intended to provide a ?holistic picture,
formed with words?
(Creswell, 1994, p.2)
. The qualitative data comprised participants?
responses to the open ended questions in the questionnaire and interviews. In
) ?mechanics of grounded theory?, the transcripts of
the coordinators? interview responses and mentor teachers? written responses to the
open-ended survey questions were coded and categorised. As categories were
developed they were reviewed to identify similarities, differences and other patterns
that linked them (p. 443). The themes identified through this process form the basis of
the findings reported in this paper. In addition, a very small quantitative element
comprised the frequencies calculated for mentor teachers? responses on the
questionnaire to the first Likert scale question.
quantitative data can supplement or complement qualitative data, providing a form of
School Colleagues? Perceptions of their Involvement in the Stage 1 Professional
Analysis of the interview and survey responses provided insights about school-based
participants? reasons for involvement in the first year program, the benefits and
challenges arising from their involvement and supportive factors.
Reasons for Involvement
Coordinators had either inherited coordination of the Stage 1 Program as part of
their role as Professional Experience Coordinator for their schools or they were
enthusiastic classroom teachers who had volunteered to take it on. However, even for
those in the former position it was clear that they had an interest in and commitment to
the program that went beyond an expected duty. In particular, they expressed a strong
commitment to wanting to contribute to the future of the profession:
(I?m) very keen to support future teachers? knowing the
amount of support I got coming through as a student teacher
myself and ?I wanted to be able to hopefully instil some of the
positivity and the enthusiasm for teaching and my little
knowledge that I have. (C4)
In three of the schools MTs volunteered to be involved, while in the fourth
school all teachers were expected to participate. However, where MTs volunteered it
was clear that the coordinators played a strong role in encouraging them to do so. One
explained it in this way, ?You give people that you know have got great strengths an
opportunity to shine and to share and ?I know them well enough and have a
relationship that I can ? talk them into having a go at doing it? (C3). Many MTs
echoed the coordinators? sentiments about their reasons for involvement making
comments such as ?promoting it as a career for the future of our children? (MT13) and
?students need to experience classrooms so teachers need to be involved ? otherwise
where will the new teachers come from?? (MT6). Other reasons for involvement
included ?(because) the school is involved? (MT21), curiosity about ?what it would be
like? (MT16) and wanting to ?keep up with what is happening at Uni X? (MT2).
The Benefits of Participation
MTs? survey responses indicated that nearly all teachers felt that their involvement in
the program was ?very beneficial? (29%) or ?beneficial? (67%). Only one response
(4%) rated it as ?not very beneficial?. The coordinators, too, cited a number of benefits
with the most common themes across all participants being opportunities through the
program for: 1) interaction with and development of pre-service teachers; 2) sharing
ideas and show-casing practice; 3) reflection and professional development; and 4)
classroom and student support.
Interaction with and Development of Pre-service Teachers
As part of their commitment to developing the profession, most participants
seemed to appreciate the opportunity to spend time with first year pre-service teachers.
Coordinators and MTs commented on the pleasure of being ?surrounded by youthful
and enthusiastic students? (MT17). It was clear that they saw the goal of their
interactions with pre-service teachers as helping them to develop as teachers and that
they took pleasure when they could see that development had occurred. One
coordinator noted that she could ?actually see some development even though it?s a
short space of time? (C1) while an MT commented, ?I value the opportunity to support
and work alongside the students in this journey? (MT20).
Sharing Ideas and Show-casing Practice
A strong focus in the program is structured input and modelling by school
participants related to the five designated themes that also drive the parallel
oncampus program. A dominant theme in participants? responses was that many relished
these opportunities to share their expertise with pre-service teachers. MTs commented
on the satisfaction of sharing ?skills and enthusiasm as a teacher? (MT13) and the
importance of passing on ?practical classroom methods that are not found in theory
lessons? (MT11). Coordinators explained that key parts of their role were identifying,
recruiting and supporting MTs who had particular expertise around the themes to
participate in particular introductory sessions and modelled lessons. One explained
that it was not uncommon for MTs to feel apprehensive about taking on the new role
of lecturer and model for adults, so it was important to provide moral support. One
way she did this was to write them appreciative notes about their work in the program
Another coordinator commented on the positive reinforcement MTs often
received from pre-service teachers when they found what they observed to be
congruent with their university studies (C4), while one MT noted that listening to
preservice teacher feedback on her lessons ?brought the outcomes that I had hoped to
achieve into sharp focus when the pre-service teachers could comment on what they
saw as achieved or not? (MT18). It was clear that involvement in the program
enhanced some MTs? feelings of professional self worth with one making the
comment: ?I also gained a lot more confidence in myself and feel I can contribute
skills and knowledge? (MT1).
Reflection and Professional Development
All of the coordinators and many of the MTs responded that one of the greatest
benefits of their involvement was the way it promoted their own reflection and
professional development. Coordinators clearly saw this as one of the more important
reasons for ongoing involvement with the program with one explaining, ?It actually
forces us to focus on some of those aspects of learning that we?re talking to the
students about? (C5). Another felt that the program linked well with performance
management as a highly supportive mechanism for teacher development because it
gave MTs a chance ?to articulate their methodology?. He added that having been
involved in the program for nearly twenty years at three different schools, and having
gone on to hold a series of leadership positions, he believed that his participation as a
young teacher in different aspects of the program ?might have formed why I am what I
am now? (C2).
A number of MTs mentioned that working with the pre-service teachers
provided the opportunity to ?reflect on your own practice? (MT16). Others commented
on benefits such as the ?opportunity to refine our skills as you do when the others are
watching? (MT23) and providing ?an opportunity for me to analyse my practice and
break it down for 1st years to understand?(MT22).
It was clear that for some, gaining a greater understanding of the University?s
approach to teacher education was an aspect of their development. One coordinator
commented: ?You get new learning yourself and keep up to date with what?s going on
in teacher education, which I thinks important for us? (C1). Another reported that she
valued the invitation to attend one of the early on-campus lectures to hear the program
introduced and meet her group of students (C4). One of the coordinators agreed:
Classroom and Student Support
As part of the program pairs or small groups of pre-service teachers spent part of
each day observing, helping and working with small groups of children in home
classes. MTs appreciated that there were some purely practical benefits arising from
?having 2 extra pair of hands for some things? (MT22). They also felt that there were a
range of benefits in terms of support for their students such as the students enjoying
?having the pre-service teachers in the room as it gives them the chance to work with
other adults? (MT9). Another stated that in a school largely staffed by mature teachers
it was a benefit ?having younger teachers at school to interact with students? (MT2).
All of the coordinators were strongly of the view that the program was beneficial
to the students. One cited the evidence that on the days when the pre-service teachers
visited the school, the statistics around managing student behaviour were ?our lowest
stats (sic) for the year?. He attributed the improvement to the fact that ?teachers are
better prepared because they know that there are PAR 1 teachers coming in? (C2).
Challenges and Hindrances
As would be expected, the participants reported that there were some challenges
and hindrances in hosting up to 30 pre-service teachers for whole day visits. The main
themes discerned related to organisation, clarity of university expectations and issues
around workload, time, space and resources.
The onus for organising the program largely fell to the coordinators, although
MTs also had to organise their own participation in input sessions and modelled
lessons, as well as accommodating pairs or small groups of PTs in their classrooms
and teaching programs. All coordinators talked about the organisation involved in
managing the program. Aspects mentioned included planning the various aspects of
the program and recruiting staff to participate, communicating with them about the
structure and expectations, allocating PTs to classrooms and preparing materials for
the various sessions.
MTs faced different organisational challenges. For instance one reported that
having the pre-service teachers ?slightly throws out class routines? in her reception
class (MT19), while another spoke of ?juggling the work that is a requirement at the
time and the activities the students need to do for their university studies?. She was
able to resolve this challenge by encouraging ?the uni (sic) students to do activities
which fit into?our units of inquiry so that they are more relevant to the class.?
Clarity of University Expectations
A further challenge related to the need for clarity around the university expectations
for the professional experience. Although the program is structured around five
themes so as to be congruent with the on-campus program, schools have a great deal
of flexibility in how they interpret the themes and structure the days. However, it was
clear that both coordinators and MTs were very keen to make sure their program met
the university expectations and pre-service teachers? needs. Several coordinators
indicated that although they appreciated the freedom to interpret the program this was
sometimes a cause for concern in terms of whether they were ?actually meeting the
needs of what you?re expecting and what the student teachers are expecting? (C5).
Some MTs also indicated they needed greater clarity around aspects such as ?greater
awareness of topics students are taught? (MT 23) and ?a bit more information on what
theories/teaching methods that have been introduced at Uni (sic) at the start of the year
(to have an idea of what prior knowledge they are bringing with them)? (MT 14).
Some also felt that the university communication with pre-service teachers about
expectations needed to be clearer.
Issues Around Workload, Time, Space and Resources
As would be expected, working with such a large group of pre-service teachers
placed pressure on coordinators and MTs related to their workloads, available time
and use of space. Although the university provided some funding for release time for
coordinators, the money often went into general school funds leaving them to find the
time to organise and oversee the program as part of their normal workload.
Available time and workload also influenced whether teachers volunteered to
participate: ?Those people who don?t want to be involved, it?s usually around either
personal reasons or workload? (C3). A number of MTs commented on the difficulty of
finding time with their pre-service teachers ?to sit down and debrief and guide in the
preparation of next week?s task at the end of the day? (MT3). The goodwill of school
leaders was evident in some of the schools, where members of the leadership team
took MTs? classes so they could contribute to input sessions with the whole group.
Clearly adding thirty extra adults to any school added a pressure on available
space and resources and several participants made comments to that effect such as:
?There was a large number of extra adults to share staffroom, toilets, photocopier etc.?
In identifying supportive factors the participants made comments related to the
themes of effective communication, flexible funding, local autonomy and the
continuity arising from the long-term nature of the partnership.
In the main, participants felt well supported by the communication they received
about the program. For coordinators, this was mainly about the communication they
had from the university coordinator in the form of written materials about the
program, phone-calls and emails. MTs also receive written communication from the
University in the form of detailed written materials about the program but it was clear
the coordinators played a large role in the day-to-day communication which kept the
program running smoothly:
And then it?s just following through making sure that
everybody?s got their class allocations and the teachers have
got what they need and they know what?s going on, that they
get their reports and that everyone?s filled all that in and
following that through so it?s about being organised enough,
week by week about what happens. (C3)
They also saw it as important to be accessible to the pre-service teachers should any
issues arise over the five days.
MTs on the whole seemed to be happy with the level of communication from the
university and coordinators, as can be seen in comments such as, ?plenty of support
given.? (MT2) and ?I thought it was well organised/run? (MT 3), but some wanted
shorter and clearer written communication such as ?an email sent out to participating
mentor teachers just to out-line what the PAR 1 students will be undertaking in the
When the Stage 1 Program began nearly two decades ago the University
provided each school with a university mentor who performed the planning and
oversight role that is now undertaken by the school coordinators. The program was
tightly structured and schools were expected to implement it in similar ways. Over
time, as some schools left the program and others joined, these arrangements altered
and schools were given the choice of whether they had a university mentor to take the
coordination role, or received funding for someone on the staff to take the role. For a
number of years all schools have opted for the latter. In recent years schools have also
able to interpret the program and structure the five days in ways that best suit their
contexts. It was clear that coordinators felt that these arrangements were supportive of
their participation. They all agreed that it was important for someone who knew the
staff well to recruit MTs to the program. For instance, one explained:
This year I looked at who had a strength in literacy and I chose
the younger person ?who has been teaching for maybe six or
seven years. She has a passion for literacy, she has a passion
for ICT, she married them both together. (C3)
It was also clear that coordinators used the freedom to interpret guide-lines
flexibly to identify and respond to the pre-service teachers? interests and needs and
highlight local strengths. One explained how she interpreted the University guidelines
so as to highlight school foci each year (C3), while another used a PMI (Plus, Minus,
Interesting) evaluation process to collect information from pre-service teachers half
way through the professional experience and De Bono?s ?Thinking Hats? on the final
day. She used the feedback to adapt the program both while it was happening and for
the following year (C4).
Flexible Funding Arrangements
MTs in Australia receive a daily allowance from the university for their work
with pre-service teachers. Schools in the Stage 1 Program receive additional funding
in the form of an amount to release the coordinator for three and a half days (a half
day for each day of the program plus an extra day for planning and organisation).
They also have the option of claiming the individual teacher payments for supervision
as a lump sum paid to the school as long as the participating teachers agree. These two
amounts mean schools can receive an attractive amount of money for running the
program which can be used for specific purposes. For instance, one MT explained that
?the money is pooled and we buy luxuries for our staffroom? (MT21).
In schools where coordinators were part of the leadership team, the money for
their release went into general funds. Even though this meant they completed the work
around the program on top of their normal workload, they were happy to see the
benefits the funds brought to the wider staff. One explained, ?We see that as a bonus to
be able to give back to the teachers? (C3).
All of the schools studied had participated in the program for many years and the
continuity provided by the opportunity to engage over the long term was clearly a
supportive factor. Having found participation rewarding, MTs were more likely to
engage again the following year, as can be seen in comments such as: ?Have
participated in the program for 8 years and have enjoyed inspiring new teachers to
continue on? (MT10). This made life easier for the coordinators in recruiting MTs
because they were ?more happy to do it again once they?d done it? (C4). Even though
some of the coordinators had inherited the job when they became the school?s
Professional Experience Coordinator, the transition was made easier because the
program had already been operating for several years.
This study found that school participants in a long-term university/school partnership
approach to professional experience were keen to contribute to the future of the
teaching profession and considered the benefits and supportive factors arising from
their involvement to be compensation for any challenges. From these findings it is
possible to discern a number of features of this particular approach to partnership that
appear to account for the sustained commitment and participation of school-based
participants. These are:
? structured and supported opportunities to show-case expertise;
? a coordinated school-wide approach;
? a balance between clear guidance and local autonomy;
? reciprocal benefits; and
? continuity over an extended period of time.
What follows is a discussion of each of these factors and the ways they connect to
insights from the current literature.
Structured and Supported Opportunities to Show-case Expertise
To some extent all professional experiences are framed around the premise that
preservice teachers will benefit from having access to the expertise and practices of the
mentor teachers with whom they work
(Ambrosetti & Dekkers, 2010)
. In many
professional experience programs this access is left to chance, with pre-service
teachers working exclusively with randomly assigned mentor teachers who may or
may not see their role as explicitly explaining and modelling best practice
2002, Hudson, 2010)
. Fieman Nemser (2001) suggested mentor teachers may even
?withhold assistance due to the enduring belief that teaching is a highly personalized
practice of finding one?s own style? (p. 1033). Furthermore, Sinclair et al. (2005)
summarised studies that revealed that mentor teachers often deliberately countered
university notions of ?best practice? by telling pre-service teachers to ?forget about
what is taught to them in the university? (p. 210).
Clearly it is in the interest of pre-service teachers for teacher educators to work
closely with schools to ensure consistent messages about best practice are conveyed.
Fifteen years ago the Standards Council of the Teaching Profession (1996)
recommended partnerships focussed ?on school practitioners sharing and trialling the
delivery of best classroom practices? (p. 51). The partnership in this study was in line
with this recommendation in that it was based on the development and implementation
of a school-wide program designed to be congruent with the ?best practice? themes
that informed the on-campus program. It is clear from the findings of this study that
mentor teachers responded well to the explicit structuring of opportunities for them to
contribute through input sessions and modelled lessons. Although often needing some
encouragement and support to do so, they clearly found it rewarding to participate in
this way and to receive positive feedback about their teaching from the pre-service
teachers and school program coordinators.
A Coordinated School-wide Approach
The term ?learning communities? has been used in the teacher development literature
to describe a positive and enabling context for teachers? professional growth where the
professional learning of teachers is shared and problematised
(Le Cornu & Ewing,
. As schools focus more on developing as learning communities there is greater
emphasis in teacher education on clustering pre-service teachers in schools and
providing them with school-wide rather than single classroom professional
(Le Cornu, 2010)
. Bullough Jr (2005, p. 153) identified the emotional and
?relational? nature of being a mentor teacher, where mentors can feel vulnerable in
opening their classrooms to others. Le Cornu (2010) found that school-wide
approaches to professional experience provide all participants with needed support.
School leaders have been shown to be central to the development of schools as
. This study found that the support of school
leaders, and in particular that of the school program coordinators, was central to
providing a supportive culture in each of the schools. According to
the important role of school coordination in professional experience
has long been over-looked in research. In a study of 10 coordinators they found that
?the role of the coordinator extends beyond the administrative function, and is crucial
in establishing the practicum as an occasion for quality learning? (p. 275-276). This
was certainly the case for the coordinators in this study. In addition to organising the
program, communicating with all participants and carefully negotiating for teachers to
showcase their strengths, they adapted the program to suit the local context, highlight
school foci and respond to the pre-service teachers? needs. Like the coordinators in
Martinez and Coombs? (2001)
study they helped ?shape the professional ethos of a
school, as experienced by pre-service teachers? (p. 276).
A Balance Between Clear Guidance and Local Autonomy
There is often tension in partnerships if one partner tries to impose rigid expectations
on the other
. The term ?parity of esteem? was used by
p. 11) to describe the kind of mutual respect for expertise that should be established in
partnerships. She stressed that recognition of the different interests and expertise of
the partners ?should add breadth and depth? to collaborative endeavours. Although
partners need to share some common goals, there also needs to be room for partners to
be able to negotiate expectations in ways that recognise and serve their individual
strengths and needs.
Kruger et al. (2009)
recently studied 35 Australian
school/university partnerships in the area of teacher education. They found that
?reciprocity?, whereby ?each stakeholder recognises and values what others bring to
the partnership?, was an important characteristic for success (p.10).
agreed, recommending partnerships in which ?teachers? contribution is sought and
valued to enhance pre-service teacher learning in their context rather than being the
recipient of a program from the university? (p. 29).
This study revealed that school-based participants and the University shared the
common goal of developing the teachers of the future. School colleagues appreciated
guidance and clear communication from the University about how they might support
the on-campus program in achieving this goal. At the same time they valued the
opportunities to interpret the guide-lines and allocate funding in locally appropriate
ways. This finding is congruent with that of
Edwards and Mutton (2007)
in their study
of UK professional experience partnerships. They found that much of the strain caused
by the time and administrative resources required to make the partnerships work
effectively, was alleviated in schools that ?developed their own core courses which
were designed to meet the needs of ?their? students (pre-service teachers)? (p. 511).
They also raised the issue that local autonomy can lead to a lack of consistency in the
programs offered to pre-service teachers by different schools and recommended that
this could be addressed through greater networking across participating schools.
There has been a tendency for school participants to ?see their work in
preservice teacher education as a ?favour? to the university?
(Martinez & Coombs, 2001,
. Bloomfield (2009, p. 27) identified ?the incorporation of appropriate systems
of acknowledgment, benefit and reward? as a particular challenge for universities
seeking schools colleagues? support for professional experience. Only in recent years
have researchers begun to identify the rewards that can accrue from mentoring work.
provided an extensive list of potential benefits for mentor teachers
of pre-service teachers:
At the one-to-one level, mentoring teachers share their
knowledge developing respect for their years of experience;
they evaluate their own practices through reflection about
teaching with their mentee; they are exposed to varying
perspectives developed by the pre-service teachers through
their university study; they have an opportunity to see their
classes and pupils through a different set of eyes. In addition,
having another ?teacher in the classroom? can be a welcome
additional resource (Bullough et al, 1999). (pp. 285-286)
Edwards and Mutton (2007)
found an additional benefit that mentor teachers take
pleasure seeing pre-service teachers ?learn to teach? (p. 516). These benefits resonate
strongly with the findings of this study. In addition, the participants in this study found
the flexible funding arrangements to be a further benefit and an incentive. Kruger et
al. (2009, p. 97) found ?trust? that mutual benefits will occur and ?mutuality?, the
recognition that mutual benefits have accrued, to be key elements of sustainable
partnerships. This study did not consider the benefits to the university, but it seems
that these elements were present for the school-based participants.
It has long been known that educational change endeavours need to extend over
prolonged periods of time for change to be embedded.
Fullan and Stiegelbauer (1991
p. 49) reported that time spans of three to ten years are needed for the
?insitutionalization? of change. The school-wide approach to professional experience
required by the Stage 1 Program can be seen as a considerable change for participating
schools. It is clear that the ongoing nature of the program, whereby the University and
schools committed to working together year after year, has helped to ?institutionalize?
the program. Becoming familiar with the program, and having the opportunity for
ongoing evaluation and evolution, increased school colleagues? willingness to become
involved and sustain involvement. It also benefited pre-service teachers as each school
reviewed and adapted the program on a yearly basis to be more responsive to their
needs and capitalise on recent school foci. According to
school/university partnerships falter when committed leaders and/or teachers leave the
school. This has not been the case for this partnership, even though there have been
many changes of leadership and staff over the years. It appears that continuity over a
long period of time has resulted in the development of sufficient knowledge, expertise
and documentation in each school for the program to be sustained.
Bloomfield (2009, p. 35) argued that partnerships need to ?be forged in locally
appropriate ways? to be sustainable. The partnership explored in this study appears to
have been deemed ?locally appropriate? by the school participants. The research found
that despite the current difficulties in finding schools willing to offer placements for
professional experience, there were features of the studied partnership approach that
sustained long-term participation by school colleagues. To some extent these features
evolved over time, rather than as the result of thoughtful design, but if incorporated in
the design of future professional experience partnerships they may well increase the
likelihood of long-term engagement by school colleagues.
The author would like to acknowledge the contributions of Mary Thornley and Dale Wasley who
designed the original PAR 1 Stage 1 Professional Experience Program in 1991and all the Site
Professional Experience Coordinators and Mentor Teachers who have supported it since then.
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