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“As we work to improve teaching and learning in every school and classroom, we recognize from data we have collected that our highest-poverty school districts face special challenges in recruiting and retaining excellent educators. The Rhode Island Equity Plan aims to take on this issue directly by improving data collection on teacher quality, developing statewide strategies for sharing best practices, and providing targeted support for teachers working in our highest-poverty schools.” - Education Commissioner Ken Wagner

The Importance of Practice: A Recap of the 2017 Educator Preparation Retreat

Posted by: Lauren Matlach on 7/5/2017
Lauren Matlach
Education Specialist

“Why do you work in educator preparation?” 

On June 9, more than 40 faculty and staff members from teacher preparation programs answered this question during the 2017 Educator Preparation Retreat.  The thoughtful and inspiring responses of participants emphasized the critical importance that teachers play in students’ lives.  “Teachers are the start of all kids attaining an excellent education,” one participant responded.  Another participant noted: “Our great kids deserve great teachers.”

So how do teacher candidates become great teachers?  Through practice. 

As noted in Investing in What it Takes to Move from Good to Great, National Board Certified Teachers and State and National Teachers of the Year often cite student teaching as by far the most important experience in their preparation.  Research also shows that teacher candidates are more likely to be effective and to stay in the profession when their preparation experiences are connected to classroom practice. 

This year’s retreat focused on ensuring the integration of high-quality, practice-based opportunities throughout preparation.  Supported by Dr. Amber Benedict and Dr. Teri Marx from the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform (CEEDAR) Center, participants from Brown University, Johnson and Wales University, The Learning Community, Providence College, Rhode Island College, Roger Williams University, Salve Regina University, Teach for America, and the University of Rhode Island reflected on their current practices and focused on systemic improvement.

Retreat participants engaged in a series of activities throughout the day.  Below, we share a few highlights:

Opening Remarks – Deputy Commissioner Mary Ann Snider kicked off the day with a few thoughts and reflections.  She praised RI’s preparation programs for the steps they have taken toward meeting the increased expectations articulated in the Rhode Island Educator Preparation Standards.  Looking forward, Deputy Commissioner Snider encouraged programs to keep the learners—both the PK-12 students and teacher candidates—at the center of this work.

What Does High Quality Clinical Preparation Look Like? – Drawing upon her brief, Learning to Teach: Practice-Based Preparation in Teacher Education, Benedict highlighted the features of high-quality, practice-based opportunities.  She focused on three overarching ideas that should guide the development of practice-based opportunities: focus, duration, and coherence.  After the presentation, groups reviewed practical examples collected from preparation programs throughout the nation and discussed the pros and cons of various approaches.

Panel – During lunch, Dr. Benedict and representatives from Rhode Island preparation programs discussed the use of video analysis in candidate preparation. Dr. Joann Hammadou from University of Rhode Island’s world languages preparation program shared how her candidates analyze videos from Teaching Foreign Languages K-12, a video library produced by WGHB Educational Foundation with the American Council of Foreign Languages, throughout their preparation.  Dr. Hammadou emphasized how the use of video helps candidates ensure that 90% of their instruction occurs in the world language.  Dr. Madge Thombs from Roger Williams University shared information about how candidates at Roger Williams use video.  Given the increasing role of technology in instruction, candidates also have an assignment where they develop instructional videos to be used in lessons.


Team Time – The most useful part of the day was team time, where teams of educators from each preparation provider worked collaboratively to self-assess their own programs.  Using Learning to Teach: A Framework for Crafting High-Quality, Practice-Based Preparation as a guide, teams identified next steps for continuous improvement. 

Looking Ahead – The day concluded with previews for upcoming work that connected to the day’s focus of practice.  RIDE will host a calibration session that brings together PK-12 principals and preparation program staff in October.  The collaborative session will create space for those involved in providing timely feedback to teacher candidates to work together in refining what they are seeing during an observation of practice.  RIDE also kicked off its Shadow a Candidate Challenge.  The challenge mirrors the Shadow a Student Challenge.  Programs received a step-by-step guide on how to prepare for the challenge.  Programs are in the process of planning to shadow one of their candidates with a focus question in mind.  Follow #edprepshadowri to see what's happening! 

When asked what inspired them to continue to work in educator preparation, retreat participants cited a variety of reasons: the critical importance of the work, the opportunity to learn continually, the enthusiasm and growth of candidates.  For some, inspiration comes from seeing candidates deliver a stellar lesson that helps students rise to academic challenges. 

When we see excellent instruction, we praise the teacher but we don’t always think about the many moments—of learning, of practicing, of receiving feedback, of honing skills—that came before.  Practice-based opportunities are essential to teacher development, and they are a team effort.  If we want our kids to be taught by excellent educators, we must begin with excellent preparation and ongoing support.  We must begin with practice. 

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