Friday, July 7, 2017

The Cato College of Education has taken a step toward its goal of reshaping teacher preparation in the region with the launch of its first Teacher Education Institute.

The four-day event focused on improving teacher preparation at the undergraduate level, attracted around 100 key stakeholders daily. Attendees included teacher educators, university supervisors and school-based cooperating K-12 teachers from Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Rowan-Salisbury Schools. The group endeavored to set benchmarks and develop advanced coaching skills to support teacher candidates.  

“This institute is critical for establishing a common understanding about what we mean we when say ‘accomplished teaching,’” said Ellen McIntyre, dean of the Cato College of Education. “Right now, many of these professionals work in silos. We believe that we can all raise our own skills in how to coach students toward becoming the best teachers they can be.”  

Seminars and small group breakout sessions allowed participants to frame best practices for training candidates on critical teaching skills like facilitating whole class discussion and encouraging students to think critically.

“I quickly became invested and empowered by both participants and presenters. Listening to diverse perspectives also allowed for self-reflection and recognition of self-improvement,” said Katelyn Gilbert, a social studies teacher at Ridge Road Middle School in Charlotte. “Participating in a new model for preparing teaching candidates united us around a common passion: the future of education within North Carolina.”

The institute was planned and facilitated by Deans for Impact, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving teacher preparation.  Dr. McIntyre is one of 16 member deans.

“Our hope is that we can share the lessons being learned by these leaders and their programs with other teacher-education programs that are embarking on this work,” said Valerie Sakimura, vice president of programs at Deans for Impact.  

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

“With the collaboration of national experts, Deans for Impact, we believe that UNC Charlotte is going to be a frontrunner in reimagining clinical practice for aspiring teachers. The deep collaboration with the partnering school districts is essential to ensure that aspiring teachers are getting a realistic and supportive entry into the classroom,” said Johanna Anderson, executive director of the Belk Foundation.

Participants will now form learning teams with student teachers for a yearlong collaboration to prepare the candidates to be successful. Members of the teams will observe and coach the teacher candidates, and then meet as teams support their development.  A subset of each group will create five-minute videos of expert teacher preparation and accomplished teaching. 

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

For attendees like Gilbert, the institute is an encouraging sign for students across the state. “I look forward to learning and growing with my teacher candidate and positively contributing toward change within the Cato College of College of Education and North Carolina education systems.”