Training and Supporting Teachers Through Deeper School Partnerships

RWU’s Education Department is implementing and expanding a cohort model to better prepare and support teachers

Elise Frank '17 works with students at George J. West Elementary School
Elise Frank '17 works with students at George J. West Elementary School in Providence, one of RWU's Professional Development Schools, which provide students critical training to be effective teachers after graduation and bring energy, ideas and support into local schools.
By Juan Siliezar & Justin Wilder

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Department of Education at RWU is implementing an innovative model for preparing college students to become K-12 teachers while at the same time supporting existing K-12 teachers.

Called a Professional Development School, the model serves to prepare new teachers, provide professional development for the host school’s faculty and, most importantly, bolster student achievement. In Professional Development Schools, there is shared knowledge, resources and goals between the university and partner school. This type of partnership entails deeper relationships between education programs and host schools that typically do not exist in the traditional partnership model.

RWU is moving all of its existing school partnerships toward the professional development model.

“We want to have relationships that truly support and respect the work each institution does and to try to make learning about teaching a continuum,” said Kelly Donnell, associate professor in RWU's education department. “It’s this idea that everyone involved – whether you’re 18 and just beginning to think about a teaching career or whether you’re a 30-year veteran – is thinking about developing as a professional.”

At RWU, the Professional Development School model involves placing cohorts of students – from freshmen to senior student teachers – at specific host schools or school districts so they can collaborate, support, learn from one another and become a part of that school's community. This stresses the importance and benefits of working with and relying on their fellow teachers, Donnell said.

The cohort model also allows the student teachers to easily take part in what’s called Instructional Rounds. Modeled after medical rounds, they involve student teachers observing one another’s classroom to learn collectively from common “problems of practice.” The feedback provided to the teacher from the observing teachers allows the host teacher to gain a deeper holistic sense of what is happening in a single lesson.

At George J. West Elementary School, a K-6 school in Providence’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, freshmen students visit classrooms with professors for observation while sophomores and juniors complete field practicums to put into practice what they are learning in their courses. For the first time this past school year, a cohort of five seniors completed their student teaching requirement at the school and piloted the Instructional Round aspect of the model. School Principal Sandra Stuart '96 was eager to host the RWU students, knowing from experience the caliber of student RWU prepares.

As part of the partnership, RWU provides and develops training methods and support for the host school's faculty to help improve practice and the school community. For example, at a school in Pawtucket, RWU Professor LiLingYang worked with teachers to better understand standardized testing in science and then helped them develop instructional units that better support the key concepts, skills and ideas that students need to understand for those tests. Yang also helped the school bring concepts of engineering, programming and robotics to the school's fourth graders.

RWU is working with West to develop a specifically tailored professional development course for later this year. The school's teachers, however, have already been working closely with the university’s professors and RWU students placed there. Through that, the West teachers have learned many of the new teaching methods that are now being taught in education courses.

RWU also hosted its fifth-grade students for a campus tour last year.

At RWU, we develop Civic Scholars who believe in community-engaged work. That’s why we commit to providing every student an opportunity that empowers them to put their knowledge and skills to the test solving real-world problems and creating meaningful change with community partners. Learn more about the Civic Scholars program and how to help us reach our goal of every student participating in civic scholarship.