NYU Steinhardt News

Professor Frances Rust Details New Project - "Teachers Collaborative on Ongoing Learning (TCoOC)"

The time has come for dramatic, fundamental change in the way we prepare and support the teachers of America's fifty-five million school children.  The need is particularly acute for those who work with the poorest children who are more school dependent for their development and academic learning than are children who come from families where parents are better prepared to be co-teachers outside of school.  To prepare and support teachers to optimize the learning and achievement of children of poverty, two significant shifts must happen.  The first involves shifting understandings of teacher education from preservice preparation alone to encompass the whole of a teacher’s professional life in the context of the school.  The second involves shifting the current deficit model of low expectations for children and teachers in urban schools toward one that positions both teachers and children as knowledge builders (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1999) and positions schools as dynamic learning organizations. 

Unlike the top-down educational “reforms” prescribed over the past sixty years by the government, the corporate world, and well-meaning foundations (which have seldom even included teachers in their policy deliberations), we propose a radical redesign of teachers’ professional education that situates the school as the place where change in teacher education can happen, focuses specifically on teaching as its core activity (Hawley & Valli, 1998), and recognizes teachers as active agents in designing their professional learning.  We propose a school-university collaboration that will, over a period of five years, result in the formation of a network of pre-k-12 schools as a single learning community focused on teachers’ professional education to support student learning in high needs urban schools (See Figure 1:  TCoOL – Teachers Collaborative on Ongoing Learning).  Like hospitals and related medical settings for doctors, we envision these schools as places that enable both new and experienced teachers to create settings in which to move beyond generic responses to complex problems to generating, testing, implementing, and disseminating new knowledge about teaching and learning.

The collaboration begins in its first year, the pilot year, with developing a professional learning community in a single school; in its second year brings student teachers and their preservice programs into the school environment for the entirety of their preparation; and gradually expands the model of school as a professional learning and preparation site to one or two additional schools thus forming a professional development network that engages schools and universities in broad scale teacher education (see Figure 2). It is our conviction that this network model will demonstrate that urban public schools serving children of poverty can work collaboratively with universities to shape the quality of practice across the school in ways that enable the learning and achievement of students to be optimized.  Ultimately, we intend that the project framework will provide a powerful model for reconceptualizing teacher education taking it beyond preservice preparation to encompass the whole of a teacher’s professional life as it is situated in and informed by the school setting.  In the long run, it could serve as a springboard for teacher education and school reform in other settings.