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Moving toward collaborative practices in education.


This article describes the Accelerated Collaborative Teacher (ACT) Preparation Program, a teacher-preparation program designed to promote collaborative practices in urban schools through a school university partnership. We discuss how the program is structured to foster collaboration; the collaborative activities among faculty, students, and the community; and evaluation used to support collaboration. Outcomes of the program are summarized and indicate that most candidates remain in the program despite its accelerated pace, are hired in the participating district, and report that the program provided appropriate preparation needed for the beginning teacher.


Collaboration is an essential ingredient in teacher preparation, fostering a professional learning and teaching community for faculty, classroom teachers, and teacher candidates (Darling-Hammond, 1996). In these communities, educators are immersed collectively in sharing knowledge, inquiry, and problem solving (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995; Veal & Rickard, 1998). Teachers who learn through this process are likely to develop into reflective professionals who can respond to the complex and diverse needs of students (Harry, et al., 1999; Pleasants, Johnson & Trent, 1998; Soto & Goetz, 1998).

The literature suggests that best practices in teacher preparation are grounded in collaboration and include: school-university partnerships in which teacher preparation becomes a shared responsibility (Prater & Sileo, 2002); collaboration among faculty in planning and implementing the program (Cruz & Zaragoza, 1998; Hillman, Bottomley, Raisner & Malin, 2000; Hudson-Ross & Graham, 2000; Miller & Stayton, 1999); and student cohorts that progress through the program together and are provided support and opportunities to share and reflect upon experiences (Bullough, Clark, Wentworth, & Hansen, 2001; Jenkins, Pateman & Black, 2002; Koeppen, Huey, & Connor, 2000). However, as Smith and Edelen-Smith (2002) argue, colleges, schools, and departments of education are enduring institutions that support traditional and existing practices. To promote change, we must incorporate new and creative methods to build partnerships and collaborative practices (Kochan & Kunkel, 1998; Maeroff, Callan, & Usdan, 2000). In this article, we describe the Accelerated Collaborative Teacher (ACT) Preparation Program, a preservice teacher preparation program developed in a school-university partnership. Collaboration between university faculty, the K-12 community, and teacher candidates is central to the successful implementation of the program. First, we discuss how the program was structured to foster collaboration. Second, we describe collaborative activities among faculty, students, and the community. Finally, we explain how evaluation was used to support collaboration and summarize outcomes of the program.

Structuring for Collaboration

The ACT Program was designed through a school-university collaborative reform effort to improve the quality of teachers and enhance the achievement of K-12 students in urban areas. To facilitate school-university collaboration, three faculty from the university, one from each of the three credential specialization areas (elementary, secondary, special education), and a K-12 teacher with considerable knowledge of and experience teaching in the district, assumed the role of coordinators. In this first year of development, the coordinators conducted a comprehensive needs-assessment through questionnaires and focus groups held with district teachers, administrators, parents, paraprofessionals, and education faculty. Findings from the data suggested the need for a field-based program that promoted collaboration among teachers, stronger school-university linkages, and an emphasis on educational practices that address the diverse learner.

From the needs assessment data and a review of literature on best practices in teacher education, a core of common principles was derived which guided the development of the program (Burstein, Kretschmer, Smith, & Gudoski, 1999). The resulting program was designed to align with the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP) (California Commission, 1997), employ a developmental approach to teacher education in its vertical (across courses offered in the same semester) and horizontal (across semesters) articulation of content in the program, and emphasize preparation to teach diverse urban learners. Further, the programs were to offer ongoing and coordinated field experiences in local schools, providing a consistent context for the application of developing skills and understandings in an actual classroom setting. Finally, the program was designed to provide and model the elements of a rigorous yet supportive learning environment conducive to a professional learning and teaching community. The program was developed in the second year, led by the coordinators and a team of school and university faculty who had expressed an interest in teacher education reform. Further, a task force was formed to expand the number of faculty providing input and specifically examining content related to their area of expertise. Finally, a Steering Committee that served as the governing structure of the collaborative and consisting of faculty from schools and the college reviewed and provided final input on the program.

At the end of the second year of the collaborative, the Accelerated Collaborative Teacher (ACT) Preparation Program had been created. The ACT Program is a two-semester, field-based program reflecting the California Standards for the Teaching Profession. The program emphasizes preparation to teach diverse learners and offers extensive field-experiences with diverse populations. The ACT Program consists of three components: 1) the Common Core, a series of two developmentally sequenced courses that provide foundational content appropriate for candidates across the three credential options (elementary, secondary, special education); 2) specialization courses in elementary, secondary, and special education; and 3) field experiences aligned with both the core and specialization coursework. Courses in the program are taught by a cadre of university and K-12 faculty through a Professional Development Center (PDC) established on the campus of one of the high schools in the local district. The physical presence of the program in the schools promotes a stronger partnership between the university and the schools, and provides access to administrators, teachers, and parents who are invited to speak on a variety of educational issues.

Collaboration Among Faculty

A major goal in the continued development of the ACT Program has been to sustain a collaborative structure whereby faculty representing different disciplines and fields of expertise work in partnership to develop a cohesive teacher education program. Faculty in the ACT Program collaborate on many different levels, within and across disciplines and across the different elements of the program.

Across Disciplines. The ACT Program promotes collaboration across faculty representing different disciplines within the field of teacher education. The Common Core class is offered across the two semesters of the program and is taught by a team of faculty representing a range of expertise. Core instructors collaborate in designing content and experiences related to three central themes: psychological foundations, schooling in urban settings, and teaching students with special needs. Faculty meet weekly to plan the curriculum and learning experiences for candidates, with the goal of presenting content and experiences to contribute to knowledge, learning, and teaching. Specialization faculty teaching across different disciplines also collaborate in providing a well-integrated perspective for their teacher candidates. Faculty teaching these courses meet periodically during the semester to discuss the points of integration of theories, concepts, and principles and their applications to teaching within the larger context of the discipline.

Within Disciplines. Faculty teaching different sections of a course within a discipline also collaborate in identifying common goals, content, learning experiences, and assessment strategies to be used across all sections. It is common that the faculty cadre teaching within a specialization will consist of both university and school faculty. A diverse group of instructors who collaborate in the design of a course are in a position to explicitly bridge theories, principles, and concepts from a field of study to the practical realities of the classroom. Equally important, through collaboration, the program offers consistent sections of the course to all candidates enrolled in the program.

Across the Program. Courses in teacher preparation are often taught in isolation from one another, often resulting in redundancy of content across multiple courses and poor articulation between concepts. To address this concern, the ACT Program was designed to provide a coherent and cohesive program of study, and the collaborative process plays a significant role in this accomplishment. Faculty teaching in the ACT Program meet at the beginning of each semester to dialogue on the respective courses each is teaching within the program. Topics include the content, experiences and assignments in the course, the timeline of the course, and the structure of a program portfolio in which candidates document their developing competencies associated with the CSTP (1997). This collaboration helps to reduce redundancy across the program, provides avenues for articulation across courses, and contributes to scheduling a manageable program of study for teacher candidates.

Collaboration Among Students

Teacher candidates in the program progress through their year of study as members of fluid cohort groups. Their participation within the cohort occurs on several levels. In the core class, elementary, secondary, and special education candidates study common content examined from the perspective offered by each specialization. A cross-age examination of the learner helps candidates develop an understanding of him/her along the K-12 continuum. Candidates also participate as cohort members of their specialization area (elementary, secondary, special education), completing common coursework and field experiences within local district schools. Through the year, cohorts exhibit many of the dimensions of productive cohort groups (Koepper, Huey, & Connor, 2000): collegial affiliation, interdependence, common purpose, cohesiveness, and high candidate retention. Candidates develop strong personal and professional relationships throughout the year. They form study groups to manage the reading, assignment, and examination load across their several courses and regularly communicate by email discussing information and resources for teaching. The accelerated and intensive nature creates a need for mutual support that members of the cohort provide one another through the year. The cohort nature of the ACT Program contributes significantly to the development of a common knowledge base, a shared sense of purpose and belonging within a professional collaborative and teaching-learning community, and a consistent model of collaboration for teacher candidates.

Collaboration with the Community

The ACT Program has established close ties with school community partners. Teachers, administrators, and parents at local schools were involved in the initial design of the program and continue to play a vital role in its implementation. District specialists, teachers, and parents are invited speakers in the core class on many subjects of interest, e.g., teaching for diversity, parent expectations, community demographics, and exceptional learner characteristics. Specialization courses across the three credential options, and in particular those with multiple sections, typically have at least one member of the school community teaching a section of the course. This collaboration between university and K-12 faculty promotes sharing perspectives which strengthens theory-practice links in the program. One of the more important collaborations emphasized in the ACT Program is among the teachers, the families of students, and the community. The program has, since its inception, coordinated with the district parent association (Parents as Learning Partners or PLP) to develop and infuse a parent-teacher curriculum into the ACT Program. The director of the parent association and a group of parents from the district are regular presenters in the Common Core. Parents further promote candidates' initiation into teaching in hosting a community tour by bus each fall. ACT candidates are expected to interact with parents and families, and as student teachers, to participate in parent-teacher conferences and communicate with parents as needed concerning classroom matters.

Evaluation Supporting Collaboration

Data on the ACT Program are collected each year to evaluate its effectiveness in recruiting and preparing teachers for urban schools and include: a) narrative comments collected from ACT participants at the midterm and the end of each semester; b) narrative comments and anecdotal evidence from administrators; c) a survey with participants' ratings and comments regarding their attitudes toward and satisfaction with the overall program at program completion; and d) statistical data on many program features, including retention and teaching placement rates. Using the narrative comments, anecdotal evidence, survey results, the data are examined for trends in participant responses and areas that need improvement and strengthening. Results of program evaluation include the following:

* Enrollment in ACT has almost tripled since its inception in 1998, with 154 candidates enrolled in 2002.

* Of the 274 candidates enrolled from 1998-2002, 237 (86%) earned a credential.

* Of those who received a credential, 154 (65%) are teaching in the urban school district in which they were prepared.

* Of the 154 candidates enrolled in ACT during 2002-03, 87% will complete the program in one year.

* Over 90% of ACT candidates self-report at the end of the program that they feel prepared or well-prepared for their first year of teaching.

These findings suggest that the ACT program, with its emphasis on collaboration among faculty, students, and the community, shows promise in the recruitment, preparation, and retention of teachers. ACT enrollment indicates that an increasing number of candidates are attracted to the program. Moreover, most candidates remain in the program despite its accelerated pace, are hired in the participating district, and report that the program provided the appropriate preparation needed for a beginning teacher. As a result of its accomplishments, ACT was implemented on an experimental basis for three years, and approved for permanent status at CSUN in spring, 2001. In the year 2000, the ACT program was recognized by two professional organizations as exemplifying a school-university partnership in the preparation of teachers:

* The Urban Impact Award, from the Council of Great City Colleges of Education, recognized ACT as an outstanding school-based project which has had a positive and significant impact on teaching and learning.

* The Quality of Education Award for Distinguished Service to Children and Preparation of Teachers, from the California Council on the Education of Teachers, recognized ACT's exemplary cooperation between schools and an institution of higher education in the preparation of teachers.


The ACT Program redesigns teacher education through its collaborative focus on teambuilding among faculty participants; carefully planned articulation between and among courses; coordinated activities in recruitment, preparation, and retention; successful use of student cohorts; and effective program development. Ongoing discussions and evaluation by program participants and evaluators inform program practices. The program has attracted qualified candidates and graduated successful teachers in a time of high teacher demand. The school-university collaborative has made possible the development of a field-based program to prepare teachers to meet the needs of the diverse urban learner. The program serves a vital role in teacher preparation and in the local community, by bringing together those schools with acute shortages of teacher candidates who are well-qualified and prepared to teach in these schools. The ACT program's model of collaboration and partnership shows promise in accelerating the preparation process while providing highly qualified teachers for urban schools.


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Judy Lombardi, California State University, Northridge

David Kretschmer, California State University, Northridge

Nancy Burstein, California State University, Northridge

Dr. Lombardi is an Assistant Professor of Secondary Education and Secondary ACT Coordinator. Dr. Kretschmer is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Education and Elementary ACT Coordinator. Dr. Burstein is Professor of Special Education, Department Chair of Special Education, and Special Education ACT Coordinator.
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Author:Burstein, Nancy
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Dec 22, 2003
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