23 Graduate From Award-Winning Teacher Training Program

Coursework embedded in field experience at Title I schools prepares new teachers for diverse student populations.

By Barbara Melendez

      USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (May 9, 2014) – The USF College of Education and Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) are working together to prepare pre-service teachers to work with diverse student bodies through the Urban Teacher Residency Partnership Program (UTRPP). The program’s first annual professional induction ceremony was held on Monday at MOSI.

Following a welcome from UTRPP Director Danielle Dennis, special guests at the program’s professional induction ceremony – USF President Judy Genshaft, HCPS School Board Chair Carol Kurdell, Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia, and USF College of Education Dean Vasti Torres – spoke of their pride and respect for the group of 23 newly-minted teachers who graduated the week before.

Dennis expressed her appreciation for the teachers at the program’s six partner schools where the former residents did their training in this USF faculty-mentored residency experience.

“I cannot stress enough how important the synergy between all of the players who are ‘on the ground’ is to our success,” the College of Education associate professor explains. “We have very involved principals who open their schools and classrooms to new ideas, and who support the collaborating teachers in doing the same. We are successful because faculty, collaborating teachers, and administrators all work closely together on a consistent basis.”

Award-winning program

Serving as an “innovation incubator” for the USF Elementary Education program which received the 2014 Association of Teacher EducatorsDistinguished Program in Teacher Education Award, the 2014 National Association of Professional Development Schools ExemplaryPartnershipAchievementAward and the 2014 University of South Carolina Spirit of Partnership Award. These honors recognize excellence and the successful collaboration between local education agencies and UTRPP in addressing teacher preparation.

The Hillsborough County Public Schools system, as the eighth largest in the country, has more than 202,000 students and 25,000 employees. Six of its 92 Title I elementary schools served as learning labs where coursework was embedded in the practice of teaching students from low-income households, students of color, migrant students, English Language Learners and students with special needs.

“We know that most new teachers are placed in high needs schools, and that most feel unprepared to be there,” said Dennis. “Instead of perpetuating that, we decided to confront it head on and prepare our pre-service teachers in high needs settings so that they are prepared to work within those settings, and so they have a desire to remain in those settings throughout their careers.”

The residents were trained in how to integrate theory and practice and how to integrate subject areas and technology throughout the lessons they taught. They also were helped in how to be culturally responsive and inclusive when working with children of varying races, social classes, ethnicities, abilities, genders, religions and languages.

Research plays important role

Making practical use of what they refer to as the four I’s – inquiry, inclusion, integration, and innovation, as well as the Florida Educator Accomplished Practices, the residents brought their coursework into their field work. Co-teaching, collecting data on performance and program effectiveness, engaging in peer observation and self-reflection, are all ongoing throughout the two-year residency.

“UTRRP is a specifically developed innovation site for research in teacher education,” says Professor Diane Yendol-Hoppey,chair of USFCOE’s Childhood and Literacy Studies Department.“The teacher residency serves as an incubation site for developing new teachers who are able toconnect their knowledge of research-based practices and their use of data to inform instruction to strengthen student learning. And when it comes time for them to work as professionals these skills are an integral part of their teaching practice.”

The residents focus on generalized pedagogy, classroom learning environment, planning and literacy during the first year. They continue to refine their understandings in the second year when they go on to engage in math, science and technology-focused coursework. One of the six UTRPP partnership schools is housed in the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI).

“We put a heavy emphasis on our students' content knowledge in literacy and STEM,” Dennis said. “In most programs, students take courses separate from their field experiences. Some programs attempt to connect their courses with field experiences, but have supervisors in the field who do not have depth of knowledge in each content area. In our program, course instructors ‘push in’ to the field in order to offer content-specific coaching to each UTRPP student. This means that our students are learning content and pedagogy simultaneously.

“Our principals, collaborating teachers, district supervisors, etcetera, all commit additional time and resources to supporting the development of UTRPP students,” she added. “This is a truly transformative partnership, because we are supporting each other towards simultaneous renewal – we are learning and growing together.”

Committed educators love their work

The residents’ program-related websites – a requirement of the program – reveal deeply committed young teachers who are as focused on achieving academic excellence as they are on making a positive impact on students. On Lindsay Norton’s site, for example, she shares her teaching philosophy, what she’s learned and links to her colleagues in the program. Among her many thoughtful observations, she writes, “I believe that great science instruction encourages students to question the world around them using a blend of logic and imagination. That means getting students excited about the world they live in and discovering what is all around them. It also means planning lessons based on evidence and creativity.”

Many more like her are in the making.

“We are in the process of admitting our fourth group for Fall 2014,” said Dennis. “So far, we've increased our numbers each year, 12 in year one, 23 in year two and 33 in year three. I expect that trend to continue.”

She added, “I think it takes a very special, committed, student to apply for the program knowing the expectations. It is a significant commitment as they are contracted from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for two straight years, including summer. Many of our students work part-time jobs outside of these hours, yet they were always engaged in their learning. They were always looking out for additional opportunities, and seeking them out on their own. It was a community of learners whose focus was supporting children.”

There were 12 students in the pilot UTRPP cohort, starting with three schools.

“We expanded to six schools in their second year of the program,” Dennis said . “The ceremony was not nearly as formal — it was a cookout at my house. We’ve come a long way in one year!”

With a hint of nostalgia, USF Assistant Professor Rebecca Burns observed, “The reality of them graduating has not set in yet, and not only do I not want to say good-bye, I’m not sure I know how yet to say good-bye. I know that they are going to go on and do great things. I have confidence in them and in the teacher education program that raised them.”

Burns, who was just elected to the Board of Directors for the National Association for Professional Development Schools, said, “I think here, we – USF and HCPS – have a particular challenge due to the enormity in size of both of our institutions, so the fact that we are able to collaborate with such intensity and with such quality is truly remarkable. It is only possible because we have multiple individuals in administration and in teaching that keep the collaboration going on a daily basis, and I truly believe that it is our shared interest in making a difference for children that serves as our motivator.”

According to Bruns, that interest, motivation and collaboration will go a long way.

“So often do I hear rhetoric about educational reform, and from my experience, I can without a doubt say that meaningful, robust school-university partnerships not only have the potential to, but some truly are, making systemic educational change for kids.” She added, echoing the program’s slogan and theme for the induction ceremony, “We truly are ‘Better. Together.’”

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563