Education, as with most things in life, can be difficult to navigate. Recently, while listening to a podcast by James Altucher, a guest remarked "Find the opportunity in your challenge (weakness) and lean into it". A simple but meaningful phrase. Every day, I work with colleagues to try and improve the work we do in teacher preparation. If you have followed our work, you'll already know the great deal of success we've had over the past 7+ years. What you never see, is the effort behind that success. I believe that simple phrase is what encapsulates our success, we have worked hard to find our weaknesses and attack them head-on.
Teacher preparation is complex work (because teaching and learning are complex). Our limited amount of time (and large quantity of content) necessitates a systematic approach to our work. Over time, I hope to highlight some of that work and the thoughts and decisions behind them. Today, I'll focus on our process of continuous improvement.
1. Attack one (or two) issues at a time. Too many challenges quickly becomes unmanageable.
2. Use a preponderance of evidence from multiple sources.
3. Be wary of any "quick fixes" or single data points.
4. Include multiple stakeholders.
5. Don't reinvent the wheel, incorporate effective, existing models more completely.
So, how do we engage in this process of continuous improvement?
In our annual review of data, we noticed that on our alumni survey (first year teachers), our employer survey, and our capstone assessment there was a recurring theme....three separate data points all suggesting our graduates felt less well prepared to work with English Language Learners (ELLs) than in other areas (use of technology, content preparation, etc). If you know anything about the changing demographics of American public schools, you'll see this is a real issue.
We saw this issue as both important and actionable, something we could systematically work to improve. Our next step was to involve other stakeholders, in this instance program coordinators, and conduct a curriculum audit. Do we adequately cover the content, where, how often, in what contexts? This further Increases our sources of data. At this point we need to be mindful to stay away from the "quick fix". Our inclination (and many in teacher preparation) would be to add more to the curriculum (or increase its coverage), but with the limited amount of time we have in programs, that is often easier said than done. So instead of just piling more work into a course or courses, we engage more individuals and thus take a broader approach. Bolster the curriculum...yes...add more content outside of traditional courses (in our PD program for undergraduates)...yes...add offerings to our Beginning Teacher Institute...yes...
This is not a more is better approach...these are targeted responses to a challenge. Our candidates and graduates now have access and opportunity in the traditional curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and while engaged as professionals in their first year of teaching.
Our approach is always to be both systematic and systemic, find the big issue based on relevant data, survey the landscape, invite participation from others, attack the problem on multiple fronts, and reevaluate...Continuous Improvement.
*I am also happy to note, that in years 2 and 3 we found steady improvement in our graduates and their ability to meet the needs of ELLs....not perfect by any means...but better.