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Preparing future teachers is a shared responsibility

December 6, 2010
Dwight C. Watson
Cedar Rapids Gazette
November 28, 2010

As an education dean, I have to think broadly about pre-K through post-secondary education. I often reflect on what I view as the seamless partnership between the pre-K through 12 education system and higher education. Kati Haycock from the Education Trust, in Washington DC, said it better. She constantly commented that “college begins in kindergarten” and that we as a society should emphasize lifelong education and continuous progress toward post-secondary options.

One of my many roles as dean of the College of Education at the University of Northern Iowa is to connect our faculty, staff and students in our university education programs with teachers and students in today's classrooms. It's a role I take seriously. We are the largest educator preparation program in the state, graduating more than 500 new teachers every year. To prepare teachers for the realities of the classroom, college and university teacher education faculty should always teach through a lens that is current and connected to today's classrooms. I refer to this as authenticity --  an essential ingredient in the development and preparation of future teachers. How does one stay current with the climate and best practices in Iowa's classrooms? I propose that we engage in shared professional development opportunities in which future teachers, faculty and pre-K through 12 teachers participate jointly to enhance their abilities as teachers. It is imperative that what is being shared in university education courses is aligned with what is actually taught in the schools.

The result of this shared professional development is that pre-K through 12 students benefit from being the recipients of this shared knowledge base and the incorporation of best practices. There will be limited disconnects between what colleges students are being taught and how this knowledge is taught in the classrooms of practicing teachers.  

For this to take place, I envision that the dean and local superintendents and principals work together to create shared professional development opportunities so that future teachers, faculty and current teachers are learning together. This would allow for shared knowledge, aligned skills and collaborative thinking and problem-solving around critical issues.

One such critical issue is the achievement gap.  Determining solutions for this gap is the topic of many formal and informal discussions across all educators. Doug Reeves has provided evidence that indicated the schools that are 90 percent free and reduced lunch and 90 percent students of color can show 90 percent proficiency on standardized testing. A shared professional development around this 90/90/90 research would help all educators grapple with the strategies necessary to shape schools effectiveness pertaining to achievement gap issues.

To prepare professionals who are effective to teach, serve and lead the millennial generation of learners, we need to engage our pre-K through 12 partners in collaborative endeavors that are reciprocal, intentional and sustainable. The University of Northern Iowa’s College of Education is poised to do this rich and wondrous work.