When trying to envisage the role of ‘teacher’ in the future it can be difficult to have a vision of something that takes us beyond our own experience. Introducing new approaches to the professional development of teachers can be troublesome where interventions conflict with the status quo.
The first year community placement at the University of Strathclyde was introduced for Primary Education students in 2013. Despite students on the module committing over seventy thousand hours to children’s institutions, organisations and projects across the globe in the four years since its inception, there are teachers, university staff and students alike who would be more comfortable with a return to a traditional mainstream school placement for this group of students. The belief that teachers need to know about schools, curriculum, teaching and assessment as a priority looms large over this innovative placement opportunity that is aimed at disrupting that very focus on schools and schooling.
‘Understanding more about children, where they learn and how they learn enhances a teacher’s ability to keep the child’s needs at the centre of the learning process’
The purpose of the first year placement is to allow students to learn outside the confines of traditional school practicum about children and the communities in which they live and interact. Rather than developing knowledge of teaching, students are being challenged to develop what Darling-Hammond (2016) describes as ‘knowledge for teaching’. Understanding more about children, where they learn and how they learn enhances a teacher’s ability to keep the child’s needs at the centre of the learning process. Sending students into communities to work with children in a variety of settings supports those students in having new and personal perspectives on learners and learning. It helps new teachers understand better the professional values that lie at the heart of the Professional Standards for Registration in Scotland (General Teaching Council for Scotland, 2012), particularly in encouraging them to examine their own attitudes and beliefs and to challenge their assumptions about children in Scotland today. Working with children inside a prison, with refugee children, with the babies of mothers with peri-natal depression, in outdoor learning settings, and with children with additional support needs, affords opportunities that were seldom an option for Scottish teachers in the past. Darling-Hammond, Hammerness, Grossman, Rust and Shulman (2005) found that students developed frameworks for constructing their understanding of their academic studies as a result of experiences like this and found that the positive dispositions gained from such placements carried over into the classroom once students became teachers.
The on-campus module that supports students as they learn in the community is key to ensuring depth in their learning (Darling-Hammond et al, 2005). As the module at Strathclyde is open to students from a range of disciplines, as well as the teaching students for whom the module was designed, the composition of the classes allows for different perspectives to be shared, providing different lenses through which to look at the learning experiences of children and of the students themselves. Moreover, students are provided with opportunities to learn new skills to support learning on placement, to develop their understanding of factors that impact on children and childhood, and to reflect on their placement in order to articulate their own learning.
A study of a similar programme at the University of Washington (McDonald et al, 2011) found that on community placements like this students had time to talk to children and to learn from them about their knowledge and experiences, challenging students’ notions of the relationship between the child and the teacher. Where instruction took a back seat, it did not dominate the interaction between adult and child and students were encouraged to really ‘see’ children.
At Strathclyde our students write passionately about their learning. They tell us that they have learned to observe carefully, to solve problems and to be effective communicators even within complicated systems and situations. They write about facilitating learning for children in order to be agents of real change. And, importantly, they explain that their own attitudes and opinions have changed as a result of this opportunity. Tellingly, scores of students stay on with their placement provider long after their placement has ended as they endeavour to continue to make a difference in the communities within which they have become a part.
Perhaps for students like this, who will go on to undertake twenty-eight additional weeks of traditional practicum across the course of their degree, starting with children outwith the mainstream primary classroom is a small way to promote sustainable change for Scottish education. Perhaps this small disruption, this change in focus, will provide a different starting point for the teachers of the future.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2016). Research on Teaching and Teacher Education and its Influences on Policy and Practice. Educational Researcher 45(2), 83-91. March 2016.
Darling-Hammond, L., Hammerness, K., Grossman, P., Rust, F., and Shulman, L. (2005). The Design of Teacher Education Programs. In L. Darling-Hammond & J. Bransford (Eds). Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do. (pp.390 – 441). San Francisco. Jossey-Bass.
General Teaching Council for Scotland. (2012). The Standards for Registration: mandatory requirements for Registration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland. http://www.gtcs.org.uk/web/FILES/the-standards/standards-for-registration-1212.pdf
McDonald, M., Tyson, K., Brayko, K., Bowman, M., Delport, J., & Shimomura, F. (2011). Innovation and impact in teacher education: Community-based organizations as field placements for preservice teachers. Teachers College Record, 113(8), 1668-1700. August 2011.