Transforming Education by Rethinking Teacher Prep Programs

Dr. A. Douglas Eury, Dr. Jane King & John D. Balls

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Transforming Education by Rethinking Teacher Prep Programs“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” ~ Alvin Toffler


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“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” ~ Andy Warhol


Much has been written about and discussed on the state of primary and secondary education in the United States. Reform initiatives have been and are being implemented in school districts across this great country. The focus of these initiatives run the gamut from curriculum re-design to teacher efficacy. All of which are warranted in some form or fashion.


Ensuring what the “right” prescription for what ails us is paramount to a sustained rebound/recovery.  It is indisputable the role that teachers play in student achievement. The corollary to that is the linkage between student achievement and effective teaching.


Inarguably, the teacher is the most critical “ingredient” in maximizing student academic growth and achievement. A recent McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm, study of the 25 highest performing school systems in the world concluded that “the experiences of these top school systems suggests that three things matter:

  1. 1) getting the right people to become teachers,
  2. 2) developing them into effective instructors, and
  3. 3) ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.”

This article explores what schools of education that are preparing our teachers for excellence in their profession can and should do in transforming their programs.


Why a Passion for Teaching Isn’t Enough

Teaching as with other professions is a passion. A passion to transmit learning to others (students, colleagues, parents, etc), to prepare others in the mastery of a subject matter. It is also to prepare the student for life success skills. Doing this in a rigorous and relevant manner while nurturing relationships (aiding students in igniting their passions) is an added but essential challenge for our teachers.  


Too many of our teachers are not prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. The consequences for our students and our new teachers are devastating. Studies show that 50% of our new teachers leave within the first 5 years. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) estimates the national cost of this teacher dropout problem is over 7 billion dollars.


The 4 key elements of this challenge of not being adequately prepared are

  1. teacher expectations,
  2. classroom management,
  3. delivery of instruction (differentiated) and
  4. teacher support.

Teachers want to make a difference and they want their students to excel.


What Schools of Education Can Do Differently

With this in mind, let’s look at our postsecondary education programs.  Today, by and large the schools of education are doing an adequate job in equipping their students with a solid foundation in their content area. They are conversant in their field of study whether that be math, science, language arts or social studies. That is a must and serves as a strong foundation to build upon.


Instructional delivery and classroom management techniques are taught and practiced (e.g., student teaching). Some schools do a better job than others in bringing “real” experiences into the lives of these prospective teachers. The framework here should include rigor, relevance and building relationships.


Establish Rigor

Understanding what constitutes a rigorous lesson (i.e., requiring critical thinking, problem-solving, analyzing/synthesizing the challenge at hand), how to assess understanding (i.e., did the student “get it”) and recognize/reward excellence is a core competency that all teachers must possess.


Relay Relevance

A companion core competency is making all lessons relevant to the students (i.e., anticipating and answering the question, “why do I need to study geometry?”).  These 2 core competencies are tied together with the need for teachers to develop and nurture relationships.


Build Relationships

Not only with their students but with their colleagues (this will be addressed below when discussing collaboration). This is not to say that today teachers don’t build relationships…they in fact do. It is instinctive on their part. However there are ways to approach building strong and sustainable relationships that need to be exposed to prospective teachers. They are predicated on win-win relationships encircled in a caring, passionate demeanor.


8 Survival Skills for Students & Teachers

In his book, The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner discusses 7 survival skills for students. We, as authors, view these as success skills and add an 8th skill to that list (reflection/self-assessment). These skills (enumerated below) need to be an essential part of any teacher education program. They are founded in the concept of life-long learning.


These skills are:Transforming Education by Rethinking Teacher Prep Programs

  1. 1) critical thinking
  2. 2) collaboration
  3. 3) adaptability & agility
  4. 4) initiative / entrepreneurialism
  5. 5) effective communications (oral & written)
  6. 6) accessing & analyzing (read: research) information
  7. 7) stimulating curiosity & imagination and
  8. 8) reflection/self-assessment.

These success skills are life skills. Embedding these skills in everything that we teach in our schools of education is an imperative. Our mission is to prepare our students (whether they are prospective teachers or their students) for the challenges of the 21st Century.  


There is much information on the first 7 success skills (refer you to Wagner’s book or our book, Rethink, Rebuild, Rebound; A Framework for Shared Responsibility and Accountability in Education). We do want to explore here briefly our 8th success skill (reflection/self-assessment) that needs to be incorporated in a more formal manner into schools of education.         


Why Reflection & Self-Assessment Matter

Reflecting on your performance daily is an attribute of a high performance individual. Reflection is a powerful process in improving one’s performance. 


There are an infinite number of ways to reflect, some take the form of being unstructured while others can be very structured. Also, there are an unlimited number of settings for self-reflection. Choose the one that best fits you. Whether unstructured or structured, quiet or noisy there are five fundamental tenets to effective reflection.


The QUICK Approach to Self-Assessment

First and foremost, asking yourself poignant Questions on what happened today (key questions are documented below).  Next is to Understand how to get to the “aha” moments. This is the nirvana state. Third is to Inquire of others (students, colleagues, etc) who witnessed your performance. This is where collaboration comes in. Colleagues getting together to share learning experiences, successful instructional techniques, pitfalls, etc is a powerful forum in the pursuit of continuous improvement. The impact of collaboration should not be underestimated. Fourth, Complete honesty in your personal assessment (be uncomfortably truthful) is essential. Finally, Keep a journal. It need not be elaborate or extensive. The written word lives on. It provides you an opportunity to reflect on your progress.  


The questions that will get you started in your personal reflection are…

Did I accomplish what I wanted to today?

Was I adequately prepared today to ensure maximum learning/understanding/effectiveness?

What have I done well and what made it so effective?

What can I do better and what do I need to do to accomplish that?


In summary,

  • Q…..Question yourself
  • U…..Understand how to get to your objective (“aha” moments)
  • I…..Inquire of others (feedback)
  • C.….Complete honesty always
  • K…..Keep a journal (jot down your reflections & responses for future use)

Finally, in our humble opinion, there is no greater calling than to be listed among the millions of professionals in the world we call teachers. As Henry Adams said so eloquently, “a teacher affects eternity; s/he can never tell where her/ his influence stops”.   What more is there?                


What do you think Schools of Education can do to better prepare teachers? Share in the comments section!



Dr.  A. Douglas Eury, Dean of School of Education, Gardner-Webb University

Dr. Jane King Assistant, Professor, Gardner-Webb University

John D. Balls, Education Consultant, Gardner-Webb University


Transforming Education by Rethinking Teacher Prep ProgramsFuture articles as part of a series of discussions on topics related to transforming schools of education (SOE) will appear periodically in TeachHUB. These topics will include teacher dispositions, what it means to be a profession and the associated attributes of a profession, and SOE self- assessment.  


More information on today’s topic as well as a framework for transforming education in the US can be found in the authors’ book, Rethink, Rebuild, Rebound: A Framework for Shared Responsibility and Accountability in Education, published by Pearson Learning Solutions, 2011. That latest edition of Rethink, Rebuild, Rebound will be available for sale on December 16th, 2011.