DR STUART WISE shares how the University of Canterbury (UC) is evolving its initial teacher education (ITE) programmes to keep pace with the ever-changing demands on teachers and learners.
As we move towards the end of the second decade of the 21st century, we are faced once again with the challenge of adequately preparing beginning teachers for the complexities they will face when working in our schools.
Students in our schools need teachers who understand the context in which they live and can respond to their specific learning needs. They need teachers who can equip them with skills and strategies that enable them to flourish in the education system at all levels and become lifelong learners who can navigate the complexities of modern life.
However, one of the great benefits of living and working in a country with a population of around five million people has been our ability to respond nimbly to change.
In keeping with the mission of the UC College of Education, Health and Human Development, all the ITE programmes offered at ECE, primary and secondary levels are designed to prepare teacher graduates to be culturally competent professionals who respond to learners, engage critically with educational issues, and value positive relationships with students and collaborative ways of working in a variety of professional learning communities.
It is expected that the teacher graduates from all programmes will be able to integrate the understanding and experiences of contemporary educational theory and practice. They will be knowledgeable and skilled beginning teachers with the expertise and dispositions essential to contemporary schooling.
The growing body of research on initial teacher education has led to a more robust understanding of effective practices of programme design, knowledge, pedagogical practices and implementation of initial teacher education programmes (e.g. Ball & Forzani, 2009; Conner & Swilka, 2014; Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; Grossman, 2005; Korthagen et.al., 2006; Loughran, 2013).
This research has illuminated such common programme elements as: shared vision of effective teaching; clear standards of performance; curricular coherence; extended professional experiences; strong school-university relationships, and extensive use of effective pedagogies such as case studies, teacher research, and performance assessments.
Research has also shown that such high-quality teacher education programmes have a positive effect on the capabilities of graduating teachers to integrate aspects of instruction, management, and assessment (Darling-Hammond, 2006).
As part of the ongoing review of course content, we have been looking at how we might be able to more fully integrate educational studies perspectives (e.g. sociology, philosophy, psychology, history) to enable beginning teachers to understand and thoughtfully negotiate the current schooling challenges in relevant and meaningful ways.
We have been focusing on using professional practice experiences to facilitate this in ways that allow our graduates to understand theories in practice and their implications for teaching a diverse range of young people in schools. Some of the ways we have been doing this, initially in our exemplary master’s programme and now in development in our graduate diploma courses, include:
- working to create closer connections between practice and theory, by focusing on critical reflection and analysis of ‘puzzles of practice’ (relating to challenges encountered on practice and experience and research that helps make sense of the challenges and positive teacher responses)
- having a dual focus on culturally responsive practice and curriculum and assessment
- developing sound knowledge of learners and curriculum to support teaching that is culturally responsive in context
- employing a strengths-based focus that challenges deficit discourses (where learners and/or teachers may be positioned in the system as deficient)
- developing adaptive expertise – preparing beginning teachers on a path that supports ongoing development of adaptive expertise
- fostering deeper mentoring relationships, as in the master’s programme, through three-way mentoring arrangements and an educative mentoring approach (it’s not about pre-service teachers merely copying practice, but being supported to engage critically with practice and consider different options and approaches).
All sectors consult regularly with liaison committees that include the Canterbury Primary and Canterbury Secondary Principals Associations. We also enjoy an excellent relationship with Ngāi Tahu via the Ngāi Tahu Rūnanga Education and Health Advisory group. Advice from these groups has proved invaluable as we have continued to revise and modify content in courses in the ECE, primary and secondary sectors.
We have worked hard on maintaining and enhancing positive relationships with our stakeholders as we acknowledge that our partnerships with schools and early childhood centres are vital for the effective provision of ITE programmes. These positive relationships are reflected in the excellent attendance at Principals’ Days, where attendees come from around the country to meet with and speak to prospective employees.
As part of our ongoing development of courses and course content, we are mindful of the changes that have occurred with respect to innovative learning environments and flexible learning spaces. Following the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, schools in Canterbury underwent some of the most radical restructures and rebuilds that the country had seen for quite some time. Connected with this has been the development of BYOD environments, where every student has a digital device in the classroom.
A real challenge for UC College of Education, Health and Human Development was to consider how we would be able to prepare our graduates to work in these new spaces and environments. We have also been very mindful of a growing number of secondary schools that are adopting an inquiry model of teaching in years 9 and 10 and how this approach may impact on what we do when preparing graduates to work in such schools.
We are confident that the above developments are preparing graduates to be ideally equipped to work in these new teaching and learning environments. We are preparing students who have skills in adaptive expertise and understand the essential relationship between theory and practice and that research should be informing their practice as they continue to develop their pedagogical skills in the classroom.
Because of the focus on te reo and tikanga Māori in courses in all sectors, our graduates are becoming increasingly culturally competent. As a result of the focus on inclusion, they are able to develop inclusive practices in their classroom teaching. They are digitally literate, they are nimble and they have the necessary skills and abilities to make a difference for all ākonga in Aotearoa New Zealand.
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