October 10, 2008

Enhanced Teacher Preparation Coming to You Live From the Teacher Learning Center!

By Hovland, Michelle Chandler, Cynthia

Find out what preservice and beginning teachers see and learn when they observe classrooms through one-way mirrors. No one is born knowing how to teach. Classroom instruction is one of the most complex intellectual and emotional tasks that any professional undertakes in our society; and the journey toward expertise is a lifetime's work. Successful journeys begin with skilled counsel and guidance (Lipton, Wellman, and Humbard 2001, 65).

Teachers viewing a second-grade lesson in the Teacher Learning Center.

The Project

In 2004, the South Dakota Department of Education, Black Hills State University (BHSU), and the Spearfish School District in Spearfish, South Dakota, jointly funded an innovative project called the Teacher Learning Center (TLC). The purpose of this project was to provide opportunities for preservice and new elementary teachers to engage in real-time classroom observation and simultaneous discussion. This combination would allow these teachers to develop and expand their current understandings of effective instruction through shared experiences and reflective conversation.

The idea, conceived by an elementary principal and a professional development coordinator, was to offer a professional development environment where preservice and practicing teachers could comfortably view two live classrooms. Inspired by the behind the glass observation system used in the Reading Recovery(R) program (clay 1993), two one-way, ten-foot-wide mirrors were built on each side of a middle classroom, allowing observers a clear view of teacher/student interactions in the adjacent first- and second- grade classrooms. The middle classroom was designed to support teacher development by providing opportunities for observation of "live" elementary classrooms as well as a place for reflective conversations regarding teacher decision making, instructional techniques, classroom environment, and classroom management.

Visits to the TLC would give preservice and new teachers opportunities to observe how to teach; however, most important would be the discussions surrounding the observed instruction. Observing teaching from behind the glass would allow the undergraduate students and new teachers to observe the immediate effects of a teacher's instructional decisions, evaluate what might be happening, learn to notice and articulate evidence to support their judgments, and relate what they were observing and learning to their own teaching. The conversations, to be led by university faculty and cognitive coaches, would strategically connect practice to theory and research.

Initial Goals of the TLC

The TLC was established with three goals in mind:

1. Study the kind of support first-year teachers need to become effective.

2. Implement effective practices being taught at BHSU.

3. Provide real-time teaching demonstrations to preservice teachers.

For the first goal, to study the needs of first-year teachers, two brand new BHSU graduates were hired to teach in the classrooms connected to the TLC for two years as Teachers-in-Residence. In addition, three instructional coaches from BHSU worked with the Teachers-inResidence on a regular basis. The instructional coaches assisted with classroom setup, classroom management, and assessment, as well as demonstrated lessons and employed Cognitive CoachingSM (Costa and Garmston 2002) to support the beginning teachers in the implementation of effective teaching practices. Cognitive Coaching is a model for conversations about planning, reflecting, and problem resolving. The model uses a nonjudgmental manner of assisting teachers to reflect on their practice by focusing on the teacher's cognitive development.

To achieve the second goal, to implement effective practices taught at BHSU, the instructional coaches ensured consistency with the university curriculum. This included implementing research- based strategies such as assessment, reading and writing workshops, small group instruction, and explicit teaching. In addition, both Teachersin-Residence enrolled in a two-year Masters of Science in Curriculum and Instruction degree program at BHSU to build on the foundational knowledge gained in their undergraduate program.

The final goal of the TLC was to serve as a resource for preservice Elementary Education majors. College of Education faculty members were encouraged to provide opportunities during their courses for university students to connect theory to practice by observing the TLC classrooms. Faculty members used the facility for observations of classroom management, small- and large-group instructional techniques, literacy instruction, and assessment, as well as the behaviors and habits of young children. During these visits, the university students engaged in dialogue with one another and their professor regarding the instruction. The TLC also provided the university students occasional opportunities to practice assessments and instructional techniques with the elementary students.

The First Three Years

As with most first-year teachers, the Teachers-in-Residence were surprised at the preparation time required to teach effectively. Though well prepared in their undergraduate program, these new Teachers-in-Residence found it challenging to balance assessment and instruction, implement effective classroom management, and know exactly what to teach their students. Through demonstration, practice, and the implementation of reading and writing workshops, the teachers developed effective classroom management. However, both expressed concern regarding how to find the time to assess and then use the results to plan appropriate lessons for their students. These concerns continued during their first year of teaching even with assistance from their instructional coaches.

Following the first year of teaching, the teachers engaged in a summer study session using several books, including Sharon Taberski's (2000) On Solid Ground, which describes a framework for reading and writing workshops similar to what had been implemented in the TLC. What the instructional coaches and teachers found unique about Taberski's framework is the recommendation to use the first month of school to assess the students. Following this framework, teachers provide general literacy instruction to the large group during this month, but use small-group instruction time to get to know the students and administer beginningof-the-year assessments.

Assessing during the first month is a masterful idea for all teachers. This approach allows for assessment to inform instruction and helps teachers organize for instruction. For new teachers, the assessment month offers the gift of time to figure out what readers do-a time to watch students as they work through the complex processes of reading and writing. During this month, the new teacher observes, takes notes, asks questions, listens, compares abilities, finds individual needs, and begins to develop a true understanding of what is meant by the reading process. Instructors can talk about it and students can read about it, but the only way a teacher truly understands is by observing the behaviors of readers and writers and hypothesizing about what might be going on in their brains.

The importance of learning through systematic observation became evident during the third year of TLC implementation when one mentor was observing a Teacher-in-Residence who was in her sixth month of teaching. The mentor was amazed and wondered, "How did this young teacher get so good at teaching reading so fast"? And then she knew- it started with the month of observation. Of course, the new teacher also had mentors available to demonstrate and consult with, but the time to watch children read and write put her teaching on solid ground.

Supporting Novice Teachers

During the TLC's third year of operation, discussions in the College of Education focused on redesigning the Elementary Education program using a professional development school (PDS) framework. Traditionally, education students complete most of their coursework before the clinical practice, otherwise known as student teaching. The PDS approach to training teachers uses a clinical practice model that integrates the university coursework into working with elementary education students in classrooms.

How could the TLC support student teachers during the clinical practice? Data from the university indicated that upon graduation, elementary education majors did not feel confident in the areas of classroom management and assessment. To assist the prospective teachers with these important aspects of teaching, the TLC mentors invited all the student teachers to attend four days of professional development-two days on classroom management and two days on assessment. The sessions allowed the student teachers to discuss two topics that, before actually working with students, often did not catch their interest.

During the sessions, the student teachers studied classroom management and assessment by first observing and discussing techniques used in the two TLC classrooms. Then the student teachers practiced specific classroom management procedures with one another, described their experiences, and read and discussed articles related to classroom management. The student teachers also reviewed information from their prior undergraduate coursework and brought in assessments they had administered during their student teaching experience to discuss. Attendance at the classroom management and assessment sessions was optional for student teachers, and not all took advantage of the opportunity. However, those that did attend indicated the time spent in professional development during student teaching was beneficial.

After the seminar, the students made comments such as the following:

* "I felt like my knowledge and understanding of classroom management has increased. I loved the strategies for tricky words as well as the slideshow on trust and rapport. Thank you very much for taking your time to share your knowledge with us. "

* "The gradual release of responsibility was great info. This is something that would have been great for student teachers to hear at the beginning of the semester."

* "I enjoyed watching [the Teachers-in-Residence], especially transitions."

By working closely with the university, the TLC has the potential to impact the way teachers are prepared. Lyons and Pinnell (1999) stated that to meet the needs of today's students, colleges and universities training new teachers and delivering master's degree programs, as well as school districts working to improve practicing teachers' instruction, must design dynamic programs that are closely linked to the day-to-day challenges of teaching. In addition, these programs must promote the intensive reflection that is needed to impact student instruction. Art Levine (2006), President of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and former President of Teachers College of Columbia University, stated that current programs for undergraduates and practicing teachers fall far short of these requirements. The TLC, and similar or replicated centers, can assist teachers in developing the skills, knowledge, and dispositions necessary to meet the needs of today's schools and children.

Effective Teacher Development

The TLC is a great concept. When visitors peer through the glass and see live classrooms in session, they are amazed. They know the encounter is special and that teachers everywhere could benefit from such an experience. During these visits, ideas form, conversation fills the room, and enthusiasm is in the air. Those experiencing the TLC-including the South Dakota Board of Regents, which gave special recognition to the Center in June 2007-generally agree that the concept is sound.

In education today, however, saying something is a great idea is not enough. High expectations and a shortage of funding make it important to connect great ideas to research. The National Reading Panel (2000, 5-14) found that studies indicating the exact content that make teacher education programs effective are limited and that available research suggests "a wide range of techniques and content seemed to produce improvement in teaching and student outcomes." The availability of the TLC to BHSU undergraduate students provides opportunities beyond the traditional methods. Observing and discussing lessons at the TLC expands and enhances the preservice experience by offering opportunities to see what is being studied in university classrooms.

Willingness to Reflect

John Dewey (1933, 17) stated, "thinking enables us to direct our activities with foresight and to plan according to ends-in-view, or purposes of which we are aware." With this thought in mind, the ability to reflect on their practice was essential for the Teachers- in-Residence and the pre- and in-service teachers that visited the center. Consequently, Cognitive Coaching became an integral part of the work at the TLC.

The decision to implement Cognitive Coaching rather than develop a coaching model based on a variety of models was simple. First, Cognitive Coaching uses proven methods to assist teachers in reflecting on their practice to improve instruction. second, Cognitive Coaching not only provides an effective framework for reflection, but the Center for Cognitive Coaching provides effective training and continued support for mentors. This decision has proven to be sound, and Cognitive Coaching is introduced to all clinical faculty members working with student interns in the BHSU professional development schools.

The mission of Cognitive Coaching described by developers Art Costa and Robert Carmston (2002, 16) "is to produce self-directed persons with the cognitive capacity for high performance, both independently and as members of a community." To ensure quality coaching, the TLC mentors each participated in the eight-day Cognitive Coaching Foundational Seminar(R). During the training, the mentors came to understand that supporting teachers involves using the support functions of collaborating, consulting, coaching, and evaluating.

The seminar focused on the importance of using the appropriate support function at the right time. For instance, if a teacher is frustrated and feels she has no resources on which to draw, the appropriate support function is to consult or provide suggestions and ideas. However, consulting or evaluating immediately following a teaching session deprives the teacher of time to reflect and usually places outside judgments on the teacher. Here, the appropriate support function is coaching.

The mentors also became proficient in using three conversations aimed at supporting reflective practice: (1) the planning conversation, (2) the reflective conversation, and (3) the problem- resolving conversation. These support tools enabled the mentors to provide the new teachers opportunities to think through lessons before teaching and to reflect after teaching.

Other important aspects of Cognitive Coaching that are essential to the work at the TLC with the Teachers-in-Residence and the BHSU undergraduate students are the concepts of holonomy and the five states of mind. Costa and Garmston (2002, 122) reported that holonomy is "the study of wholeness." It is a person's attempt at being independent and separate, while simultaneously striving to be part of a group or affiliated with others. To obtain holonomy, Costa and Carmston (2002) suggested that a person must draw on his or her internal resources, which are referred to as the five states of mind: efficacy, flexibility, craftsmanship, interdependence, and consciousness. Certainly, at different times and in different situations, a particular state of mind may be more dominant than the others. Cognitive coaches strive to assist the coachee in accessing his or her five states of mind to be as resourceful as possible.

Thinking about and attempting to identify the highness or lowness of the five states of mind of the Teachers-in-Residence have helped the mentors provide individual support. For instance, new teachers often show evidence of having high efficacy, but low craftsmanship before school starts. The cognitive coach can mediate their thinking regarding how to teach by drawing on the new teachers' feelings of being resourceful (efficacy) to "lift" the low feelings of not being sure how to actually teach (craftsmanship).

Likewise, a cognitive coach who is aware of the five states of mind can empathize effectively by paraphrasing to the appropriate state of mind. For instance, the coach might say, "You're feeling a little out of control today" (low efficacy) or "You need to have a relationship with the parents" (interdependence), or "You just don't understand their thinking on this subject (low flexibility). Sometimes new teachers just need to be heard. Cognitive Coaching and a focus on the five states of mind allow this to happen.

As the mentors continue to develop a deeper understanding of the five states of mind, the importance and effectiveness of using the information with all elementary education students is apparent. Therefore, the five states of mind model is being integrated into coursework to help instructors better understand where individual students need support and for the students to better see their own needs. The five states of mind also are discussed in relation to what makes a successful teacher and what prospective employers might be looking for in an applicant.

Lessons Learned

As with any experience, opportunities to learn and improve occur frequently. Based on three years of experience with the TLC project, the mission, goals, and evaluation process of the goals have been refocused and expanded to ensure that the project is focused on student achievement, service to undergraduate elementary students, and support for practicing teachers of all grade levels and content areas.

The potential for reflection is being realized with special education, middle school and secondary teachers, and university students. BHSU has secondary students observe in the TLC just before their student teaching experience. They have the opportunity to talk with the TLC teachers about classroom management and the first year of teaching. Special education students have had the opportunity to practice observational techniques and to see firsthand how exceptional children work in the regular classroom environment. The potential for expanding to these and other areas of the educational practice field are unlimited.

Therefore, the revised mission and goals of the TLC are: Mission: The Teacher Learning Center works to improve education, to better prepare preservice teachers, and to provide a professional development center where educators can study and reflect on researched-based curriculum, instructional methods, and assessment.


1. To improve through the TLC the first- and second-grade students' performance in literacy.

2. To provide support to the TLC Teachers-inResidence in developing their instructional skills through the support functions of coaching, collaboration, consulting, and evaluating.

3. To provide opportunities for BHSU preservice elementary teachers to participate in an important element of clinical practice: opportunities to observe authentic instruction, reflect, and discuss.

4. To support BHSU student teachers in the development of classroom management skills. 5. To support BHSU student teachers in the development of assessment skills.

6. To support Spearfish School District elementary teachers and preservice and practicing elementary teachers throughout the region and the United States in the development of effective classroom management skills, literacy teaching methods, and assessment techniques.

Closing Thoughts

The TLC sponsored four days of professional development with Sharon Taberski during the 2006-2007 school year. She taught students "behind the glass" while 180 classroom teachers and university instructors (40 each day) from across South Dakota and Wyoming observed and discussed the instruction. During her first visit to the TLC in September 2006, Taberski stated, "This is a brilliant idea for a training facility." TLC partners agree.

The TLC project strengthens the teacher preparation program at Black Hills State University by providing opportunities for education students to experience several important elements of clinical practice including, but not limited to, opportunities to observe authentic instruction, to reflect, and to discuss what they see happening behind the glass. Observations accompanied by in- depth reflection and discussions are essential to a clinical practice model of training teachers (Lyons and Pinnell 1999). The TLC is a one-of-a-kind project that is just beginning to realize its potential.

"Assessing during the first month allows for assessment to inform instruction and helps teachers organize for instruction."

"Observations accompanied by in-depth reflection and discussions are essential to a clinical practice model of training teachers."


Clay, M. M. 1993. Reading recovery: A guidebook for teachers in training. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Costa, A. L., and R. J. Garmston. 2002. Cognitive coaching: A foundation for renaissance schools, 2nd ed. Norwood, MA: Christopher- Gordon Publishers.

Dewey, J. 1933. How we think: A restatement of the relation of the reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: D.C. Heath and Company.

Levine, A. 2006. Educating school teachers. Washington, DC: The Education Schools Project.

Lipton, L., B. Wellman, and C. Humbard. 2001. Mentoring matters: A practical guide to learning-focused relationships. Sherman, CT: MiraVia.

Lyons, C. A., and G. S. Pinnell. 1999. Teacher development: The best investment in literacy education. In Stirring the waters: The influence of Marie Clay, ed. J. S. Gaffney and B. J. Askew, 197- 220. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

National Reading Panel. 2000. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction, Reports of the subgroups. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Taberski, S. 2000. On solid ground: Strategies for teaching reading K-3. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Michelle Hovland is Assistant Professor at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota, where she teaches courses in reading and is the Coordinator of the Teacher Learning Center. Her research area is assisting teachers to reflect on their practice. She serves as Counselor for the Beta Nu Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi.

Cynthia Chandler is Assistant Professorat Black Hills State University, where she teaches courses in reading and early childhood education and is a member of the Leadership Team for the Teacher Learning Center. Her research areas are mathematical, reading, and writing development.

For more information about the Teacher Learning Center, visit www.BHSU.edu/ education/tic.

Copyright Kappa Delta Pi Fall 2008

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