After two years of work in Buffalo Public Schools, the GSE Teacher Residency Program team of faculty, PhD students and educator collaborators developed a program template to share with other graduate schools.
“A Case for Change in Teacher Preparation,” a book with 10 chapters representing the work of 14 authors who have been part of the project leadership, makes the case for a new, residency-oriented approach to teacher education.
It has two goals—to share methodology and research; and to provide a blueprint for educators who wish to develop similar programs, said Julie Gorlewski, lead author and chair of the Department of Learning and Instruction.
By design, with its immersive, district-centered approach, the program intends to increase equity, diversity, justice and inclusion in schools through teacher education. The book, published by Routledge in August, was written to share research and demonstrate the effectiveness of the program, she said.
“We tried to write the book we wish we’d had when we planned and implemented the program,” said Gorlewski.
One topic explored is the importance of “collaborative professionalism,” or leadership that is distributed across stakeholder groups. Meaningful reform, of the kind the residency program is attempting, incorporates input from all stakeholders—students, teachers, teacher educators, administrators, community members. Everybody,” said Gorlewski.
The residency uses a holistic, system-focused approach, which means considering all the parts of a system in the design. Its residency template can work anywhere, but to be effective individual programs must integrate with their schools and the communities they serve, Gorlewski said.
“Learning and teaching are context based,” she noted. “We can create the structure of an effective program and take it to another city or another community, but the community needs to be involved in shaping the program so that it will work for them.”
One of the biggest lessons is that residency-facilitated partnerships between the school district, mentor teachers and university faculty are effective. Residents form strong relationships. Strong teaching skills follow.
New GSE graduate Amanda Seccia, PhD ’21, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, started studying the program when it launched in the fall of 2019. One of the most exciting findings was how seamlessly teacher mentors and residents collaborated.
“I think it’s just really cool to see how much their relationships grow over the course of the year. How much their communication improves, how much they’re able to enhance their own teaching practice together,” Seccia said. “By the end of the year, it’s hard to even tell who the resident is and who the mentor teacher is because they work so well together.”
The close partnerships infused the program with a growth mindset, she said. People felt comfortable coming forward with ideas for change. For example, fixing a disconnect between graduate coursework and classroom work allowed instructors to share course themes so mentor teachers could better highlight and emphasize parallels.
“We were able to then work with the instructors to do things like come up with new readings to put in the syllabi, things to help bridge that gap,” Seccia said.
In a survey she did at the end of the year, both mentor teachers and residents said they felt like family.
“They’ve built such strong relationships with one another that this mission and vision of the program goes far beyond academics,” Seccia said. “We’re an ‘army of change agents.’ We’re working together to change the system, little by little.”