Thursday, May 17, 2012

Working with local public schools: the Mitchell Scarlett Teaching & Learning Collaborative

Tags: alumni, community engagement, k-12, mitchellscarlett, reischl, teacher education


School of Education Lecturer Melissa Stull assists a Scarlett student in the extended day program at Scarlett Middle School.

An innovative partnership with Ann Arbor Public Schools benefits students and faculty at Mitchell Elementary, Scarlett Middle School, and the School of Education.

“Our teacher education program is really focused on practice,” says Associate Professor Catherine Reischl. “And, in order to focus on the practice of teaching, we need go to where the teaching is occurring. We can’t just say ‘we’ll work on how to do it’ and stay in our building at 610 East University. We need to be out in the schools, in the presence of children and their teachers.”

Of course, students in the School of Education’s teacher education programs have always been found in real-life school contexts, working as a teaching intern in a real classroom, under the supervision of a mentor teacher, is a fundamental core of our programs. We also have the Summer Learning Institute, in which teaching interns practice their craft in front of their peers before giving lessons to young students. And students in our undergraduate secondary teacher education program attend a variety of classrooms in which teachers have been identified as exceling in specific components of teaching (for the Rounds Project—see “The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts” in the Spring 2011 Innovator). But the Mitchell Scarlett Teaching & Learning Collaborative, formally launched in September 2011, provides new opportunities for extensive and concentrated experiences with active elementary and secondary school classrooms.

Reischl has been active in the School of Education’s redevelopment of the teacher education programs, begun in 2004. As a member of the group charged with reimagining the curriculum, Reischl often participated in conversations about how to teach the practices of effective teaching that were fundamental to the initiative. In order to zoom-in and concentrate on the practices, they thought it might be advantageous to create teaching and learning contexts that were different from the norm. The Summer Learning Institute became an experiment in embedding teacher education in working classrooms and, as it proved successful, Reischl and others began to consider ways of expanding the scale of activities.

“We talked about options including charter schools, lab schools, or just more close relationships with particular teachers, and we began to think that the idea of a laboratory school might work best,” said Reischl. The ideas began to gel in discussions with Todd Roberts, who was then superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) and who was involved in the School of Education as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council.

Roberts and AAPS had a pair of schools, Mitchell Elementary and Scarlett Middle School, which were adjacent to each other, separated only by a parking lot. Both schools are diverse, with Caucasian, Latino/a, and African-American students attending in nearly equal numbers, speaking numerous languages. It was felt that the academic outcomes for the students were disappointing and it was believed that they could be improved; Roberts and other AAPS leaders thought that partnering with the School of Education might provide the tools and leverage to make the schools more effective.

From the perspective of those from the School of Education, the schools provided excellent settings for teacher education: “These are schools with achievement gaps between African American and white students and the schools have been working for years to reduce that gap. They’ve been working hard to meet the needs of multilingual students, they’ve been trying to be a good place for the community and the families,” says Reischl. “This is a very real school setting, it’s the kind of place where our students may well end up teaching after they graduate. We need our students to learn to teach in settings like this—where the students have lots of different kinds of needs, where the students have lots of different kinds of strengths, and they’re all there, mixed up in the same classroom.”

The September 2011 public launch of the partnership was more than a year in the making. Beginning in 2010, faculty members from the School of Education met with AAPS leaders and the principals and teachers of Scarlett and Mitchell. In addition, several public community meetings were held to enable the community to participate, learning about the partnership and discussing their hopes and concerns. A joint advisory committee was formed and its members developed a five-point vision statement. The statement calls for a combined K-8 campus that is a cohesive learning community; continuous learning including modifications to the traditional school year and school day schedules; culturally relevant practices that build upon the diverse community resources; a continuum of professional learning for everybody from teaching interns to AAPS administrators; and a school-based community center.

“It’s not easy designing a partnership and ways to embed teacher education in a school setting,” says Reischl. “It takes a lot of thinking and a lot of collaborating. It’s totally interesting—but it’s not easy.”

The advisory committee called for project proposals from Mitchell and Scarlett teachers and from university faculty and received 22 submissions. Each proposal was required to undergo review before it could move forward. The most important consideration, according to Reischl, is the prediction of what the likely effect of a project will be on the young students at Mitchell or Scarlett. After that, the benefits to AAPS teachers, University of Michigan teaching interns, U-M teacher educators, and others are considered.

A number of projects were approved by the committee and implemented in the 2011-12 year, including an after-school project in mathematics (the “Mighty Mustangs Extended Day program), English language arts, and English as a Second Language. A pair of literacy projects, one each for Mitchell and Scarlett were launched and a group of School of Education master’s students began serving as full-year teaching interns with teachers at Mitchell Elementary.

In addition, the School of Education has been given the use of several classrooms at the two schools and School of Education six classes met at the Scarlett Mitchell campus in 2011-12, through which more than 75 U-M teaching interns participated in planned activities with teachers and students in K-5 classrooms. Deborah Loewenberg Ball was among the faculty members who took advantage of this resource, teaching a course titled “Managing to Teach,” which included visits to 17 working classrooms.

It’s important to Reischl and the advisory committee that the partnership develops an inclusive and long-lasting culture at Mitchell and Scarlett. They sought and received project proposals from the School of Education, as expected, and they were gratified to also receive proposals from teachers at the schools and from AAPS administrators—signs that the partnership is taking root.

Kevin Karr, a 1991 alumnus of School of Education’s teacher education program, is the principal at Mitchell Elementary. “I think the partnership will benefit the students. My hope is that it’ll benefit them around achievement—learning to read, becoming good mathematicians and good scientists and understanding the world—and all of this connected to our state standards. The partnership brings value-added experiences to our students, families, and teachers that mirror or complement the kinds of instruction going on in the classrooms.

“I think this will benefit the teachers in terms of professional development,” says Karr. “The teachers have access to professors and professional thinking that they wouldn’t have otherwise. If they have questions about a certain literacy practice, Debi [Khasnabis] or Cathy Reischle are people they could consult with. And I’ve seen this happen this year.”

Interested readers may stay abreast of partnership activities through its website:

The partnership has a page in the research section of our website.

On April 2, 2012, an article on the website caught up with Cathy Reischl, Kevin Karr, and several Mitchell teachers and U-M teaching interns.

Cathy Hindman Reischl is Clinical Professor

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