Western Michigan University has developed partnerships with schools and school districts as part of the design of their teacher education program in the College of Education and Human Development. The partnerships are defined at the 44 individual schools in 9 districts that participate in the Cluster Site program. The goal in each Cluster Site is for Interns (student teachers) to use reflective processes as they interact with Mentors (cooperating teachers) and University Coordinators (student teacher supervisors) in order to create conditions in which responsible and deliberate teaching/learning can occur for all participants.
A Cluster Site is a school serving diverse student populations in which a group of Interns - typically numbering 8 to 12 - is placed to participate full time in studying, practicing and reflecting about teaching under the guidance of Mentor teachers. The Cluster Site provides a setting for the Intern to experience the diversity and challenges faced by the professional teacher today. Stakeholders in the school district (school board members, administrators, professional and support staffs, students, parents and community members) are partners with the University and are encouraged to participate in their district's collaboration with the College of Education.
There are many benefits to the program for both the University and the Cluster Sites. Partnerships naturally open doors for collaboration among personnel in the schools and at the University and for the sharing of knowledge about research, curriculum and practice. University and public school personnel contribute to university and district program development and implementation. Opportunities exist to develop collegial relationships with school and University personnel and to collaborate on school and teacher education restructuring. District and University personnel also have opportunities to co-teach courses, present at conferences and write articles for professional publication.
During the course of the internship, the Mentor and Intern become a team that co-teaches in the classroom. The co-teaching process evolves over time. At the start of the internship, the Mentor takes the lead in providing the major planning design and materials, guiding the Intern to understand why that particular design and those particular materials are appropriate for the students who are in their classroom. Together they co-teach on a daily basis.
As the Intern becomes acclimated to the individual students in the classroom, the daily classroom routines and procedures and the culture of the Cluster Site, s/he takes on more and more responsibility for designing and selecting materials for the co-teaching. This process necessitates that the Mentor and Intern plan and reflect together on a regular basis. They become a team of teachers discovering best practices for the effective learning that all students are expected to achieve.
By the end of the internship, the Intern demonstrates the ability to be the primary guide of the planning design and materials selection. Throughout the process, the Intern demonstrates the progressive ability to integrate designing, communicating, monitoring and reflecting as part of the teaching/learning process.
A group of pre-interns took part in a project called Tech Corps Michigan. It's effort focused on assisting schools in achieving their information technology goals through services provided by volunteers. It provided an organizational structure that played an important role in expanding the numbers of volunteers who assisted in the deployment and use of information technology in our schools. Currently WMU has pre-Interns at Portage Central Elementary School who are volunteering their time to help put technology into place. The principal, Ginny Hartline, is "very pleased with everyone's involvement in getting some technology" into her school and looks "forward to this project really getting started and growing over the next few months."
The goal of teacher education is to improve student learning at every level. Therefore, in addition to the Cluster Sites we have developed with the public schools, we have a Laptop/Mentor Project in partnership with Kalamazoo Public Schools. Launched in the fall of 1998, the project combines modern laptop computing technology and old-fashioned personal mentoring to help KPS beginning teachers successfully launch their careers. A small group of first-year KPS teachers are the first to benefit from this education initiative, designed to help beginning teachers make the transition from student to teacher.
Extending the Cluster Site partnerships that WMU has already developed with KPS, the University wants to continue to provide the kind of support given to Interns to enable new teachers to continue to become the best educators for our children. The University has provided each new teacher in the project with a College of Education and Education faculty mentor as well as a laptop computer and access to the University's computing resources. The teachers have regular one-on-one meetings with their mentors and are able to communicate with their mentors and other new teachers via email and on-line discussion groups. They are able to use their University computing account to access the World Wide Web for research and additional support.
The University's faculty and pre-service programs also benefit from the program because of ongoing interaction with new teachers who are facing the challenge of applying their University education when they take the helm in a classroom. This initiative helps to extend support into the first few years of teaching and to support the idea that teacher education is a lifelong process.