Two Strategies for Helping Preservice Teachers to "Feel Heard" in the College Classroom and in the Clinical Context
On of my favorite things about summer is the fact that I get to tackle the ever-mounting stack of "to-read" articles that have accumulated on my shelf throughout the academic year. I just finished reading Wallace and Chhuon's (2014) article about instructional interactions that affect urban youth of color. This article was interesting to me because of my work locally with urban schools and with teachers, kids, administrators, and preservice teachers who work in urban schools near our university. The authors identify three instructional practices that can enhance engagement for urban youth of color. Those instructional practices include feeling heard, going all in, and taking students seriously. As a scholar of supervision in teacher education, I see this information as beneficial in my work with preservice teachers and inservice teachers, and I equally see them as important in supporting supervisors who support the learning of preservice and inservice teachers. If we are going to recruit and retain future teachers of color, then understanding their experiences is imperative. Perhaps by drawing parallels to Wallace and Chhuon's work, we can think about how we support the learning of all of our preservice teachers. Using these practices, I make recommendations of ways in which we as supervisors can use this information to work with preservice and inservice teachers.
Probably the most important aspect of being able to use these three practices of "feeling heard," "going all in," and "taking students seriously" is to cultivate a learning environment in the college classroom and in the clinical context.
- Feeling Heard in the College Classroom: To translate this concept to the collegiate level, I would suspect that our preservice teachers of color want to be heard. This would mean both in our methods coursework and in their clinical experiences. Creating spaces were students "feel heard" means that we must attend to the learning environment of our college classrooms and in the context of clinical experiences. We must cultivate courses where students know each other and that the professor knows him or her. By taking just a few minutes, even 5-10 minutes, each class to "check-in" with students can really making a difference in cultivating the learning environment. A strategy I have often used with undergraduates and graduate students is "News and Goods." I start every class with "News and Goods." At first, students (at both levels) are unsure of what to share, so some will share something about their day while others will remain quiet, but over time by sticking to this routine, undergraduate students in particular have shared about the successes of their elementary students. For instance, one preservice teacher shared how this third grader that she had worked with the entire year made significant gains in reading (as measured by the DRA level). That was a huge success for both the elementary student and the preservice teacher. As time develops, I find that students start to build relationships with each other and share more personal aspects of their lives such as family tragedies, including the death of close friends or family. By taking the time to cultivate this environment, students can build relationships and trust can be established so that our preservice teachers "feel heard."
- Feeling Heard in the Clinical Context: Likewise, preservice teachers need to "feel heard" when they are out in schools. Just as the learning environment is important in the college classroom, cultivating the learning environment in the clinical context is equally important. "Feeling heard" can begin by building the relationship between the mentor teacher and the preservice teacher and attending to that relationship throughout the year. Directors of programs with clinical experiences should consider routines that create, sustain, and renew these relationships. One way would be to hold a workshop at the beginning of the year where the preservice teachers and mentor teachers get to meet prior to the year starts and they can engage in relationship building activities and "getting to know you" activities that can help set their relationship up for success. Simple questions like, "What book did you read this summer?" or "You've just won a grant for $1000 to spend on your classroom. How would you use the money?" are great ways to start conversations. Award-winning teacher preparation programs like the University of South Florida's Elementary Education Program and Penn State University and State College Area School District's Elementary PDS Program have such structures where preservice teachers and mentor teachers can start their relationships off on the right foot. Establishing these relationships creates the context for preservice teachers to "feel heard" in their clinical experiences.
If we are to ensure the success of preservice teachers, it is imperative that we cultivate the learning environment both in the collegiate classroom in the context of methods coursework and in the field in the context of clinical experiences. By establishing routines that permit sharing and relationship building, the foundation can be laid for student success.