Partnership Schools and Mentoring in a History Education Program
Frederick D. Drake, December 2000
From the Noteworthy column in the December 2000 Perspectives
Over the past five years, my colleague, Lawrence W. McBride, and I learned a great deal about developing and sustaining partnerships with secondary schools, and gained state as well as national recognition in the process.1 As coordinators of the history education program at Illinois State University—the largest secondary program in history education in the state—we now partner with eight schools and graduate approximately 100 students annually. The mentoring provided by teachers at the partnership schools makes a positive difference in the experience and development of our student teachers, while fostering a strong and mutually sustaining relationship between faculty at the secondary and post-secondary level.
The program is housed in the history department, where we require two history teaching methods courses. The first teaching methods course is taught the semester before student teaching, while the second is taught during a Professional Development Semester for students, which begins with a special methods course, and continues for six weeks before the interns move on to eleven weeks of student teaching. Initially, both methods courses were taught on campus, but experience led us to teach the second methods course on the campus of schools. As a result, the history faculty in the schools now join us in the special methods class, and serve as mentors to our students before and during the student teaching experience.
Similarly, each partnership school offers particular institutional strengths. Two partnership schools, for example, specialize in the integration of technology into the instructional strategies of history classrooms. Another partnership school emphasizes its strong tradition of integrating history with social science disciplines to help students make informed decisions on contemporary political and social issues.
In the process, we have developed eight partnerships with schools to help us in the preparation of preservice teachers for their student teaching and professional career experiences. Even though Illinois State is located in central Illinois, many of our history education majors student teach in the Chicago metropolitan area. So by developing partnerships in both central Illinois and the Chicago metropolitan area, we have made our methods class more accessible to our students and also provided the opportunity for more varied experiences. In Chicago, we wanted our students to have experiences in both suburban and inner city settings. In central Illinois, we looked for both rural and small city/rust belt settings. The varied environments give our students an opportunity to experience and critique a variety of settings and teaching styles.
Currently, two partnership schools (Glenbrook South High School and Lincoln-Way East High School) are located in the Chicago suburbs; one (James H. Bowen High School) is a Chicago Public School and is part of Chicago's Small Schools Program. Five partnership schools (Bloomington High School, Normal Community and Normal West High Schools, Olympia High School, and Pekin High School) are situated in central Illinois.2
McBride and I have maintained three purposes in establishing these partnerships. First, we believe that teaching a special methods course on school campuses gives our students the opportunity to observe teaching and learning, to gain an overall impression of the school environment, and to discern the variations among school cultures. Second, we believe a mentoring program in which high school history teachers mentor our history and social sciences education majors (interns) benefits both the mentor and the intern. Third, current literature strongly advised us that prospective teachers need more experiences in the world of teaching before they student teach, so we strike a balance between theory and practice.
When we started to establish the partnerships, we were able to enhance and draw upon our already vigorous ties to schools. We already knew many Illinois history teachers who had supervised our student teachers, and through professional meetings and conferences, such as our annual Symposium for History and the Social Sciences, which draws approximately 125 teachers. We also knew several potential teacher-mentors who were graduates of our history education program. We realized from the beginning, therefore, that many mentors shared similar beliefs about teaching and the role of history in the curriculum, particularly the importance of history as the integrative discipline in social sciences and social studies and its capacity to strengthen democratic citizenship.
The next step was to build a partnership program based on mutual respect, trust, and an interest in history education. When we first meet with teachers at a potential partnership school, we listen to mentors as they describe their school and their teaching experiences. We believe it is important to understand the partnership school's culture and to respect the climate that each mentor establishes in his or her classroom. Above all, we are looking for common interests with a partnership school history faculty and in identifying interests they might share with our other partnership schools.
We also made it a point to look for commonalities shared by both public school history teachers and history professors at our university. Our purpose was, and continues to be, to bridge any gap that may artificially exist between our preservice teachers' school assignments and their university experiences. 3
Our mentoring program differs from what is often described as mentoring in the schools, but which is too often merely an orientation to the building and its rules of operation. We work with the department chairs, teachers, and administrators in the schools to allow each mentor and each partnership school to guide our interns into the nature of "becoming" a teacher rather than merely "doing" teaching. The Professional Development Semester begins with a special methods class on teaching history and a mentorship period that continues for six weeks before the student moves on to eleven weeks of student teaching.
Interns are assigned a mentor and meet with the mentor during the week. The mentors involve their intern in the conduct of their own classes, while also fostering good practice in the teaching of history. We call upon mentors to allow interns an opportunity to practice teach and to offer feedback and suggestions, which gives the interns an opportunity to make mistakes under the watchful eye of a mentor whose feedback prepares them for student teaching and their relationship with a cooperating teacher. This also serves to bolster the confidence of interns who may appear unsure, and reinforces interns who already possess confidence in their abilities to help students. In the process, mentors and interns often form a bond and communicate throughout the semester, even while the intern is at a distant student teaching site. Crucially, we call upon mentors to emphasize the importance of reflective practice as interns uncover the elements of everyday teaching experiences in the mentor's classroom and make them the target of inquiry.4
The methods class meets once a week for a day at a partnership school. We ask the mentors from each partnership school to participate in special methods classes held on their campus. For example, we involve mentors in the special methods classes by asking them to demonstrate how they use primary sources in their history teaching, or how they integrate technology in their history teaching. Other methods class topics include best practices of assessing students' knowledge and understanding of history and classroom management strategies.
Our partnership program is scheduled so that the history education methods professor and the interns alternate among the sites for the methods course and seminars, allowing preservice teachers to experience similarities and differences in the cultures of different schools. While the site of the methods class alternates each week, the mentor-intern relationship remains constant.
The intern's relationship with a mentor does not stop when student teaching at another site begins. Mentors remain in contact with their interns (now student teachers) via email. Mentors also participate as important members of an exit interview panel, consisting of mentors and ISU faculty and staff, at the conclusion of the semester. At this exit interview, interns bring the teaching portfolio they developed over the semester. During the interview, the students inform the panel of their knowledge, skills, and disposition toward teaching, in response to questions derived from the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards.
From the beginning we adopted the viewpoint that our experiment with a mentoring program would be a true school-university "partnership"; that is, that we would assist in the professional development of the mentors. While we provide no remuneration for mentors, we do offer a tuition waiver for graduate credit from our department for an optional, one-hour course "Mentorship in the Teaching of History," in which mentors read and discuss scholarly articles about pedagogy.
We facilitate other professional development for mentors as well. For the last two years our history faculty has offered seminars at the partner sites about recent
historical monographs. Mentors discuss the implications of these works as they affect their content knowledge and their pedagogy. We also present workshops for the partnership school's history faculty, and in some workshops on instructional technology, faculty from other subjects at the partnership school are invited. We also arrange for visiting international professors and teachers to meet with our mentors. Discussions with educators from Russia over the past two years have augmented both Russian and American teachers' cultural awareness. The international element of our program has allowed teachers from our partnership schools to travel abroad. At the 2000 AHA annual meeting, we co-sponsored a session with the National Council for History Education, in which Mary Beth Norton discussed the dynamics of collaboration in the writing of the textbook, A People and Nation.
Our department in turn has benefited from our partnership relationship. History faculty who are not directly involved in teacher preparation have an opportunity to work with classroom teachers, younger members of our partnership schools have enrolled in our master's degree program, and the schools that specialize in technology assist us directly with our department's course, "Instructional Technology for Historians."
Most importantly, our school-university partnerships have helped us apply in our History Education Program our university's conceptual framework for teacher education, "Realizing the Democratic Ideal." We believe that realizing the democratic ideal is an ongoing process while our students are at Illinois State and during their careers as practicing teachers.
All students' experiences in our program should be brought about by reflection on their knowledge of content and pedagogy, performance in the classroom, and disposition toward teaching. At the same time, this program, involving district administrators, department heads, around 50 history/social science teacher/
mentors, and 100 cooperating teachers at student teaching sites promotes realizing the democratic ideal as a reflective practitioner of history.
Fragile Nature of School-University Partnerships
We have enjoyed great success with our eight partnership schools. We have learned much from the experience, which I share for those who contemplate establishing partnerships with schools. First, students initially complain about traveling to partner schools extending from Chicago to central Illinois. However, complaints fade away as the experience with their mentors develop.
Second, we have learned that mentors need time to evolve in the experience. Most mentors initially wanted interns to "watch them" teach. Now, our mentors involve interns in the teaching of their classes and assign them problems to solve as teachers.
Third, interns have come to see the mentoring experience as an asset in their preparation as teachers. In the initial years of our program, our students wanted to begin the semester immediately at their student teaching site. Now, students inform us that this program makes a positive difference in their student teaching experience.
Fourth, we have been fortunate in having the support of our colleges of education, which would normally have purview over such a program. The deans of the Colleges of Education and Arts and Sciences as well as the chair of our history department enthusiastically supported our endeavor to collaborate as partners with Illinois high schools.5
Finally, we have learned that a partnership is a two-way relationship. We have found that the best way to sustain the partnership is to involve the partnership school in decisions that affect the program. Often what is hoped for in the formative period of collaboration needs to be tempered as the partnership matures.6 The initial stages of a partnership program are symbiotic but are difficult to sustain, if self-interest alone determines the relationship. For the partnership to grow and develop, each partner must work diligently to clarify shared interests and needs. This imperative is particularly difficult for us when we are working simultaneously with eight different school districts, each of which has its own interests and needs. But the effort involved in maintaining a collaborative approach in the preparation of new history teachers is essential if a partnership is to evolve into a fully realized, mutually sustaining relationship.
—Frederick D. Drake is professor of history at Illinois State University.
ISU's history department has created a collaborative program and is listed in the Teaching Division's online directory of K-16 collaboratives. For more information please visit http://www.historians.org/teaching/collaboratives.
1. William Weber, "The Growth of Collaboration in History Education: Reports on Current Practices," Perspectives 37:6 (September 1999), 31–36.
2. Terry Jozwik is the department chair of Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Illinois; Dennis Schnierle is department chair at Lincoln-Way East High School; and Joann Podkul is department chair at Bowen High School. In central Illinois, Joe White, Fred Walk, and Diane Mueller are the lead teachers for Normal Community and Normal West High Schools. Doug Williamson, Mike Lootens, and Richard White are the department chairs, respectively, at Bloomington High School, Olympia High School, and Pekin High School. Two principals, Michael Gardner of Lincoln-Way East High School and Tim Ruwe of Pekin High School are actively involved in the methods course.
3. Robert V. Bullough Jr. et al., "Paradise Unrealized: Teacher Educators and the Costs and Benefits of School/University Partnerships," Journal of Teacher Education (November–December 1999), 381–90; Ismat Abdal-Haqq, Professional Development Schools: Weighing the Evidence (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, Inc., 1998), 70–71; and Marilyn Johnston et al., eds., Collaborative Reform and Other Improbable Dreams: The Challenges of Professional Development Schools (Albany, N. Y.: State University of New York Press, 2000), 277–79.
4. All of our mentors and interns read and discuss a summary of reflective practice traditions in Kenneth M. Zeichner and Daniel P. Liston, Reflective Teaching: An Introduction (Mahwah, N. J.: Laurence Erlbaum Associates, 1996), 51–62.
5. Sally Pancrazeo and Paul Schollaert are the respective deans and John B. Freed is the history department chair.
6. Abdal-Haqq, Professional Development Schools, 70–71; John I. Goodlad, "School-University Partnerships for Educational Renewal: Rationale and Concepts," and P. C. Schlechty and B. L. Whitford, "Shared Problems and Shared Vision: Organic Collaboration," in Kenneth A. Sirotnik, ed., School-University Partnership in Action: Concepts, Cases, and Concerns (New York: Teachers College Press, 1988).