The 2022-2023 school year marked the fifteenth anniversary of the Professional Development School (PDS) initiative between the Loras College Teacher Education Program and the Holy Family Catholic School system in Dubuque. The PDS model continues to grow in the United States because there are mutual benefits to teacher preparation programs and K-12 schools. Prior to the student teaching internship at Loras, our PDS model provides teacher candidates with valuable experience in the classroom where there are opportunities to close the gap between theory and practice. Approximately thirty Loras students are in the PDS program each school year.
In the United States, there are some who criticize teacher preparation programs for focusing too much on theory and not enough on practice. The PDS model helps to address the concern. According to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), “PDS’s embrace the concept of real-world practice. Candidates learn about teaching and what to teach in the university; they learn how to teach in schools” (NCATE, 2001, p. 4). Many also promote the PDS model for teacher education since there are often comparisons to the way medical students are trained in teaching hospitals (Holmes, 1990).
Currently, St. Columbkille Elementary School and Wahlert Catholic High School serve as our PDS sites in the Loras College/Holy Family partnership. As a result, the two schools play a critical role in the development of education majors at Loras by providing a “learning laboratory for the development of teacher candidates” (NAPDS, 2008, p. 5).
The PDS relationship with St. Columbkille allows Loras students to practice teaching skills in the field with elementary students and teachers. Our relationship builds a strong sense of community through shared values and cultures. St. Columbkille students have more exposure to individualized instruction, and teachers can mentor Loras students. Through our partnership, we incorporate reflection and feedback to recognize the complexity of teaching.
A variety of courses take place at the site. During EDU 230: Children’s Literature, Loras students are paired with elementary students as book buddies. The pair works on reading skills and social-emotional goals during the mentoring sessions. In EDU 335 & 336: Curriculum & Instruction for Social Studies and Science, Loras students design and implement research-based instruction focusing on the frameworks for each content area. Finally, in EDU 334: Intermediate Clinical, students are paired with a mentor teacher for the semester. Moving from small group instruction to whole group teaching, they work on teaching practices preparing them for student teaching. Throughout the semester, they receive individualized feedback based on the Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC) teaching standards.
The Wahlert High School PDS site provides secondary education majors at Loras a rich opportunity to develop the skill sets necessary to succeed in the classroom. In the EDU 350 General Secondary Methods course, students participate in our PDS which meets on-site in a classroom at Wahlert High School using a Wednesday and Friday morning format. The first one-half of the morning is devoted to the General Secondary Methods course. The course puts a point of emphasis on several units which are critically important to teacher preparation including: student-centered instructional strategies, classroom management, incorporating educational technology, and characteristics of effective instruction. Frequently faculty members from Wahlert High School also serve as guest speakers on many of the same topics.
During the second-half of the morning, each teacher candidate is placed with a Wahlert teacher who serves as a mentor. Most importantly, the teacher candidates are given the opportunity to apply what has been learned by teaching several lessons during the semester-long field experience. Moreover, the teacher candidates are then given meaningful feedback on their lesson from their partner teacher and a Loras education professor. Consequently, the teacher candidates are involved in a meaningful experience in the classroom to better prepare for their student teaching internship and first year of teaching after graduation.
In addition, our PDS students are required to volunteer at least ten hours at Wahlert during the semester. During the past fifteen years, Loras PDS students have participated in a wide variety of activities at the school including: supervision of athletic events, tutoring students, chaperoning dances, lunchroom supervision, and parking lot supervision. Each of the experiences has given Loras PDS students a more realistic view of the varied responsibilities of today’s high school teachers.
In summary, the PDS initiative has greatly improved teacher preparation at Loras. The Teacher Education Program is grateful to the administration, faculty, and staff in the Holy Family Catholic School system for providing the unique opportunity for education students at Loras. Each provides a great deal of experience and expertise for Loras PDS students, which would be impossible to replicate from any textbook or lecture. As a result, our teacher candidates at Loras are receiving a meaningful induction into the teaching profession, thanks to the commitment of Holy Family school personnel to the PDS program.
Holmes. (1990). Tomorrow’s Schools of Education. East Lansing, MI: Holmes Group.
NAPDS. (2008). What It Means to Be a Professional Development School. National Association for Professional Development Schools.
NCATE. (2001). Standards for Professional Development Schools. National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.