Strong partnerships between school districts and teacher preparation programs are at the heart of the reform efforts in Missouri. Even before receiving technical assistance (TA) from the CEEDAR Center, institutions of higher education (IHEs) such as Avila University, Missouri Baptist University, University of Central Missouri, and University of Missouri-St. Louis were working to revamp their teacher preparation programs. Aligning their efforts with CEEDAR instigated further collaboration and positive change. The initial focus of the reform efforts in Missouri began with aligning district resources to enhance PK-12 school partnerships with local IHEs. Professionals have been working closely with CEEDAR to make progress with not only their school and community partnerships, but also with state reform efforts.
Thurma DeLoach has robust experience in professional development and teacher preparation at the district level and is serving as a leader in CEEDAR reform efforts in Missouri. She emphasized the importance of the initial phase, which involved using CEEDAR resources to review existing teacher preparation program curricula. The review of curriculum-assisted programs determined areas needing additional alignment of evidence-based practices (EBPs) for not only beginning special educatiors, but also general education teachers. DeLoach also mentioned that while conducting alignment with EBPs, IHEs were working with local school districts to meet specific local needs. This communication with districts is helping to ensure beginning teachers are leaving teacher preparation programs with the knowledge and practices to be effective in local school districts. This partnership has led to professional development opportunities with the local school districts as well a focus on changing clinical practice. A robust feedback loop between school districts, teacher preparation programs, and the state department of education is allowing teacher preparation programs to make effective changes to their clinical practice requirements. DeLoach reported that four partner IHEs have or are in the process of creating a year-long clinical practice component in place of shorter-duration experiences. Teacher preparation programs are also finding ways to partner with districts to create practicum opportunities for pre-service teachers immediately, beginning in their first year.
Dr. April Regester, an associate professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL), elaborated on teacher preparation program reform at her institution. She explained that at first, working with CEEDAR was about utilizing the wealth of available resources. Over time, her team at UMSL has made significant changes to the way pre-service teachers prepare to work with students with special needs. Dr. Regester reported that the increased collaboration between general and special education faculty has far exceeded her expectations. A highlight for her has been the increased collaboration between general education and special education faculty. She provided an example of the CEEDAR Cross-State Convening, where representatives from departments attended and facilitated collaborative efforts immensely. Dr. Regester asserted that through these ongoing collaborative efforts, she has viewed general education faculty members change “their trajectory in terms of their own research agenda” and are now researching ways to include students with disabilities through differentiating instruction.
UMSL created more opportunities for pre-service teachers to practice with support. One change allows pre-service teachers access to classroom environments and community agencies from the beginning of their teacher education programs. Additionally, pre-service teachers obtain a full year of practicum experience in Studio Schools—ongoing partnerships and collaboration between the local districts and USML While working at a Studio School, pre-service teachers gain a variety of experiences in different classrooms, unlike a traditional student-teaching assignment in which a pre-service teacher is typically placed in one classroom with only one teacher. Pre-service teachers obtain support from cooperating teachers and ongoing support at the college through Grand Seminars, which are dedicated to practical, real-world topics that pre-service teachers encounter on a daily basis. USML developed changes to its teacher preparation program through the CEEDAR collaboration.
Next steps in Missouri include potential policy changes at the state level to align and strengthen teacher preparation across the state. Missouri is the “Show Me” state, and through its reform efforts, local communities and educational professionals in Missouri have “shown” others it takes strong, ongoing collaboration and communication to transform teacher preparation.