Professional Development School Focus Groups Repor

Fall 2003

The purpose of the focus groups was to acquire a baseline of data, which will be used in the overall evaluation of the Yellow Medicine East (YME)/Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) Professional Development School (PDS). These focus groups will be repeated in the spring of 2004.

The goals of the PDS are:

  • Thestudents of the YME School District will benefit from additional learning opportunities with additional pre-service teachers/interns and a teaching team that can provide ongoing attention to individual needs and from experiencing school changes that result from action research into best practices.
  • Thepre-service teachers and interns of SMSU will benefit from integrating theory and practice; having longer and expanded experiences and relationships with students, staff, parents, and the community; teaching in teams; and by experiencing intellectual stimulation with joint action research projects.
  • Thefaculty of the YME School District will benefit from having a teaching partner, from practicing the role of mentor, regular contact with SMSU teachers, and by experiencing intellectual stimulation with joint action research projects.
  • Thefaculty of the SMSU Education Department will benefit from having regular interaction with P-12 students and staff and from experiencing intellectual stimulation with joint action research projects.

Focus groups were conducted in October 2003 with 22 students, 8 parents, 4 interns, 4 mentors, and 4 facilitators. The respondents of these focus groups overwhelmingly answered that it was their opinion that the PDS model of teacher preparation is much more beneficial than traditional student teacher models for all persons involved.

The interns are obviously benefiting by a full year apprenticeship experience. They have the opportunity to observe the full school year from beginning to end. The interns enjoy a more in-depth experience in the classroom and possess more confidence as teachers.

The teacher mentors are also gaining from the program through the modeling of good teaching and explaining the reasoning behind their teaching methods. The opportunity for reflection, action research and extra assistance in the classroom all contribute to a rich experience.

Facilitators benefit by being able to share their passion for teaching and learning. Facilitators use the PDS as an opportunity to challenge themselves and to grow as professionals. In addition, they value the prospect of influencing the intern's teaching practices in positive ways.

The responses of elementary students and parents were enlightening. Prior to the focus groups, it was questionable whether students and parents would have an understanding of the PDS and whether they would see an impact on the YME students. The students provided a greater knowledge than expected. Their insight into the PDS program and the benefit to them was perceptive. The students appreciated the greater level of classroom assistance and the chance to develop greater rapport with the intern. It was clear that the intern was an integral part of the classroom and respected as a teacher, although the students were aware that the intern had not completed their education.

The parents were overwhelmingly supportive of the PDS and of having an intern in their child's classroom. They saw the benefit of more individualized attention for their child, as well as the positive experience for the intern. They indicated that the yearlong aspect of the program provided a stability that made it much more beneficial than having a traditional student teacher in the classroom.

Comments on the Strengths of the PDS

Regarding Student learning:

  • More help in the classroom - another set of hands and eyes.
  • Allows the classroom teacher the opportunity to observe students from a different perspective.
  • More individual help. Students get help more quickly.
  • Another personality - relate differently to different kids.
  • Various styles of teaching.
  • Youthful - enthusiastic - relates well with the kids.
  • Less disruption when one of the teachers is out of the classroom.
  • More stability.
  • Develop relationships with kids and build a rapport.
  • Gets to know individual strengths and weaknesses.
  • The teacher and intern model cooperation.
  • More of a team teaching approach.
  • Intern is viewed as a real teacher.
  • Parents unanimously agreed that the yearlong model was best for both the kids and the intern.

Regarding Intern learning:

  • Get a view of a whole year. See the highs and lows.
  • Learn more about the "why" things are done like they are done.
  • Creates stronger relationships with the staff and administration in the school district.
  • This experience is more in depth.
  • Can apply learning immediately.
  • Learn to work with parents.
  • Interns are more confident in their teaching abilities.
  • Have the opportunity to work with excellent mentor teachers.
  • Meets the educational needs of the interns.
  • More opportunities to try things - not so crammed in.
  • More progressive.
  • Going much better with the interns who are in the classroom more.
  • Stronger rapport with children in the classroom.
  • More in charge of their own learning.

Regarding Mentors and Faculty:

  • Both mentors and faculty see this as an opportunity to further their own professional growth.
  • It is helpful to have the facilitators come from within the school district.
  • It is a great opportunity for the interns to get real and meaningful experience in teaching.
  • Benefits the students.
  • Fits better with mentors' teaching schedules.
  • Collaboration is great.
  • Passionate about subject areas and enjoy the opportunity to share that passion - the how and why of teaching children reading or math or science.
  • Appears to see this as a learning experience - constantly reflecting on how to make things even better.

The PDS underwent a significant revision this year. While the challenges of tackling these modifications are not apparent to parents and students -- the mentors, facilitators, and interns all commented on these changes. The school is clearly moving toward implementing the program as originally intended, and this was seen as positive. However, as with any major change, there are still areas that need some adjustments.

Comments on the Challenges of the PDS

Regarding Student learning:

  • Potentially could have a negative impact if the intern was not skilled.
  • Possibly could be unintentionally distracting.

Regarding Intern learning:

  • Interns should not have a lot of extra-curricular activities, other courses to take on campus, full-time jobs, etc. This model takes a lot of time and commitment to make it work.
  • This is a big workload and can be stressful.
  • The interns and mentors need some time on a regular basis to meet and reflect, etc.
  • It would be helpful if the interns were more familiar with the curriculum that is used at YME - such as Guided Reading, 6 Traits of Writing, and other best practices.
  • The interns are paying to be a part of this experience - it is a big commitment both in time devoted to the project and financially. (Financial commitment may be a deterrent for others.)
  • Need a stronger balance between curriculum and coursework.
  • Need to clarify the main goals and objectives.
  • There still is some confusion as to the requirements for the intern model.

Regarding Mentors and Faculty:

  • The interns and mentors need some time on a regular basis to meet and reflect, etc.
  • Organizational challenges remain.
  • Mentors have not been officially trained in mentoring.

Based on these baseline focus groups, the following recommendations should be considered.

  • Clearly communicate the benefits and challenges of the internship program. Students, who cannot make the necessary commitment, should not participate as an intern. Faculty advisors should counsel students and assist them with making this decision, keeping in mind that sports and campus based courses would deter from this experience.
  • YME schools should build in time for interns and mentors to meet together on a regular basis. This time should be in addition to prep time and preferably during the school day with a substitute covering the classroom or other arrangements made to cover the classroom.
  • Goals, objectives, and requirements should be clearly articulated to interns. If mass mailings are sent out from the SMSU education department, faculty should follow up with interns to communicate whether or not these affect the interns.
  • Yellow Medicine East should consider providing an on-site PDS leader to work with SMSU faculty, making it more of a collaborative effort. This leadership team can work with improving communications and take some of the pressure off of SMSU faculty.
  • Need to acquire full support of SMSU to implement the program as intended. The SMSU faculty and leadership need to make a full commitment to the internship program and recognize that learning can occur in a variety of venues. If the PDS is as effective as it appears, then more time and resources should be allocated to create the systemic change needed to make it accessible to more SMSU students.
  • Provide mentor training to all teacher mentors.
  • Look at aligning or at least introducing the curriculum being used in PDS elementary schools at SMSU. Guided reading, 6 Traits of Writing, etc. should be addressed to some extent. If SMSU students are indeed being taught teaching methods that are in direct conflict with methods being used at YME, then that should be investigated further and rectified.
  • Pursue additional grant resources to help reduce the financial burden for interns.

Last Modified: 3/22/17 3:54 PM