A quiet revolution

Friday, March 30, 2012

Nancy Bacharach

Nancy Bacharach

Nancy Bacharach Teresa Washut Heck 

Nancy Bacharach is acutely aware that public school classrooms of the 21st century are a far cry from those she emulated while playing school in the basement rec room of her childhood home.

“We had an old child’s desk, and I would coerce my friends into playing the students,” said Bacharach, a professor of teacher development. “I always wanted to play the teacher.”

Bacharach still likes to lead, organize and tap into the collective power of a group through her efforts to improve teacher preparation. She believes collaboration and willingness to change with a changing world is the key to the quiet revolution she has been leading with a talented team of partners in these efforts.

While the classrooms she knew as a child in Eau Claire, Wis., were homogenous groups of 30 or fewer children, Bacharach points out that in today’s public schools the classes are far more diverse and at least a third of the students are identified as having special needs that may be physical, mental or emotional.

The needs have changed dramatically,” she said. “The challenges this puts on teachers today are just incredible,” Bacharach said.

“We have had to rethink what we’re doing and change,” said Teresa Washut Heck, who has brought a fresh perspective and enthusiastic spirit to the business of educating teachers at St. Cloud State.

One of eight children growing up in her Buffalo, Wyo., home, Heck learned early on the importance of collaboration, hard work and keeping a competitive edge. “I was always in athletics in junior high and high school,” she said. “I always wanted to be a coach and I always wanted to teach.”

Both Bacharach and Heck got classroom experience before going on to earn their doctorates – experience that has been invaluable to their groundbreaking initiatives.

When she came to St. Cloud State with her newly earned Ed.D. in 1999, Heck started doing adjunct work in health and physical education and supervising student teachers through the Department of Teacher Development. Her first administrative position was as interim director of the newly formed Office of Clinical Experiences. “It was the first time student teachers at SCSU had been housed in one place.”

With a new appreciation for collaboration and using human resources in different ways to improve teacher education, Heck initiated co-teaching as an approach to student teaching at St. Cloud State, work that made her a natural to become coordinator of co-teaching for the Teacher Quality Enhancement initiative when it was launched in 2003.

St. Cloud State’s acclaimed co-teaching initiative aims to prepare teachers who are equipped to embrace the opportunities and challenges of a changing society and confidently lead the classrooms of the future.

It’s a goal shared by area school districts that enthusiastically have incorporated this collaborative model into their classrooms. Launched in 2003 with a $5 million U.S. Department of Education Teacher Quality Enhancement Partnership grant co-written by St. Cloud’s District 742, the co-teaching initiative has enriched the student teaching experience with mentoring from seasoned educators and exposure to increasingly diverse classroom settings.

The outcome? Teacher candidates, cooperating teachers and their students all benefit. In examining the results of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment of Minnesota Learners, those in a co-teaching environment showed significantly higher achievement in reading and math.

Area school administrators and teachers have endorsed the model. “The compelling evidence is clear,” said Julia Espe, assistant superintendent for District 742. “Co-teaching,” she said, “has transformed the student teacher and cooperating teacher relationship. Instead of throwing a student teacher into the complexities of teaching without a lifeline, student teachers are coached as they practice the art of teaching. Teaching is rocket science, and co-teaching is the power source.”

Bacharach, Heck and their team have made it their business to build partnerships and go after external resources to improve St. Cloud State teacher preparation programs.

Bacharach has been responsible for attracting more than $6 million in grant funding for promising practices in teacher education. “We say children are our future and we need to do a better job of supporting that,” she said.

“We should be preparing teachers who will be prepared to teach the next generation of kids for life in 2020 and 2030. Our role is to prepare them for what will be.”

The co-teaching model developed and researched at St. Cloud State has attracted positive national attention. The university’s Teacher Quality Enhancement Center has developed a two-day train-the-trainer co-teaching workshop to assist institutions interested in adopting a co-teaching model of student teaching.

To date, more than 100 teacher preparation institutions in 23 states across the United States have taken advantage of this program, and the states of Kentucky and California have embraced co-teaching as a model for their teacher preparation programs The collaborative co-teaching model has earned kudos from many corners for effectively empowering future teachers and revolutionizing the experience for all involved.

“We have developed something that is better for our teacher candidates and the cooperating teacher – the novice and the mentor,” Heck said. “To be a part of that has been so incredible.”

- Marsha Shoemaker

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