Collaboration Between Unit and School Partners
St. Cloud State University (SCSU) is committed to developing field experiences and clinical practice that enrich and enhance candidates’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions to ensure that all students learn. This commitment is deeply rooted in our historical practice and serves as a major component of our conceptual framework. We fully understand that to adequately prepare teachers, counselors, administrators, or other school professionals, we need strong and rich partnerships with our colleagues across the institution, and with our school partners as well. The unit has established an infrastructure to assist in building those partnerships and has committed sufficient resources to establish a strong base of support for our candidates, cooperating professionals, and clinical supervisors.
The Office of Clinical Experiences (OCE) serves as the focal point for clinical and field placements. Each semester, approximately 600 field experience placements and up to 400 student teaching placements are made in nearly 240 schools/centers in 65 school districts. In addition, approximately 15 candidates are typically placed for student teaching in other states or at international sites. The Office of Clinical Experiences includes a director, assistant director, field experience placement coordinator, two support staff, one graduate assistant, and several student workers.
A key component of the infrastructure is the support of one “OCE Liaison” from each of the teacher preparation departments - Teacher Development, Special Education, and Child and Family Studies. OCE Liaisons receive 25 percent reassigned time dedicated to the complex work of assisting in the development of appropriate field and clinical placements, eligibility issues, planning the professional development day for candidates, communicating with department members about field and clinical experiences, and strengthening partnerships across campus and with school partners. The OCE Liaisons, OCE Director, assistant director, field experience placement coordinator, and support staff meet bi-weekly to work on issues related to field and clinical experiences. The OCE Liaisons are responsible for taking issues related to clinical and field experiences back to the department for review and feedback.
Because of the strong partnership with the St. Cloud School District, the unit also supports two teachers (one secondary (.50), one elementary (1.0)) within the district who serve as liaisons between the school district and the university. Approximately 60 percent of all field placements and 20 percent of clinical placements are made in the St. Cloud School District; therefore, our school liaisons play a key role. The school liaisons assist in the development of placements, monitor issues related to placements, and supervise candidates completing practicum or student teaching experiences.
Clinical supervisors, consisting of professional education faculty and adjunct faculty, play an essential role in our candidates’ success during their clinical and field experiences. Because full-time faculty members conduct the majority of supervision, the unit employs only about 24 clinical faculty members who are hired on an adjunct basis and who supervise on average six candidates each semester during the academic year. Clinical adjunct faculty members are viewed as our partners in preparing future educators and typically work with us for many years.
Clinical faculty members are required to have a master’s degree and public school experience at the level they supervise. For example, if a clinical faculty member is supervising at the elementary level, he/she is required to have teaching experience at that level. The OCE staff and OCE Liaisons conduct meetings with the clinical faculty two times each semester and each department meets with their clinical faculty on an ongoing basis. For example, the secondary education faculty members meet once a semester with secondary clinical faculty; elementary education has a Student Teaching Committee that meets with clinical faculty; and the Department of Special Education meets throughout the semester as a team of clinical supervisors. Departments are responsible for training new clinical faculty regarding policies and procedures related to field and clinical experiences; the Office of Clinical Experiences also provides updates and training when appropriate.
Our cooperating teachers serve as content experts and provide the day-to-day foundation and support for our teacher candidates in the field. We are proud of the fact that our cooperating teachers are highly qualified and committed to the hard work and complex job of preparing our future educators. The unit adheres to specific criteria regarding those who serve as a cooperating teacher in order to ensure that candidates are working with strong and effective mentors. To host a candidate for a field experience, cooperating teachers must have one or more years of teaching experience, be licensed in the content area, and be approved by the school administrator. To host a candidate for student teaching, a cooperating teacher must have a minimum of three years experience, be licensed in the content area, and be recommended by the school administrator. Some districts require tenure before a teacher is allowed to host teacher candidates. The administrator’s approval provides validation of the expertise of the cooperating teacher. In addition, evaluations of cooperating teachers by clinical supervisors and candidates further attest to the cooperating teachers’ qualifications.
The unit provides professional development for cooperating teachers through the training efforts of the Teacher Quality Enhancement (TQE) Initiative. The annual professional development conference at SCSU is organized in collaboration with our cooperating teachers and responds to the professional development needs identified by our school partners. Each year the TQE professional development consortium, (which is a partnership of area school districts), develops a needs assessment that is available on-line for teachers in partnering districts. The data collected from this survey are disaggregated for use by individual districts in the planning of building and district initiatives. In aggregate form, the data are used to plan the three or four main strands of the professional development conference.
Handbooks have been developed within the unit to provide an overview of the policies and procedures related to clinical and field experiences and to assist the cooperating teachers, principals, counselors, and other supervisors in understanding their roles and responsibilities.
A final component of the infrastructure supporting the design, delivery, and evaluation of the unit’s field and clinical experiences is the established committee structure. Four committees play an important role in that support: Dean’s Advisory Committee (DAC), Graduate Council, Teacher Education Council (TEC), and the Assessment Committee. The Dean’s Advisory Committee meets weekly and includes representatives from all departments, centers, and offices within the College of Education. The Graduate Council meets every three weeks and includes graduate coordinators from each program. The Teacher Education Council meets monthly and includes faculty members from professional education and from each content area in the Colleges of Science and Engineering, Social Sciences, and Fine Arts and Humanities. The Assessment Committee includes representatives from each department and meets monthly. Issues related to clinical and field experiences are often addressed at the committee level and moved to a specific committee or level of decision-making when appropriate.
Advanced Candidates and Other School Professionals
At the advanced level, 25 percent reassigned time is provided to graduate coordinators who have responsibility for program oversight including the design, development, and evaluation of field and clinical experiences. The development of internships and practica at the advanced level is unique to each program; therefore, the responsibility for placements and supervision remain at the program level. All programs have clear expectations regarding eligibility, participation, and completion of clinical practice as outlined in handbooks.
Placement of candidates in field and clinical settings is a collaborative process. To initiate a field or clinical placement in a school district at the initial level, the Office of Clinical Experiences contacts the district by phone (field placement) or by a formal written placement request (clinical placement) to a building principal or designated building contact. The Office of Clinical Experiences tracks the diversity of placements; therefore, placement requests are based on the profile of each individual candidate and the type of placement needed. Great care is taken to work in collaboration with our P-12 partners to match the needs of candidates with the strengths of cooperating teachers. Potential cooperating teachers are identified by principals and contacted for a possible placement. The requests for placements are then accepted or declined by the cooperating teacher, pending final approval by the building principal. Signed agreements have been developed between St. Cloud State University and each of the 65 participating school districts in central Minnesota. Finally, placement of candidates at our off-campus programs are arranged through a collaborative effort between the partnership coordinator and the cooperating school district principal or building contact.
The unit is working to create a database that would support the needs of the Office of Clinical Experiences and our candidates, as well as our school partners. The database will allow cooperating teachers to review field and clinical experience expectations and register as a potential host for a teacher candidate. A pool of potential cooperating teachers is then created; expanding the options available for making the most appropriate clinical or field placement for each individual teacher candidate. Teacher candidates will be able to register for field and clinical placements within desired geographic locations based on their individual circumstances. The database will allow the OCE staff to examine all available cooperating teachers based on their licensure and current teaching assignment and make the most appropriate placement. Finally, and of most importance, is the fact that the database will allow the unit to track the diversity of placements in a more efficient manner to ensure that all candidates have a diverse experience within their program of study.
Advanced Candidates and Other School Professionals
At the advanced level, the Office of Clinical Experiences makes placements for candidates who are pursuing licensure and need student teaching experiences during the academic year. The OCE works with each program and appropriate school partners to secure sites and cooperating teachers. For advanced candidates in special education seeking an additional licensure or endorsement, clinical placements are established by program faculty and are completed during the summer. The majority of candidates participate in the Reading and Math Camp, a collaborative partnership with the Sauk Rapids-Rice School District. Each summer, the Department of Special Education conducts the remedial summer program in reading, writing, and math involving over 200 children in grades K – 8. Approximately 40 graduate candidates develop and implement research and data-based academic interventions, supervised by five university faculty members and three principals. Results consistently demonstrate improvement in students’ basic academic skills. Parents, cooperating teachers, candidates, and principals also report high levels of satisfaction with the experience.
Internships for candidates at the advanced level or for other school professionals are also developed in collaboration with school partners at the program level. Programs typically have an internship handbook to guide candidates, university supervisors, and cooperating professionals. Faculty members within advanced programs have developed policies and procedures to guide practice to ensure that competencies and skills are developed and expectations met. For example, in School Counseling, candidates must complete all required coursework (with the exception of the two courses taken during the internship year) prior to the beginning of their 600-hour internship that extends over one full academic year. Candidates then determine a minimum of three possible internship sites that meet the following criteria: (1) provides an opportunity for the candidate to participate in all aspects of developmental guidance at K-12 levels; (2) provides a licensed school counselor with a minimum of two years of counseling experience who will serve as the site supervisor; and (3) located within a 75 mile radius of St. Cloud. The selected sites must have final approval by the school counseling faculty members at SCSU. After a site is approved, an internship contract is developed.
Candidates completing a licensure program in Educational Administration and Leadership arrange their field experience after consultation with their university supervisor. Because the majority of candidates pursuing leadership positions as principals, superintendents, or special education directors are encouraged and supported by their own school district, most placements are made in their home districts. If the home district is not an option for a field placement, university supervisors provide options and can arrange placements when necessary. Some programs require several different field experiences; therefore, the university supervisor often assists in making placements to fulfill established clinical requirements. For example, candidates pursuing a special education director licensure must spend time in a minimum of three different settings (single district, educational district, special education cooperative, intermediate, charter school); therefore, they may need assistance in securing an appropriate placement. Another example is the field experience required for the principal licensure that involves a placement at the elementary, middle school, and secondary levels.
Our partners have embraced the shared role and responsibility of preparing future educators and have made significant contributions to the design, development, and evaluation of clinical and field experiences. As summarized above, the unit initiates and receives valuable feedback in a systematic manner through the established infrastructure, committee structure, and meeting schedule. In addition, a formal survey is distributed to cooperating teachers and graduates each semester and employer surveys are conducted on an ongoing schedule. Examples of contributions from our school partners include changes in the curriculum, recommendations regarding topics for professional development, and recommendations for placement sites.
The unit has worked to build strong collaborations with our school partners to ensure that candidates at both the initial and advanced levels engage in clinical and field experiences that are rich and rewarding and reflect best practice as defined by professional standards and the conceptual framework. An infrastructure has been developed and continues to be refined to support these partnerships and experiences.