NIU, District 428 celebrate co-teaching model used in local professional development schools

NIU teacher candidates and District 428 mentor teachers socialized before the PDS celebration at DeKalb’s Founders Elementary School.
NIU teacher candidates and District 428 mentor teachers socialized before the PDS celebration at DeKalb’s Founders Elementary School.

NIU teacher candidates and their co-teaching partners in District 428 recently celebrated the successes of a new model of teacher preparation – the professional development school’s co-teaching model.

In the co-teaching model, an NIU teacher candidate is paired with a master teacher from a partnering school district. The pair spends a full year collaborating on lesson plans, classroom management, and student improvement.

At the celebration, the co-teaching pairs agreed that their work together delivered strong benefits to everyone involved.

Students had access to two instructors instead of one in the classroom. NIU teacher candidates gained a full year of experience learning every aspect of a teacher’s work.

This differs from a traditional student teaching model where student teachers instruct a class for just 16 weeks. District 428 faculty and NIU faculty and staff collaborated in so many ways that, according to them, they learned from each other.

Kimberly Foster, an NIU teacher candidate who finished her co-teaching experience in April, said she recognized the value of the new model right away. “My cooperating teacher and I met for the first time over the summer. The experience was great from day one,” Foster said. Foster graduated this May and has already accepted a teaching position at DeKalb High School.

Foster’s cooperating teacher at DeKalb High School, Colleen Solomon, shared her excitement about the program. “I was hesitant to participate in the co-teaching model at first, but now that I’ve been through it, I wouldn’t do it any other way. It was great having Kimberly there even before school started, and we had a seamless transition into having her lead the lessons during the second semester.”

428/NIU DeKalb High SchoolDistrict 428 Superintendent James Briscoe praised the program during the celebration, saying that he and other area administrators saw the NIU PDS graduates as comparable to new teachers who already had a year of teaching experience. He added that these students were prime candidates for available teaching positions, even in this competitive job market.

DeKalb High School Assistant Principal Jennie Hueber, who coordinates student teacher placements at DHS, said that the district is serious about using a student teaching model that best supports District 428 students.

“Beyond anecdotal stories from co-teachers from both the district and NIU, we are in the process of collecting data to quantitatively determine the success of the program,” Hueber said. “Our evaluation process is tracking performance of district students in the PDS classrooms to make sure that the model contributes to students’ growth.”

Based on the national professional development school model, NIU’s professional development schools are customized to meet school improvement needs at every school site and are aligned with standards set by the National Association of Professional Development Schools. Ottolino in the University Office of Teacher Certification, coordinates PDS operations across the region. The College of Education Partnership Office provides support, and the P-20 Center evaluates the PDS programs.

Sharon Smaldino and Tris Ottolino
Sharon Smaldino and Tris Ottolino

Since the establishment of the first District 428 PDS in 2004, the PDS program has expanded to all schools in the district, although the year-long co-teaching variety is used only in selected programs.

Because of demand from the school districts, NIU’s PDS sites have grown to include schools in four more districts – Huntley District 158, Kaneland District 302, St. Charles District 303, and Sycamore District 427.

This year 566 NIU teacher candidates and 30 NIU faculty members participated in the PDS programs. In the districts, 214 P-12 faculty acted as co-teachers and 16,841 P-12 students thrived on the extra attention and expertise.

The professional development schools also help teacher candidates and practicing teachers continue to improve their skills and methods.

Sharon Smaldino, L.D. and Ruth Morgridge Endowed Chair for Teacher Education in the College of Education, added that the co-teaching collaboration between NIU teacher candidates and K-12 faculty also includes shared professional development sessions and joint research projects for K-12 and NIU faculty. “For students to participate in professional development and conference presentations with K-12 faculty, which is happening here, is rare across the country.”

At the celebration in DeKalb, Ottolino distributed certificates to both the cooperating teachers and teacher candidates before adjourning everyone to enjoy punch and cookies. Ottolino said that she enjoys seeing the bond that forms between NIU teacher candidates and their co-teaching mentors.

“We are so pleased with all our districts, the cooperating teachers, and our NIU teacher candidates,” Ottolino said. “NIU’s experience confirms research findings that the PDS model provides benefits to everyone involved.”

by Deborah Pixton

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