The making of Building Blocks

Today marks a major milestone in the journey of Deans for Impact.

A little over two years ago, we set out to visit the educator-preparation programs led by our member deans. Our goal, if it can be described as such, was to better understand the context in which teacher education in this country takes place. We didn’t know what we would see, nor what we would find. We simply wanted to listen, and learn.

We learned so much.

The direct result of our efforts, as they relate to our core mission of improving teacher preparation, are now memorialized in our newest digital publication, Building Blocks. We saw what the programs we visited are doing today to better prepare teachers — and what some of them aren’t doing. Two quick points about our methodology and conclusions.

First, our research typically involved a multi-day visit — we call them “learning tours” — involving at least three members of the Deans for Impact staff, and often (but not always) accompanied by one or two of our member deans. The structure of our tours would vary depending on what was feasible within the program being visited, but in almost every instance we observed at least two academic courses taught by program faculty; visited at least two K-12 schools to observe student teaching; interviewed at least five teacher-candidates; interviewed at least six key faculty leaders (for example, directors of teacher education, clinical placements); and held a debrief with the member dean of the program. One DFI staff member kept detailed notes throughout the entire visit, and at the conclusion, every Deans for Impact staff member who attended wrote “headline” observations. We then synthesized notes as a visit team.

After we completed the first wave of visits, we identified the key principles that are featured in Building Blocks and went back to the four featured programs — this time with video camera in hand — to film teacher education in action. This involved a lot of hard work and we are very grateful to the featured teacher-educators, practicing teachers, teacher-candidates and students who agreed to participate in this project and helped us tell this story in their own voices.

Second, we recognize we lack econometric data to “prove” that the building blocks lead to improved teacher effectiveness. Efforts are underway at Deans for Impact to build a data system that will help address this challenge, but even without this system we believe programs can and should act on these principles now. The work of preparing future teachers continues despite our limited outcomes data, but its absence should not result in our suspending all judgment.

With all that said, we hope you find the footage and the stories of the teacher-educators and teacher-candidates featured in Building Blocks as inspiring as we do, and that the project will help you see what effective preparation looks like.

Benjamin Riley

Founder and Executive Director

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