On the upside: what teacher education can learn from counselor education

It’s no secret that teacher education has been under great scrutiny in recent years. The critique? Many teacher-education programs are graduating novice teachers who are unprepared to teach and do not fully understand how students learn.

In response, CAEP (formerly known as NCATE), a national accrediting body for educator-preparation programs, is moving programs toward a more clinically-based approach. In a 2010 report, NCATE’s Blue Ribbon Panel stated that “teacher education must shift away from a norm which emphasizes academic preparation and course work loosely linked to school-based experiences…[and] move to programs that are fully grounded in clinical practice and interwoven with academic content and professional courses.” NCATE called this shift “turning the education of teachers ‘upside-down.'”

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s Déjà vu all over again”: This approach to education has been the modus operandi for counselor education since its inception.

Counselor-education programs, in concert with their accreditation body, CACREP, have worked for decades to provide rich clinical experiences for their candidates – similar to teacher-education clinical placements, which NCATE defines as “internships that provide candidates with an intensive and extensive culminating activity.” As teacher education aligns itself closer to practices that counselor education has long utilized, the counseling field’s current practices can perhaps inform and shape teacher prep.

Two of us – Coll and Freeman – have extensive experience teaching in counselor-education programs and serving on CACREP review teams. We’ve identified four key areas in which we believe educator-preparation programs can learn from the experiences of the counseling field.

1. Selectivity and quality monitoring
CAEP has recently determined that selectivity needs to improve, asking providers to set admission requirements, establish desired attributes beyond academic performance, and collect and monitor data throughout the program.

Coll: My time as a department chair of counselor education gave me insight into the legal and logistical issues counselor education faced in increasing its selectivity. I’ve been able to apply this insight, first as an associate dean and now as dean, to teacher education selectivity and quality monitoring.

CACREP-accredited counselor education programs use meticulous screening processes that vary across institutions, often involving initial and then ongoing individual and group interviews, observations, reference checking, and clinical practice sessions using an admissions assessment tool or checklist. Throughout the degree program, candidates are subject to dispositional assessments, frequent taping of clinical work, self-reflection experiences, and sometimes peer evaluation.

The number of teaching candidates – and the demand for teachers – has often been cited as a limitation to selectivity upon admission and during preparation, but it can be done. While I was associate dean at Boise State University, for example, we started incorporating personal interviews into the admission process for teacher education students, a move that dramatically shifted selectivity toward more motivated and committed candidates. And at several universities now, teacher-education professors successfully hold small group admission interviews to evaluate candidate performance against criteria that extends beyond academic performance.

2. Early clinical experiences
CAEP now requires programs to develop effective partnerships and to provide high-quality clinical-practice opportunities to candidates.

Freeman: In my 15 years as department chair of counselor-education programs, we’ve always been challenged to use an interdisciplinary, practical approach. This allows students to get a feel for “real world” training through early clinical practices in required courses, such as Pre-Practicum or Beginning Skills courses. This early introduction practice often crystalizes commitment to the profession and ownership of one’s own professional journey.

Indeed, this successful practice is now being widely incorporated in teacher education. The UTeach model, which our college implements as NevadaTeach and delivers in collaboration with the College of Science, puts students in the classroom the first semester of their freshman year, with master teachers and teacher mentors consistently providing feedback and asking students to self-reflect.

3. Emphasis on positive social interactions
Only recently has an emphasis on positive social interactions been infused into CAEP language.

Coll: This is an innovative and exciting focus for teacher education.  By its nature, positive social interactions, sometimes referred to as interpersonal skills, are at the heart of counselor education. CACREP standards require candidates demonstrate a certain competency level at establishing the collaborative relationships that are necessary in field or clinical experiences, and typically counseling students are given assignments (i.e. demonstrating basic listening skills) geared toward interpersonal competence with a variety of constituents.

Ongoing and clear dispositional assessment of interpersonal skills is a standard practice in CACREP programs. Using similar mechanisms through an assessment process like Taskstream, teacher-education students at UNR are now tracking their own effective interpersonal skills and comparing them with external feedback across key constituents.

4. Evaluation of self-awareness
CAEP has now also acknowledged that teacher candidates need to be self-aware regarding bias and influence in the classroom, in recognition that each classroom student has a unique culture and background.

Freeman:  Counselor education is rooted in candidate self-awareness, as referenced in the CACREP social and cultural standards. Counseling programs require key assignments that encourage self-reflection for the purpose of increasing self-awareness regarding family background and cultural bias, as well as self-awareness in clinical work.

For example, recently published articles* highlight how certain family backgrounds and conditions can negatively affect teacher performance unless addressed. For example, a teacher with a certain family background or condition will underperform unless he/she addresses learned behaviors through self-reflection. While the area of research is just opening up, these kinds of studies point to “intrapersonal” issues that directly address the impact of teacher self-awareness on student achievement. It is anticipated that self-awareness will emerge as a key variable for p-12 student success. The potential for research collaborations in this area between counselor and teacher education is exciting.

The challenge today is for teacher-preparation-program leaders to shift away from a decades-old model and “flip” towards a new, clinical-centered framework. By learning from the CACREP counselor-education model, teacher education can better address the new directions of CAEP and more efficiently set the foundation for a new era of quality and accountability.

* Stewart, R., & Coll, K.M. (2014). Family background of beginning education students:  Implications for teacher educators.  College Student Journal, 1, 42, pp. 41-56.

Kenneth Coll is the dean of the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Reno. Brenda Freeman is a professor of counseling in the College, and Cece Zhou is the College’s marketing and communications specialist.

Kenneth Coll, Brenda Freeman, and Cece Zhou

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