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Exploring the Potential of Teacher Residencies

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This week we are hearing from the Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest (@RELMidwest). This post is by Natalya Gnedko-Berry, PhD, senior researcher at Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest.

Today's post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner's perspective on this topic.

Exploring the Potential of Teacher Residencies.pngWhy This Collaboration

Many states and districts across the country are working to reconcile teacher shortages in certain regions and subject areas to provide all students with equitable access to effective teachers. In Michigan, for example, urban and rural areas experience teacher shortages, and special education, world language, mathematics, and science teachers are in high demand in many areas across the state. In response, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) identified teacher residencies as a potential strategy for accomplishing two goals: addressing teacher shortages and developing high-quality teachers.

Teacher residencies usually are created as a partnership between a school district and a local university. The candidates recruited by the programs are from diverse backgrounds and typically hold a bachelor's degree. Residencies offer teaching candidates the opportunity to learn content and pedagogy in an academic environment while applying learned concepts in a classroom under the supervision of an experienced mentor teacher—a model similar to the training of new doctors.

The residency approach to teacher training is supported by research, which suggests that teachers are more effective when they have opportunities to practice what they have learned, and that teachers who complete a residency program are more likely to remain in the teaching profession and to teach in the same districts and hard-to-staff schools (Boyd, Grossman, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2008; Darling-Hammond, 2014; Gimbert, Cristol, & Sene, 2007; Goldhaber, Krieg, & Theobald, 2017; Ingersoll, Merrill, & Hay, 2014; Silva, McKie, & Gleason, 2015).

How the Collaboration Worked

As the first step in exploring the potential for teacher residencies for Michigan, MDE recognized a need to build a common understanding of the concept of teacher residency among local stakeholders, including school districts, institutions of higher education, charter schools, and other education agencies. To accomplish this, MDE partnered with REL Midwest to conduct two trainings that introduced local stakeholders to the teacher residency models that exist nationally, and the program characteristics associated with positive outcomes, such as improved teacher retention and student learning. For example, REL Midwest researchers emphasized strong district and university partnerships, full-year residencies, expertise of teacher mentors, and financial support for residents as characteristics that are associated with high-quality residencies. These trainings equipped local stakeholders who may decide to pursue a teacher residency with knowledge about the factors they may want to consider to maximize the desirable outcomes.

Next, MDE and REL Midwest researchers introduced local stakeholders to representatives from three national and two emerging local teacher residencies, which provided concrete examples of how a residency program could be implemented and sustained. Michigan stakeholders identified the question of sustainability as the most pressing; they expressed uncertainty about where the initial funding could come from and how it could be maintained. REL researchers designed part of the training to address this question at length. For example, a representative invited from the Bank Street College of Education discussed specific, tested ways in which existing school funding could be repurposed to pay for the training of residents, helping to alleviate participants' initial anxiety about funding.

Implications For Policy And Practice

Finally, in Michigan—much like in other states—school districts and institutions of higher education tend to interact infrequently or not at all, creating the perception of a lack of cohesion between them in solving issues such as teacher shortages and teacher quality. During the training, MDE and REL Midwest researchers brought higher education institutions and districts together in the same room and facilitated a joint conversation about teacher residencies to bridge the distance between the two parts of the same system. In fact, REL Midwest researchers and MDE purposely invited attendees located in close geographical proximity who could, therefore, consider a teacher residency partnership or another type of collaboration to ensure that the needs of districts are better aligned with the preparation programs at institutions of higher education.

Although it is too early to determine the success of this strategy, initial feedback suggests that bringing institutions of higher education and districts together helped to start—and, in some cases, deepen—a dialogue between them.


Previous blog posts by REL Midwest:

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