By: Donna Mahar, PhD. Associate Professor & Chair, School for Graduate Studies, SUNY Empire State College and Amanda Lester, AACTE Facilitator Consultant, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

As educators, we often take on a new challenge because it aligns with our convictions and desire to advance our students and profession. But rarely do we realize how much we will gain while collaborating to achieve a common goal that we hope will benefit others. This is one of the many realizations we came upon as we embarked upon a journey as co-facilitators for the CAEP State Alliance Clinical Partnership Design Team (CPDT).

In December 2013, we were among the group of CAEP State Alliance representatives that assembled at the historic Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky to launch a two year Clinical Innovative Collaborative (CIC) for the advancement of Clinical Preparation and Partnerships (CAEP Standard Two). The historic hotel was an appropriate venue for the start of what promises to be historic changes in the way K-12 teacher preparation is conceptualized in the United States. The CIC process was modeled upon Networked Improvement Communities (NIC) Improvement Science developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and included members from educator preparation programs (EPPs), K-12 teachers and administrators, and agency representatives dedicated to reimagining P-20 educator preparation. Three design teams were established representing each of the three sub-categories within Standard 2: Clinical Partnerships, Clinical Educators, and Clinical Experiences.

Each team was charged with identifying a specific issue within their category and developing a target solution that would be tested through an iterative 90-day cycle process. Alliance members chose the design team they wanted to join. As facilitators for the CPDT, we soon found ourselves working with an amazing group of like-minded educators who believed strongly in the value of mutually beneficial P-20 partnerships and were eager to seek solutions that would guide the scalable growth of these critical relationships.

With our charge clear, the CPDT decided to first focus on defining the mutual benefits that resulted from school-university partnerships for districts, EPPs, and teacher candidates. To establish a baseline understanding, each team member conducted interviews with their own clinical partners, and based upon those interviews, a collection of mutual benefits was identified and became the basis of a technical assistance framework created to support the scalable, replicable and, sustainable initiation and growth of P-20 partnerships.

Along with the benefits, the data collected by the team also revealed barriers and challenges that often impeded partnership sustainability. While the design of partnerships may vary from EPPs, K-12 partners, districts, and states, the outcomes from the Design Team’s work suggest that there are key elements that shape mutually beneficial partnerships: the need for a common vocabulary, co-constructed goals, and aligned expectations that have a positive impact on students, faculties, and educational organizations.

The Design Team also identified four stages of partnership development to offer as a guide to EPPs seeking to establish mutually beneficial partnerships. The first stage includes exploring and networking. This is when all potential partners assess mutual interests, complementary missions, and capacity. This stage takes time and research. It goes well beyond picking up the phone and trying to place a student teacher anywhere there is an opening. This is the beginning of a paradigm shift in how we prepare teachers in the United States.

The second stage involves establishing a blueprint for what the partnership may look like. It is critical that all stakeholders participate in this stage. The Design Team recommends establishing an advisory board comprised of representative from all members of the partnership. A timeline with assessment benchmarks is created. Reflection and evaluation of the evolving partnership is critical throughout the process and policies and procedures are drafted with the understanding that the partnership needs to remain fluid.

The third stage is growing and maintaining; here ongoing communication is the linchpin. All members of the partnership must keep abreast of changes in state and district policies and work together to make adjustments to established policies and procedures that will strengthen the partnership and its mission. Professional development based on the immediate needs of partners is made possible through ongoing communication.

Finally a fourth stage, which actually is more of an ongoing thread running through all stages, identifies the need to evaluate, refine, and expand policies, procedures, and outcomes so that they remain beneficial to all members of the partnership.

As the Clinical Innovative Collaborative concludes its work much has been accomplished since its initial meeting at the Brown Hotel. Looking back, as our team, and the others, advanced through the CIC process, we too went through these stages of partnership. As a result, the CPDT not only gained insight into what makes up and advances mutually beneficial partnerships, but developed a clinical partnership framework that we hope will benefit our colleagues and the advancement of clinical practice within our profession. In the end, the three subgroups themselves became three mutually beneficial partners able to try and test assumptions and findings in order to offer a tested roadmap to the CAEP community.

Note: The framework referenced in this article will be available in spring 2016 once it is finalized by the Design Team.