Take full advantage of faculty expertise in assessment and development.

Desperate for field placements for new teacher candidates, colleges and universities are bending over backward to create mutually beneficial partnerships with secondary schools. These partnerships can clearly benefit you, your school, and your district by giving you the chance to see teacher candidates in action. So, how should you go about developing, implementing, evaluating, and sustaining these valuable partnerships?

Showcase Experience and Create Opportunities

Due to increased testing pressures, many secondary schools have become more reluctant to open their doors to teacher candidates. However, research has shown that the number of ineffective teachers can decrease when teacher candidates are in the classroom. At the same time, colleges and universities are recognizing the importance of hands-on experience in teacher education, and have begun increasing the number and variety of field experiences they require before graduation (like full-year student teaching).

As Jeff Wanko, chair of Teacher Education at Miami University, states, “Preservice teachers (and their parents!) are eager to have early and meaningful clinical experiences. The lines between students, preservice teachers, and professional educators can easily be blurred, making it even more critical that we help formulate clearly defined, innovative, clinical programs that benefit all stakeholders.” This situation opens the door for secondary school principals to obtain specialized assistance in areas of need.

Even school leaders whose districts are not located close to colleges and universities should consider reaching out to the dean of their closest institution of higher education. Teacher education programs often make commitments to districts outside their immediate geographic area that are willing to collaborate on a major partnership, and education deans are able to connect school personnel directly with programs and faculty willing to make such a commitment.

Base Partnership on School Goals, Student Data

Begin planning by surveying your school’s broad needs. Do you need assistance with reading or math intervention? Data collection or analysis? Arts enrichment? Foreign language instruction? Implementation of social skills groups? Positive behavior support? Identify a goal or two that needs to be addressed, then get organized and put your ideas on paper. Answer the basic who-what-when questions before you meet with college or university representatives, and present them with an informal, open-ended proposal regarding the area(s) you wish to see addressed. Shannon Richards, assistant principal at Lowell High School in Lowell, IN, suggests that “higher ed and K–12 teams would benefit from joining together on strategic planning teams as districts develop their three-year plans. The initiatives that are centered around college and career planning, including but not limited to dual college credit or career and technical education, most definitely should include input and direction from higher education.”

You may not have data in every area, but if it is available, jot down some basic data demonstrating the need. Don’t be afraid to negotiate at all stages of the partnership with a university—you’re in the driver’s seat.


As you begin to meet with college or university staff to put together a teacher partnership program, address these important issues:

  1. How will university instructors be involved on the ground in your school? More time spent on coaching means higher-quality preparation and better candidates.
  2. What are the university’s goals for placement?
  3. How will the university support professionalism on the part of teacher candidates, and intervene if necessary?
  4. How will content related to each teacher’s field placement (e.g., Response to Intervention, problem-​based learning, professional collaboration) relate to what they’re learning in college courses?
  5. What kind of and how many teacher candidates will be involved?
  6. How will teachers be involved in the planning?
  7. What assignments will teacher candidates complete related to the placement? Assignments should require candidates to provide measurable outcomes to deliver maximum benefit for the students as well as for teacher candidates themselves.
  8. What school events, professional development, or other opportunities should teacher candidates be included in? Effective teachers understand the broader context of the community and how their students operate within that context.

Making Sure Both Parties Benefit

The primary goal of a partnership of this sort is that it be a win-win experience from the outset-teachers and students should benefit from the presence of additional personnel, and teacher candidates should benefit from obtaining diverse experience in schools.

The second goal is the creation of a seamless model of teacher development, which improves teacher quality. The approach to teaching and learning espoused in secondary schools—both in classrooms and through professional development—should match that espoused in the university’s teacher preparation programs.

Evaluate, Then Move Ahead

As the pieces of the partnership begin to fall into place, do not overlook the evaluation component. University professors have expertise in assessment and program development and evaluation. Further, they are motivated to assist in this type of project. In fact, their careers are built around their ability to be successful at publishing such data and contributing to the research database in the field of education. However, the data collected must be usable to you and to your school. The evaluation plan must be set up beforehand with your input and matched carefully with goals. Weigh the impact of the partnership on all parties, including students, current teachers, and teacher candidates.

Once you have implemented your model, keep pushing the partnership to grow and change in ways that escalate impact. Too often when we create a structure that appears to meet surface needs, we cease to revisit the partnership, and it stagnates. Even semiannual meetings with involved parties can create a space for creativity and growth. Continuing to modify the partnership based on new data and the creation of new ideas is essential in creating a model that is truly innovative and maximizes effectiveness for both parties.

Another benefit of secondary school/higher education partnerships is the opportunity schools have to see new teachers in action. In fact, national groups have begun to promote the use of such partnerships as “teacher pipelines” for long-term staffing. From the school’s perspective, the partnership provides an opportunity to see large numbers of teacher candidates perform in the classroom. Plus, it allows secondary schools to assist in the teacher candidates’ socialization to the individual school environment. Getting a preview of teachers can help principals funnel high achievers into open positions after they become licensed. This technique ensures a good fit between the novice teacher and the school environment and eliminates much of the preliminary guesswork and upfront, site-specific mentoring that is typically necessary when hiring new teachers. School leaders can make regular visits to classrooms and observe teacher candidates as they do with current teachers.

Capitalize on Strengths

A win-win partnership comes when you have focused goals and a strong communication plan. Using the strengths of each institution, action and evaluation plans can be developed that will meet the needs of both.  

Leah Wasburn-Moses, PhD, is a professor of educational psychology at Miami University in Oxford, OH, and the director of Campus Mentors, a program for alternative schools located on college campuses.

Sidebar: Making It Work 

Creating Successful Partnerships

Be sure to obtain some kind of written document that specifies details of the partnership. Include a communication plan detailing who is the responsible contact person for both the school and the college/university.

Create a seamless model of teacher development. Include university faculty and teacher candidates as part of the team responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of schoolwide initiatives. 

Develop an evaluation plan that’s matched carefully to your goals. Outcome data should provide information on the impact of the partnership on all parties, including K–12 students, your teachers, and teacher candidates.

Once you have implemented your model, keep pushing the partnership to grow. For example, you may wish for the university to take a greater role in assisting with new schoolwide initiatives or outreach, such as after-school programming or parental support.