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UF awarded $2.7M for new center aiming to transform elementary teacher preparation



The revamped coursework and internship evaluations will place a heightened emphasis on data-driven decision-making and a forward-thinking instructional approach for classroom readiness.

The revamped coursework and internship evaluations will place a heightened emphasis on data-driven decision-making and a forward-thinking instructional approach for classroom readiness.

GAINESVILLE, Fla.—With $2.7 million from the Florida Department of Education, the University of Florida College of Education is creating a new “center of excellence” to transform its nationally ranked elementary teacher preparation program—and several of Alachua County’s high-needs schools will serve as the effort’s proving ground.

The DOE has awarded three-year grant support to UF and three other Florida institutions to establish a Center of Excellence in Elementary Teacher Preparation at each campus, with the education schools partnering with their local school districts on the effort. The other are Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, St. Petersburg College and Stetson University in Deland.

“We know more than we have ever known about how to prepare new teachers for strong starts and long careers of positive impact on student achievement,” said Brian Dassler, Florida DOE deputy chancellor for educator quality. “The centers of excellence grants have been awarded to four pioneer programs that will not only produce outstanding elementary teachers for Florida’s classrooms, but also blaze a trail for improved teacher preparation in the entire state.”

According to Dassler, the centers will place heightened emphasis on preparing teachers to improve learning among historically underachieving students including those with disabilities, English language learners and students living in poverty. Each teacher prep program is tailoring its strategies to the needs of its partnering school district, he said.

In Alachua County, 12 elementary schools so far have agreed to host UF teachers-in-training for their yearlong internships and participate in the UF teacher prep reform project. They include Chiles Elementary, Hidden Oak, High Springs Community School and P.K. Yonge, plus eight of the district’s high-need, Title 1 schools: Alachua Elementary, Finley, Glen Springs, Lake Forest, Littlewood, Meadowbrook, Norton, and Terwilliger.

UF’s teacher prep reform effort is dubbed Project ADePT, short for Advancing the Development of Preservice Teachers. It calls for deepening student-teachers’ content knowledge of core subject areas, strengthening teaching and classroom management skills , and improving feedback to future teachers during their final-year internship.

UF is Florida’s top-rated elementary teacher education program — ranked 17th nationally in U.S. News & World Report’s latest survey of America’s Best Graduate Schools — and has a long history of progressive, research-based teacher preparation practices. UF was one of the first education colleges in the nation to unify its general and special education programs and extend it from four years to five. Students now complete a full-year internship in their final two semesters of Year 5 before graduating with a master’s degree in education.

“We have a long-standing tradition of continuous program evaluation and improvement. This grant affords opportunities for some really creative program enhancements that we couldn’t otherwise pursue,” said Ester de Jong, director of the UF education college’s School of Teaching and Learning.

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Co-researchers on the elementary education reform project are, from left, Ester de Jong, Elizabeth “Buffy” Bondy and Suzanne Colvin.

De Jong is one of three UF co-researchers on the project, along with education professors Suzanne Colvin and Elizabeth Bondy, who is principal investigator.

Bondy said they are collaborating with subject area experts from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to revamp and expand the curriculum of UF’s Elementary ProTeach program so future teachers will gain a deeper knowledge of science, math, social studies and English language arts.

“One of the great opportunities to come from this grant is to restore social studies to its rightful place as a cornerstone of public education,” Bondy said. “With so much time now spent on preparing schoolchildren for standardized testing, social studies had fallen off the radar.”

UF teachers-in-training also will learn the latest, research-based approaches to instruction and classroom management and be supported by an innovative model of instructional coaching.

Bondy said the revamped coursework and internship evaluations will place a heightened emphasis on data-driven decision-making and a forward-thinking instructional approach for classroom readiness called Fast Start, which she said “will help our graduates start their first year as practicing teachers ready for the challenges ahead.”

New, Internet cloud-based video technology will allow school-based mentor teachers and UF-based supervisors to provide targeted commentary on the student teachers’ instructional practice down to the individual frame. Or, the students can study their own videos and share them confidentially with their peers on an online social platform designed just for them.

The college’s Lastinger Center for Learning, which designs and field-tests research-proven learning systems for school districts in several Florida counties and even in other countries, is adapting its instructional coaching model for UF’s elementary education reform project. Two school-based “professors-in-residence” from the college will serve as liasions between the public schools and the ProTeach program to help train the mentoring teachers and supervisors in the high-impact instructional and classroom management skills that the student-teachers will learn.

During the next two summers, UF content experts will conduct intensive, interdisciplinary workshops which combine subject area content knowledge and teaching practices for ProTeach students poised to start their final, year-long internships. Their mentoring teachers and college supervisors will also attend. The first workshop will integrate math, science, and technology.

“The redesign of our elementary education model will expand the pipeline of effective teachers locally and statewide,” Bondy said. “We’re particularly excited about strengthening our connections with the schools in east Gainesville.

“We’ll be better teacher educators when we understand the challenges and mandates that our public schools face. By providing higher quality interns and future teachers, we can have a dramatic impact on student learning.”

Everett Caudle, director of project and staff development for Alachua County Public Schools, said partnering with UF on its teacher prep reform project “holds great promise for preparing classroom-ready beginning teachers.”

He said the Alachua County teachers hosting the student-teachers also will benefit: “By fine-tuning their skills as student mentors and instructional coaches, they will become more aware and critical of their own instruction.”


CONTACTS
   SOURCE: Elizabeth Bondy, UF College of Education; 352-273-4242; bondy@coe.ufl.edu
   SOURCE: Ester de Jong, UF College of Education; 352-273-4227; edejong@coe.ufl.edu
   SOURCE: Jackie Johnson, School Board of Alachua County; 352-955-7880;  jackie.johnson@gm.sbac.edu
   WRITER/MEDIA LIAISON: Larry Lansford, communications director, UF College of Education; 352-273-4137; llansford@coe.ufl.edu