SAIL Ignites Professional Creativity for Future Educators
Data driven instruction, Common Core Standards and standardized test scores do not come up when people talk about why they chose to become teachers. Not ever.
Most future teachers say they were motivated to choose teaching because they believe they can make a difference in students’ lives and relate to young people.
“Teaching is often a true calling in life, and while the craft, a body of knowledge and methods of teaching are critically important to learn, knowing how to keep that inner flame burning is just as vital for a successful teaching career,” said Ann Taylor, associate dean for school and community partnerships. “Teachers need to be aware of and prepared for the challenges of the current high stakes testing climate. But they also need tools and ideas on how they, as teachers and change agents, can help make schools better places for inspired teaching and learning.”
Our challenge in colleges of education is to prepare teachers for the realities of the profession – the nuts and bolts of pedagogy, classroom management, methods of teaching and student assessments – while nurturing our teacher candidates’ enthusiasm and passion for their career .
Last summer, Taylor and her colleagues in the college’s ED Collabitat joined forces to think about these challenges. The Collabitat opened last year as a space purposed for creative collaboration among educators, innovators, and scholars, to nurture professional creativity that revolutionizes education. Taylor’s group of faculty and program leaders met to explore ways that teacher candidates can focus on professional creativity as part of their Practicum II experience in Studio Schools.
“We really went out on a limb with this,” said Taylor, “and we asked the question: How can we provide an opportunity for our teacher candidates to ‘play’ with who they are and who they want to become as a teacher? We know that professional creativity – not measurable behavioral objectives — is the passion that drives people to teach. It’s something that ignites from within. And it is relationship-driven – teachers’ relationships with their students and families, their colleagues and community.”
From their discussions and meetings, the group developed School Adventure Into Learning – SAIL. The goal is to encourage students to demonstrate innovation and creativity as part of their professional growth. The idea is to provide candidates with an opportunity to experience themselves as the sole agents of their own teaching, if only for a small project or for a short period of time. Maritz has provided additional funding for the SAIL program.
All practicum II candidates in our 40 partner Studio Schools were asked to observe their setting, think about their personal areas of expertise or passion and identify something they would like to try out that would answer a question that they, personally have. Sometimes their question comes from a personal area of study, or it may be a passion or hobby, and sometimes it’s a need they see in the school.
Their inquiries needed to focus on their own curiosity and need to know – not their school’s or other teachers’ needs. The assignment was to 1) ask a question, 2) explore strategies to address the question and envision what might be possible 3) they try something and choose an artifact – which could be as simple as a photograph or journal — to represent what they learned from the School Adventure Into Learning.
They had several group meetings in the ED Collabitat to guide them in the process. For instance, if a candidate has a passion for photography, or sports or nature, they were guided to find ways they could explore that with students as a learning experience.
The questions that guided them in developing their projects were:
- In a perfect world, how and where do you envision yourself teaching?
- What talents or interests do you have outside of teaching? How could bring these into your classroom?
- If there were no set curriculum what/how would you teach?
- If you could redesign your classroom, what would it look like?
- If you could choose any two people, alive today, to co-teach with during your first year, who would they be and why?
“We came up with a very loose structure,” said Taylor. “It doesn’t have to be fancy. We asked candidates to ‘Teach You’ – something about who you are, and how you want to share, explore and strengthen relationships.” She added that the assignment was awarded points if they participated in the process, not for the quality of the question, the strategies, the outcomes, or the presentation.
And the projects really took off. For example, one practicum candidate in an inner city charter school with a passion for social justice developed a project that was kindled by a question from one of the children about what happened in Ferguson. She delved into some ideas and used the book, Painting for Peace in Ferguson as a tool for her project to help her elementary students understand how communities can unite for positive change at a time of challenge. The book tells the story of the hundreds of artists and volunteers who worked to transform boarded up windows into works of art with messages of hope, healing and unity.
One candidate with a coaching background who was teaching a media class showed the movie “Remember the Titans” about the integration of high school football, thus sharing his own identity as teacher and coach. In another project, a pair of future teachers designed a note-as-you-go bookmark for students after they noticed they were having trouble with book reports.
At the end of the semester, teams of UMSL COE practicum candidates chose one of their projects to publicly share at a grand seminar held in December. Most all of the 300+ teacher candidates in the college attended the semester-end event to hear the short project presentations given by the practicum candidates. Of the 35 projects presented, five were chosen to present to the UM-System President and Board of Curators at their annual visit.
The SAIL presentation day for projects this semester will be held in the ED Collabitat on Friday, May 6. For more information about the SAIL project and the ED Collabitat, phone: (314) 516-4815 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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