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What if digital age teachers were matched with forward-thinking schools?

By Team ISTE 8/28/2015

Mia Kim Williams had an aha moment when three somewhat disparate events in her life converged and an idea was born.

What if preservice teachers who had been exposed to tech integration best practices in their teacher preparation programs could be matched with schools that value those skills? Could a system be developed to facilitate this kind of matching?

But before we explore the concept, let’s backtrack to its evolution.

Williams, associate professor of educational technology and social foundations for the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado and an ISTE Board member, recently attended a meeting where representatives from school districts met with the board to discuss teacher preparation and the mismatch between what some colleges offer in the way of tech integration training versus what teachers need.

Later the same week, the ISTE Board of Directors met with teacher educators, preservice teachers, professors, K-12 principals as well as reps from the Council for the Accreditation for Educator Preparation and the U.S. Department of Education about preparing preservice teachers to meet the needs of today’s students.

At the same time, her university was in the process of restructuring its ed tech program.
During the ISTE Board meeting, it dawned on her. “We all came to the table from different perspectives, and we ended up realizing that we share a vision, but we hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to each other like this,” Williams said.

What started as a conversation with all parties coming at the issue from various angles evolved into a valuable give-and-take on how the education community might think more broadly about matching philosophies, pedagogical practices and technology-rich (or tech-lacking) environments with incoming teachers.

Why not match preservice teachers with like-minded schools?

And that’s when it hit her. In teacher preparation programs that include a focus on tech integration, preservice teachers build the skills they need to take on new tools and implement innovative ideas. They practice looking at curriculum and making decisions about how to integrate technology to create meaningful learning experiences.
But the school districts geographically closest to these teachers may have a scripted curriculum that doesn’t include ed tech initiatives or isn’t driven by project-based learning or inquiry models. Teachers in these schools may not have the freedom to apply what they’ve learned in teacher preparation programs.

Teachers with strong ed tech training who take positions in these districts are frustrated. And the reverse is also true. Teachers with little ed tech training from teacher preparation programs can be foiled from the outset when they take positions with technology-rich districts.

Either way, teachers and schools are frustrated by the divergence.

“We’re moving toward a more global, transient environment, so why aren’t teacher prep programs and districts looking at relationships across longer distances?” Williams wondered. “Why aren’t we using our abilities to communicate with technology to build relationships outside of our local space?”

Currently, the typical approach is for colleges and universities to work with surrounding schools and districts to identify the skills preservice teachers should have, and those local environments serve as field experiences for teacher candidates and student teachers. But why not think and work more broadly than local communities, Williams wondered?

What would teacher preparation look like if programs that produced teachers with strong tech integration knowledge could be matched with districts seeking those skills in teachers?

As it stands now, what’s taught in teacher prep programs is not necessarily the reality in the classrooms where these candidates do their student teaching. And if they don’t get a chance to practice what they were taught, it doesn’t become part of their practice in their own classrooms.

Online platform could facilitate matching educators with the right schools

Williams envisions a platform for teachers with digital age teaching skills and like-minded districts to interact and enhance the recruiting process. It would be a system for matching teachers and preservice teachers with schools who share the same values around transformational learning practices — much like a KAYAK for educator placement.  

For her part, Williams wants to engage ISTE in keeping the conversation going and providing forums to discuss her bright idea. One easy first step, she says, would be to put something on her university’s website explaining the type of preparation preservice teachers at the University of Northern Colorado receive so that districts who value that training can recruit them.  

Conversations might sound something like this, Williams envisions: “It looks like your district values creativity and decision makers. We have teachers prepared in that way.” Or, “We’re a STEM-focused teacher prep program” and that leads a STEM school to say, ‘That’s where I want my teachers to come from.’”  

In the long run, Williams imagines a database that links like-minded educators and schools. Perhaps a website tied to an app. A space where teacher preparation practices are aggregated and employers can match their values with potential employees beyond the surrounding geographic area. 

“We think very locally about education and that’s not necessarily meeting people’s needs,” Williams says. “Everybody’s frustrated.”

That frustration might vanish if the grassroots effort Williams envisions takes hold.

Learn more about what is being done to improve teacher preparation in the latest issue of entrsekt.

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