Professional Development School marks 20 years of devotion to love of teaching

Jim Carlson
May 09, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State's College of Education and the State College Area School District for 20 years running have combined to support the educational needs of the district's K-12 students and the University's teacher candidates through its Professional Development School (PDS). And two decades of encouraging cooperation and collaboration between teachers and students have led to a landmark anniversary.

The PDS teacher preparation program is designed for Penn State students to serve as interns in nine State College Area elementary schools as well as the secondary English program in the high school for an entire academic year. The opportunity to co-teach with a mentor teacher for that 10-month span is a benefit to the interns, who learn how to manage a classroom from the outset, and for the district's students, many of whom end up with two teachers in a classroom.

Michelle Knotts and MJ Kitt, current PDS coordinators at the secondary and elementary levels, respectively, combine efforts to accomplish common goals and create connections between the programs. They focus on collaboration, one of the PDS program's core values, and work toward their shared commitments to ensure quality induction of teachers into the profession and to foster the professional growth of all teachers and teacher educators. 

"Celebrating this 20th anniversary milestone has shed light on the rich history of the Penn State-SCASD PDS partnership," Knotts said. "I want to draw on those traditions as I plan for new possibilities for the partnership in the future."

Partnerships require a tremendous amount of work and cooperation, according to College of Education Dean David Monk.

"The PDS is a true partnership where the school district and the college make substantive investments and realize mutually beneficial results," Monk said. "It is easy to talk broadly about partnerships and collaborations, but real success requires hard work and effective communication.

"The lines of communication regarding the many moving parts to the PDS are wide open and function extraordinarily well at many levels ranging from the offices of the superintendent and dean to the day-to-day communications between the interns, their mentors and the professional development associates," he said.

A web of support includes administrators at both institutions, and it has remained consistent over the years. 

"People are the reason the PDS has so much positive and professional energy to impact learning of interns and students, as well as our faculty and administration," said Bob O'Donnell, superintendent of State College Area School District.

Extremely wide reach

The impact the PDS has continues to stretch year after year with each class of new Penn State graduates. 

"It's inspiring to think about the impact of the PDS over its 20 years,'' Monk said. "Just think of how many interns there are who have gone on to pursue successful teaching and administrative careers, touching the lives of countless students and their families, literally throughout the entire nation and beyond."

With PDS interns teaching in elementary schools across the country, the program has influenced the classroom experiences of large numbers of students. 

"Considering all the interns over the past 20 years who have completed the internship and are teaching in their own classrooms, we estimate that at least 200,000 students have been impacted," said Kitt, coordinator of the PDS K-4 program.

Jim Nolan, a former PDS coordinator and currently professor emeritus of education, also noted the program's reputation beyond State College. 

"When you think about the impact of the teaching of our former interns all across the country and couple that with the work of our former doctoral students who are leading partnership efforts in teacher education, I think there can be no doubt that the PDS has had a significant national impact," Nolan said.

Bernard Badiali, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and program coordinator for the Curriculum and Supervision Program at Penn State, as well as a past coordinator of the PDS, said PDS practices that started at Penn State have been adopted and used across a wide spectrum of PDS sites.

"The influence our mentor teachers and University faculty have had because of their presentations at state and national conferences has been significant,” Badiali said. "This is my 46th year as an educator and I have never been a part of a better program."

Passion for the program

Commitment across the board is another overriding theme, according to Rose Mary Zbiek, professor of education and head of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education.

"While the PDS has evolved over its two decades, the energy and commitment of the people involved has been a constant," she said. "It is a shared passion for teaching and learning that inspires and unites all participants across the history of the partnership."

Gwendolyn Lloyd, Hermanowicz Professor of Education and director of elementary and early childhood education at Penn State, said the PDS partnership with the State College Area Schools has impacted her professional life profoundly.

“In particular, my relationships with classrooms, children, teachers and school leaders has greatly enhanced my research and teacher education activities. I’m so grateful to be involved in this partnership," she said.

What helps make the PDS unique is the inquiry process involved throughout the year, capped off with the annual Inquiry Conference in late April at Mount Nittany Middle School. The College of Education views teaching as a complex, multi-faceted problem-solving activity that requires an inquiry-oriented stance toward their practice, as well as examining their practice and its impact through classroom-based research.

At the Inquiry Conference, interns share their inquiry investigations, celebrate accomplishments, and engage in a community of reflective practitioners.

Karen Morris, a former intern and mentor, and current graduate student and secondary English PDS instructor, said the collective wisdom that comes from sharing at the Inquiry Conference is beneficial.

“Coming together to share our practices reminds me of how varied teaching styles can be," she said. "What I’ve learned from colleagues and other PDS partners has had an impact on my work as a teacher and a mentor.  As I begin my career as a teacher educator, I realize just how much my experience with the PDS has enabled me to grow as a teacher leader and teacher educator."

Plenty of planning

That's what program founders had in mind not only from its inception in 1998 but years before when the planning process was underway. Former College of Education professor Nancy Dana, now a faculty member at the University of Florida at Gainesville, said Penn State faculty and administrators met with State College Area School District administrators and teachers for about five years. 

The PDS launched in August 1998, she said, with a pilot group of 14 interns at district elementary schools in Matternville (now closed) and Ferguson Township. 

As the program grew and flourished, Penn State students were typically hired by school districts from Alaska to Virginia when they graduated. 

"The students in the PDS were always the core focus — working relentlessly to make the best schooling experience possible for every individual child, and in the process preparing the next generation of teachers and teacher educators, as well as creating a laboratory for the continual professional learning of practicing professionals at both the school and university,'' Dana said.

Allyna May is a third-grade intern at Park Forest Elementary and believes that immersion in the same classroom for a full year has been essential to her development.

“Experiencing a program like this has made me a more well-rounded person who has the confidence needed when looking for a future career as a teacher,” May said.

PDS intern Ali Cohen, a fourth-grade teacher at Gray’s Woods Elementary School, said the support that surrounds the interns helps the program excel. "It's a great way to grow as a teacher,'' Cohen said. 

"And I think there are so many different interns, so many different mentors, and it's all community,' she addied. "So if you're looking to observe almost anything, someone in the program will be doing it and you can go observe it. It's just a great opportunity to learn and grow."

Beneficial to everyone

Across its two decades, the PDS program has placed priority on teacher development and leadership. The PDAs, or professional development associates, visit classrooms several times per week to work with interns and their mentor teachers.

"When I was an undergrad and intern myself, I can vividly recall our last seminar held at Park Forest Middle School," said Holly Klock, who is serving as Cohen's PDA this year. "Jim Nolan stood in front of us referencing a PowerPoint slide posing the question, 'How will you be a teacher leader?' 

"I have not taken that slide lightly within my seven years since graduation. Every day I strive to be a teacher leader, hopefully inspiring others to raise morale, collaborate constructively, and smile while working in a profession that is as demanding as education."

Klock enjoys the exchange of knowledge, reflection and motivation during her interactions.

"Teaching is a hard," Klock said. "As a PDA, I feel as though it is in my duties to equip interns with not only classroom management strategies, but also a reflective mindset." 

A number of Penn State graduates who were PDS interns have returned to the school district as full-time employees. Andrea de Carle, a current mentor teacher at Easterly Parkway Elementary, was an intern in 2005-06. She also served as a supervisor, methods instructor and co-facilitator in the PDS from 2012 to 2016.

"The inquiry mindset that was fostered during my internship year has had a tremendous impact on me as a mentor teacher," she said. "As I began my teaching career, I knew I could develop a wondering, gather data, analyze the data, and then take action.” 

College of Education Assistant Professor Rachel Wolkenhauer (curriculum and supervision) has a research agenda of practitioner inquiry as it relates to professional development and teacher preparation.

"My work in the PDS revolves around emphasizing learning to learn from teaching within an inquiry community in order to foster an expectation that teachers are to question and contribute to the knowledge base of teaching, learning and schooling," Wolkenhauer said.

"In doing so, teacher preparation and teacher professional development engage educators in the PDS in intellectual and social professional communities that support them in raising questions and connecting individual learning to that of the community and larger education field. It is a privilege to work in a context where this work is possible. The close partnership we have between Penn State and State College in the PDS means we have inexhaustible access to experts from whom to learn."

Designed to be collaborative

The elementary PDS program is part of the Elementary and Early Childhood Education Program, which prepares Penn State students for certification to teach in the pre-K-4 grade band. The secondary English PDS partnership, started by Jamie Myers, professor emeritus of education (language and literacy education), hosts both undergraduate and graduate students. 

"The PDS program frames interns as teachers, not university students, and provides a scope of learning that includes the traditional theoretical readings of campus with the experiential life of the classroom," Myers said. "The transaction between theory and practice structured through PDS activities and collaborations generates highly thoughtful and skilled educators and enact teaching and learning as inquiry for both themselves and their students.

"By making collaboration an inherent characteristic of their work as teachers, they open up their classrooms, describe experiences of success and difficulty, negotiate valued learning purposes, and jointly construct areas of need for future inquiry," he said. 

All of that benefits the district's students, according to longtime school board member David Hutchinson. 

"Although an investment in time and effort is required on the part of our teacher-mentors, we have found that by mid-year, our students reap the benefit of having two motivated and capable classroom professionals," Hutchinson said. 

"Our teachers also benefit from having the enthusiasm and perspective of a fresh set of eyes."

And also a culture of values inherent to lifelong learning, according to Wolkenhauer.

“Every one of us benefits from having partners and mentors in learning in the PDS," she said. "By learning together, we are constantly questioning our practices and trying new things to make teaching and learning better for ourselves — and as ambassadors for the field.

"It is this value, and this camaraderie, that buoys us as teachers so that we can continue to spend each day devoted to the hard work of teaching."

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 09, 2018