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New Professional Development School Program Combines Practical Experience with Innovative Instruction

Published Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

Professional Development School
Wayne State students benefit from the chance to teach in the classroom.

Wayne State's new program at Norfolk Catholic Elementary School blends practical experience with innovative instruction.

Student success. Learning excellence. Regional service. Wayne State’s mission succeeds because the college consistently views each of these elements as equal parts of a well-rounded education. The college’s new Professional Development School pilot program at Norfolk Catholic Elementary School in Norfolk, Neb., delivers on this promise, ensuring that teacher education blends practical experience with innovative instruction while contributing to the educational experience of a regional partner.

“Wayne State College is inextricably linked to teacher preparation,” said Dr. Michael Anderson, Vice President for Academic Affairs at WSC. “Preparing teachers was the original mission of our college, and, while the School of Education and Counseling has changed over time, the school continues as an exemplar of service to the region. WSC prepares teachers and counselors with a blend of traditional methodologies and contemporary models.”

Wayne State College’s national accrediting body, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education/ Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (NCATE/CAEP) defines a Professional Development School (PDS) as an innovative institution formed through partnerships between professional education programs and schools with preschool through 12th grade students.     

“Essentially, a PDS teacher preparation program is a laboratory school in reverse,’’ Anderson said. “Future teachers learn how to teach while embedded in an actual classroom.”

The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize NCATE as a professional accrediting body for teacher preparation. NCATE accredits 670 colleges of education. NCATE is a coalition of teachers, teacher educators, content specialists, and local and state policy makers with common quality education concern. The coalition represents more than 3 million individuals. 

NCATE compares the typical PDS to a teaching hospital. As practicing professions, teaching and medicine require a sound academic program and intense clinical preparation, the teaching hospital was designed to provide such clinical preparation for medical students and interns. The PDS serves the same function for teacher candidates and in-service faculty. Both settings provide support for professional learning in a real-world setting in which practice takes place. 

“Wayne State College students benefit from the clinical experience in an authentic setting, the WSC faculty benefit by learning about current PK-12 curriculum/testing, and the school site benefits by having students who are prepared to assist in their classroom,’’ Anderson said. “WSC students are working on daily teaching activities, working to assist the implementation of a new Language Arts program, and they can address any ongoing performance concerns by focusing on a specific academic concern. In addition, the teaching faculty at both institutions can share teaching ideas and learn from each other. This collaborative effort improves teaching and learning for students in both institutions.”

Norfolk Catholic officials invited Wayne State College personnel to begin this pilot project with a focus of reading and language arts. 

“In the future, Wayne State College will include science, math, social studies and reading applications so that our students can see different schools and learn to implement different subjects,’’ Anderson said. “As this pilot develops, the School of Education and Counseling is planning to expand the PDS program to Wakefield and Wayne.”

Dr. Joni Irlmeier, an associate professor of education and director of the graduate studies program at Wayne State College, serves as the director of the PDS. Irlmeier mentors teachers in professional development schools. 

“My mentors told me they felt it was nice to have an extra set of hands and eyes in the classroom,’’ Irlmeier said. “They said they believe that when you have two adults in the room you do a lot more hands-on things and you can do stronger classroom management. It gives you an opportunity to do a variety of things, including work in groups.”

Irlmeier talked with WSC students who told her the program made them feel as if they were real teachers.

“PDS has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and experience,” said Karissa Rudloff of Creighton, Neb. “There is no better way to grow as a prospective teacher than getting to work with young minds each and every day.” 

“This has been an exhilarating experience!” Amy Specht of Columbus, Neb. said. “I am taking on the role of a teacher and learning aspects of the classroom I could never learn in a traditional campus class.”

“Amy Spect is awesome!” said JoAnn Fintowski, a Norfolk Catholic fifth-grade teacher. “From the first day she has been building relationships with the students as well as myself. One day she taught a math investigation that was really overwhelming, but she carried the entire lesson with style and grace. She kept track of those students that were not on task. She is competent, confident and a wonderful asset to our classroom. Thank you Wayne State College for this practical program.”  

“This experience is one you could never get in the classroom,” said WSC student Bailey Bentjen of Wayne. “Being able to watch a teacher in a classroom setting provides many resources to us as prospective teachers. Working with these teachers has been one of the best experiences in my education.” 

“I start my day at 5 a.m., and I prepare myself for the day and put myself into the zone,” said Jenn Crosley of Niobrara, Neb. “What other program prepares not only your mind but your lifestyle for your future? I can plan lessons all day long, but being able to apply it in the classroom is invaluable.’’ 

“The PDS experience has been very beneficial for me and my students,” said Dawne Miller, a first-grade teacher at Norfolk Catholic. “My PDS student has been able to work one-on-one with students while I am teaching whole class.  She has also team-taught with me. By having her, my students are getting the extra help they need that I wouldn’t have time for. It is a win-win situation that I love!”

“This has been a wonderful experience for both [WSC student] Jenn Crosley and me” said Barbara Hochstein, a third-grade teacher at Norfolk Catholic. “She entered our room and began building a relationship with my students. She has been flexible, consistent and humorous. This is an excellent program for all involved. Thank you, WSC!”

“I have loved having [WSC student] Sarah Garcia in my room,” said Hilary Claussen, a fourth-grade teacher at the school. “She immediately was willing to walk around and check out what the students were working on.’’ 

Michelle Bauer, a 2012 WSC graduate who teaches second grade at North Park Elementary in Columbus, Neb., looked back at her student-teaching experience as critical to her success.

“I had such a wonderful student teaching experience,” Bauer said. “I was able to spend an entire year in a classroom. I was able to see what the beginning and end of a year looks like. By the time I was student teaching, I had built a relationship with all students. It definitely made the transition less stressful. In addition to those benefits, I became very familiar with the administration and other staff. I believe in the PDS program and encourage future teachers to participate in it.”

Erica (Reitz) Zywiec, a 2012 graduate, echoed the sentiments of several alumni.

“I loved going through the PDS program five years ago,” she said. “It was an awesome experience, and I am so happy you brought it back.”