Journal of Educational Leadership in Action
A global platform for ongoing dialogue in research based practice of educational leadership
The purpose of this paper is to describe the structure and functions of an integrated elementary special education undergraduate teacher program (Integrated Elementary/Special Education Teacher Education Program, ITEP). By abandoning our old “enhancement model” of teacher education, we redesigned our program into a “merged model.” We examine this restructuring from the perspective of first- and second- order change, and we discuss the obstacles we found that prohibit meaningful second-order change. Finally, we briefly discuss how our experiences in designing ITEP and our state’s devastating fiscal crisis have affected our teacher-education programs and nudged us into more authentic second-order changes.
The widely accepted practice of including students with disabilities in general education classrooms has changed our thinking about the knowledge and skills general and special educators need to thrive in today’s schools. It has become increasingly clear that more needs to be done to prepare a versatile, better-prepared teacher corps that is equipped to meet the educational needs of all children. Preservice teacher-preparation programs must increase the number of highly qualified and highly effective graduates who are certified to teach special education and increase efforts to retain those professionals in the field of special education. In addition, general education teachers need knowledge and skills that meet the needs of students with disabilities. Teacher-education programs must prepare teachers with strong content knowledge, pedagogical skills in both special and general education, and skills in the use of evidence-based practices. Finally, teacher-preparation programs need rigorous fieldwork components in which preservice teachers demonstrate their ability to serve all students, including those with disabilities and those who are English-language learners.
Legislative changes with accountability demands and competing agendas of accreditation and university expectations have prompted teacher-education programs to redesign and restructure themselves. The need has become so urgent that federal funding exists to support these endeavors (Office of Special Education Programs 325T Program Improvement Grants). Regardless of legislative mandates, policy changes, and attitudinal shifts, orchestrating innovative teacher-education programs within the constraints of university policies, scheduling, and credit expectations can set boundaries on creativity and stunt innovative programming. Traditional teacher-education programs may attempt to change to meet growing calls for reform in K–12 education, but programs are still constrained by university guidelines, which may be more inflexible and even slower to change than K–12 education.
The purpose of this paper is to describe the structure and functions of a redesigned elementary special education undergraduate teacher program (ITEP). We abandoned our old “enhancement model” (two separate majors, with independent coursework) of teacher education and redesigned our program into a model that blends features of an integrated and merged model. Blanton, Pugach, and Florian (2011) define integrated programs as those in which
prospective general and special education teachers study a redesigned, common core curriculum together to become general education teachers, and only those who want to become advanced specialists go on for additional studies to develop specialized expertise and an additional license in special education built on this common base of knowledge (p. 21).
A merged model of teacher education is defined as one in which there is
general and special education program content offered in one single curriculum that is completely integrated, including all courses and field experiences (Blanton & Pugach, 2007, p. 23).
ITEP provides all students with general education and special-education content as part of an integrated program model, but it makes this a requirement of all students. The program uses features of a merged model by integrating coursework and field experience.
We examine restructuring from the perspective of first- and second-order change, and we discuss the factors we found to be related to meaningful second-order change. Finally, we briefly discuss how our experiences in designing ITEP have informed us as we look towards more restructuring within our teacher-education programs.
The College of Education was reorganized, giving us the opportunity to revise our teacher-education programs. The primary goal of the reorganization was to divide the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, which had grown too large and complex with 35 faculty members. Reorganization was based on program areas and also on personal preferences. That is, faculty needed to feel comfortable with the department they were working in and feel secure that the organization would promote their professional agendas. The Department of Educational Specialties was created with faculty from Special Education, Literacy, TESOL and three content-area specialists, one each in math, science, and social studies. This new configuration of faculty reflected a shared vision of teacher education and the inclusive practices necessary to engage in program revision.
Theoretical Influences on Program Development
The goal of the 2003 restructuring was to design a new, more integrated elementary special education preservice licensure program. In doing so, we sought to conform to Blanton and Pugach’s (2007) model of a merged elementary/special education program. Reorganization allowed us to abandon our dual-major programs with separate elementary and special education majors (enhancement model) and build an Integrated Elementary/Special Education Teacher Education Program (ITEP). As Lesar, Benner, Habel, and Coleman (1997) point out, resistance, both human and institutional, to unified and integrated programs is only one of the barriers to building and maintaining a truly integrated program. Despite the expected resistance and full disclosure of potential barriers, we opted to restructure with the ideal model (Blanton, Griffin, Winn, and Pugach, 1997) in mind for our teacher-preparation program.
Mindful of organizational theory that suggests that organizations tend to “absorb change in such a manner as to retain fundamental stability” (Waks, 2007 p. 2), we attempted to create a new integrated teacher-education program. The new program was designed to allow faculty to gently absorb change and remain slightly stable while providing opportunities for innovation. Further, proposed changes were framed in Hargreaves’ (1998) conceptualizations of education change. We abandoned a “means to an end” process and accepted change as complex and chaotic. We planned for resistance and embraced the chaos. There was no preconceived plan forced upon faculty, and faculty were given the flexibility to personalize the organization and structure of their work.
Our redesign was guided by three significant influences. First, Cuban’s (1990) organizational change theory, Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s (1999) description of “knowledge of practice” (p. 23) and Ross and Blanton’s (2004) discussions of “communities” (p. 17).
Based on Cuban’s description of first- and second-order change, we attempted to configure the program so that faculty could first overcome initial resistance that accompanies first-order change, but have a structure in place that invited and encouraged second-order change as faculty developed new skills and learned new content. Building a structure for delivering the new integrated program became a focus. Our thinking was that we needed to move out from a traditional university structure and create systems and communities that were more fluid and responsive to change.
Cuban’s work with K–12 leadership (1992) is applicable to university faculty as well. Cuban described first-order change as alterations an organization makes that do not significantly alter the roles or duties of faculty. Stability for the organization and individuals remains in check. For example, the sequence of courses may be altered in a program. Additional courses may be added, and content from one course may be moved to a new course, freeing up time in the original course for new material. Faculty may also be asked to teach a new course. These changes may or may not feel significant to a faculty member, but they do not significantly alter one’s knowledge base or tax one’s skill level. The discomfort is minimal, and typically faculty members acclimate quickly.
Our goal was to undergo a “second-order” change in our teacher education program by setting new, more inclusive goals and transforming the way instruction is delivered to our preservice teachers. This goal matches the recommendations in AACTE’s 2011 report, Preparing General Education Teachers to Improve Outcomes for Students with Disabilities (Blanton, Pugach, & Florian, 2011). Second-order change is significant. As Cuban explained, second-order change alters the way an organization is structured. New goals and roles are introduced, and the changes transform traditional actions. Our plan was to drastically alter the role of faculty and give our students a more authentic preparation experience that modeled the experiences of elementary general and special education teachers. Second-order change is slow and cannot be mandated or dictated. An organization that provides a structure for change and encourages change by the exchange of ideas will be more likely to experience some level of second-order change. To that end, the structure, order, and sequence of the program became a prime focus of our restructuring effort.
Our second theoretical influence was found in the work of Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999), who were clearly critical of “knowledge for practice” teacher education and instead favored a knowledge of practice paradigm. Knowledge for practice teacher education assumes that the more you know, the more effective your instructional practice. There is an implied assumption that a common core of knowledge is essential. Researchers generate knowledge that is passed on to preservice teachers, and when they know enough, they are ready to teach. Comparable to the knowledge for practice model, special education teacher education has traditionally embraced this technological approach to preparation (Winn & Blanton, 1997). In this model, preservice teachers develop a knowledge base of learner characteristics and how teachers should behave and deliver instruction. They study and are tested on effective practice. Then, after they have mastered the content or knowledge of teaching they are transitioned into school settings to practice their craft. The idea is that the more preservice teachers know about teaching, the more likely they will be to become effective teachers. Our goal was to step out of this model. We had seen too many examples of excellent students in coursework struggle to become effective teachers. We wanted to incorporate more of Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s (1999) “knowledge of practice” perspective, where learning to teach was embedded in the act of teaching.
Knowledge of practice moves beyond knowledge for practice (learning then doing) by including collaborative critical inquiry opportunities and expanding our notions of community to include students, teachers, faculty, and others focused on improving outcomes for learners. Knowledge of practice emphasizes collaboratively constructing knowledge within a professional community. It is a facilitated/guided learning while doing.
Borrowing from Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s ideas on knowledge of practice, we incorporated Ross and Blanton’s (2004) ideas about community. We considered how we might structure our new program to provide faculty with smaller, more autonomous communities of practice. We were hoping to inspire research, study our pedagogy, and develop collaborating writing relationships within these smaller communities. Content faculty (math, science, social studies) teaming with special education faculty was encouraged. Flexible scheduling and compacted courses provided important opportunities to rethink how we taught our students. By organizing our program around the notion of smaller communities of practice, we expected students and inservice teachers serving as mentors to be drawn into these communities and become influential members (Ross & Blanton, 2004). Our expectation was that these communities would facilitate the study of teacher education practices and attitudes while monitoring our preservice teachers’ development.
Knowing that accreditation standards and testing standards (PRAXIS) for preservice teachers could not be ignored, we blended Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s notions of teacher knowledge into our redesign. We were determined to promote our own notion of knowledgeable practice, a blending of knowledge learned in coursework and further developed in communities of practice with teaching skills developed in intensive field experiences.
Based on Ross and Blanton’s (2004) idea of “communities,” the Integrated Elementary/Special Education Teacher Education Program (ITEP) was organized into Blocks (groupings) of courses that preservice teachers complete each semester. Candidates took their courses in semester-long Blocks, clustered in a predetermined sequence. To promote “knowledgeable practice” a Block was conceptualized as a wheel, with the practicum/seminar as the hub. The practicum/seminar was an opportunity for preservice teachers to develop their teaching skills and demonstrate that they could translate what they learned in courses to actual K–8 classrooms. Generally, each Block included a literacy course, one or more content area methods courses, and a special education intensive course. Most semester Blocks also included foundations courses such as educational law and ethics, multicultural education, or case management. In addition, each Block attended to five specific professional domains (developed from the INTASC standards): knowledge of students, knowledge of subject matter and planning, delivery and management of instruction, knowledge and use of assessment, and professionalism. Courses are organized to meet state licensure standards and university prerequisite requirements. See Figure 2 for a diagram of the program semester-by-semester.
Preservice teachers, in this case, undergraduates, took courses in BLOCK 1 as premajors, before being admitted to the ITEP Program. Students in BLOCK 1 were EXPLORING teaching and learning. Students were required to be admitted to ITEP to enroll in BLOCK 2: DEVELOPING. Preservice teachers’ knowledge of learners and learning was extended in BLOCK 2 as they began to teach small groups of students in literacy, math, science and technology, and assessment. Preservice teachers in BLOCK 3 were ENGAGING students to build connections among subject areas to diverse learners within partner schools. They learned to engage larger groups of students. In Block 4, preservice teachers were REFINING their knowledge and skills developed in the previous blocks and focused on struggling learners, instructional interventions, and modifications as they prepared for their full-time internship. Preservice teachers learned how to create individualized plans including positive behavior support plans, transition plans, individualized reading lessons, and how to meet the needs of struggling students.
During internship in the final semester, preservice teachers assumed full responsibility for their classrooms. The supervised internship was two, 10-week culminating experiences in which candidates systematically assumed the roles of both a general education and a special education teacher.
ITEP was NCATE accredited, and courses were strategically designed to include NCATE standards and to coordinate with other courses in the program. Blocks were given a great deal of flexibility in terms of course delivery and pedagogy. They were not, however, afforded autonomy to significantly alter course content. If courses needed significant retooling, changes had to be approved by the Block, the ITEP program, and the department.
Communities of Practice – a.k.a., Blocks
The development of the Blocks and their sequence were the organizational structure that gave the program coherence. Just as the chapter names and headings direct a reader in a dissertation, our Block structure directed preservice teachers to where they were in their professional development. As a small community of practice, each Block was responsible for the management and delivery of the courses within the Block. Further, the faculty who taught the courses in a given Block designed the practicum for the Block. This practice assured the program that each practicum was aligned with content, skills, and practices the preservice teachers are learning in the Block.
Blocks were considered communities of practice. Each had the autonomy it needed to be successful and innovative. The original vision of this program reconstruction was to provide opportunities for innovative teaching that could be considered second-order change. The Block structure provided opportunities for teaming and collaborative teaching within the Block. The structure also allowed revising class schedules. For example, class times could be rearranged within a Block. One instructor could teach six hours per week for the first half of a semester and complete their course, and another instructor could teach six hours per week for the second half of the semester. Time was fluid, and blocks were given the flexibility to revise class time as made sense to them and the content.
Blocks also functioned much like student intervention or assistance teams. Within Blocks, faculty could head off student problems and actively engaged in problem solving to assure preservice teachers were ready for internship. Faculty had information about preservice teacher progress, but they also had information about performance in practicum. These performance data were essential in making critical decisions about struggling students and providing additional support.
Once we began implementation we realized we needed a mechanism for continuous program improvement. Three goals guided our improvement efforts: 1) NCATE accreditation was essential, 2) positive preservice teacher outcomes were essential as measured by PRAXIS II, which is required for licensure, and 3) a focus on the “principle of coordination” (Sapona, et al. 2006, p. 3). This principle suggests that faculty communication about coursework, field experiences, and student progress take place within and between Blocks. We developed three internal systems for guiding our program improvement efforts. These included curriculum mapping, Block Parties, and formative evaluations.
To complete our curriculum mapping process, we borrowed a strategy from K–12 schools. We wanted to ensure that we were meeting INTASC/NCATE standards within our courses as well as preparing our students for the PRAXIS exam. At the same time, we wanted to make sure we didn’t have any critical gaps in our curriculum or any redundancies in instruction that could be eliminated. Our next step was to create our Block Parties. These were organized meetings in relaxed settings in which Blocks could share the objectives within their Block, and allow connections to be made from one Block to another. It allowed faculty to see what knowledge students should bring with them from previous Blocks, and what knowledge they would need to succeed in the next Block.
Finally, we needed a tool for understanding students’ perspectives of their experience in ITEP. The third piece of our program improvement efforts involved a sequence or rotation of formative evaluations. A formative evaluation process was created when the program was in its infancy so that we could be responsive to student issues and problems within the program. While it is true that a program needs time to smooth out some of the trouble spots, it is also true that data can help identify the trouble spots and monitor program improvement or lack thereof.
Blocks were responsible for creating instruments and collecting formative evaluation data. The learning outcomes for preservice were different in each Block. The level and sophistication of the preservice teachers was different; consequently, each Block was given autonomy to create evaluation instruments, including items, formatting, and structure. Each instrument created was slightly different but targeted to specific issues within each Block. Evaluations were scheduled on alternating semesters. Initially, Block 1, Block 3, and Internship were evaluated. The following semester, Block 2 and Block 4 were evaluated.
Change like the restructuring described above is difficult for a faculty and a program. Some faculty embraced the new structure and saw opportunities for innovation. Some faculty felt threatened by the changes, and the amount communication required to participate in a Block or community of practice. Others were unwilling to link their coursework with courses in the Block. We recognized the challenges our faculty faced in our program reconstruction. We also recognized that we were changing, but at a basic level, what Cuban (1990) would call a “first order change”. There were plenty of opportunities for faculty to quickly find their equilibrium and not have to make drastic changes unless they chose to. That said, Lesar’s (1997) warning of “resistence” showed up early in our program implementation.
Below are the results of our early Block Study (similar to a Case Study). Formative evaluations were conducted, compiled, and summarized by graduate assistants not affiliated with the program. Preservice teachers were asked to respond to a host of questions related to their experiences within the new Blocks. Results were reported back to the Block through the ITEP coordinating committee. Meeting minutes were also used as an important resource in developing our Block Studies.
Block 2 – Developing (Our struggling Block of courses). Block 2 was the first Block students experienced after being admitted to ITEP. Technically, Block 2 was the students’ first real “welcome” to our department and program. During Block 2 we planned to actively promote community and professionalism. Students were required to complete courses in:
- Literacy in Elementary and Special Education: K–3
- Integrated Science, Math, Technology
- Assessment for Special Education Teacher
- “Developing” Practicum/Seminar (one full instructional day per week)
After five years of implementation, Block 2 remained our most “loosely coupled” Block. In other words, faculty preferred to structure their teaching and interactions in traditional university course structure. Faculty in Block 2 resisted innovation more than faculty in the other Blocks, and they continued to act the most independently. Evaluation data collected from students in this Block and a review of program meeting minutes revealed three persistent problem areas. The first problem identified was an overall lack of communication between colleagues. Most faculty members elected to work independently and chose not to strand content or practices throughout the Block. Second, the lack of collaboration showed in a disjointed practicum experience that did not align with coursework. In fact, one instructor took her students out of class for her own separate practicum. Faculty resisted the opportunity to align and blend topics across courses such as covering Curriculum-based Measurement and Response to Intervention in both the assessment and literacy course. Finally, student responses suggested that Block 2 was their least cohesive experience. It is unclear if this was due to faculty participation or the arrangement of courses. Because Block 2 represented our preservice teachers’ official welcome to our program, the “struggling” status of this Block was a challenge and a concern.
Block 3 – Engaging (Our high achieving Block of courses). Block 3 was the most content heavy Block in the program, with four classes and one-full day practicum. These courses were:
- Literacy in Elementary and Special Education: 4-8
- Math Instruction Elementary/Special Education
- Social Studies for Elementary/Special Education
- Special Education Curriculum: General Methods
- “Engaging” Practicum/Seminar (one full-day per week)
By the time preservice teachers arrived in Block 3, they were accustomed to the Block structure, but they were unprepared for the amount of work required in the Block. Despite the difficulty of the courses, Block 3 was considered our “high achiever.” It was tightly coupled. Specifically, minutes from Block meetings suggested that faculty worked closely to plan both class activities and the practicum experience to create a cohesive learning experience. For example, Block 3 faculty collaborated to plan assignments that started in one class, social studies, and then were used again in a modification activity in Special Education General Methods. Also, faculty coordinated assignment due dates, so dates were staggered and meaningfully sequenced. A master calendar was created for the Block.
Block 3 used student feedback to make constructive changes to the coursework in the Block and the practicum. We called Block 3 our “high achiever” because it operated as a community of practice that worked together to improve outcomes for preservice teachers. For a side-by-side comparison of the differences between Block 2 and Block 3, refer to Table 3.
Upon reflection, while we have made significant changes and graduated quality teachers, as evidenced by our performance assessments, we did not meet our goal of second-order change. Our results were aligned more with Van Laarhoven, Munk, Lynch, Bosma, and Rouse’s (2007) model for Project ACCEPT, where structural changes to the program yielded improvements in preservice skill level and attitudes, but courses and clinical experiences were independent of one another. We pushed for an integrated program by attempting a second-order change and introducing “new goals, structures and roles that transform ways of doing things into new ways of solving persistent problems” (Cuban, 1990 p. 73). We moved, we transitioned, we negotiated, we restructured, and yet the result was a stronger merged elementary special education teacher education program that Cuban would still consider a first-order change and Hargreaves would identify as structural.
The reasons second-order change may have been an unrealistic goal have become apparent, unfortunately in hindsight. First and unbeknownst to us, our faculty were not as collaborative as we had anticipated or they had initially suggested. Faculty were not resistant to changing the program, but they were resistant to changing their personal professional life. We learned that not all of our faculty want to be teacher educators. A specialized area of teaching and research is more highly valued by some faculty, and teacher education is a small portion of their lives. Some faculty preferred graduate education. Faculty were also clear in their stance that merit, tenure, and scholarly productivity trumped teacher education and program work. Some vocal faculty made it clear that retooling or making the types of changes the program advocated for (e.g., blending or co-teaching courses) were not in their personal professional best interest. Upon reflection the reward structure of higher education makes this stance understandable.
While we found that some faculty were resistant to second-order change, we discovered that the institution was not suited to accommodate second-order change either. ITEP was required to fit into university systems, and all attempts to change the structure were met with resistance. For example, scheduling became a stressor on the program. In order to block courses and reserve rooms required we were forced to override the university computing system so that we could arrange courses in a structure that made instructional sense for our students
However, making these scheduling changes created other problems. We had to notify students of the schedule change, and many times our students did not receive notice of the change and would show up for class on the wrong day or the wrong time. On other occasions, the unscheduled change would conflict with other courses they had registered to take. Finally, when two faculty members shared the block of time and allocated it based on instructional needs, there was sometimes confusion as to who was teaching on what day; consequently, students were unhappy. Scheduling one part of a course on-campus and the other part off-campus was too challenging for the university’s scheduling office; as a result, they resisted working with us to create a school day structure for our students that mirrored the day of K–12 students. The lack of flexibility within the university allowed resistant faculty to blame the institution for the lack of second-order change.
The third barrier to second-order change was our constituent groups. The local school district signed off on the program and was overwhelmingly encouraging. However, the school district’s priorities and ITEP’s priorities were not always aligned. For example, field experience was critical to the program. The local districts expected our students would have considerable field experience (250 hours) prior to their student teaching. Scheduling field experiences for students every semester, in quality schools, where we could provide direct service to students (knowledgeable practice) and then have time to debrief in a seminar (knowledge of practice) held on site was challenging. While we had the approval of the school district, it became ITEP’s responsibility to recruit suitable field placements and to train and prepare teachers. The school district, rightfully so, had other, more pressing concerns. Maintaining seamless coordination between school districts and the university was a lesson in the fluidity of organizations (Waks, 2007).
When we developed ITEP, we accepted Hargreaves’ notion that change is not linear and that the process would be complex and chaotic. We expected resistance, but we were surprised by the efforts of faculty to push back. We found we could not expect a junior faculty member to attempt something instructionally challenging when tenure was their most important goal. We could not expect a bureaucratic institution to waive rules for our specific programs. We anticipated that the structure of the program would allow us to continuously improve our program and consequently outcomes for our preservice teachers. Organizations are slow to evolve.
Our goal was to build a program structure that allowed us to work towards Wak’s notion of stability (2007). According to Waks there are so many societal changes, legislative changes, university changes, and personnel changes occurring concurrently that people seek any opportunity to stabilize. We learned that once ITEP was running and the problems were minimal, faculty retreated from communities of practice. Stability within the program eliminated the need for interdependence and collegiality.
On March 1, 2010 the state’s budget crises forced the College of Education (COE) into another first-order change, and this time, perhaps, the second-order change we wanted. Oddly, it took an epic fiscal crisis to challenge our creativity and to create a new COE. The College of Education was reduced by 30%. Seven faculty were eliminated and three programs closed. We were given one month to respond to the crisis. A plan to restructure the college without departments and to consolidate all undergraduate licensure, masters, and doctoral programs was developed. While faculty within ITEP never fully embraced second-order change, faculty throughout the COE were intrigued by our integrated program. Many influential colleagues in the COE thought that ITEP could be used as a model to blend all of our licensure programs. It is interesting that during the creation of the ITEP we perceived colleagues outside our department as our critics. Surprisingly, these faculty stepped up to applaud the integrated program and consequently designed an ITEP-based fully integrated program for all areas of elementary instruction.
As a result of our budget crisis, we eliminated all stand-alone teaching majors. For example, elementary education, early childhood, and special education majors were eliminated. Instead, all teaching majors will be admitted to our Integrated Elementary Plus Program. All teaching majors will receive an elementary license, but they will also receive an additional special education license, early childhood license, or English Language Learners endorsement. Students will self-select their specialty areas. With available electives, students may be able to add a third endorsement or take content courses to be “highly qualified” in specific content. Consequently, we have one undergraduate teaching program with three integrated specialty areas (see Figure 3). The COE now has a fully integrated program with multiple dual licenses. This plan maximizes resources, encourages more collaboration between faculty than ever before in the history of the COE, and will develop more high quality dual licensed educators ready to meet the challenges of today’s classrooms (Abernathy, Burnham, Crowther, and Horvath, 2011).
Upon reflection, Hargreaves’ notion of change as chaotic could not be more true. We learned from our ITEP experience that despite the development of a strong program structure, faculty preferred to be autonomous and only feign real change. A crisis changes everything, and when faculty’s livelihood and life’s work are threatened, faculty engage. Even the most resistant members are changing. Our two major program revisions yielded results just as Hargreaves would have predicted. In our original ITEP we had good intentions, but no real reason for all faculty in our department to change. Real change occurs as a result of societal forces. Therefore, today, keeping a job has become the real motivator for “second-order change.” What remains unclear is whether, when stability returns, faculty will once again retreat to autonomy.
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Journal of Educational Leadership in Action
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