Education major Magda Wakim guides students at her Henry Barnard Laboratory School practicum.
Rhode Island College’s Feinstein School of Education and Human Development (FSEHD) is boosting the number of practicum experiences among education majors so that they “can observe classrooms through the lens of classroom management, through the lens of race and ethnicity and through the lens of equity,” said Julie Horwitz, FSEHD interim co-dean.
“We’re increasing the quality and depth of these experiences,” Horwitz said. ”Every RIC education major will have more clinical [practicum] experiences than they’ve ever had and will start having them earlier, in the first semester of their freshman years. The number of experiences will vary from program to program, but across the board there will be more.”
Celeste Comeau-Mullane, the new director of FSEHD’s Office of Partnerships and Placements, is expanding FSEHD’s roster of practicum experiences among schools and community organizations statewide and connecting with current RIC education majors for their feedback.
“Student feedback is so critical to know what’s working and what isn’t working,” Comeau-Mullane said. “I believe the relationships they develop with cooperating teachers at schools and with mentors throughout their collegiate experience is beneficial to them in the long run.’’
Stressing that practicum experiences represent the core of FSEHD’s curriculum redesign, Horwitz said Comeau-Mulllane, formerly a coordinator for Mentor Rhode Island, is a “visionary” who will help all RIC education majors attain six outcomes:
- Demonstrate current expertise in their discipline.
- Integrate ongoing research in their professional settings, resulting in innovative and culturally responsive practices.
- Engage in ongoing development of critical reflection skills in themselves and their constituents.
- Use professional standards and ethnical frameworks to inform decision-making.
- Collaborate with and advocate for all stakeholders, including students, clients, families and colleagues.
- Exercise agency in the context of their professional communities.
Both Comeau-Mullane and Horwitz said that since education majors will have practicum experiences earlier, Rhode Island College faculty will join them in the field to conduct evaluations earlier as well.
“By spending more time in the field, faculty will be asked to deepen their partnerships,” Horwitz said.
She said the goal is for the partnerships to be mutually beneficial, citing the success of Rhode Island College’s Innovation Lab partnership with Central Falls Schools.
“It’s not just about the Feinstein School going out to schools to use them for observations and practicums,” Horwitz said. “It’s also about determining how our partners benefit from this process, too. Because so many of our graduates stay in state, these schools are ultimately receiving their future colleagues. Our effort is to really look at how our work helps larger systems rather than individual groups.”
Comeau-Mullane said FSEHD will provide more preparation for cooperating teachers, who serve as mentors for Rhode Island College education majors.
“For some cooperating teachers, it’s a difficult shift and a huge demand to teach a group of third-graders, for instance, and then turn your focus to an adult learner,” she said. “I think it will be a tremendous benefit to create opportunities for preparing cooperating teachers either here at RIC, near their schools or online.”
Horwitz said FSEHD has been fortunate to collaborate with very strong cooperative teachers.
“Their willingness to be cooperating teachers on top of everything else they’re doing is amazing,” she said. “Celeste is looking at national models for insight. Since we’re going to need cooperating teachers earlier now – not just for student teaching – we’re really looking at systems to support them.”
Horwitz said education faculty have always been engaged with clinical preparation in the past but establishing it as a systemic initiative will position Rhode Island College as a leader in the state and region.
“We are really leading in mapping out specific courses that all of our teacher certification students will take and building on the student experience,” Horwitz said. “We are past, ‘Oh, how do I get placed into a school?’ for student teaching. The question will now be ‘How do I dig in deeper in a school?’”
Horwitz added that, while it will be beneficial for education majors to spend more time in the field, that isn’t the point.
“We hear over and over again in the media that teacher candidates need to be in the classrooms,” she said. “They do, but they also need to be taught [by expert practitioners] while in the field. What our teacher candidates are going to see is that they’re out in the schools more, but they’re there with a very supportive curriculum and professionals at every level.”