Educator perspectives from the pilot at Northern Arizona University
For more than a decade, NIET has partnered with universities to embed strong instructional practices into coursework and clinical practice, more closely connect teacher preparation programs to the needs of the K-12 districts they serve, and equip aspiring teachers to fulfill their promise of nurturing young minds.
Universities have been using the NIET Teaching Standards Rubric that has been implemented in NIET K-12 partner schools. NIET's new resource, the Aspiring Teacher Rubric, builds on NIET's work with teacher preparation programs to directly respond to the needs of teacher candidates and their faculty. The tool offers a streamlined set of instructional performance indicators most commonly used from campus to campus; specific language and clarity surrounding curriculum and assessment; and descriptors across all five performance levels that demonstrate how instructional practice can shift to facilitate student ownership of learning. Notably, there is detailed descriptor language for the performance levels 2 and 4 that provides a clear roadmap of a candidate's progression from improvement needed (level 1) to exemplary (level 5).
NIET invited longtime partner Northern Arizona University (NAU) to join the national pilot of the Aspiring Teacher Rubric last fall. NAU had previously adopted NIET's Teaching Standards Rubric in 2014 as a tool for supporting candidates to meet the expectations of the classroom and to assess their instructional preparedness in a comprehensive way, and faculty were glad to be part of developing a tool customized to address the needs of teacher candidates.
Connecting Coursework to Practice
Professor Sarah Beth Kondratuk, who teaches early childhood education, sees the Aspiring Teacher Rubric as a bridge connecting theory to the practice of teaching. With student learning top of mind, she consistently integrates the indicators into her coursework to instill a strong understanding of effective teaching and develop the critical skills of planning, organization, assessment, and reflection. The rubric serves as a blueprint for discussion and analysis and is streamlined to 12 indicators:
"NIET's Aspiring Teacher Rubric makes it easy for me to teach," said Kondratuk. "I am able to be an effective teacher and model, and my students in turn do the same."
Kondratuk uses a backward design approach to teach the rubric and use it to create an effective lesson. She often focuses on individual descriptors within the indicators, deconstructs the concepts with her students, and helps them understand how those concepts contribute to a holistic approach to teaching, versus a simple checklist. Students look at lessons critically to ensure that the objectives are clearly articulated with explicit steps for how to reach them.
NIET's Aspiring Teacher Rubric makes it easy for me to teach. I am able to be an effective teacher and model, and my students in turn do the same.Professor Sarah Beth Kondratuk, Department of Teaching and Learning, Northern Arizona University
The goal, said Kondratuk, is for the Aspiring Teacher Rubric to become "part of them" as they navigate their roles and responsibilities as a teacher. 2021 NAU graduates Lupe Hernandez, Bella Orona, and Adri Robinson are well on their way, using the rubric as an anchor to reach high expectations for themselves and their students.
Providing a Reliable Reference
Hernandez, Orona, and Robinson arrived at school with a playbook. Having a reference for creating effective, engaging lessons; building on skills; and opening avenues for communication and reflection has boosted their confidence while strengthening relationships among staff and students.
To prepare for student teaching, NAU provides aspiring teachers with the opportunity to observe in a variety of different classrooms as they progress through their program.
"You don't realize how many responsibilities you have until you go into student teaching," said Hernandez, who is spending her residency at Thomas Elementary School in Flagstaff, primarily providing specialized instruction to students. "I always look at the rubric when I'm doing my lesson plans. I ask myself, 'Do I have everything right? Do I have everything that I need? Is my assessment measurable?'"
I always look at the rubric when I'm doing my lesson plans. I ask myself, ‘Do I have everything right? Do I have everything that I need? Is my assessment measurable?'Lupe Hernandez, 2021 Graduate, Northern Arizona University
The Aspiring Teacher Rubric is also the first place Hernandez checks when something in a lesson did not go as planned. The rubric and meaningful feedback from her mentor teacher serve as a basis for self-reflection on how to improve.
Fostering Student Independence and Ownership
Beyond a reference, the rubric's focus on student ownership and the progression to exemplary teaching have inspired the candidates to build on their strengths and promote higher-order thinking skills in their students as early as preschool.
In Robinson's preschool science classroom at The Sandbox Early Childhood Learning Center in Tucson, lessons are rooted in exploration to foster student thinking and problem-solving. Children are making observations, gathering data, testing their theories, and drawing conclusions. Confidence breeds confidence "when you take into account the rubric, implement it in your classroom and your lesson, and see the students love it and connect to it," she said. "If you give them the tools and opportunities to learn on their own, they can pick up anything."
Building on the rubric can give you a huge confidence boost when you implement it in your classroom and lesson, and see the students love it and connect to it.Adri Robinson, 2021 Graduate, Northern Arizona University
The co-teaching format at The Sandbox has given Robinson and her mentor teacher more flexibility to circulate around the room, ask students deeper questions, and support them as individuals.
Creating Collaborative Environments
While the rubric is geared to aspiring teachers, it has supported veteran teachers to try new things. At Knoles Elementary School in Flagstaff, Orona has been teaching remotely during the pandemic. The rubric has been a source of guidance, which is coupled by support from a mentor teacher with 40 years of experience.
Their co-facilitated Zoom sessions include visual pop-ups, interactive show-and-tells, virtual high-fives, learning games, and more. Each activity directly ties to the rubric by challenging students to engage in the content, make connections to their daily lives, and ask and answer probing questions of the teachers and each other. Students have thrived in the virtual environment and feel safe and included. Orona offers an extra confidence boost by staying online for the "lunch bunch," an opportunity for students to talk about anything on their minds.
You are pushed to be a great teacher because you know you can be. I love that we're contributing to the skills of our colleagues and ourselves so we’re all building it as a community.Bella Orona, 2021 Graduate, Northern Arizona University
Orona's tight alignment to the rubric, strong preparation, and positive attitude have brought credibility to the job and contributed to a classroom community where everyone's needs are being met and valued. "You are pushed to be a great teacher because you know you can be," they said. "I love that we're contributing to the skills of our colleagues and ourselves so we’re all building it as a community."
Orona credits their education, grounded in the rubric, for providing a clear path to follow. "Professor Kondratuk had us look at the rubric indicators and think about what we are doing, how we are doing it, and how we can improvise on it," they said. "NAU's classes set me up with critical thinking skills to analyze my own teaching on an everyday basis so that I can do better for my students."
For more information about NIET's Aspiring Teacher Rubric, contact Dr. Amy Wooten, executive director of higher education partnerships and special projects, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover photo is courtesy of Professor Sarah Beth Kondratuk of Northern Arizona University.