Friday, November 3, 2017

Partnership between RSU14 and USM offers rich experiences for interns and classrooms by Elizabeth Richards

For more than a decade, Windham has welcomed teacher interns from USM into their classrooms. More recently, RSU14 and USM have formed a true partnership, offering real benefits to both interns and the district. 
This year, there are ten interns placed in classrooms at Manchester School, Windham Middle School, and Windham High School. “This semester we don’t have anybody at the Primary school, which is unusual,” said Sara Needleman, USM ETEP Cohort Coordinator for Windham and Gorham. “That’s not a reflection of Windham Primary, that’s a reflection of who applied to the program last year,” she said. In the past, Raymond schools have also had interns, but currently do not.

Interns in the program play a much bigger role than traditional student teachers, who typically spend far less time in the classroom. In partner districts, Needleman said, there are two semesters of internship for their students. In the fall, interns are in the classroom three full days and two half days. In the spring, they are in the classroom five full days.

“The goal is that the interns are essentially embedded with their mentor teacher in the classroom,” said Needleman. They are learning not only to do everything their mentor teacher does as a classroom teacher, but also how it feels to be a member of the faculty. 

“That’s where the partnership comes in. We expect them, as much as possible, to be attending faculty meetings, professional development, parent teacher conferences, open houses, all of that,” Needleman said.

A couple of years ago, restructuring and faculty changes at USM made maintaining relationships difficult, Needleman said. They were placing interns wherever they could, but throughout the process Windham remained a reliable placement for interns. USM revisited the idea of partnership, wanting to define a more “two-way street” approach, which RSU14 enthusiastically embraced.  

One of the big differences from the past is that instead of simply placing interns in the district, each partner district now has a district based coordinator. This person, who is employed by the district full time, has a contract with USM and works with the cohort coordinator to create a district-unique experience for the interns, Needleman said.

Therese Burns is that coordinator in RSU14. Based at Windham Primary School, Burns coordinates two-hour seminars for the interns every other week, based on needs specific to Windham. For example, a recent seminar focused on special services at the Primary school, and the RTI process. 

“All of the interns in each of our districts get similar experiences, but those experiences are determined by the district,” Needleman said.  This kind of exposure is valuable to interns, because they become really familiar with the district, which can be a benefit should a position become available in the district when they are finished with their schooling.

It is fairly common for districts to hire their interns, and Needleman says that it happens in Windham quite often. The district benefits from the partnership as well, since they can get an extended look at a prospective employee and the faculty can determine if someone is a good fit for the school. 

“Another unique part of the Windham model that I think is really worth celebrating – and the degree to which this is true in Windham is not true in any of our other partnership districts – is that Windham has embraced the model of site based supervision,” said Needleman. addition to the cohort coordinator, each intern also has a supervisor who runs all formal meetings with their mentor teacher – goal setting, check-in and evaluation meetings – as well as conducting informal and formal observations of the intern. In many other districts, Needleman said, that supervisor is hired by USM on an adjunct basis. But in Windham, most supervisors are teachers. That means that most of the teachers serving as mentor teachers are also supervisors for another intern. 
The internship program is vital to nurturing rising teachers, Needleman said. “Time after time the interns tell us, and I believe this is true, that the most valuable experience they have programmatically is their internship. So, without teachers volunteering, or agreeing to be mentors, we wouldn’t be able to raise teachers. I think that’s really, really valuable.”

She added that the experiences interns have in Windham are consistently very positive experiences. “What they get from their mentor teachers and supervisors there is really powerful. They learn a lot from them,” she said.

Needleman said that the district has really embraced the partnership, starting with the Superintendent, moving to each building principal, and down to each of the teachers. “I think that’s why something like the site based supervision model works. Because it is a lot of work for the teachers, but I think the district sees the value in providing the professional development opportunity to the teachers. And the teachers - because the district values it - buy into it, and that makes the experience for the interns a really rich experience.”

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