Context matters

iTeachAZ Community Embeddedness

Principal investigator:
Award amount:
$900,000
Originating sponsor:
W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Grant start date:
January 1, 2015
Grant end date:
May 31, 2018

The challenge:

How do we embed student teachers into communities surrounding the schools where they teach, so they understand and embrace teaching and learning in diverse cultural contexts?

The approach:

The iTeachAZ Community Embeddedness Project aims to increase the number of effective early childhood professionals in Arizona and expand the senior-year residency to embrace families and communities to improve the quality of teacher preparation. (Note: Beginning with the 2019–20 school year, iTeachAZ was superseded by MLFTC Professional Pathways.)

The project spans three academic years and will involve 150 senior-year teacher candidates in early childhood settings and classrooms in high-need communities. While participating in the project, teacher candidates in Phoenix and Scottsdale elementary schools will be prepared to support future school and classroom transitions for an ethnically and culturally diverse student body. They will learn to effectively engage parents from diverse cultural backgrounds in their children’s education and increase academic and social outcomes of diverse groups of students. The project helps teacher candidates by providing opportunities to engage with community members and families through a series of family- and community-based activities.

During the first year of the project (the 2015-2016 academic year), senior-year teacher candidates visited community agencies that support families and community members with crisis services, nutrition, and sustainable living practices. Professionals trained teacher candidates on home visits, and those teacher candidates followed a prescribed protocol when conducting the visits. They assisted with project evaluation by participating in surveys and providing oral feedback on community experiences and activities.

Findings and impact:

At the end of the project’s first year, the team gauged perceptions about the usefulness of teacher candidates’ experiences by using qualitative and quantitative data. They re-designed family and community-based experiences into five inquiry-based instructional modules based on that data. These modules are a series of intentional, systematic instructional plans that facilitate learning about communities, schools, families and students. Each module is structured using a framework that asks teacher candidates to investigate local knowledge that is contextualized, relevant and meaningful in the environment in which their students live and learn. The modules are currently being piloted in three iTeachAZ early childhood education cohorts.  

The first-year evaluation also led to collaboration with WestEd, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research, development and service agency working with education and other communities promoting excellence and equity for people worldwide. Teacher candidate cohorts were trained in WestEd’s Academic Parent Teacher Team (APTT) model for parent conferences in 2016. The project team will evaluate the training and implementation of WestEd’s methods, along with the modules’ effectiveness, at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year and will report results in 2017. The team will continue to refine experiences for student teachers based on data collected.