Joining doctoral research and teacher education program improvement

February 13, 2020

While incorporating issues of equity and social justice in the preparation of future teachers has long been a focus at the University of Washington College of Education, it wasn’t well understood until recently how that commitment is reflected in graduates’ daily teaching practice. 

That picture is getting clearer thanks to an internship for UW doctoral students in teacher education launched three years ago. In a new podcast, Patrick Sexton, assistant dean for teacher education, and Cristina Betancourt, a graduate student in teaching and curriculum, discuss the College’s work to marry teacher education program improvement with the learning of its doctoral students through its Teacher Education Research and Inquiry (TERI) internship. 

Sexton and Betancourt are part of a team who will present their work developing case studies of recent alumni for program improvement at the 2020 meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. 

The team interviewed graduates from each of the UW’s teacher preparation programs who were teaching in schools with at least three fellow alumni.

“We were interested if equity and social justice were themes that [continued to] resonate with them,” Sexton said. “We didn’t actually bring those themes up when we did our interviews, but it became very clear that that was a focus of the work they were doing and taking out of here into their practice.”

After completing the interviews, Betancourt said researchers created case stories about the graduates’ teaching practice and school context to share with each program’s faculty. In reviewing the case stories, program faculty were able to better understand issues that recent graduates grapple with on a daily basis — such as classroom management and how to work with colleagues in productive ways — and consider how to better meet those needs. 

One example identified in the case stories, Betancourt said, was how early career teachers with a background in social justice can work with fellow teachers who haven’t had the same training. 

“Candidates here come with an entire cohort that is ingrained in that thinking, so that transition moving from a cohort program to, suddenly, a real school context where you might be the one or two or maybe three people who are thinking about those ideas, that was something surfaced across all the programs,” Betancourt said. 

Sexton believes the collective, multi-viewed approach to questions of program improvement since TERI was launched has fueled robust discussions.

“We’re thinking more about how do we deploy our own resources to help our graduates live out their commitments that we helped them develop here,” he said.

And, for doctoral students like Betancourt who will be helping prepare future teachers for decades to come, the experience of thinking deeply about how to create better experiences for teacher candidates has been invaluable.

“One of the things I’ve valued in this process and I’ve seen other doc students feel empowered by is the inclusion of our voices in thinking about teacher education design,” Betancourt said. “This opportunity to really think deeply about long-term program development is so meaningful.“

Subscribe to the UW College of Education on SoundCloud to listen to more interviews with researchers, practitioners, community leaders and policymakers who are working to transform inequitable systems of education and make learning come alive for all students.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications