When working with emerging teacher residency programs, NCTR encourages the development of strong partnerships with local university stakeholders. The value of committed higher education partner is obvious; universities confer masters degrees to residents, provide content-rich instruction, and support clinical practice. But we wondered – what considerations must a university take into account when supporting a new residency? We spoke with Dr. Shelley Nielsen Gatti of St. Thomas University, academic partner to St. Paul Urban Teacher Residency (SUTR), who shed light on the university’s perspective during the launch of a residency.

Note: SUTR is one of nine new residencies that NCTR will be developing and supporting through its Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant from the US Department of Education. They have just selected their first cohort of 25 residents.

When did you first become aware of the residency model?

The University of St. Thomas and its teacher education department first learned about the residency model when it became involved in the Twin Cities Urban Teacher Residency (TC2). When St. Thomas was supporting the development of TC2, Anissa Listak, NCTR’s CEO, came to St. Paul to educate our team about the benefits of the model. We recently finished up a five-year STEM-related partnership with TC2.

How did you launch your partnership with SUTR?

Last summer, Silvy Un at the Office of Leadership Development at St. Paul School District (SPPS) worked with the director of TC2 to look into developing a residency model for the district. Shortly thereafter, SPPS released a request for proposals for university partners that could provide the academic supports that are essential for success. Early in the vetting process, SPPS was exploring a special education-specific model, and worked with Terri Vandercook, St. Thomas’ Teacher Education department chair, to gather research and materials that would support this iteration of the model. In early Fall of 2015 when SPPS officially launched its partnership with St. Thomas, we decided to open the residency program to candidates interested in all K-12 subject areas and reached out to NCTR for their expertise and consultation through the pre-launch process.

As we continued to develop the residency program, SUTR stakeholders – including the Dean, licensure coordinators, faculty members, teacher education and special education representatives, and administrative staff – met every other week to mark our progress and set new goals. Early conversations highlighted the importance of reciprocal learning. St. Thomas had a lot to learn about SPPS’ needs and set out to improve its own practices around equity and cultural responsibility.

So to that end, what were your goals for improving diversity and cultural responsibility at St. Thomas through your partnership with SUTR?

Addressing issues with equity and cultural responsibility is a high priority for St. Thomas, so the residency model was a great fit, given the its design to improve and increase diversity in the teaching workforce. We sent St. Thomas representatives, including recruiters and department chairs, to NCTR’s learning institutes in Chicago. It was helpful to meet staff from other new and emerging partners and learn about their pre-launch experiences.

SPPS has paid explicit attention to issues of equity – that was evident very early in our conversations. St. Thomas’ teacher education staff supporting SUTR attended St. Paul Public School’s “Beyond Diversity” training this May and will be taking an Intercultural Development Inventory pre- and post-test. The first class of SUTR’s residents will take a class in education equity and inclusive practices. SUTR and St. Thomas will look at outcomes data to ensure our residents are skilled in culture and diversity responsive pedagogy. We are looking at equity across all lenses — gender, disability, culture, race, and ethnicity.

What benefits does the residency partnership offer to a university education preparation program? 

At St. Thomas we are committed to ‘advancing the common good’ – the university’s tagline and our vision for our impact. The residency model and our partnership with SUTR supports this vision. SUTR and SPPS’ Grow Your Own model prepares paraprofessionals already committed to the district, students, and families. Not unlike other higher education teacher preparation programs, we have school districts call us and say “We want student teachers. We want that steady pipeline. We want to give our potential teachers field experience so they will be more likely to stay.” This partnership helps to move that initiative along.

Additionally, we are learning a lot about program evaluation, and are specifically focusing on how St. Paul teachers are being evaluated. We are looking for opportunities to use evaluation systems early in the development of a residency to better provide feedback, support and make decisions about good fit to the teaching profession. Our work with SUTR is helping us make improvements and implement change to our own campus program that will benefit St. Thomas’ future teacher candidates and the schools where they will end up working.

What data do you believe will be useful for telling a story about the St. Thomas/SPPS partnership and its successes? 

Through our work with NCTR as a SEED grantee, we are looking to the data to answer the question “do residencies make a difference to students?” We want to look at the trajectory of our residents and also understand how St. Paul’s students are impacted by the presence of residency graduates in their classrooms. We’ll track the number of applicants to SUTR, the number of candidates accepted, how many residents stay in St. Paul, how many become mentors, and how many go on to leadership positions in SPPS.

Importantly, we want to grow the pipeline of teachers of color in the state. In Minnesota, thirty percent of our K-12 population are students of color while only four percent of our educator workforce are teachers of color. We want to increase not only diversity in our overall teacher pool but also ensure that we raise the retention rate of effective teachers that are both graduating from the residency program and staying in the St. Paul School District.

What should an emerging residency look for in a university partner?

There are two things emerging residency should look for in a university partner. First: a strong commitment from the university leadership to the goals of the residency model. At St. Thomas, our Dean and Teacher Education department Chair allocated funds and resources to our work with SUTR. Innovation within the higher education can be challenging, our Dean and chair advocated for our work with SUTR to Minnesota’s Board of Teaching, the overseeing body who approved its launch. That would not have happened without strong leadership support.

Second: it is important to look for a university partner that is aligned with the thinking of residency program staff and is committed to its mission and vision. We want to ensure our graduates aren’t just given a license, but are meeting the benchmarks and indicators of success throughout their training so they enter the field prepared. A St. Thomas faculty member and SPPS instructor will work together to teach the courses. Because we share SUTR’s focus on student success, we will continue to work closely with SPPS so as to never lose touch with the district’s needs and methodology.