With health and safety guidelines altering traditional student teaching and clinical internships, the College of Education (COE) quickly explored avenues to place teaching candidates in meaningful experiences. Alumni connections, collaboration, and creative problem solving allowed the COE to forge a brand new and mutually beneficial partnership with District 44 in Lombard.
Thirty-one Redbird teaching candidates—25 from early childhood, elementary, and middle level programs and six from the special education program—were placed in the district during the 2021 spring semester.
District 44 faculty enthusiastically welcomed the partnership with teacher candidates from the premier teacher education school in the Midwest.
“A lot of our staff members were excited to get some additional help in their classrooms while also being able to act as a mentor to provide some real life experiences to Illinois State students,” said Westlake Middle School Principal Scott Stehlik ’07. “It was really cool to see not only the excitement that Illinois State had, but the staff here was really, really excited to work alongside the Illinois State students as well.”
Redbird teaching candidates have helped District 44 teachers facilitate breakout rooms on Zoom, provide individual student attention, create lesson plans, and have learned how to be flexible—all vital skills for successful educators.
IT TAKES A TEAM
Stehlik, a middle-level education graduate, saw a need for Redbird teaching candidates to assist in an unprecedented time. In his own education, he benefited greatly from mentorship while student teaching, and he understood the importance of undergraduate teaching prospects getting into the classroom.
Stehlik and his mentor and friend, Dr. Doug Hatch, associate professor in the School of Teaching and Learning, connected in October and started carving out a potential partnership. The parties at both Illinois State and District 44 rapidly laid the groundwork, and student placements were secured by December, a remarkable timeline considering the challenges schools faced during the height of the pandemic.
Nearly all the departments in the COE and staff across District 44 were involved in the process of creatively thinking of ways to utilize Redbird teaching candidates and provide them with meaningful teaching experiences.
“Between Illinois State and us, we figured there was a mutual benefit,” said Brett Sharkey ’97, chief district officer in District “We needed help with our remote, in-person learning. We could have more people helping in the virtual classroom.”
And the extra voice in the room—figuratively—has allowed for more individualized attention for students who need it.
“We were getting so many reports from the field that they couldn’t do this without an Illinois State student teacher in the classroom,” added Jill Donnel, assistant director and undergraduate program coordinator in the School of Teaching and Learning.
Stehlik believes the planning needed to maneuver around the pandemic’s obstacles will be invaluable for teacher candidates, and he’s grateful this partnership can provide that.
“I think that’s where they (Illinois State teaching candidates) will really set themselves apart,” Stehlik said. “They have been able to take an atypical experience and pulled out some of these positives.”
Students placed in Lombard have learned from a strong contingent of educators who realize test scores and grades are only pieces to the overall puzzle. Stehlik said the district prides itself on making connections, and having Redbird teaching candidates in the classroom was another contact for students to utilize.
With a pipeline of Illinois State graduates already teaching in District 44, Redbird teaching candidates saw first-hand where an Illinois State education can take them. That’s a motivating force for the next generation of Redbird educators, who are constantly reminded that it’s most important to put students first.
“Honestly it just makes me really proud to be a Redbird,” said senior middle-level education major Emma Constantine, who completed her pre-student teaching clinical internship in a District 44 seventh-grade science class. “I hear all the time that I’m in such a good teacher education program. To see that play out in this school district is inspiring and keeps you going.”
INNOVATION FOR THE FUTURE
The partnership is a testament to COE faculty and staff innovatively developing a collaboration with a forward-looking district. It also speaks volumes about Redbird teaching candidates for adjusting to their situation when they’d prefer to be in a physical classroom.
“They are absolutely amazing,” Hatch said. “They don’t whine. They make the best of the opportunities that were presented to them. They are very resilient. I think they are getting the best experience they can.”
Both the College of Education and District 44 would like to see the partnership continue, and there are plans to extend the relationship. One of the biggest advantages from an Illinois State standpoint, Donnel said, is that it opens the door for students to connect with even more schools outside of the Bloomington-Normal area, a trend they hope to continue with other districts.
The partnership was developed during a time of upheaval in education and every other part of the world. But Illinois State and a partner district made the best of the situation and will reap the benefits for years to come.
“The interns and student teachers from Illinois State are bringing so much to our district and students that it really is a partnership,” Stehlik said. “It’s literally one that absolutely everyone is benefiting from.”
A special thanks to our partners:
JILL DONNEL – Assistant Director and Undergraduate Program Coordinator, School of Teaching and Learning
DOUG HATCH – Associate Professor, School of Teaching and Learning
AMANDA PARROTT – Coordinator of Student Teaching, School of Teaching and Learning
ANNETTE RAVER – Student Placement Coordinator, Lauby Teacher Education Center
BRETT SHARKEY – Chief District Officer, District 44
SCOTT STEHLIK – Principal, Westlake Middle School