The Acorn

A Newsletter for CSB/SJU Cooperating Teachers

Volume 3, issue 2 * August 28, 2020

Growing, Nurturing, Developing, and Supporting

"The Acorn" is a newsletter for the cooperating teachers working with student teachers from the College of St. Benedict and St. John's University. This publication is intended to help our cooperating teachers understand their roles and responsibilities as well as provide them with current research and best practice on working with student teachers.

Lessons from Literature: Starting the School Year Conversations with Your Student Teacher

This school year will begin like none before it. We will enter with anticipation, anxiety, joy—myriad emotions seem to tug at us in ways we have not felt previously.

In a spring and summer marked by distance-learning, sheltering at home, social distancing and social unrest, I found myself escaping to literature. In the presumed safety and security of a good book, I was able to look at how people face challenges and connect them to our current chaos. I was able to see our teaching and learning situations coming through the pages of text.

One of my favorite novels is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, a text I return to often. In this novel, the Price family is moving to the former Belgian Congo where the patriarch will take a position as pastor of a mission church. I liken the reaction of each of the members of the Price family to this move and their growth through the novel with how all of us may approach the return to school.

Rachel Price, the eldest of the four daughters, is most concerned with appearances and the comforts of home. For her, all things associated with the Congo are an inconvenience. The twins, Leah and Adah, approach their new living situation with resolve to her father’s mission and resolve to create agency in the people, respectively. While one seeks to move others to the ways of her father, the other seeks to understand others and enact change. The youngest, Ruth May, brings brightness, curiosity, and a devil-may-care attitude to her new surroundings, embracing whatever comes her way. The girls are guided by their parents, Nathan and Orleanna. Nathan enters the Congo in a heavy-handed, my-way-or-no-way fashion while his wife scrambles to protect her children and guide them through the challenges and dangers of the jungle in which they live. For all of them, so much is unknown—the setting, the culture, the rapidly changing political climate—and their health and safety are a constant concern.

If you’ve read the novel, you know that the success of each family member was largely dependent upon each individual’s attitudes of openness, flexibility, and cooperation. In addition, for those individuals who fared well, a focus on safety and developing meaningful community connections was a determining factor in their futures.

The Price family provides us with a parallel we can use going into the new school year. What we have known about teaching and learning can be applied to our current situation, but we need to shift, and one of those shifts can be in how we work with our student teachers. Much like Orleanna Price, the family matriarch came to the Congo with ways of raising her children that worked in Georgia, we come to classrooms with ways of teaching that worked (or got us through) last year. Now, in a new situation with a student teacher and in the chaos of the Summer of 2020, we have an opportunity to reframe our teaching to include these important ideas: openness, flexibility, cooperation, safety, and connection.

How do we do this? In St. Benedict’s Guide to Improving Your Work Life, Michael Rock suggests that we think about how the work we do is in service to the community and that our virtual lives can be in detriment to our intentions of that community building (p. 28). Rock offers four keys that are also challenges to consider in how we approach our work: respect, patience, openness, and action. These are conversations we need to be having with our student teachers and students. Using Rock’s four keys, I offer a brief explanation followed by questions to consider and discuss throughout your student teaching partnership.

Respect—Concern for justice, fairness, equity, and access for our students and their families, our colleagues, and our community members are a high priority (Rock, p. 29-30).

Big questions:

How will we establish expectations and routines and model these in our words and actions? How will we create safe spaces for students to speak, learn, and interact? How will we provide for our students’ academic and social-emotional needs during and outside of class?

Patience--Although endurance, tolerance, and forbearance are apt synonyms for patience, the important point of patience in our teaching is the pause and slowing of anger or response. In a world of immediacy and the instant, patience requires us to step back, to listen, and to respond within the values and beliefs we wish to communicate (p. 32-33).

Big questions:

How will we set up systems to respond to student questions, to parent/guardian questions, to behaviors? How will we communicate with our student teachers about changes and improvements in the work that is being done?

Openness—While patience creates the necessary pause to respond to a situation, openness is what allows us to be fully engaged in a situation in the moment. Openness is the acceptance of what is happening in the moment and the positive, personal interaction within it. It is the taking in of a challenge and working to find a solution for the best of the community. It allows for individual voice, but it requires a focus on the collective best. For our student teachers, having a voice is important. They have been well-prepared and seek ways to be involved and heard. At the same time, they seek the expertise and input of veteran teachers to guide and mentor.

Big questions:

How will we adapt to changes? How will we address the shifting needs of those around us? How will we handle disagreements? How will we work together to address problems? How will we share our expectations for each other and those around us? How will we keep the focus on community, on learning, on teaching, on progress?

Action—According to Rock, action is the “attentive response to what one hears” (p. 33) and we know that our ways of listening are not limited to what comes through our ears. Action is engagement and doing. It is involvement to the best and fullest of one’s ability. It is done in service to something, and in the student teaching situation, that service is not only to the teaching and learning environment, but it is also in service to one’s professional growth as an emerging educator. Action capitalizes on individual strengths and bolsters areas needing improvement. It can push our individual limits while those pushes are supported by skilled mentors.

Big questions:

How will we build time for teaching action? What strengths does the student teacher bring that can be utilized early and often? What areas can be improved, and what is the plan to work on those? How can we best act to serve our students to our fullest capacity?

This academic year comes to us with more unknowns than I can ever remember; however, it also comes to us with several opportunities. I encourage you to be like Orleanna Price, who saw the need for a shift in perspective and moved to action when her children we in danger. I encourage you to be like Leah Price in seeking justice, equity, and respect while being open to the needs of the people. I encourage you to be like Adah Price, to have patience and listen deeply. I encourage you to engage in an on-going conversation with your student teacher that considers the questions and constantly improves teaching and learning for your community.


Kingsolver, Barbara. (2005). The Poisonwood Bible. New York: Harper.

Rock, Michael. (2013). St. Benedict’s Guide to Improving Your Work Life: Workplace as Worthplace. London, CT: Twenty-Third Publications.

Weeks 1 & 2 Documentation and Timelines

As soon as possible, complete the Cooperating Teacher Information Form (only if you haven't been a CSB/SJU cooperating teacher for more than 2 years).

Also, please consider the following:

  • Make arrangements for the student teacher in your classroom by setting up a workspace, gathering materials, providing internet access. In a virtual setting, be sure your student teacher has access to all platforms and knows your expectations for digital citizenship.
  • Inform appropriate individuals of your planned student teacher including support staff, department or team members, and parents/guardians of your students.

In the first week where you and the student teacher have responsibility for students:

  • Help the student teacher get to know your students, the teachers, and the school
  • Review the Orientation Guidelines/Checklist (Appendix C in the Student Teaching Handbook)
  • Assist the student teacher in setting up observations--one of the cooperating teacher and another of a colleague, if possible
  • Allow the student teacher to assist with planning, preparation of lessons and materials, monitoring of individual and group work.
  • Determine which classes the student teacher will lead building to teaching one less than the teacher’s full load.
  • Allow the student teacher to teach a lesson you have co-planned. Observe this lesson and provide feedback to the student teacher.
  • Informal feedback about the student teacher's performance, involvement, engagement, and dispositions.

In Week 2:

  • Work with the student teacher in lesson and management design.
  • Co-teach lessons throughout the day
  • Conduct informal observations of the lessons taught and provide feedback.
  • Elementary: Allow the student teacher to solo teach 30-40 minutes per day in literacy or mathematics and lead morning meetings/classroom routines.
  • Secondary: Allow the student teacher to begin teaching in the one specific course (at least one section)

At the end of each day of those first few weeks, visit with the student teacher about how they are doing, what plans you have, how they can contribute, and deliver any feedback you have about the day. It is best to be transparent, upfront, and clear! Student teachers appreciate honestly knowing how they are doing. It helps calm their nerves and assists in building communication.

Observation Form

This link will connect you with the online observation form required by our program to assess our student teachers' progress in student teaching. Cooperating teachers should be completing 4 observations of students whose placements are 12 weeks or longer. See the handbook for specific details.

Observation Form

Ways to Co-Teach

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A Message of Hope to Begin the School Year

COVID-19 FILM: A Message of Hope (Inspirational Video)

CSB/SJU Education Department

Jennifer L. Meagher, Ed.D.

Director of Elementary and Secondary Student Teaching