The Acorn

A Newsletter for CSB/SJU Cooperating Teachers

Volume 1, issue 3 * January 30, 2019

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.

Tension or Growth: Mentorship for Learning

In the process of preparing the future generation of professional educators, the importance of the cooperating teacher’s positivity, curricular and pedagogical knowledge and management are magnified. This is especially true as pre-service teachers look to them as models and mentors for their own professional growth. Cooperating teachers have the benefit of knowing the stages of teacher induction-- idealism and anticipation, survival, disillusionment and disappointment, rejuvenation, and reflection (Moir, 1999)—having gone through these phases themselves, and now they are faced with mediating those stages for an up-and-coming teacher who is “taking over” their classrooms and curriculum. It can be an uncomfortable situation to loosen the reigns in that instability. Indeed, the student teaching arrangement creates a natural tension between maintaining curricular and management fidelity and allowing for the student teacher’s development as an educator. A month or so into the student teaching experience, this tension can become challenging for both the cooperating and student teacher; however, with some perspective taking, this time can be a period of enormous growth for both individuals.

Pre-service teachers enter their placements with noble aspirations, idealism, and hope. They have envisioned their classrooms and teaching environments for years, nurtured by professors and practitioners who have taught and supported them through their programs. The new professionals come to their student teaching with the newest research-based pedagogies and a strong desire to apply those pedagogies in an authentic context. They begin the process of assisting and teaching and eventually gain responsibility for the learning that happens in the classroom. It is shortly after this point that student teachers hit a wall. The idealism of student teachers becomes tempered by expectations of assigned tasks and established curricula. Here is where the disappointment comes in. The creativity used to develop their own lessons and units sometimes runs in conflict with prescribed programs or tightly organized curriculum maps. Sometimes what student teachers have learned as best practice doesn’t match what is happening in their new settings. From being a student teacher myself to hosting student teachers, I’ve been on both sides of this conundrum. I had a vision of the idyllic classroom as a student teacher, but my plans and pedagogies occasionally didn’t match the expectations or intentions of my host teacher. Conversely, I’ve been the host teacher confronted with plans and pedagogies that made me wonder how they could be “best practice.” Looking back, I realize there are common elements in the bookends of pre-service to master teacher: a desire to be creative but have focused outcomes, a need for autonomy, and a belief that what I had planned was best for student learning and achievement. Interestingly, the current research on effective teaching highlights those three principles; and ultimately, student teaching is all about developing effective teachers and teaching practices.

A strain may emerge between existing pedagogical and curriculum fidelity and the creative flexibility student teachers often bring to the classroom. Cooperating teachers certainly recognize this as they help student teachers navigate their instructional responsibilities. As they mentor student teachers, cooperating teachers bring “a wealth of professional knowledge and experience to their instruction” (McMaster, et al., 2014, p. 176), modeling and sharing developed practices that have been proven to work for them in their classrooms. Those who have boldly chosen to take on the professional development of having a student teacher under their mentorship should realize that this tension is an opportunity for personal growth. CEO of Curio Learning and 2016 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Ashley Lamb-Sinclair (2018) encouraged mentor teachers to loosen constraints in their classrooms to allow young teachers to be “brave enough to take creative risks in order to give [students] the highest quality lessons.” This isn’t saying that the lessons master teachers have created aren’t quality; instead, student teachers should have the opportunity to take curricular and delivery chances grounded in quality student outcomes with the support and supervision of trusted mentors. Additionally, when student teachers have flexibility in strategies and methods or in planning and assessment and that flexibility is granted, supported, and reflected upon, student teachers “develop a theory of action and pedagogical knowledge, develop content knowledge that underlies pedagogical content knowledge, and build a knowledge of individual student learning” (Maniates, 2010) that can marry curricular outcomes and creative flexibility.

While it is unreasonable for a student teacher to have complete autonomy, cooperating teachers can empower student teachers throughout their experience. Perhaps the most difficult thing for me to do when I had student teachers in my classroom was giving up curricular control over the content that was really important to me. For example, I knew how I wanted to have The Great Gatsby taught, and I knew the writing processes I would use for the novel’s associated essay. What I failed to realize was that I was putting content and structures ahead of students and outcomes. When I shifted my perspective and practice, replacing control with mentorship, I was able to help my student teacher develop “expertise in pedagogical design and prepar[e] them for their role as curriculum mediators” (Maniates, 2010, p. 94) and make “classroom decisions that [were] responsive to their students’ and the curriculum’s needs” (Christenbury, 2010). Had my student teachers replicated my orientations, they would not have been able to have an “independent and reflective approach” (Hawkey, 1997, p. 329); essentially, they would not have developed authenticity to their approaches, built their own curricular footings, or had opportunities to hone their craft. They would not have flexed their curricular or pedagogical muscle!

Ultimately, teachers are responsible for creating learning environments that are responsive to student needs, and the student teaching experience is an extension of that. We have established clear standards our students must meet, but the means to that end can be either dictated or flexible and yield similar outcomes. Education should be differentiated based on “research of WHO is seated in the classroom, moving beyond curriculum to learning needs,” and as such, “new teachers need the opportunity to practice differentiation throughout lesson delivery in order to add tools to their tool boxes” (Hawkey, 1997, p. 330). So, we can apply the same principle of addressing individual learners to our student teachers just as we would to the youngsters in our classrooms—set high standards, provide modeling and mentorship, allow the learner to demonstrate their own learning as they best can, and support them along the way.

Indeed, our student teachers grow and learn throughout the student teaching experience, but so can cooperating teachers. We can embrace the idealism and hope of our next generation of teachers, new pedagogical strategies, and our roles as models and mentors, while promoting creativity, autonomy, and responsiveness to all learners, including our student teachers.


Christenbury, L. (2010). The flexible teacher. Educational Leadership, 68(4), 46-50.

Hawkey, K. (1997). Roles, responsibilities, and relationships in mentoring: A literature review and agenda for research. Journal of teacher education, 48(5), 325-335.

Lamb-Sinclair, A. (2018, April 11). The Need for teacher creativity. Education week teacher. Retrieved from

Maniates, H. (2010). When highly qualified teachers use prescriptive curriculum: Tensions between fidelity and adaptation to local context (Doctoral dissertation, UC Berkeley).

McMaster, K. L., Jung, P. G., Brandes, D., Pinto, V., Fuchs, D., Kearns, D., ... Yen, L. (2014). Customizing a research-based reading practice: Balancing the importance of implementation fidelity with professional judgment. Reading teacher, 68(3), 173-183.

Moir, E. (1999). The stages of a teacher’s first year. PRI. Pp. 1-2. Retrieved from

Weeks 5 & 6: Flexing Pedagogical Muscle

After a month in the classroom, student teachers are feeling ready to "show their stuff" and flex their pedagogical muscle. This is the time where the cooperating teachers' coaching hats are to be put on. Having greater knowledge of learners, systems, and curriculum, student teachers may be anxious for more responsibility. In the coaching role, you need to determine the student teacher's readiness for the playing field. While some student teachers are like varsity starters, others need to ease in a bit more, coming off the bench after the plays have been run a few times. The student teaching handbook provides guidelines for the amount of time student teachers should be responsible for student learning, but ultimately, your best judgment as a professional will determine that.

Thinking of cooperating teachers as coaches, we can apply that model to their involvement at this point. As in most coach/player relationships, communication is key. Goals are set, plans and plays are articulated, and feedback is given throughout the event. While student teachers are out there, giving it their all, cooperating teachers should be taking notes to tweak and improve performance. On a regular basis, those notes should be shared, and the student teacher should do just as an athlete would do--have modeling and demonstration, have an opportunity to practice in a safe setting, and bring the skills to the game. The coaching is constant and cyclical.

What are the areas of focus for the cooperating teacher in the next few weeks?

*Review observation notes to coach the student teacher in specific, needed improvements or skills.

*If you haven't done so, conduct one formal observation using one of the following forms:

Student Teacher's Instructional Evaluation

Student Teacher's Observation and Disposition Evaluation

(Please forward the emailed copy of the observation to your student teacher's university supervisor.)

*Make sure your student teacher is completing the weekly schedule (submitted to the university supervisor) and providing lesson plans 24 hours in advance of teaching a lesson.

*Assist in the edTPA process. Refer to the following links for more information:

NO Documentation Required for Weeks 5 & 6!

Formal and informal observations may be done. This would be a good opportunity to hone in on specific areas of improvement.

Submissions Welcome!

Submissions to this newsletter are welcome from stakeholders in the CSB/SJU student teaching process. Send copy, pictures, etc., to Jennifer Meagher at

CSB/SJU Education Department

Jennifer L. Meagher, Ed.D.

Director of Elementary and Secondary Student Teaching