Placing Student Teachers

I never had a student teacher during my ten years in the classroom. I always wanted one, but it never happened. It was likely because there wasn't a student teacher requesting a math placement at our school after I had surpassed the required five years of experience. In hindsight, I wonder how effective I would have been as a cooperating teacher. Probably better than my own experience, but what kind of lasting impact would I have had on a future teacher? My mindset at that time wasn't about impact. Rather, it was similar to the excitement I had heard others express about reduced planning, grading, and teaching. My desire for a student teacher was rooted in selfishness - what I could get out of it rather than what I could contribute to our profession. 

Sadly, I feel this mindset exists far too often in education. What level of consideration is given to placing student teachers? How much control should universities have in placing students, and what role should school administrators play in determining who to accept and where to place them?

Most of us have had a student teaching experience, and we appreciate and value its importance. It's incredibly vital, and the amount of consideration given to placing student teachers is reflective of how we value the experience and our responsibility for developing strong teachers. 

Through my conversations with other teachers over the years, it is common to hear about how teacher preparation programs didn't truly prepare teachers for teaching. This could be a result of both the required coursework and the student teaching experience. Student teaching should result in professional growth through more relevant experiences.  Candidates should leave their semester or year having experience with curriculum development, implementing research-proven strategies, trying new strategies, failing and trying again, and reflecting on their impact on student learning. They should understand the importance and value of learning targets, success criteria, and their connection to student achievement. Student teachers should learn how to incorporate quality reading, writing, and discussion. They should have extensive practice with feedback, formative assessment, and analyzing data. Student teaching should be the beginning of “knowing thy impact.” Most university student teaching supervisors do not have the time to engage student teachers in the reflective conversations necessary to grow in these areas. It’s the cooperating teacher who should be responsible for modeling and facilitating appropriate reflection. This short period of time could be the most critical for teacher development. This short period of time could also help set a student teacher up for success - and possibly keep them in the profession long-term. 

Please don’t misunderstand me. I by no means expect student teachers to be seasoned veterans the first day they assume their own classrooms. That is not a fair expectation. However, it is fair to expect them to have foundational experiences in each of these areas. They need a starting point from which to grow. And, every student with a first-year teacher deserves a well-prepared and well-trained educator. 

What does the student teaching experience look like in your school? How much thought and consideration is given to placing teacher candidates? How are cooperating teachers determined? It shouldn’t always be the teacher with the most years of experience. Sometimes the best experience comes from a younger teacher who’s growing into a potential rock star. It’s the teacher who understands the research, has a vast toolbelt of effective strategies, is a risk-taker, and reflective. 

As an administrator, I believe we must go further than giving a blanket "yes" to an email when a university requests placing a student teaching candidate. 

Ask to see transcripts.

Several years ago, there was a student teacher requesting to teach math in a building I served as principal. The transcript was full of F's and drops in even the most basic math classes. Efforts to take and pass remedial classes showed similar results. I could not, in good conscience, accept this student teacher. It was not fair to the students who would receive her teaching. My decision to refuse this placement was what was best for my building. My students were my ultimate responsibility. 

Check references.

Not every person going through a teacher education program deserves to be (or should be) a teacher. It's okay to check references to determine if they would be a good fit for your students or your building. I will not go into specifics here, but there are times where it's obvious a student teacher would not be a good fit. It's okay to tell the university no. Again, we have an obligation to our students and our district to provide them with the best educational experience possible. We also have an obligation to maintaining a positive culture in our buildings.

As education leaders, we do have a responsibility and obligation to honor and respect the student teaching process. This can sometimes be difficult to balance with the responsibility we have have to our districts and buildings. Universities have established placement criteria, and they can sometimes be persistent or pushy. However, it's important to remember that it is us who make decisions for our schools. 

It is important, though, to establish good working relationships with the universities. I have found that when I explain my reasoning for refusing a student teacher, my reason is understood and respected. Most student teaching supervisors have been educators and can appreciate the position taken. These are not always easy conversations, but they are necessary and important.

It is important we give a great deal of consideration to both the student teacher and the placement teacher. 

What criteria do you have for placing a teacher? It is important to remember that a student teacher will see their cooperating teacher as a person to emulate. The goal is to produce the most well-prepared and highly-trained teacher possible. It may be the best person in your building to learn from is a seasoned veteran. Sometimes it is not. Have those conversations with the university. A criteria based on years of experience alone isn't always what's best. What is best is providing a student teacher a truly valuable experience while simultaneously providing your students a quality education. 

Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.

Closure, Packets, Grading, & Relevancy

What should our students do during a school closure? This is a question educators are facing throughout the world. Nothing about the COVID-19 pandemic is easy or normal. District and school administrators are doing the best they can to make appropriate decisions in the wake of so much uncertainty. Teachers are, too, and may be feeling enormous pressure to provide quality learning experiences from home. 


Many students are being sent home with packets of work. This can be fine, but I’m definitely concerned about the contents of the packets. We know that John Hattie’s Visible Learning research tells us homework has very little impact on student achievement. In the lower grades, the impact is almost nil. When that packet of little educational value is the cause of household arguments and stress, we should reflect about what truly is best for students and families. 

I have heard teachers say that workbook pages do a great job of “teaching” the material so students can do the work. This greatly concerns me. If a teacher believes this to be true, that teacher just made him or herself unnecessary and replaceable. The single most important influence on student achievement is the teacher in the classroom. Hattie’s research tells us just that. When you look at the Visible Learning List of Influences and Effect Sizes, what you see is that almost everything above the 0.4 hinge point (one year’s growth in one year’s time) is within a teacher’s control or influence. We need to be very careful about believing a worksheet can provide adequate learning. 

And, how can we be sure the work is being done correctly? My hall-of-fame high school basketball coach used to say “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Correct practice makes perfect.” The inability to ensure our students are doing correct work causes more concern.

What about grading?

I do not believe these packets should be graded. In a world where equitable access to education and opportunities is of high concern, few things expose the level of inequity like packets being sent home. Not every student has adequate internet access. Not every student has somebody at home to assist with the work. Requiring students to purchase materials or supplies during this time magnifies more inequity. Many students do not have transportation for group work. All of these, and more, make grading even more challenging. 

What would these grades communicate…..Learning? Compliance?

Attaching grades to work is a way of telling students “do this or else!” It is a way educators wield power and control over students. It’s how we give meaning, purpose, and value to assigned work when there otherwise may be very little, if any. 

(Do teachers really want to grade all of those packets when students return??? Free yourselves!)

Students desire authentic, relevant work. They should use this time to read and write. They should be documenting this moment in their lives by recording their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and fears. Twenty or thirty years from now they will appreciate being able to read their reflective writing and remember what is was like to live through this historical period in time. 

We can help our students do just that. We should send them home with journals and writing prompts. Years from now, they will appreciate that we provided relevance to their lives during school closure and coronavirus. Truthfully, that’s what education should be all the time…providing authentic, relevant educational experiences.

The picture below is a great journal example from Bryan Shaw. You can also find it by clicking here

If you’re interested in reading more about packets, worksheets, and grading, Jennifer Gonzalez does a great job digging deeper in her Cult of Pedagogy blog post “Frickin’ Packets.” 

Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.

Acknowledging Our Loneliness

Educators are exhausted. The various stresses placed on teachers and administrators can't fully be appreciated or understood unless you've worn our shoes. The day-to-day grind of worrying for our students, meeting their individual needs, planning lessons, grading, attending meetings, questioning our own abilities, etc. takes its toll. This doesn't include the energy needed to be on top of our game for each class of every day. On top of that, there are mandates passed down from our legislators, school boards, and administrators which add to already full plates. We give so much to our work, and our students, we often do not have much left in the tank for our own families and children. 

All of these things, and more, leave us tired. When we talk about our exhaustion, these are some of the reasons mentioned. However, there may be another underlying cause we're not aware of. 


In her book Dare to Lead, Brene Brown shares a study which was done with a group of military members who constantly felt exhausted by the demands of their work. The study found they were actually exhausted from loneliness. Not just loneliness from their families, but loneliness from connections and inclusion among those with which they served.

Only those of us who've been in education can fully understand the things which exhaust us - many of which result in emotional exhaustion. 

Perhaps our exhaustion is rooted in loneliness more than we realize. There are several possible contributors to our loneliness. Some were mentioned above. Other possibilities? Perhaps we're the only one in our building who does what we do - or teaches what we teach. This leaves very few, if any, to lean on. We may not feel appreciated or understood. Maybe we don't feel empowered or that our experience matters. You may relate to some of these or have a completely different experience altogether.

Perhaps we should talk about loneliness more often. Loneliness within our profession is real and likely not understood or acknowledged enough.

What do you feel are some strategies or ideas which could increase our sense of connection and inclusion? Do you believe feeling more connected in your school could increase your energy level?

The bottom line is we need each other. We understand our pressures and demands more than anybody else. Let's lean in to one another and build each other up. If we won't do it, who will?

Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.

Sitting in the Deep End

"When I sat in the deep end, I didn't even sink!"

My middle child was so excited she could sit in the "deep end" of the river during one of her preschool field trips. Her statement was more profound than she realized. 

The truth is, she would never learn how to swim if she continued to sit in the deep end. The water was still shallow, and she was comfortable. Learning to swim can be difficult, but it almost never happens without stepping out of our comfort zone (the shallow end), taking risks, getting water up our noses, and trying again. 

Teaching and leadership are the same way. The only way we will ever grow and improve is to get out of our comfort zone and sink a little. Sitting in the deep end can be dangerous with contentment and status quo lurking nearby. 

In the book Kids Deserve It, Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome encourage us by saying "If we're willing to stick out our necks, stumble and fall, and occasionally get hurt, we'll end up giving our students a better education than they ever dreamed of."

They also add that "We can't expect our kids to be growing, learning, and pushing boundaries unless we're doing the same."

They are right. It is my belief that our responsibilities as professionals dictate we make sure that sitting in the deep end does not become the norm. We must stand guard against complacency and the status quo. Our students deserve teachers who continually search for ways to foster engagement, cultivate curiosity, and facilitate deeper thinking about their content and the world around them. Our teachers deserve leaders who foster cultures of reflection while challenging the status quo and (less effective) traditional mindsets and practices. 

Nesloney and Travis Crowder say in Sparks in the Dark that "Teaching is as much about teacher growth as it is about student growth." In fact, "Great teachers crave growth, and they seek challenges that will help them evolve as educators." 

If our schools and classrooms are to truly be cultures of learning, it is up to us as teachers and leaders to be "lead learners" and set the example by sharing our own learning, successes, failures, and passions. Imagine the possibilities when entire classrooms and schools genuinely seek to quit sitting in the deep end and push themselves beyond their comfort zones!

If we are not currently seeing this in our schools and classrooms, we must ask ourselves why. As Mike Schmoker says in Focus (2nd edition), "One of the hardest places to look when things aren't going as well as we hoped is at ourselves and our own attitudes, practices, and skill sets." We should each be challenged to regularly reflect upon our own impact on learning and be willing to step out of our comfort zones. When we do, we could end up giving our students a better education than they ever dreamed of! 

Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.