Music Informance as Embodied Service
Many universities and PK-12 schools have embraced the challenge of developing new models for collaborative partnerships in the preparation and professional development of teachers (Shelley & Washburn 2000). Evidence suggests that collaborative partnerships are sustainable only when access to and distribution of influence is equitably shared among stakeholders, so much so that even competing interests may be understood in the larger conceptual framework as contributing in different ways to shared benefits (Zlotkowski 1997).
How does this evidence challenge social foundation faculty in particular ways? Do some questions deserve special attention, i.e., what kinds of experiences are likely to benefit preservice teachers' understanding of collaborative partnerships? To what degree should students be involved in the decision-making processes regarding field experiences, learning communities, and service-learning opportunities within collaborative partnerships? Shall we assume that leadership skills may be different in a world where collaboration is valued more than representational leadership? If so, how do we provide appropriate support for the development of such talents? And, what might we learn from preservice teachers' enthusiasm for and resistance to greater participation in shared decision-making and community involvement?
The authors employ these questions as an interpretive framework for the evaluation of a collaborative project envisioned and implemented for the most part by preservice teachers, with support and encouragement from a team of peers, school administrators and university faculty housed in different colleges within a small, private, liberal-arts university.
In the summer of 1998, a fifth grade teacher new to a neighborhood school near our university requested support for her students in whatever ways the university's teacher preparation program could provide. The school, identified in this essay as B. Pearl, is located within walking distance of the university and was accessible by streetcar from residential areas at some distance along two main boulevards. The school serves an urban and poor neighborhood community in which 86% of the families identify themselves as African-American, 10% identify themselves as white, and 4% identify themselves as Asian-American. Instruction is provided for nearly 300 children from kindergarten through eighth grade. Hearing impaired students make up as much as 20% of the school population, with profoundly deaf students among the preschool population.
The physical plant was in disrepair at the time of the teacher's request, and instructional resources for students with regular and exceptional needs had been in short supply from the district for more than a decade. Characterized as a low-performing school with most families living at or below the poverty level, the school is situated in the historically Black neighborhood known in former times as the Black Pearl Community. Within walking distance of this school and the two universities in the neighborhood are six other schools that enroll students in the same age range on the basis of particular and discriminating criteria. These schools attract students with strong academic records and maintain the quality of their enrollment by enforcing strict performance standards. As magnet schools, parochial and independent schools, and a Montessori school, these schools offer alternatives for students who perform at or above average. In many ways, the students who demonstrate academic readiness at preschool age are removed from the pool of students who will attend B. Pearl. After the preschool level, students may secure enrollment in one of the alternative schools by demonstrating a level of academic achievement in accordance with the continuing discriminating criteria. Therefore, students who demonstrate the lowest levels of academic readiness and achievement remain at B. Pearl from preschool through eighth grade.
With fiscal, parental, and a variety of other forms of resources in short supply, the students and teachers at B. Pearl face daunting obstacles in their efforts to demonstrate that every child can learn. The invitation to cooperate with the school community presented difficult challenges for our relatively small teacher preparation program, but it was accepted. The partnership between the university and B. Pearl began with the placement of social foundation students in the class of the fifth grade teacher who had asked for support.
Experiencing Social Foundations
Students in the social foundation course at the university are often in their first education course. It is common for the class to include students from the first through the fifth year of university studies. Some students arrive at university with clear intentions to pursue teacher preparation and are placed in the foundation course in their first semester. Others decide in the last semester of their fourth year to explore teaching interests. This mix of students usually constitutes the foundation class as a very heterogeneous community.
A service-learning component of the foundation class requires students to contribute in any number of ways to schools or community centers in the greater New Orleans area. Students demonstrate a remarkable commitment to service-learning and provide evidence of their involvement in a variety of ways. Many describe the benefits of their experience in terms of how much they learned from it. Students from urban K-12 experiences learn about suburban, private, and independent schools just as students from those backgrounds learn about well and poorly resourced urban schools. They learn about themselves and one another too, as well as about this region and its very diverse cultures.
The foundation class provides an educational focus to what students describe in their admissions documents as a call to service (Coles 1996). At the start of the fall 1998 semester however, students were encouraged to consider spending at least some of their ten service hours in the school where the fifth grade teacher had asked for our support. Students in the class that fall and those enrolled over the following three semesters accepted the invitation and participated by observing, reading, tutoring, assisting the teacher, volunteering in the after-school program and working with parents and students in an after-school computer lab.
Over the next three semesters, evidence of our cooperative relationship increased. A student teacher completed his practicum in the fifth grade class with the teacher who had first requested our support. The professional development coordinator of the school, Marie Noel, organized a system of matching university students with B. Pearl teachers who shared similar interests or needs. The education coordinator for the Amistad Research Center, Nikki Wilson, who was an alumnus of an undergraduate English and a graduate education program, designed and implemented an Afro-Caribbean Dance curriculum in eight area schools. She included B. Pearl in her selection and employed foundation students in her work. Student evaluations at the end of each semester enthusiastically advocated a continuation of the cooperation between the university and the school, with some suggestions for greater structure and other suggestions for providing less structure.
During the spring semester of 2000, the university publicly renewed its commitment to service learning and to those practices that develop learning communities within the university (Zlotkowski 2000; Checkoway 2000). In the College of Arts and Sciences, learning community courses and student cohorts were established for several disciplines. The education foundation course was not reconfigured as an official learning community course, but it met the criteria the university was employing for these newly envisioned courses. Since there were no elective courses in the preservice teacher programs, students often found themselves enrolled with the same peers from course to course within the program sequence. Service learning components provided opportunities for students to engage in the community beyond the classroom, and share their reflections with one another within the context of particular courses. However, there was one way in which the education foundation class brought together several different preservice teacher cohorts.