In 1998 Penn State’s College of Education and the State College Area School District began a Professional Development School (PDS) Partnership that included two elementary schools and secondary English. Twenty years later and counting, the PDS Partnership has grown to include every elementary school and secondary English at the high school level. This partnership has been supported enthusiastically by teachers, administrators, higher education faculty, parents, and community members.

From its inception the SCASD-Penn State PDS collaboration has been based on a strong platform of beliefs about the nature of education, teaching and teacher education.  One of the fundamental beliefs that undergrads our collaborative efforts is that teaching is a complex, multi-faceted problem-solving activity that requires ongoing question asking and data collection within the classroom in order to understand the impact of educational experiences on students and learning. One of the goals of the partnership is to educate and support teachers who have an inquiry-oriented stance towards their practice, consistently looking to examine their practice and its impact through classroom-based research. This inquiry-orientation is embodied in the teacher inquiry investigations that are conducted by interns, mentors, other veteran teachers, and teacher educators. The Annual Teacher Inquiry Conference provides an opportunity to share inquiry investigations, celebrate accomplishments and generate a community of reflective practitioners.


More than twenty years ago many educators advocated the creation of school-university partnerships called “Professional Development Schools” as a strong vehicle for educational change and as new models for teacher education and professional development for all educators (Goodland, 1990; Holmes, 1986; Holmes, 1990; Levine, 1992).  Darling-Hammond (1998) described Professional Development Schools (PDS) as spaces where prospective teacher and mentor teacher learning becomes 1) experimental, 2) grounded in teacher questions, 3) collaborative, 4) connected to and derived from teachers' work with their students, and 5) sustained, intensive, and connected to other aspects of school change.

In the ensuing two decades the Professional Development School movement has flourished in the United States with more than 1000 school university partnerships across the country that refer to themselves as PDS sites.  Two national organizations that focus on professional development school work have also emerged over the last few decades, the National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER) and the National Association of Professional Development Schools (NAPDS).  Both of these organizations hold annual meetings that are well attended and that support research and inquiry concerning professional development school work.  In addition, the American Educational Research Association has established a special interest group that focuses its attention on research on professional development schools.

The proliferation of professional development school partnerships has led to the formulation of standards that attempt to define the characteristics of high quality professional development school partnerships. The National Association for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) published the first set of standards followed by the “Nine Essentials of Professional Development Schools” published by NAPDS. Using the NAPDS nine essentials, The Penn State-State College Elementary PDS was designated as an Exemplary Professional Development School by NAPDS in 2009. A recent compilation of research on professional development schools published by the National Society for the Study of Education (NSSE) indicates that PDS partnerships bring benefits to students, teacher candidates, teachers, principals, university faculty, and communities.

The Pennsylvania State University, its College of Education, and Department of Curriculum and Instruction joined in partnership with the State College Area School District to create a special opportunity for Penn State prospective elementary school teachers. This partnership offers undergraduate elementary education majors an opportunity to pursue an intensive field-based alternative for completion of their teacher preparation program. In line with national movements in education, prospective elementary teachers, who choose this alternative, work to complete 30 credits of coursework as they teach on-site in an elementary school throughout their senior year. The work in a Professional Development School is designed to immerse the prospective teacher into the school's culture, develop deeper understanding of student learning, and create a wider experience base from which the prospective teacher can draw when they enter the profession as a first-year teacher.

The year-long internship is an intensive field based program where learning to teach is accomplished through teaming with a mentor teacher and a university based teacher educator for an entire school year. This experience begins with a two-week Jumpstart orientation in mid-August and continues through the last day of school for State College students in June. The interns agree to abandon the traditional Penn State academic calendar and instead to follow the district school calendar for the entire year. The interns gain valuable knowledge by teaching alongside their mentors and inquiring about their work with children in a public school classroom. Interns typically spend four days a week in the fall and  five days a week in the spring at the Professional Development School sites with most of their coursework being taught onsite targeted at connecting theory to practice and practice to theory.

The Professional Development School Model conceptualizes the mentor and intern as co-teachers. This benefits public school students by offering more individualized and small group teaching by both the mentor and the intern.

Over the entire internship year, the teaching relationship between the mentor and internship evolves. In the first phase of the experience, the mentor would take the lead in planning and delivering instruction while the intern would be a support teacher in carrying out planned lessons and working with individual or small groups of students (approximately August through December). In this first phase, the mentor is the guide and the intern is a tutor for children.

In the second phase, there is much more co planning and co-teaching (approximately January through March). During this time, the intern is gaining critical insight into the teacher's personal practical knowledge of his/her profession by engaging in dialogue and observation targeted at understanding why the mentor teaches in certain ways, uses particular strategies, or sequences lessons in specific ways. In this case, the mentor becomes the coach and the intern becomes a key player in implementing and reaching instructional goals.

As the experience progresses into the third phase (approximately April through June), the intern would take the lead (when appropriate) in planning instruction and would be supported by the mentor who would also work with individual or small groups of children within the room. In this phase, the mentor becomes the tutor and the intern assumes the role of guide.

In each of these three phases, the role of the mentor and intern changes. However, by conceptualizing their work as co-teaching, we provide additional resources that help bring our classrooms in line with current practices in the areas of inclusion and remedial reading and math programs.

  • A full year of teaching experience before graduation.
  • Daily feedback from school-based as well as university based teacher educators.
  • Opportunities to learn about teaching, learning and students through co-teaching with skilled, veteran teachers.
  • Opportunities to teach and observe across grade levels.
  • The opportunity to develop an inquiry stance towards teaching by participating in a variety of inquiry investigations, culminating with a presentation at the Annual Teacher Inquiry Conference.
  • Experience with a variety of technological tools for teaching, learning and teacher development in a district with a focus on integration of technology a part of the strategic plan.
  • Experience in working with an Instructional Support Team and in an RTII structure in meeting the needs of diverse populations.
  • Collaborative work in a non-competitive culture focused on best practices for children.
  • Discussions that bring theory to practice and practice to theory.
  • Seminars developed by university and school-based teacher educators.
  • Within cohort leadership opportunities.
  • In addition to ongoing classroom-embedded learning, interns also participate in a variety of school-based and district-based professional development experiences.
  • Opportunities to participate in Conversation as Inquiry Groups.
  • Experience with peer observation and collegial coaching.

As a result of this year-long experience, these Professional Development School interns will be better equipped to serve in the schools of tomorrow where more will be expected of them as professionals. They have developed skills to become instructional leaders who are able to work collaboratively with other professionals to design and maintain a learning environment which motivates students to learn and apply their knowledge in relevant settings.

Former PDS interns currently teach in a variety of school contexts in more than 20 states within the United States as well as in 5 international countries. In a follow-up survey of principals who had hired former interns, all of the respondents indicated that the interns were either more effective or far more effective than other beginning teachers whom they had hired.