Experiential learning: Best practice for students (and their teachers)

How are teachers being prepared for the classroom in other parts of the world? Many countries are providing education students with more clinical practice in real school settings. In this roundtable post, guest author Jessica Roberts advocates for pre-service teachers getting into classrooms earlier and more often.

By Jessica Roberts

Jessica is a National Board Certified Teacher with 16 years of experience in grades K-2. She currently teaches second grade at a Teacher-Powered Charter School in Asheville, NC. In addition to teaching, she serves as a facilitator, administrator, and teacher leader. She is currently pursuing her Masters of Arts in Teacher Leadership through Mount Holyoke College.  

At the beginning of this roundtable, John Holland challenged readers to think about how and why we became teachers.

I struggled in school. Learning was a challenge and I worked hard for mediocre grades. I remember the day my high school guidance counselor told me college wasn’t an option. Instead of being discouraged, I left her office feeling angry and determined. Deep inside I knew she was wrong.

My own learning challenges inspired me to be a teacher — I wanted to provide opportunities for children who, like me, learned atypically. I’m proud to say I attended a college that fit my kinesthetic and social learning style, offered small classes, and provided individualized, career-focused programing. It was a turning point in my education experience. With the right environment and proper support, I experienced success for the first time in a school setting. In my teacher preparation program I received ample hands-on experience from the first class through the final field experience. I excelled in this program and graduated not only fully prepared to enter the classroom, but also inspired to provide this same type of experience for my own students.

Champlain College in Burlington, VT has a strong partnership with local schools. They provide a field study experience in every education class, which allows for more classroom exposure than is typical for education students in traditional prep programs. Veteran classroom teachers teach education courses in elementary schools in collaboration with university professors. I was immersed in the classroom environment, analyzed student work, and learned from experienced teachers in the field.

Recently, as I learned more about teacher leadership in my Mount Holyoke Masters of Teacher Leadership program, I realized that the type of experiential learning I craved as a student is the norm in teacher preparation programs in the top scoring nations around the globe. Many countries are providing education students with more clinical practice in real school settings. Pre-service teachers are getting into classrooms earlier and more often.


In Finland, every year thousands of general and upper-secondary school graduates apply to the highly competitive educational programs in Finland’s eight universities. Only about 1 out of 10 students are accepted into this esteemed program. In her new book, Teaching Policy Around the World, Linda Darling-Hammond explains that Finland has always trained their teachers in what they call model schools which are connected to the university master’s programs. Expanding school and university partnerships to provide teacher training that helps connect theory and practice is a growing trend in  many parts of the world.


In Singapore, to attract and encourage students to enter the field of education, they offer internships during students’ secondary/high school years. Students gain exposure to the profession before making a commitment to apply to higher education programs. Singapore also partners with local schools to support pre-service teachers during their clinical experiences.


In Australia, the University of Melbourne created a two-year clinical Master of Teaching degree for early childhood, primary, and secondary teachers. This high demand program enrolls more than 1,200 candidates each year. It integrates academic study with practical work in partnering schools. Pre-service teachers learn to analyze student performance data to guide them in planning and implementing lessons.

Another program in the Melbourne University system is the Charles La Trobe Teaching School. This school provides the latest educational facilities where pre-service teachers can attend courses with their clinical practice in the same place, not unlike a teaching hospital where doctors fulfill their residency.  

Singapore, Finland, and Australia have created a culture that supports and values teachers, which in turn attracts highly qualified individuals. They showcase systematic ways to recruit and prepare teachers for success in the profession.

North Carolina

Although the US does not have a national, systematic approach for recruitment, small steps have been taken in pockets throughout the country. Recently, in my home state of North Carolina, teacher preparation requirements have been revised. These revisions were outlined during a University School Teacher Education Partnership (USTEP) meeting at the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA). This committee meets twice a year to improve and strengthen collaborative efforts between local schools and the university. Local school district leaders come together to learn about teacher preparation policy changes. For example, starting in July 2017, the required length of time for clinical practice will shift from 12 weeks to 16 consecutive weeks to include time in the classroom at the beginning and end of the year. This change in North Carolina represents a promising step forward that supports getting pre-service teachers into diverse classroom settings early and often.

Collaboration, critical thinking, reflection, and passion are essential to further enhance teacher preparation systems across our nation.

Continued collaboration between public schools and higher education faculty that promotes co-teaching and mentoring opportunities are crucial to powerful clinical preparation.

Recently, I have been working toward a partnership with our local university to provide quality in-classroom education experiences for budding educators. My vision is to host small groups of university students, teacher education students, and teachers working at other area schools, to engage and participate in Professional Rounds. This experience will serve as an opportunity to develop meaningful conversations and purpose around a shared experience. By doing this, teacher education students experience teaching from the other side of the classroom and engage in discourse with teachers who are reflecting on their teaching and student learning.

I believe that this type of experiential learning will help prepare a new of kind teacher: educators who are ready and able to facilitate learning in children and adults, as well as evoke change in school culture and policy.

Jessica’s post is part of CTQ’s May/June blogging roundtable on teacher shortages. To join the conversation, comment on this blog and read the other blogs in this series. You can find an updated list of all posts on this page. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted, and use #CTQCollab to join the conversation on social media.


  • JessicaCuthbertson

    Comment from a colleague:


    When sharing your post on my FB page I got a create comment and related questions from my friend and colleague, Amy, who works in Aurora Public Schools in CO. I'm including it here in case other readers and RT bloggers have ideas:

    I will be our Site Coordinator for student teaching starting next year and I'm excited about the opportunity. We partner with UCD and their Urban Education program. One of the things I have noticed, as I shared an office with the current Site Coordinator, is that the Student Teachers (Teacher Candidate's in UCD's parlance) need to be consistently encouraged to get involved in the classroom and need to be given specific ideas and what that could look like. 

    UCD does a phased in approach to student teaching. It's three semesters long and a varying number of days. I definitely think that teachers we already have hired could use a similar method of support. As part of my New Hire Meetings (conducted during the first semester) I have them observe and reflect on a fellow teacher. For almost all of them it's the first time they've stepped foot in anther teacher's room since student teaching.

    In surveying the staff about what they saw as their PD needs, I was sad see Learning Walks" at the very bottom of the list. How can we utilize classroom visits as a way to get teachers excited about possibilities and not nervous about giving/receiving feedback?

    • Jessica Roberts

      Comment from a colleague

      Thank you for sharing Jessica. 

      This is tough. My school has been using the "Rounds Model" for several years and over the last few years we have shifted what this looks like. In the beginning, through surveying our teachers, they felt as if they had to put on a big show and spend hours planning a "rock star" lesson for their colleagues to see. Teachers did not feel like the model was authentic and deep discussions around practice did not seem to be happening. Giving reflective feedback to your peers felt awkward and hard. Recently, we have changed the model so teachers are in consistant teams for the year. The rounds team has initial meetings to talk through student data, or a focus they are thinking about for their own learning. The team may choose to have a consistent focus. For example, my team chose to focus on literacy and explicit fluency instruction. We were seeing students struggle in the area of fluency in our all of our classes. We each took turns teaching a small group fluency lesson for our rounds observation, and after each observation we met and discussed. We incorporated using a Tuning Protocol to help guide the feedback and discussion to go deeper. These changes have helped this model be about learning for teachers and helped make the process feel safe. We are a team of learners instead of putting on a “show” for colleagues. Maybe utilizing consistent teams of beginning and experienced teachers who visit each other's classrooms and check in periodically over the year could help teachers feel more open to "Learning Walks"?

  • ReneeMoore

    More Time in Real Classrooms for Teacher Candidates


    First, I'm encouraged by your own journey into teaching, and heartened by the great experiences you had. Second, I appreciate your broad look at why those entering the profession need to spend more time in real classrooms.

    This is not a new concept, even in this country. In 2010, I was part of a national Blue Ribbon Commission organized by NCATE (now CAEP) the accrediting agency for teacher education programs, that prepared a report on "Clinical Preparation, Partnerships, and Improved Student Learning."  That report included many of the practices you highlight, and was backed by educators, unions, state and local superintendents, deans of education, and some policymakers. Like many great ideas in education, however, many of the recommendations were applauded; then shelved. Not because they are too expensive or too hard to implement, just a lack of will, initative, and coordination among key players.

    Another aspect to really effective experiential learning for novice teachers is connecting them with the many highly accomplished teachers already working in the field. I've long advocated that more teacher ed programs need to be at least co-taught by NBCTs. Personally, I don't think anyone should qualify to be a teacher educator today who has not gone through National Board Certification. But at the very least, teacher prep programs need to be leaning heavily on NBCTs or NBCT networks near them to find optimal classroom and school experiences for candidates. In more rural areas, this could include virtual connections and placements. 

    • Jessica Roberts

      More Time in Real Classrooms for Teacher Candidates


      Thank you for your comment. I could not agree more. I would love to see partnerships with schools and universities that include experienced, NBCT's getting into university education classrooms and co-teaching/teaching. My most powerful undergraduate courses were taught by experienced teachers that were in the classroom. I love the idea of virtual connections as well. Some of my peers in my cohort at Mount Holyoke and I have been talking about creating a virtual learning module for beginning teachers that would be for virtual coaching, mentoring and learning about teacher leadership.



  • KristaGalleberg

    Overcoming barriers?

    I am very intrigued by the political barriers to bringing this model to scale. I wonder, if residency-based and experiential learning programs are used in top-performing nations around the world, and if they are not a new idea in our own country, then why has it not happened yet on a wide scale? Many other posts have focused on this implementation question, but I wonder if you have any thoughts about the specific reasons and challenges to introducing experiential learning to schools and teacher preparation programs, and what might be done to overcome these challenges.