#FutureReady Community Partnerships

A commitment to professional learning is important, not because teaching is of poor quality and must be ‘fixed’, but rather because teaching is so hard that we can always improve it. No matter how good a lesson is, we can always make it bett er. Just as in other professions, every teacher has the responsibility to be involved in a career-long quest to improve practice.- Charlotte Danielson, Ed Leadership Magazine (December/January, 2011, p. 37)

Julie Devine, Krista Varano, Janine Conley

I am honored to have the opportunity to co-author this post with Dr. Krista Varano. Dr. Varano is currently a professor in the College of Education at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. At Kutztown, Krista teaches pedagogy courses in classroom management, assessment, inquiry science, and ELA. In addition, she serves as the Coordinator of the Professional Semester Program, which is the junior field experience block, and is a Clinical Experience Supervisor. Prior to her work at Kutztown, Krista worked in K-8 as a middle and elementary school teacher.

The opportunity for our staff and students to collaborate with Dr. Varano and her pre-service teacher candidates was an exciting opportunity for both groups involved.  Below, we offer a dual perspective on the WHY, HOW and WHAT of Garnet Valley, a K-12 suburban Philadelphia public school, building a Community Partnership with Kutztown University, an institution of higher education.

WHY this partnership is important…

…from the Higher Ed Perspective – Sitting on the cusp of their first dip into the educational job market, Pre-service Teachers at Kutztown University are just beginning to develop the idea that life-long learning is essential. Bogged down with assignments and learning that often resembles exactly how they were taught in school, a pre-service teacher’s foggy view of the world often revolves around the next class deadline.  Breaking free from the deadline and diving into a critical look at who today’s students really are, and how differently effective teaching looks outside of the textbook, is a goal I set for my pre-service teachers each semester.

How to accomplish that goal is another story. Observation hours and isolated experiences without context and meaningful reflection do little to inform, let alone inspire, innovative teaching. Yet if ‘every teacher has the responsibility to be involved in a career-long quest to improve practice’ as Danielson suggests, then I am no exception. Finding a way to enhance my pre-service teachers’ pedagogy is my charge.


…from the K-12 Perspective – Here at Garnet Valley, we are continuously working towards becoming a Future Ready school district.  One of the areas of particular focus for growth this year is Community Partnerships, in which the school serves as a hub of the local community. As such, it actively involves the community in achieving its learning goals, reaching out to the community to (1) extend learning into community centers, libraries, businesses, higher education institutions, museums, and other public spaces; (2) bring relevance to curricula through partnerships that take the shape of apprenticeships, community service, and the use of community-based experts and resources; (3) implement community-based exhibitions, reviews, critiques, and celebrations of student work; and (4) coordinate after school programs, including collaboration with the school and students’ teachers. Community Engagement and Outreach. (*See the Future Ready Dashboard & Framework for more information.) 

To be honest, this has been probably one of the toughest ‘gears’ to get up and rolling in the Framework.  We’ve spent a few years reaching out, visiting companies and colleges, yet it has been hard to get a consistent commitment with most.  A few years back I wrote about the power that social media could have on my role as an educator (see Waking Up Rip Van Winkle).  I am happy to say that since that ‘aha’ moment, through purposeful and meaningful connections on Twitter and other avenues (I’ll spare you the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon as to how we ended up here but a special shout out to Kutztown SPSEA for the spark), we seem to have finally hit our stride with a few connections this year.

It was this spark that provided the opportunity and partnership to connect our Instructional Technology Coaches and 1st grade students at Concord Elementary School with Kutztown University’s Dr. Krista Varano and her pre-service teachers for an experience that was both powerful and unique for both groups involved!

Throughout this process our coaches, teachers and students were able to not only share what is happening in schools today around the concepts of Maker Education, Innovative Learning Spaces, and hands-on, inquiry-based learning infused with technology, but they were able to connect and learn with and from current university students studying to become teachers.

HOW this partnership played out…

…from the Higher Ed Perspective – This semester, I had the opportunity to take students on a field trip, but not one with buses and boxed lunches, a virtual field trip into the Collaborative Learning Space at Garnet Valley School District. With STEAM as my motivator, I had altered my curriculum in recent semesters to include more exposure for my pre-service teachers to the innovative use of MakerSpaces in the elementary school. Utilizing our campus developed STEAMWorks lab, I was able to develop experiences for my pre-service teachers that mimicked inquiry lessons and future-ready learner development. Yet, mimicry does not compare to reality, and I found while the pre-service teachers gained superfluous knowledge from our campus experiences, increasing their depth of knowledge was my ultimate goal.

Collaboration with Garnet Valley enabled me to give my pre-service teachers an innovative and realistic view at not only how differently elementary students are learning today, but how important collaborations with K-12 partners are for successful pre-service teacher preparation.


…from the K-12 Perspective –

Garnet Valley to Kutztown University: After several months of planning and at the invitation of Dr. Krista Varano, I had a chance to accompany Julie Devine and Janine Conley on a road trip to Kutztown.  In preparation for the ‘virtual’ field trip coming up 2 days later, Julie and Janine were working with Dr. Varano’s classes on an inquiry-based Science lesson for 1st graders centered around the Essential Question, “What happens to a cloud that causes it to rain?” Links are included for the full developmental lesson plan as well as for the slide deck that was used with both the college students and 1st graders. 

GVSD Tech Coaches planning with Dr. Varano
GVSD Tech Coaches planning with Dr. Varano

Julie and Janine taught the lesson to college student by engaging them as the ‘students’, while at the same time stepping out into more of a transparent, metacognitive teacher role to help the students understand the ‘teacher lens’ for the lesson.  This allowed the KU students to view both sides of the teaching and learning that takes place within a lesson.  It also allowed students to experience the strategies, techniques and technologies they learn in the pre-service course as students themselves, and provide meaningful discussion to understand the importance of how these strategies, techniques and technologies are appropriately used and placed throughout a lesson.  Both Julie and Janine were able to provide feedback and recommendations in using various strategies for their own future lessons and final unit project.  Some pictures and a video of the day is below:


Kutztown University to Garnet Valley: The next phase in this process was to run this same lesson with two 1st grade classes at Concord Elementary School’s Collaboration & Innovation Lab (for more on our Learning Spaces redesign please click When Form Matches Function). A HUGE shout out to Ms. Dougherty (@Ms_Dougherty) and Mrs. Bruns (@MeganBrunsGV)for opening their rooms to this opportunity, and to Tyler Schwab, IT Department at Kutztown University for his help in making sure things ran smoothly on the University side!  While the lesson was going on, we used Google Hangouts (from several angles) to live stream the lesson to Dr. Varano’s class back at Kutztown.  Her students were using Padlet (https://tinyurl.com/drvarano900 & https://tinyurl.com/drvarano1100 ) to make comments, ask questions, etc…while this was going on.  

The virtual field trip provided the KU students a live view into a first grade classroom.  The college students were able to see how our 1st graders responded to the different strategies of the lesson, how they interacted with one another, how they navigated the learning space, and the different modifications the teachers needed to make throughout the lesson to meet the learners’ needs.  

For some video and pics of the lesson, please see below:

WHAT this partnership helped create…

…from the Higher Ed Perspective – Pre-service teacher written reflection and subsequent informal verbal feedback provided qualitative data that suggested this experience impacted their learning and perhaps future teaching.  Comments included:

  • Being able to see a lesson that we did ourselves come to action in a classroom of kids was a rewarding experience.
  • This experience opened my eyes to the amount of technology young children can handle. I loved collaborating with the PreK-4 teachers about the lesson after they taught.
  • It made me feel excited about being able to do lessons like the one we witnessed.
  • The amount of technology utilized to bring the experience to us was really cool. The children seemed to thrive in an environment where they are able to create and manipulate materials that are presented to them.
  • This experience gave me a better understanding of inquiry lessons and how beneficial and engaging they are for students.
  • Live questions, comments and reflections during the lessons can be found here:

A video of our coaches debriefing the lesson and experience with the Kutztown Students is below:


…from the K-12 Perspective – Besides being given the opportunity to visit and work with the college students and for the hands on, inquiry science lesson for our students, one of the coolest moments was at the end of the class, when our students gathered on the carpet to ‘meet’ Dr. Varano’s students via Google Hangouts.  Her classes had a chance to ask our students a few questions related to learning and collaboration in the C&I Labs, and our students got a kick out of connecting with future teachers.  

Our collective ‘career-long quest to improve practice’ originally started out as a quest to improve the practice of pre-service teachers. However we all agree the improvements to educational practice reach far beyond the college classroom. Each stakeholder, Higher Ed, K-12 students, teachers, and administration, takes away valuable lessons on collaboration and partnership. Through this experience, we are energized to continue to grow as we prepare our students and ourselves to be #FutureReady.

Stay tuned next week for a guest post by @MrVestRVA, who will be discussing how his Virginia Middle School is taking their #FutureReady Community Partnerships to a whole new level!

Thanks for reading!

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