Tips for Successful K-12 School District and Teacher-Prep Program Collaboration

Tips for Successful K-12 School District and Teacher-Prep Program Collaboration

In the wake of an unprecedented teacher shortage, U.S. educators are developing new and inventive ways to enhance K-12 teacher education to better prepare pre-service teachers, improve ongoing professional development, and boost teacher retention. K-12 school districts nationwide have begun to forge partnerships with university teacher preparation programs—benefiting districts, colleges, communities, students, and teachers. 

Collaborating with teacher prep programs allows school districts to specify the qualities they’re seeking in teachers and reveal any disconnects between what college students are learning and what their future students actually need. And it supports the development of teacher candidates, offering them a real-life preview of what day-to-day classroom leadership and instruction look like. 

We’ll explore:

  • The benefits of collaboration between K-12 school districts and teacher prep programs
  • How to establish effective partnerships
  • Tips for fruitful collaboration

The Perks of Partnership


Collaboration between post-secondary teacher prep programs and K-12 schools has been proven to improve teacher quality, student achievement, and teacher retention. Research shows that better prepared teachers stay in their careers, enhancing education across the board with valuable experience and reducing the cost of recruiting and onboarding new candidates. 

Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Oregon has reduced its five-year teacher attrition rate from 30 to five percent through its collaboration with two nearby institutions of higher ed (IHE). The district’s partnerships with Western Oregon University and Corban University have enabled:

  • The creation of talent pipelines that meet their specific needs
  • Coordination of shared goals and requirements for program graduates
  • Joint data analysis to inform and improve teacher training and support

In just one year, teachers prepared through these partnerships outperformed their peers on eight out of 10 key teaching standards.

Real-world classroom experience is a key component of school–university collaboration. As far back as 2010, a National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) report recommended that teacher educators “move to programs that are fully grown in clinical practice and interwoven with academic content and professional courses.” Results of sustained clinical preparation in real-life classrooms include:

  • Increased exposure to knowledge for new teachers
  • Better preparation for first-year teaching 
  • Improved inquiry and analytical skills
  • More positive attitudes about teaching
  • Higher scores on teachers’ performance evaluations
  • Better K-12 student outcomes 

In addition to the benefits of hands-on practice, there are a number of benefits of teacher prep-school district collaboration overall, including:

  • Teachers gain greater familiarity with practices required in schools 
  • Enriched in-service teacher education through ongoing professional development opportunities
  • More reflective practice* for in-service teachers  
  • Preferred hiring status for partnership-prepared candidates 
  • Grads of partnering programs assume leadership roles more quickly
  • Lifelong curiosity and growth among educators who strive to teach and learn more effectively
  • Restructuring and improvement of schools, informed by IHE knowledge, research, and leadership 
  • Ongoing university faculty interaction with students and teachers keeps them in touch with the realities of the classroom 

*GoReact offers a proven combination of video + feedback that makes reflective practice simpler and easier for students and teachers.

Top Tips for Effective K-12–University Collaboration 


Partnerships between IHEs and K-12 schools take time to form, grow, and mature. Following are a number of steps recommended by New York State education experts to promote successful collaboration: 

  1. Identify existing relationships between schools and IHE teacher preparation programs
  2. Assess the quality of the existing relationships to determine if they might form the basis of a desirable IHE–school partnership. If not, seek other potential partnership members
  3. Once partnership members are selected, determine the shared vision or ultimate goal(s) of the partnership
  4. Identify each party’s desired outcomes or benefits
  5. Clarify roles, responsibilities, and expectations, establishing a written statement of agreement 
  6. Create a work plan and a timeline, and document efforts 
  7. Encourage and facilitate ongoing feedback from all parties and commit to periodic assessment and refinement of the partnership 

What Does Success Look Like? 


The work doesn’t end once a partnership is established. To promote and sustain a successful affiliation, Education First, a national, mission-driven strategy and policy organization with expertise in education improvement, recommends that collaborating districts and prep programs take the following steps

  • Align on rubrics and expectations for program graduates
  • Share and look at data together to drive action
  • Jointly choose and train mentor teachers and strategically place candidates
  • Ensure coursework matches clinical experiences and district language
  • Communicate and meet frequently, spending time in schools together
  • Regularly step back to honestly discuss progress and challenges

According to experts at California State University (CSU), components of fruitful partnerships can vary based on local context and needs—like demographics, geography, and economy. And collaboration evolves based on advances in understanding of human behavior and new technology. But for now, CSU has identified these additional characteristics as essential for a successful partnership:

  • Commitment of human and financial resources
  • Active involvement of institutional leaders who have the authority to set direction and the passion to advocate for the partnership
  • Alignment of instructors and administrators
  • Sharing, collection, analysis and application of data for continuous improvement

The benefits of affiliation between districts and prep programs are undeniable. Establishing these partnerships requires a substantial investment of time and planning up front, but the ongoing rewards for schools, universities, teachers, students, and communities are worth the effort.

For more expert advice and supplemental tools* for launching and improving valuable school district–teacher prep program partnerships, check out this site developed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.