Teaching the teachers: Mount Mercy education department offers learning model unique to eastern Iowa

Mount Mercy University is working to put education students a step ahead by partnering with Regis Middle School and Center Point-Urbana schools to implement a new kind of teacher preparation. The Professional Development School (PDS) model was implemented just one year ago as a way for Mount Mercy education majors to learn in a hands-on environment.

“This kind of partnership with local schools is different from what other schools in Iowa are doing,” said Ellen Warrington, chair of the education department at Mount Mercy. “Our students are able to gain immediate classroom experience, which kick starts their career paths in education.”

The model, which was first practiced in the eastern United States, facilitates a type of learning that is experimental, collaborative, intensive, grounded in teacher questions, and connected to and derived from teachers’ work with their students.

Mount Mercy had 15-18 juniors at each of the two schools during the 2013-14 school year. Secondary education students worked with Regis Middle School, while half of the elementary education students worked with Center Point-Urbana Primary School. The other half worked with Center Point-Urbana Intermediate School during the spring term.

Mount Mercy students take some of their university-level classes at the assigned school and then transition into the school district classroom to apply the teaching techniques hands-on. They work with the younger students individually, in small groups or as a whole class on a variety of subjects including literature, history and math.

Students in the PDS model
Through the Professional Development School model, Mount Mercy students are able to gain hands-on classroom experience during their junior year, which better equips them for their student teaching experience in their senior year.

“The PDS model has helped me to become more confident in the classroom,” said Valerie Marshall, an elementary education major who has been working with Center Point-Urbana’s Intermediate School. “I have been able to get more opportunities working with students that I would have not been able to do outside the PDS model. I planned multiple lessons with my colleagues, and we were able to teach them and reflect on how we would do things differently.”

Since Fall 2013, 38 university students have been a part of the joint effort, and the PDS collaborations are proving to fulfill multiple needs for both the schools and the university.

“It really seems to be working beyond our expectations,” said Ann Wooldridge ’87, principal of Center Point-Urbana Primary School. “The college students respond well to the hands-on training afforded by this partnership, and our students benefit from the interaction with Mount Mercy’s students.”

MMU class at CPU Intermediate
Mount Mercy students meet with their professors and have classroom discussions in this dedicated space at Center Point-Urbana Intermediate. Mount Mercy students who are participating in the PDS model program at Regis also have a comparable classroom reserved for their use.

Mount Mercy will also provide in-service training for Regis and Center Point-Urbana teachers upon request. Educators from each school have received some discussion of expectations and tandem work with Mount Mercy faculty, according to Warrington.

“Teachers are very receptive to our students and enjoy helping them obtain hands-on experience,” Warrington said. “They were once college-level students, so they certainly relate to our Mount Mercy learners. Teachers are also able to see the latest teaching techniques in action.  Our partnership is truly beneficial in countless ways.”

Mount Mercy’s PDS will welcome College Community School District’s Prairie Ridge as a new elementary site in the fall of 2014.


Written by Amanda Mayotte ’15