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Professional Development Schools and Partners Overview

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education continues to establish Professional Development Schools (PDS) in partnership with P-12 schools to improve professional practice and enhance student learning.

What Are Professional Development Schools?

Professional Development Schools are innovative institutions formed through partnerships between professional education programs and P-12 schools. PDSs are real schools, often in challenging settings. PDSs support professional and student learning through the use of an inquiry-oriented approach to teaching.

What is Their Mission?

The mission of PDSs is to prepare new teachers and other educators, support professional development, support inquiry directed at the improvement of professional practice, and improve student learning.

Nine Essentials of the PDS

The National Association for Professional Development Schools encourages all those working in school-university relationships to embrace the Nine Essentials of PDS work communicated in this statement. The essentials are written in tangible, rather than abstract, language and represent practical goals toward which PDS work should be directed. The nine required essentials of a PDS:

  1. A comprehensive mission that is broader in its outreach and scope than the mission of any partner and that furthers the education profession and its responsibility to advance equity within schools and, by potential extension, the broader community;
  2. A school–university culture committed to the preparation of future educators that embraces their active engagement in the school community;
  3. Ongoing and reciprocal professional development for all participants guided by need;
  4. A shared commitment to innovative and reflective practice by all participants;
  5. Engagement in and public sharing of the results of deliberate investigations of practice by respective participants;
  6. An articulation agreement developed by the respective participants delineating the roles and responsibilities of all involved;
  7. A structure that allows all participants a forum for ongoing governance, reflection, and collaboration;
  8. Work by college/university faculty and P–12 faculty in formal roles across institutional settings; and 9. Dedicated and shared resources and formal rewards and recognition structures. (National Association for Professional Development Schools)

Why Are Professional Development Schools Important?

Students today are expected to know more, have better skills, and show deeper understanding of content; they are expected to be able to demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Major approaches to meeting this challenge have been though standards-based reform and school restructuring at the P-12 level, along with attention to teacher quality through numerous reforms in professional preparation.

PDSs are important because they bring together these two streams of reform. They support the necessary alignment and they go beyond it. Educators in both schools and universities point to the gap between research and practice, and to the poor articulation between professional preparation and the real world of school reform. P-12 and university educators seek to develop the linkages that allow universities and schools to benefit from the relationship that is created between them.

Students, candidates, and all faculty benefit as a result of:

  • Opportunities to learn in the context of a PDS partnership
  • The PDSs serving a settings in which new practitioners and P-12 and university faculty can lean to meet the challenges of 21st century education together
  • The expertise and resources of both university and the school supporting them

Standards for PDSs

Standards for PDSs were developed for several reasons. They include:

  • NCATE recognizes that PDS partnerships have the potential power to support continuous improvements in both schools and universities. PDS standards, therefore, are intended to bring rigor to the concept of PDSs, so that its potential will not be lost.
  • The standards are meant to support PDS partnerships as they develop. They are accompanied by developmental guidelines meant to assist PDS partners as they move from one stage of development to the next.
  • The standards and developmental guidelines are designed to be used in an assessment process, to provide feedback to PDS partners about their work.
  • Policy makers at the national, state and local levels who want to create incentives and supports for PDSs may also use the standards.
  • The standards can provide a critical framework for conducting and evaluating research that addresses the question of what outcomes are associated with PDS partnerships.

How are the Standards Structured?

There are five standards that address the characteristics of PDSs:

  • Learning community
  • Accountability and quality assurance
  • Collaboration
  • Equity and diversity
  • Structures, resources, and roles

PDS partners implement these characteristics in unique ways. The PDS standards are strongly connected and in many instances they overlap. Consequently, they should be viewed together as a whole.

Each standard consists of several elements. Each element is mentioned in the standard and then explained in narrative form.

(See Section 1 Standards for Professional Development Schools, Standards and Elements)

Key Concepts Embedded in the Standards

Ten key concepts are reflected in the content and structure of the standards. They include:

1. Time Before the Beginning

PDS partnerships must be developed on a foundation of shared interest, mutual commitment and trust. Partners either need to have this pre-existing relationship or spend time in their initial stages building it before they can enter into the very difficult and high stakes works of a PDS partnership.

2. Integration of Professional and Student Learning Through Inquiry

Through field-testing NCATR learned how inquiry is the process through which professional and student learning are integrated. PDS partners and candidates engage in inquiry to:

  • identify and meet students learning needs;
  • effect candidate learning; and
  • determine their professional development agenda.

3. Placing Students at the Center of PDS Work

PDS partners and candidates focus on identifying and meeting students' diverse learning needs by drawing on academic and practitioner knowledge. The P-12 students provide the focus for candidates learning and faculty development in a PDS. The curriculum for candidates or for professional development is generated from the needs of students in the PDS.

4. Learning in the Context of Practice

PDSs embrace the concept that certain kinds of learning occur best in the context of real world practice. Professional development schools are grounded in this concept and designed to support this kind of learning.

5. Boundary Spanning

University and school partners share responsibility for candidate preparation, faculty development, and student learning. Partners take active roles as teachers and learning in each other's partnering institutions; cohorts of candidates assume appropriate responsibilities in schools.

6. Blending of Resources

Partners must use their resources differently in order to achieve their goals - blending, reallocating, restructuring, and integrating their funds, time, personnel, and knowledge.

7. Principal Partners and Institutional Partners

PDS partnerships exist on more than one level. There are principal partners (higher education and P-12 faculty) in a PDS who agree to work together, but institutional partners (school district, teachers union or professional association and university) support their work.

8. The Expanded Learning Community

The learning community of the PDS partnership extends beyond the principal and institutional partners and includes other educators, parents, and the community.

9. The PDS as a Standards-Bearing Institution

PDSs have a unique role in the preparation and development of professional and in school reform. They are dedicated to the support of good teaching and learning and are committed to implementing standards for professionals, curriculum content standards, student learning standards, and institutional standards for schools and universities.

10. Leveraging Change

PDS partnerships can lead to changes in policies and practices within the partnering institutions. They can generate new knowledge that is relevant to both the university and schools. They can have an impact on local, state, and national policy.

Developmental Guidelines

The standards may be used by PDS partnerships at varying stages of development. Four stages of development are identified. The standards apply to all stages of development; what varies is the degree of commitment, level of expertise, the degree of institutionalization and support, and their impact the PDS partnership has outside its partnering institutions.

The criteria are as follows:

Beginning Level - Beliefs, verbal commitments, plans, organization, and initial work are consistent with the mission of PDS partnerships. Even at the earliest stage of development PDS partners are committed to the key concepts of PDSs and their earliest work addresses how to take initial steps in that direction.

Developing Level - Partners are pursuing the mission of the PDS partnership and there is partial institutional support. At the developing stage, partners are engaged in PDS work in many ways. However, their supporting institutions have not yet made changes in their policies and practices that would provide evidence of institutionalization.

At Standard - The mission of the PDS partnership is integrated into the partnering institutions. PDS work is expected and supported, and it reflects what is known about best practices. At this stage partners work together effectively resulting in positive outcomes for all learners. Partnering institutions have made changes in policies and practices that reflect what has been learned through PDS work, and that support PDS participants in meaningful ways.

Leading Level - Advanced PDS work is sustaining and generative, leading to systematic changes in policy and practice in partner institutions, as well as influencing policy at the district, state and national levels. At this stage of development, the PDS partnership has reached its potential for leveraging change outside its boundaries and its supporting institutions, and has an impact in the broader educational community.

Advantages for Partner Schools

  • The school and St. John Fisher College jointly decide on the instructional focus for the school (ELA, math, science).
  • Methods courses may be taught at the partner school by College faculty in collaboration with an administrator or teacher from the partner school.
  • Methods courses can be revised and enhanced to improve professional practice and meet the needs of the partner schools.
  • College students can tutor, observe, or work in classrooms as part of their field experience.
  • College students can be evaluated during the field experience to determine potential placement in the partner school as a student teacher.
  • Action research on a topic of choice or need can be arranged between teachers and administrators in a partner school and the college. College resources to complete the research will be available.
  • Professional development opportunities will be provided by College faculty and other personnel based on the area of need identified by the partner school.
  • Selected faculty from the School of Education, will be available as a resource to the partner school.
  • Teachers and administrators from partner schools have an opportunity to teach with college personnel in other college classes.
  • Teachers and administrators teaching in methods or other college related courses will receive St. John Fisher College adjunct faculty status with corresponding benefits.
  • Opportunities to develop grants to support research and other school related functions.


  • Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education at St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY
  • Rochester City School District, Rochester, NY
    • School #2
    • School #10
    • School #25
    • School #39
    • Joseph C. Wilson Foundation Academy
    • Rochester Early College International High School
  • Greece Central School District
    • Holmes Rd.
    • West Ridge ES
    • Buckman Heights ES
    • Long Ridge ES
    • Olympia HS
    • Arcadia MS
  • Gates-Chili Central School District
    • Neil Armstrong Elementary
  • Rochester Museum and Science Center

Stipends may be available to support various teaching and professional development activities.