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2/19 Sarah Schneider Kavanagh - What Do We Mean When We Say Practice? Developing Conceptual Clarity about Practice-Based Teacher Education


February 19, 2015 



Teacher Education programs across the nation describe their work as “practice-based.”  The phrase has become so ubiquitous that some worry it has lost its meaning.  So what do we mean when talk about practice-based teacher education?  Does a practice-based approach to professional preparation mean changing the structures and settings of programs?  Does it mean reimagining the curriculum of learning to teach?  Does it involve a transformation of teacher educators’ pedagogy?  Scholars and practitioners have conceptualized practice-based teacher education at each of these different levels, but rarely do they clearly differentiate between them.  As “practice-based” approaches to teacher education continue to take hold, it is imperative that we develop some conceptual clarity about the role of practice in learning to teach.  Without that clarity the turn to practice runs the risk of becoming a fad driven more by trend than by a deep understanding of how people learn to enact professional practice.

Dr. Sarah Schneider Kavanagh is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching at Stanford University. She received her doctorate at the University of Washington’s College of Education where she developed Teacher Education by Design (, a web-based, free-content library of practice-based tools for teacher educators.  She has also worked on teams that have designed two practice-based teacher education programs.  Her program design work has been focused on tackling what Kennedy (1999) called “the problem of enactment,” the gap between what teachers are able to envision and what they are actually able to do in classrooms. By taking a systems perspective on teacher education programs and working to build alignment between structures, curricula, pedagogy, and settings, her work has focused on building teacher education programs that put the practice of teaching at the center of learning to teach.

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CSET Speaker Series: Pondering Excellence in Teaching