Missed Connections

How the Quality of Teacher Education Community Impacts Student-Teacher Practicum and Teacher Educators
Community of PracticeCare TheoryUniversity SupervisionSelf-study MethodologyTeacher Licensure
This narrative self-study addresses the impact of community on stakeholders in a teacher education program at a public university in the United States, with particular focus on student-teachers completing their final practicum. The authors began a critical friendship in 2020 with conversations quickly focusing on the importance of community in teacher education practice. During 2021-2022, both authors were responsible for supporting student-teachers completing practicum and a teaching licensure assessment. Data included personal narratives of community educational experience, collective narrative, notes, journal entries, and surveys. Through the lenses of care theory (Noddings, 2003) and community of practice theory (Lave & Wenger, 1991), findings suggest that during practicum, pre-established relationships were especially helpful to student-teachers. Narratives were used to understand how researchers learned, modeled, and instructed teacher candidates in professional community-building. Through a critical examination of the authors’ past and present experiences of professional community, alongside student-teachers’ practicum experiences, we suggest teacher educators and supervisors must invest time and care in cultivating professional relationships to better support the success of student-teachers consistently throughout teacher education programming. Accordingly, we see a need for empirical research that examines current and historic trends in teacher-education programs’ collective experience of community and faculty skills in implementing community-building.

Context of the Study

It is well documented that community and care impact student learning and teaching practice (Greater Good in Education [GGIE], 2019; Toom et al., 2017). Strong student-teacher relationships lead to better student learning outcomes (Chetty et al., 2011), and strong faculty relationships lead to more quality instruction (Styron & Nyman, 2008). Pandemic-induced isolation underscored the importance of community for students and teachers alike. During the summer of 2020, the authors met and began our “critical friendship” (Samaras, 2011, p. 13), in the midst of professional and institutional uncertainty. Our friendship became an anchor for our personal and professional growth, as we wrestled with a lack of professional community in our respective roles of doctoral student in educational leadership [Kathleen] and associate professor of art education [Stephanie], at one public university in the American Midwest.

In the fall of 2021, for the first time during our critical friendship, our roles aligned around working with student-teachers taking EdTPA, a standardized portfolio assessment of student-teacher performance. Kathleen was newly assigned as Graduate Assistant to the Coordinator overseeing student teaching and EdTPA completion, while Stephanie had long served as a Teacher Educator and Supervisor to Art Education students. EdTPA is required for most student-teachers at our university to receive teaching licensure, and its implementation has been a persistent point of tension in our teacher education department, partly because of philosophical objections to the positivist orientation of standardized assessments like EdTPA. This tension is consistent with recent self-studies of teacher education faculties implementing EdTPA, which report negative impacts on student-faculty/-supervisor relationships as a result of implementing the assessment (Cronenberg et al., 2016; Donovan & Cannon, 2018).

A recent survey, administered by other faculty at our university and presented as part of a student-teacher seminar, added to our concern about the teacher education community when it indicated one of the greatest obstacles students-teachers perceived in completing EdTPA and teaching practicum was feeling isolated. Isolation is an affective experience of community, namely the absence of community, and as such, it can impact one’s learning experience (GGIE, 2019; Toom et al., 2017). While for over a year we, as critical friends, had been talking indirectly about community, in the fall of 2021, we realized that being invited to both work with student-teachers presented a critical opportunity and context to directly examine the effects of community on our practice.

To explore this issue, we chose a theoretical framework that could address both the affective and relational dimensions of the teacher education community. Jean Lave (1996) explains,

learning is an aspect of changing participation in changing "communities of practice" everywhere. Wherever people engage for substantial periods of time, day by day, in doing things in which their ongoing activities are interdependent, learning is part of their changing participation in changing practices. (p. 150)

Accordingly, we understand our university’s teacher education program as a community of practice, where learning is directed at the practice of teaching. More than simply a practical endeavor, Nel Noddings (2003) has theorized that learning is also an ethical endeavor, experienced affectively, through caring relationships between teachers and students. Together, care theory (Noddings, 2003) and community of practice theory (Lave, 1996; Lave & Wenger, 1991) shaped our study of teacher education community and its relationship to student-teachers as they crossed the threshold from students to licensed practitioners.


For this narrative self-study, we aimed to address:

Because we understand community as multifaceted and a product/creator of everything around and within it (Lave, 1996), and because we understand healthy student-teacher relationships as engaged in a continuous cycle of care (Noddings, 2003), this inquiry aims to explore our individual and shared terrain within teacher education contexts. Our study is a response to Donovan and Cannons' (2018) call for “a strong, empirically grounded understanding of how edTPA affects student teachers’ relationships with their supervisors” (p. 19) and for greater attention to and theorizing about the supervisor’s role in the construction of the teacher (Cuenca, 2012).


We employed narrative self-study to answer our research questions. Self-study is a methodology, usually employed at the university level (Kitchen et al., 2019), through which teacher-educators recognize and modify their perceptions in ways that improve and promote critical consciousness of teaching practice (Geursen et al., 2016; LaBoskey, 2004; Northfield & Loughran, 1997). Narrative inquiry, “is a way of organizing human experience, since humans lead storied lives individually and socially,” (Kim, 2016, p. 18) and helps us relate our historical experience to our present activity (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). Narrative inquiry compliments and enhances our use of self-study because “narratives can be a ‘door opener’ to discuss and think deeply about complex and taboo issues” (Milner, 2007, p. 595). EdTPA is both a complex threshold students must cross to enter professional life and a taboo practice from which significant numbers of faculty in our school distance themselves. Our individual narratives provide the means by which we understand learning communities, approach critical friendship, and explore together the concrete expressions of and limits to community, as they relate to student-teacher supervision and EdTPA support in our university.

We used multiple forms of data in this study, collected over the course of 22 consecutive months, during which we engaged in regular self-study conversations. We took notes during these conversations and journaled about our experiences, especially of teacher supervision and EdTPA guidance during the 2021 fall semester. These notes and journals were recorded in a shared digital repository, along with reflective journal entries about our self-study conversations, student-teacher seminars, and faculty and staff meetings related to our supervisory and supportive roles. Though we knew professional community impacted both our teaching practice and our students’ experience, our self-study conversations revealed that without more data about our students’ experiences, we could not make informed changes to our practice to meet their learning needs, during practicum and EdTPA completion.

Accordingly, we prepared a mixed-methods survey, drawing on Cho and Demmans Epp’s (2019) adaptation of Rovai’s (2002) Sense of Community Survey (see Appendix A), which we administered to student-teachers, after they completed the EdTPA in the fall 2021 semester, and received a 44 percent response rate (n = 69). We also sought formal interviews with student-teachers, though only one agreed to be interviewed for our study. We obtained prior approval from our university’s Research Ethics and Integrity Office (ID #04078e) to administer the survey and interview. The choice to collect this data aligned with Bullough and Pinnegar’s (2001) suggestion that “problems must prescribe methods” (p. 14). By understanding the problems student-teachers face during this critical time in their professional training, we could more intentionally reflect on how our pedagogy, and the teacher education community that shapes it, might better respond to their needs. We coded this survey and interview data using Dedoose (2022), a web application for mixed-methods data analysis, and analyzed our data for code co-occurrence, categories, and themes (Kim, 2016). A selection of responses is presented in Appendix B.

This analysis, informed modifications to our teaching practice with teacher-candidates, and reflection on those changes. Bullough and Pinnegar (2001) explain, “When biography and history are joined, when the issue confronted by the self is shown to have relationship to and bearing on the context and ethos of a time, then self-study moves to research” (p. 15). Accordingly, it was during this time that our self-study moved into research. We continued recording notes during regular self-study meetings and keeping researcher journals, but we also began writing and discussing autobiographical narratives about our prior experiences of community in and beyond our university, which helped contextualize our respective practices in the present and strategize for changes in the future. Then, we turned our attention toward the process of both storying and “[excavating] stories from our data” (Kim, 2016, p. 204).

Bullough and Pinnegar’s (2001) guidelines for quality in self-study research assert “The autobiographical self-study researcher has an ineluctable obligation to seek to improve the learning situation not only for the self but for the other” (p. 17). Accordingly, we used our student-teacher data to clarify what student-teachers needed from the teacher education community. The survey and interview revealed that students who felt isolated during practicum also felt less supported by the teacher education community. To address EdTPA and practicum problems of practice, many students reported seeking/receiving support from peers and alumni as well as depending on various forms of technology (e.g., YouTube, TeachersPayTeachers, group chats), rather than reporting consistent support, or even comfort-seeking support, from experienced faculty (e.g., supervisors, professors). In light of these insights, we reexamined our self-study data, identifying specific moments from the past school year and beyond, which illustrated times in our practice and/or experience of educational communities of practice that addressed or informed our reading of the needs identified by student-teachers. We then wove together these experiences into autobiographical vignettes (Bullough & Pinnegar, 2001), which we then smoothed into a collective narrative (Kim, 2016).



Our survey data suggested that during practicum, pre-established relationships (e.g., trusted peers, alumni-friends, or former faculty) were especially helpful to student-teachers completing the EdTPA. Accordingly, to improve our practice, we needed to understand how we learned, modeled, and instructed students in teacher education relationship-building. Toward this end, in the sections below, we share our storied experiences of community outside and inside our current university, before sharing ways our practice has changed as a result of this self-study.

Outside Experiences

Kathleen: I completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees over six consecutive years, at a Catholic university in New England. There, a community between students and faculty was fostered with intention and consistency. As an undergraduate, degree programs would host socials each year, which brought students together with faculty to share meals and conversations. When I had questions or just an itch to chat with a faculty member, I could walk around the department and find open doors and well-lived-in offices. Rarely did I have to set up a meeting with a faculty member, because I could so easily find them in their office. While I seldom grew close with faculty, I have many fond memories of chatting with them about life.

This was even truer as a graduate student in my university’s school of theology and ministry. Community anchored the school’s mission. It hosted multiple weekly community events. These included protected community time each Wednesday afternoon, when classes did not take place for two hours, allowing all students and faculty to share in a prayer service followed by a catered meal. While participation was optional, it was attended by most full-time students and faculty, creating a reliable space for informal connections. Further, the school hosted regular community nights, during which students and faculty gathered for fun activities and a potluck meal. Everyone was welcome, and so students often brought their partners or friends to share in the community. More than a school, for the years we were master’s students, it felt like we were part of a family. This made it easier to approach faculty both in and beyond the classroom. When I had questions or struggled with content, I felt comfortable reaching out to my professors to ask questions. While office doors were usually open only by appointment or for office hours, once I was invited in, I felt welcome to stay for a heartfelt conversation.

Stephanie: While a doctoral student, I shared an office with four other graduate students in a suite next to five faculty in our area. My advisor made a point to fold me into her circles, introducing me to academic life through both my graduate student community and my new connections and responsibilities. My graduate student colleagues and I were at different places in our programs but were quick to share frustrations, study notes, textbooks, secrets to surviving as a graduate student, and collegial conversations. We invested in one another’s success and helped each other navigate the academy.

My first position in higher education, unfortunately, did not mimic the community I was able to build during my graduate work. I was in a place where hidden resentment and passive communication were the norm. Professors wanted mostly to be left alone to do their work. Cliques were common, and friendships often seemed based on needs for one another’s expertise rather than community. While I made a few valuable connections, the work I did felt isolated and unimportant to the greater mission of the department, though I’m not sure if anyone knew what that mission was. At faculty meetings I felt it easy to disappear in the small department, rarely being asked to contribute or report on anything. I longed to be among others like me, who cared both for furthering work in their own fields and also fostering positive relationships with one another across disciplines.

Internal Experiences

Kathleen: I lived nearly 40 miles from campus and worked full-time during the first three years of my program. So, even on the few occasions when the department or graduate school hosted a get together, I could rarely attend. Once I transitioned to full-time status and visited campus more regularly, I almost never found an office door open or a classmate hanging out at their desk. I was so struck by this that during the fall semester of my fourth year, our first back to campus after the pandemic, I made a point to walk through the department whenever I was on campus, and every day, it looked like a ghost town.

Specific instructors, especially in my first year, made a clear effort to welcome my cohort. One professor bought us pizza and organized potlucks during class time, the expense of which he covered out of pocket. Another professor told us about her love of culantro all semester before feeding us a Latin American meal, like her grandmother taught her. Still, another professor invited us to a potluck at her home, after the semester wrapped up. But these were outliers. Outside of these classes, there were limited opportunities to build community. There was no scheduled common time, no joint lunches, and few invitations to coffee, even with my advisor. When I shared this observation with a senior faculty member, he lamented that it used to be different. In past decades, faculty sought each other out every week to have casual conversations over coffee. Offices used to be packed across the school. But generations shifted their expectations, people left, and most recently, COVID sent many home, where they have lingered, me included.

Stephanie: My initial induction into my department community was led by a strong and detail-oriented person who wouldn’t hesitate to hug new colleagues and stop them in the hallway to check-in. I felt encouraged to make my small office a place where others could gather and chat, with a small couch, extra chairs, and a whiteboard to record spontaneous brainstorming. I was invited to department events and asked regularly to share what our program was doing and how we could be better supported. Our students’ and program’s accomplishments were acknowledged, and collaboration seemed easy.

Now, finishing my 8th year at this institution, I reflect on how a once-vibrant community has dissipated. A department that was alive with collegial hallway conversations, open doors, and happy hours, devolved into a cold, quiet place. While COVID and quarantine is partly to blame, our community’s isolation began long-before. The university shut down a faculty space for dining together and didn’t replace it. There were feeble attempts to bring something similar back, but to this day, there is no common space for faculty across the university. In my own department, leadership shifted and values seemed to change and diverge. What once seemed like a collective effort became clouded as communication and collegiality waned.

Changed Practice

Kathleen: Early in the spring 2022 semester, my junior pre-service students spent a few weeks in the field, reporting back to me through reflective journals. As they became flummoxed by problems of practice, I began advising them, “It takes a village to educate a child.” I would deliberately point out colleagues that might have skills to help them respond better to their students’ needs. This became a habit throughout the semester, reminding students during office hours, class discussion, and even our final class of the year, that there is a whole ecosystem of experts they can and should build relationships with, wherever they go to teach–parents, community organizations, faculty, coaches, intervention specialists, counselors, nurses, and even the secretary at the front desk. Further, this community is longitudinal; their former classmates, professors, and alumni just a few years ahead of them are all resources they can learn from. The better they know this village, the stronger their relationships with them, the more resources they can turn to to enhance their practice.

This point was underscored, when two different guest speakers, both having recently completed the EdTPA, shared on two different occasions that alumni mentorship helped them do better on the assessment. They advised my students to find alumni they trust to ask questions as they go. When, on the last day of class, I asked groups of students to recall strategies to complete the EdTPA, every group named alumni mentoring as key. During that same class, I presented my students with difficult scenarios, drawn from my own experience teaching in urban secondary schools. In small groups, they had to generate solutions to problems of practice, and one by one, student groups generated solutions that demanded collaboration with their imagined colleagues.

Stephanie: On the last day of class with my spring sophomore pre-service students, they entered in high spirits and quickly began pulling their tables together. Normally, this team-based class used tables that stayed in pods, and students would wander in, find their team, sit and quietly chat or get on their devices. Today it was different. The volume was heightened, the tone more jovial, and fewer devices popped up, while students were finding their seats. Yes, it was the last day of the semester, but something else was different. Students who normally make a beeline for their seats and put their heads down walked in, smiled at the large group forming, and squeezed another chair in between others. Students who normally kept to their smaller friend groups in class were quick to bring stragglers in and converse across the long set of tables. “We should have been doing this all semester!” One student said. Another replied, “Yeah! This is so much more fun!” Before we started our activities for the day, I walked to the center of the long table and smiled. “This makes me so happy,” I told them. “You will learn a lot of things in this program, but if you can keep doing stuff like this - it will serve you so well as you continue on into teaching.”


Our earliest experiences in educational communities of practice illustrate how structure and intention contributed positively to our experience of community. Kathleen benefited from protected time for relationship-building, shared activities, and institutionalized expressions of hospitality. Stephanie interacted with peers and colleagues in closely-organized spaces, was mentored intentionally to take on more professional responsibilities, and benefited from a caring collegial environment. In her second community of practice, however, Stephanie experienced a less caring community and more expectations for self-reliance.

This came to be mirrored in our current community of practice, as we have experienced it over the course of this self-study. However, Stephanie has witnessed a gradual attrition of community, resulting in the current state of individuation. When she joined the faculty, Stephanie benefited from shared faculty dining space, where ideas were exchanged freely and frequently, and a caring departmental culture, which included support for creating a welcoming physical space in her office, to sustain student and faculty intellectual exchange. Since Kathleen matriculated as a doctoral student, she has only known a school culture wherein community-building was driven by individual faculty initiative, rather than institutional design. Both of us agree, this has been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic but preceded it. That both we and our student-teachers struggled with community in this context seems inevitable.

Both care theory (Noddings, 2003) and community of practice theory (Lave and Wenger, 1991) are clear that relationships matter for learning. Within any community of practice, peripheral members offer a kind of scaffolding, allowing new members to participate in community practices without much responsibility (Mirra et al., 2016). As these new members improved their competency in a given task, they learned from more core members, who allowed greater participation, with increased responsibility within the community. Our self-study suggests that part of responsible participation in teacher-education communities of practice is the community-building itself. This can be enhanced by structural design of spaces that enhance connection and flow of ideas. But most fundamentally, we need to know our colleagues, because they enable us to learn better how to respond to our students' needs. If we don’t have the knowledge or skills to be responsive educators to specific problems of practice, no amount of caring engrossment in our students’ lives will compensate for the knowledge or experience we lack. We need a community of practice to help us respond, and building that community is a key part of our professional responsibility. This was modeled for both of us in our formative college and graduate studies, but as professionals in our current university, our learning and instruction has suffered from the lack of it. As we engage student-teachers, who we know are struggling with isolation during their practicum semester, we have realized that it is incumbent upon us to name this need, change our own behaviors to enhance the quality of the teacher education community, and help our teacher-candidates–before they ever go to field–learn through our instruction and our example what responsible participation in an educational community of practice can and should look like.


This self-study offers insight into how we, as teacher educators, have experienced community in our academic lives at and beyond our university and how that, along with student-teachers’ sense of community, continues to shape the nature of our pedagogy with teacher-candidates. Through our joint inquiry–into our own experiences and our students’, we found that community must be fostered early and consistently in the teacher education experience to function as a resource that student-teachers can rely on while away in field placements. These supports include but are not limited to relationships with faculty, supervisors, peers, and alumni. Realizing this, we made deliberate modifications to our spring semester practice that communicated this need, repeatedly and explicitly, to our teacher-candidates, prior to their practicum/EdTPA semester. We both linked relationship-building to successful professional practice, and Kathleen explicitly threaded this insight between both EdTPA success and professional practice. Further, Kathleen was able to repeatedly model professional community-building by inviting repeated guest speakers to her class, who further amplified the value of their own communities in professional and EdTPA success.

Our personal experiences with (and without) community in higher education and our exploration therein provided a foundation that necessitated new and more intentional conversations with students about the role of community and care. Likewise, we recognize that teacher educators and other staff and mentors involved in the care and teaching of teacher-candidates require strong communities themselves. Accordingly, we see a serious need for empirical research that examines current and historic trends in whole teacher-education programs’ collective experience of community. Further, research is needed to understand the skills faculty have in community-building and the degree to which community-building is incorporated into the teacher-education curriculum. Self-study, particularly because it relies so strongly on critical friendship, may play a key role in studying, modeling, and rebuilding more caring communities of teacher education practice.


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Appendix A

Sense of Community Survey Given by Authors to Participants


Potential Responses

What is your role in the teacher education program here? (Select any that apply)

Student Teacher, Graduate Student, Supervisor, Teacher Educator, Staff Member, Other

What area(s) are your courses/endorsement/certification in?

22 options were listed based on grade bands and disciplinary area programs.

Did you complete your entire teacher education program here?

Yes, No, I am not a fall 2021 student teacher., other

Which assessment did you complete or were you involved in?

[Alternative-to-EdTPA Assessment], EdTPA, I was not involved in either assessment., Other

Did you have significant responsibilities beyond student teaching this semester?

Yes, No, I am not a fall 2021 student teacher., other

Where do you plan to teach after getting certified?

In [U.S. State], Outside of [U.S. State], I do not plan to teach., I am not a fall 2021 student teacher, Other

Sense of Community - Short Form Survey*

* See Cho & Demmans Epp, 2019 for questions

Likert Scale response:

Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree

Appendix B

Open Response Questions with Selected Responses

Open Response Questions

Selected Responses

What FACULTY/STAFF were most helpful to you during your student teaching/edTPA experience? Please list what position they held/hold.

“cooperating teachers were helpful, none of the [University] staff were very helpful”

“No staff were helpful during my student teaching experience. [Five named faculty] were very helpful during my courses prior to this semester.”

“My supervisor- Dr. Stephanie Baer”

“[Alternative-to-EdTPA Assessment] Advisor”

“While I am grateful for everyone that helped me throughout this process, I did feel rather isolated. I have a specific major and my [University] Supervisor did not know about this major really so I feel like they couldn't really give me much feedback or help with my questions. I also don't know of anyone else who has my major so that was hard since I really didn't have people to talk to.”

“I felt I was unable to receive help or support from any University staff during my student teaching experience.”

“[The Student-Teaching Coordinator] was most helpful during my student teaching/edTPA experience.”

What RESOURCES were most helpful to you during the student teaching/edTPA experience?

“EdTPA handbook and research I did online”

“none of the resources from [University] were helpful”

“Teachers Pay Teachers and my cooperating teacher's resources collected over many years”

“Not many resources were helpful. I felt that I figured out most of my edTPA by myself or with the help of other students.”

“The passedTPA website”

“the handbook, seminars, office hours, and the edtpa help site”

“My cooperating teacher, YouTube (regarding edTPA), various teaching books”

“The graduate students at the seminars”

“Peers I know who previously student taught, my cohort peer groupchat”

What role did the [University] Teacher Education community have in the success of the student teaching/edTPA experience?

“My friends were helpful to me. The teaching community as a whole was not.”

“Being able to bounce ideas off of peers that have been constant throughout my entire educational program was extremely beneficial”

“Not a whole lot to be honest, My supervisor was the most helpful. As well as the 11 week schedule to follow for edTPA”

“No role. I did not feel support from my school or professor during this entire time, they lacked empathy and understanding in the dynamics of certain lifestyles. I felt as though because I do not reside in [University] that I didn't belong and was never approached or even emailed by the professor or TAs.”

“The [University] Teacher Education Community had seminars that allowed the student teachers to collaborate with other students and ask questions to their supervisors if needed. I also felt that if I emailed [the EdTPA Coordinator] or my supervisor with a question, I always got an email back in a quick manner.”

“The close community of the Art Education majors, and our weekly seminars with our university supervisor were [instrumental] to getting me through my student teaching experience. During those weekly seminars we as a group were able to reflect on our week, the good and the bad, and seek insight and advice from each other and our university supervisor.”

“The [University] Teacher Education community was sort of helpful, but once I started student teaching I feel like all support was gone and I was totally isolated and by myself. I think I was so overwhelmed with all of my stuff and I didn't really have any tips on how to time manage or how much time I should spend on certain things or regular check ins from my supervisor. While I really did like my supervisor, as mentioned, they did not know anything about my major so they couldn't really answer my questions. I also would have liked getting to know them better since when I met my supervisor I had no clue who they were and then they were my contact point for all things Miami and I just didn't have a relationship with them. My methods classes were by far the most helpful before my student teaching, but not much was helpful during my actual student teaching.”

Kathleen M. Sellers

Miami University

Stephanie Baer

Lincoln Public Schools

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