Collaborative University School Partnerships (CUSP)

Research Team: Bronwen Cowie, Beverley Cooper and Dr Jane Furness.

Project Dates: 2012 - 2016

Project Background

In 2012, an innovative university–school partnership arose from concerns expressed by principals that Faculty of Education demands related to placement/practicum were impacting on children’s classroom learning programs.

The co-construction and implementation of the revised partnership model was grounded on Wenger’s (1998) notion of communities of practice. Teacher-educators, teachers and student-teachers were viewed as belonging to different communities with the negotiation process aimed at bringing these communities together to establish shared goals and processes to support student teacher learning.

The Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research set up a developmental research project to run alongside the programme during 2012. This research had two aims:

  • Firstly, the research explored the nature of the collaborative practice of the Normal schools and Faculty of Education staff as they co-constructed, repositioned and strengthened their partnership to provide a more coherent experience for student-teachers during their first year placement/practicum experience.
  • Secondly, the research looked at the implementation in practice of the re-framed programme by conducting in-depth case studies in two schools.

The research has identified critical factors that enabled and constrained its implementation in practice as well as factors that enabled and constrained the partnership process.

Project highlights

The collaboration and shared responsibility achieved with CUSP is valued by university and school staff. Overall there is strong enthusiasm for the re-framed programme, with no wish to return to past practices. Participants in the research were overwhelmingly positive about the greater sense of partnership they now experience and their enjoyment of and commitment to sharing the responsibility for initial teacher education. Student teachers valued their CUSP experience which meant that they were placed in the same classroom in pairs one day a week in semester A, and in a different class and pair in Semester B where they also spent their practicum.

Significant findings

In the main, student teachers seem to be better prepared when they begin their careers than before CUSP was introduced. Student teachers now have more opportunity early on in their programme to begin to understand what being a teacher involves and to build their teacher identity prior to their professional careers. Associate teachers are finding their role more satisfying. They are able to build a relationship with the student teachers over a longer period, have ongoing input into their development as teachers, and see them grow their teacher identity. They see themselves more strongly as partners with university colleagues in preparing student teachers to be teachers, a sense accompanied by heightened commitment to their student teacher’s development. The new format works better for children and for classroom practices too. Classroom programmes are less disrupted. This means the classroom is a more stable place for children, and teachers are better able to plan for children’s learning. Children have more opportunities for one on one support because there is a pair of student teachers in the room on a regular basis, and they are better able to build relationships with the student teachers in their classroom. The role of the associate lecturer has developed over time and is central to the success of the re-framed programme, bridging effectively between the university and the school. This role appears to be pivotal to the success of the CUSP partnership.

What has changed?

As planned, the research continued through to the end of 2016. Two cohorts of student teachers were followed for the three years of their programme and into their first year as beginning teachers (one cohort began in 2012 and one in 2013). Whilst the first year of the project focused particularly on the development and initial implementation of CUSP in two case study schools, data was also collected across all student teachers who had experienced CUSP in year 1 of their programme and from associate teachers. Data was collected from students for all three years of their programme and from the associate teachers who had students in their classrooms as 1st, 2nd and 3rd year student teachers. In this way the research explored the impact of the CUSP programme over time. In 2015 we interviewed principals, associate lecturers and associate teachers in the case study schools and other CUSP schools, as well as university staff involved in CUSP, about experience of CUSP over three to four years.

Ann Harlow retired in August 2014. Dr Jane Furness, Post Doctoral Research Fellow in WMIER, joined the team in July 2014.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice. Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.


Cobb, D. & Harlow, A. (forthcoming). Rethinking the associate teacher and pre-service teacher relationships: Powerful possibilities for co-learning partnerships. In B. Cowie & R. McNae (Eds.). ‘Realizing innovative partnerships in educational Research’. Sense Publishers.

Journal article:Harlow, A., & Cobb, D. J. (2014). Planting the seed of teacher identity: Nurturing early growth through a collaborative learning community. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(7), 70-88.

Research briefs:
Harlow, A., Cooper, B., & Cowie, B. (2014). Collaborative University School Partnerships Research Brief: The second-year practicum, 2013.
Harlow, A., Cooper, B., & Cowie, B. (2014). Collaborative University School Partnerships Research Brief: Hamilton - the first-year practicum experience, 2013.
Harlow, A., Cooper, B., & Cowie, B. (2014). Collaborative University School Partnerships Research Brief: Tauranga - the first-year practicum experience, 2013.
Harlow, A. with Short, C., Waititi, C., Maubach, C., Price, G., Cheesman, S., & Aitken, V. (2014). Collaborative University School Partnerships Research Brief: ARTS in CUSP - 2013.
Harlow, A., Cooper, B., & Cowie, B. (2013). Collaborative University School Partnerships Research Brief: Implementation in Practice, 2012.

Making headlines

Finding the best path to school-based teacher education
Education Review - June 2014
Teacher education providers collaborate more with schools with good results - featuring the WMIER Collaborative University School Partnership (CUSP) project.