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Not just clinical, but critical

Critical, project-based (CPB) experiences allow future teachers to work directly in public middle and high schools to gain a unique understanding of the diverse needs of local communities, school faculty, and students. To address these needs, CPB experiences are not just clinical, but critical: reflective, social justice-oriented, and both with and for underserved student populations.


Two recent CPBs, "The Having of Difficult Conversations" project and the George Mason University graduate course "Perspectives on Exceptional Teaching," are discussed below.

Critical, project-based clinical experiences 

"The Having of Difficult ConveRsations"

Alexandria City High School
Alexandria City Public Schools, Virginia, USA

About "The Having of Difficult Conversations"


We all want to be heard; we all want others to recognize our humanity. In this time of political tensions, where it seems increasingly difficult to talk across our differences and to have civil conversations—indeed, to recognize each other’s humanity—we are choosing to take on these realities head-on, via this photovoice project. We called on young people to consider four questions, facilitated by conferences with Mason teacher candidates, via photovoice methods (pictures and writings):

  • What is it like to be you?

  • What is your life like?

  • What is it like to be known? By whom are you known?

Young people then chose someone very different from themselves—someone with whom they disagreed about something very foundational—and used photovoice methods to address these same questions with this person, again with images and writings. With teacher candidates serving as mentors to 2-4 students, working with them in 1:1 and in small groups, students produced at least one image/reflection for each question, and also worked with their “different” partner to help them do the same. 

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"Perspectives on Exceptional Teaching" (POETs)

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Alexandria City Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools, Loudon County Public Schools, & Prince William County Public Schools
Virginia, USA

About "Perspectives on Exceptional Teaching" (POETs)

POETs explores how preservice teachers, veteran teachers, school administrators and staff, and students define exceptional teaching.

Preservice teachers document their inquiry into exceptional teaching over an intensive three-week summer course using photovoice. Teachers, students, and school staff answer the following questions:

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  1. What do you now believe makes an exceptional teacher, regardless of subject area?

  2. What do you now believe makes an exceptional teacher in your subject area?

  3. What do you now believe is the evidence that an exceptional teacher is successful at her/his job?

  4. What do you now believe is the evidence that an exceptional teacher is successful at her/his job, from students’ perspectives?

  5. What do you now believe is the evidence that an exceptional teacher is successful at her/his job, from the public’s perspective?


The symmetry of the trees and benches portrays how teachers balance the dynamic of their classroom; teachers tell stories and share their personal life while students talk to their teachers about theirs. Trees represent the growth that students achieve with exceptional teachers whether it is through academics or personally. Teachers should involve EVERYONE, in their classes, so everyone (trees, benches, grass) can build up and develop a community and gain different perspectives and grow as a person.


This image of an ornate gate represents for me something similar to the ivory tower.  Students seem to feel that often, their teachers are unapproachable; they care only for the subject matter, for test scores, for success, rather than their individual students... They want teachers to be willing to help them in all matters of life, to feel like they have a connection with them. 


This is a picture of the one room classroom outside. I think this represents great teaching because it shows how teachers back then were as good as the teachers not. They didn’t have technology or resources like we do now. The teachers now can search stuff up online, while teachers back then had to search stuff up in books. A great teacher can teacher no matter what their surrounding is.


The first day as a teacher, you start out from ground zero with new students and a new environment and you have to reach out and understand the students to engage them and teach them. The teacher’s personality is important because that will reflect on how the students connect to the teacher. Exceptional teaching is reaching all the way up and never knowing how it will end.

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