Today, 98% of U.S. medical education institutions employ a standardized patient pedagogy to present distinct professional cases and provide medical students with opportunities to practice their diagnostic and professional interactions skills in a simulated clinical setting. Standardized patients are healthy individuals who are carefully trained to present the same medical symptoms, verbalizations, and evidence in a standard, consistent manner, allowing multiple medical students the opportunity to practice navigating the same professional case.
In 2007, Dr. Benjamin Dotger began adapting this medical education pedagogy to the contexts of teacher and school leader education. With support from the Spencer Foundation and the Institute of Education Sciences, he designed twenty-seven different simulated interactions that situate future teachers and school leaders in live, one-to-one interactions with standardized parents, students, paraprofessionals, and community members. Each simulation centers on a problem or issue that teachers and leaders commonly encounter in daily practice – academically struggling students, parents with concerns over discipline or curricula, teacher or leader ethical dilemmas, school bullying/harassment, drug/alcohol abuse, and fully including students with disabilities. The standardized individual is carefully scripted to present a distinct problems of practice, but the teacher or leader is not scripted at all, and must utilize professional knowledge and skills to address the question, concern, or issue presented within the simulation.
In partnership with SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Clinical Skills Center, each simulation is captured on QuickTime video, allowing teachers and leaders to carefully analyze how they approached the problem or issue presented by the standardized individual during the simulation. Although the pedagogy of standardized individuals was diffused from medical education, its use in no way suggests an intention to prepare teachers or leaders to “diagnose” or “treat” parents, students, or paraprofessionals as they interact with them. Similarly, the use of clinical simulations is not a traditional ‘wink-and-nod’ role-play, where both parties know each other and are working toward a predetermined objective. Instead, clinical simulations are demanding, intense opportunities of situated practice, where the teacher or school leader participant is challenged to enact her/his professional skills, knowledge, and decision-making capabilities to address a complex problem-of-practice.