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Conceptual Framework

College of Education - Stephen F. Austin State University

Table of Contents

Theme

Preparing professional educators who positively impact learning for all students

Our candidates value and demonstrate academic excellence, collaboration, openness, and integrity.  They are dedicated to service and committed to lifelong learning and professional development.

Introduction: A Shared and Aligned Vision

     Anchored in the beliefs of the College of Education [COE], our conceptual framework incorporates a shared view of how to best prepare our candidates to deliver educational services to children and youth, schools, families, and communities.  This framework is designed to embody the essential elements of our programs and provides a blueprint for ensuring coherence among curriculum, instruction, field experiences, clinical practice, and assessment for our candidates.  It serves to guide the systematic experiences we require of candidates in our programs and provides the basis for the continuous improvement process of candidates and programs.  The overarching aim of this collaborative process is for candidates to develop the requisite knowledge, skills, and dispositions and for our programs to continuously evolve and improve.

      The COE at Stephen F. Austin State University [SFASU] encompasses a variety of comprehensive programs for the preparation of teachers and other professional school personnel. While all programs exemplify the principles contained in the Conceptual Framework [CF], each SFASU academic program enjoys significant academic autonomy. Thus the CF is viewed as a dynamic structure that must be adapted to the experience and background of the candidates within each program, and to external change forces.  The CF will be continually revisited and revised to ensure alignment with changes in the larger professional, practical, and policy-based publics directly connected with the programs, unit, and the University.

      This CF integrates several elements that provide assurance that all programs for the preparation of school personnel share a commonly held vision and a cohesive and aligned approach distinctive of Stephen F. Austin State University. These foundational elements include the institution’s and unit’s missions; the unit’s values and philosophy; and the delineation of the unit’s commitment to being the “College of Choice” as evidenced in its goals. The professional standards and best practices that connect programs within the unit are predicated on candidate performance expectations that are aligned with professional, state, and institutional standards and systematically assessed to gauge candidate, program, and unit performance. A common thread within educator preparation programs is the centrality of diversity and integration of technology within each program.

Vision, Mission, and Values

Institutional Vision and Mission

The primary mission of Stephen F. Austin State University remains closely connected to its founding purpose, which was to prepare teachers for schools in Deep East Texas. At this time, as has been its rich history, SFA is experiencing cultural and social change, tempered by regional, state, national, and international events. The vision for SFA has remained focused on students and the future; concerned with the role that a comprehensive regional institution plays in the lives of the people it serves.

Vision of the Institution

Stephen F. Austin State University will be the national model of a high quality, student-focused, comprehensive university whose graduates are productive citizens and successful leaders.

Mission of the Institution

The mission of Stephen F. Austin State University is to provide students a foundation for success, a passion for learning and a commitment to responsible global citizenship in a community dedicated to teaching, research, creativity and service.

Unit Vision, Mission, and Goals

Vision of the Unit

The College of Education at Stephen F. Austin State University will be the college of choice for students striving to achieve professional excellence through exemplary programs that are recognized at state, national, and international levels.

Mission of the Unit

The mission of the College of Education is to prepare competent, successful, caring and enthusiastic professionals dedicated to responsible service, leadership, and continued professional and intellectual development.

Goals of the Unit

The goals of the Unit and its affiliate academic units and educational programs are to:

Values of the Unit

In the College of Education at Stephen F. Austin State University, we value and are committed to:

Unit Philosophy

As a Unit concerned with academic excellence, we believe that our primary purpose is to develop educators who have the capacity for critical, reflective, and creative thinking, conceptual and content knowledge, practical teaching skills, and ethical principles.  We recognize that knowledge is gained in many ways. This necessitates that educators utilize various strategies from direct teaching to inquiry methods, from individual to small group and large group formats.  We realize that learners differ in their abilities to learn and that these differences must be incorporated into educational practice.  We do not believe that education should be based on only one theory of learning. Constructivism, behaviorism, and maturational theories have merits in the context of the whole of education. Behavioral and constructivist learning theories have often been viewed as contradictory rather than complementary.  However, we agree with Slavin (2006) and advocate a balanced approach to instruction – one that includes both direct instruction and constructivist methods.  To be effective with diverse learners, educators must be proficient in a wide range of methods.  While several programs in our unit are based more heavily on one particular theory, we want our candidates to be knowledgeable of multiple theories given the complexity of the teaching and learning process. The continual dialogue revolving around these learning theories stimulates critical thinking and openness to new ideas, research, and change with the ultimate beneficiaries being our candidates.

We believe that all educators must carefully observe the effects of their practices on students.  Rather than assuming that a certain practice is effective, we believe professional educators must continually collect and analyze objective data on the effects of their professional practices and, as life-long learners, systematically incorporate the changes necessary to improve student performance.  By engaging in this reflective practice, and with a goal of continuous improvement, we believe that educators must ethically put into practice methodologies that are responsive to individual student needs.  We believe that effective educational practice is impossible without continuous reflection based on principles of scientific inquiry. Critical reflection is a powerful strategy for addressing persistent and complicated challenges in education and for attending to demands for continuous educational improvement.

      Prior knowledge and beliefs about learning, teaching, students and subject matter play a central role in learning to teach. They function as interpretive lenses through which teachers make sense of their experience and which determine how they frame and resolve teaching problems.  In studies on learning to teach, teacher learning is described as a process of organizing and reorganizing, structuring and restructuring a teacher’s understanding of practice. Teachers are viewed as learners who actively construct knowledge by interpreting events on the basis of existing knowledge, beliefs, and dispositions (Borko & Putnam, 1996; Feiman-Nemser & Remillard, 1996; Putnam & Borko, 1997). Learning to teach requires opportunities for teacher candidates to learn from personal experiences. Reflection on these experiences allows for the natural formulation of questions for investigation and the accumulation of new perspectives and discourse options (Short et al., 1996) and for personal exploration and expanded thinking (Harste, 1993).

We believe that candidate learning is a process of continuous transformation; discovery, hands-on experiences, and problem solving.  We believe that it should be grounded in rich, first hand, field based experiences, scientific research, and best practices.

Academic Excellence

We must insure that each of our candidates possesses knowledge of scientific, research-based pedagogy, the science of learning, human growth and development, classroom management, specific content knowledge of subjects to be taught, and laws governing public education and ethical conduct. We believe that professional educators must develop a balanced foundation of subject matter and professional knowledge, and pedagogical skills allowing them to transform what they know into viable skills for professional practice, that actively engage students in the learning process (Olson, 2000). We believe that teaching and learning is a highly complex, context-specific activity, and therein “teaching requires considerable judgment, a variety of pedagogical and instructional strategies, and a good understanding of the context in order to select those strategies that best fit the situation” (Uhlenbeck, Verloop, & Beijaard, 2002, p. 245).    We believe that content knowledge is essential to effective teaching. Therein, educators as instructional leaders must be well grounded in the specific content knowledge that they are responsible for in the classroom and schools. We feel that candidates, in order to facilitate instruction, must have current knowledge of the appropriate use of instructional technologies and applications that positively impact learning for all students.  It is our belief that the quality of the learning experience for students is directly related to the quality of instructional planning and assessment. Relatedly, we believe that assessment of student needs should drive instructional decisions and practices. 

Life-long Learning

To better serve the community we believe educators must value life-long learning and act continuously to increase and update their knowledge of practice, legal and ethical issues.  In so doing, educators act in an accountable and ethical manner. Professional education is an ongoing continuum of opportunities to learn to become an expert teacher, leader, or other school professional. We should focus on engaging our candidates toward developing the habits of mind that prompt them to see their participation in our programs as the initial step in the continual process of becoming professionals. Our ultimate aim is for our candidates have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to develop new understandings of teaching and learning, to learn new instructional skills, and to expand their knowledge base for learning, teaching, and leading.

We believe that individuals preparing to be educators and leaders—professional educators in school settings—must be accomplished learners with a clear command of their discipline(s) in order to organize instruction and schools focused on the diverse needs of their students. They must be able to create viable learning experiences of emerging relevance to students. They also must know how to shape what is known in ways that are understandable and accessible to the particular students they serve. This requires both the knowledge and understanding of and disposition for being culturally responsive in an increasingly diverse society. Educators must develop and exercise a critical consciousness with respect to teaching and learning and recognize that they must continue to gain new insights into the craft of teaching and leading to meet the individual learning needs of students.

Collaboration

We believe that educators must collaborate with the families, community, and other professionals in order to be effective.  Schools constitute an alliance of professional educators and community stakeholders. For schools’ to attain their primary mission, we believe that educators must act collaboratively and collegially.  Internships, student teaching, and other critical field experiences must be carefully crafted for our candidates, in collaboration with partners, to maximize the practical application of their knowledge, skills, and dispositions.  Each educator within a school must act in consort with other educators and see their own service as an integral part of the common mission of the whole school.  Only when educators work collaboratively with their “village” can all P-12 students within a school experience success and equity.  We believe that communication is at the heart of effective teaching and a high quality learning experience for students. Therein, we believe that each candidate must have the skills and dispositions to communicate within and across classroom, community, and educational contexts.

An educator who communicates effectively must proficiently:

Collaborative approaches which integrate parents and communities into the schools provide more cohesive educational teams.

Openness

We believe that educators must be open to new ideas, to culturally diverse people, and to innovation and change.  They must be able to tolerate ambiguity and dissonance when new ideas are introduced, share an eagerness to examine new ideas, and be willing to examine and research  the “new.”  We believe that understandings are ongoing, open to change and challenge, and ever subject to critical inquiry. Educators must recognize that pedagogical knowledge and skills are emergent based on the scientifically-based research of learning and best practice. Content changes over time and professional educators must be open to change.

We believe that educators prepare students to meet the needs of a pluralistic society by reflecting in their teaching the broad range of values and experiences inherent to American society.  Educators provide opportunities for open discussion and debate of the important issues facing a diverse democratic society.  Educators practice in ways that facilitate access to knowledge and expedite the success of all students.  We give special attention to the needs of students, whose learning has been adversely affected by cultural heritage, disability, possessing a language differing from the language of their instruction or other aspects of cultural diversity.

Integrity

We believe that educators must demonstrate integrity, a quality of consistency of character defined by responsibility, diligence, and ethical behavior. By demonstrating characteristics of honesty and commitment to standards of conduct, educators  provide models of behavior for P-12 students. 

Service

We view education as a profession serving students, families, the community, and humanity.  SFASU and the COE support and encourage all faculty members to provide service to the greater community and to the profession.  As educators we promote altruism by example. When we, as educators, notice and encourage altruistic behavior in classrooms we provide the foundation for producing kinder, more supportive, understanding, and empathetic interactions among students.    The development of collaboration and service to mankind is at the heart of a democratic society.

Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions

Professional educators must recognize the highly contextualized nature of learning activity, and be able to facilitate learning and development through the expression of appropriate dispositions that are learner-centered, ethical, socially just, culturally responsive, and provide alternative possibilities. The contextualized character of teaching and learning implies that P-12 teachers’ expertise rests on their ability to create situated knowledge about professional practice, which in turn is used to change social practice and instruct the design of appropriate learning activities for students.

 Successful educators plan developmentally appropriate and creative activities, create well structured and varied lesson plans, utilize the Texas statewide curriculum, continuously evaluate student achievement using a variety of assessments, and utilize appropriate technologies to support, extend, and improve student learning. In addition, successful educators promote P-12 students’ use of self-assessment.

We believe that positive learning environments are supportive of individual differences. Additionally, a caring school climate promotes respectful and productive interactions among P-12 students, communicates the importance of content, utilizes time effectively (i.e. time on learning), and promotes a safe and productive physical environment.

We believe that the educator candidates ought to not only embody the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of the profession, but also must:

Additionally, candidates should display curiosity and the desire to become an active and contributing member of the profession and professional organizations.

Educator candidates in the COE at SFASU demonstrate what Dewey (1922) terms “habits,” of mind, those professional “working capacities” that govern our dispositions, desires and ends, as well as our abilities to care, perceive and think. Like Dewey (1922), we view these “habits” as a “kind of human activity which is influenced by prior activity and in that sense acquired” (p. 31) within the preparation program and in the practical context of the classroom experience. Becoming an educator is a process of becoming a professional, situated in a network of activities. Candidates pursuing certification are expected to acquire dispositions consistent with the characteristics of effective educators.  Relatedly, P-12 students are expected to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to develop the habits of mind that hallmark a professional educator. 

Knowledge

            Knowledge as exemplified in College of Education includes formal or codified, pedagogical, and inquiry-based practical knowledge. Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s (1999) framework of knowledge-for-practice, knowledge-in-practice, and knowledge-of-practice reflects the Unit’s beliefs related to knowledge.

Skills

Expertise in teaching or related professional educator roles requires the use of multiple skills appropriately applied to particular situations, rather than the unvarying exhibition of uniform behaviors in all learning circumstances (Brophy & Everston, 1976; Doyle, 1978; Darling-Hammond, Wise, & Klein, 1995; Good & Brophy, 1986). Our view of curriculum encompasses all opportunities—formal, informal, and hidden—that students have to learn “under auspices of schools” (McCutcheon, 1988/1997) and highlights the “lived experience” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988) of teachers and students in classrooms, within multiple embedded contexts.  

Dispositions

Dispositions are the intellectual, social, ethical, and other personal attributes and beliefs generally ascribed to reflective decision-makers in a variety of professional settings, including a commitment to their own lifelong learning and professional development.

       It is the belief of the COE that these dispositions will serve to inform and guide educators in their practice and profession.

Unit Outcomes

These are the candidate proficiencies that have been aligned with expectations in professional and state standards for educators prepared in programs at the College of Education:

Knowledge of Learning Theory/Philosophy 

1.      The candidate has knowledge of a variety of learning theories including behavioral, cognitive, and social learning. 

2.      The candidate understands that learning occurs through experiences that relate to prior knowledge, involving active participation and problem solving, and through structured teacher-directed activities.

Knowledge of Diverse Learners

3.      The candidate demonstrates understanding of how all children/youth learn and develop intellectually, physically, socially, and emotionally while appreciating individual variation within each area of development.

4.      The candidate demonstrates understanding of the influence of social class, gender, race, ethnicity, talents, disabilities, religion, and geographic location and values diversity in children/youth, families, and the community.

5.      The candidate understands how students differ in their approaches to learning and creates instructional opportunities that are adapted to learners from diverse cultural backgrounds and with exceptionalities.

6.      The candidate knows about the process of language and second language acquisition and about strategies to support the learning of students whose first language is not English.

Positive Learning Environment       

7.      The candidate models effective verbal and nonverbal communication strategies in conveying ideas and information and in asking questions.

8.      The candidate uses effective verbal, nonverbal, media and technological communication techniques to shape the classroom/school into a community of learners engaged in active inquiry, collaborative exploration, and supportive interactions.

9.      The candidate uses an understanding of individual and group motivation and behavior to create learning environments that encourages active engagement in learning, self-direction, and positive social interaction.

10.  The candidate organizes, allocates, and manages time, space and activities, and resources to promote active engagement of students in productive learning.

Content Knowledge

11.  The candidate understands major concepts, assumptions, processes of inquiry, and ways of knowing that are central to the discipline and can relate content knowledge to other subject areas.

12.  The candidate knows and implements the State of Texas curriculum in the subject area.

13.  The candidate uses technology to help students learn.

Assessment and Instruction

14.  The candidate understands and uses a variety of instructional strategies, including technological resources, to promote and assess students’ development of critical thinking, problem-solving, and meaningful learning.

15.  The candidate makes use of a variety of assessment and questioning strategies and makes instructional decisions based on assessment data.

16.  The candidate understands how students differ in their approaches to learning and creates instructional opportunities that are adapted to diverse learners.

17.  The candidate plans, implements, and designs assessment of instruction based upon knowledge of subject matter, students, the community, and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.           

Professionalism    

18.  The candidate communicates and interacts in a positive manner with parents/families, school colleagues, and members of the community.

19.  The candidate collaborates with parents and professionals to improve the overall learning environment for students.

20.  The candidate understands and implements legal requirements related to students’ rights and teachers’ responsibilities.

21.  The candidate understands and honors the Texas Code of Ethics for Professional Educators.

22.  The candidate is open to new ideas, reflects upon his or her practice, and actively seeks out opportunities to grow professionally.

Performance Based Assessment and Evaluation System

Background

Universities in Texas are accountable for candidate performance on state certification examinations in both content and pedagogy. This Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP) is designed to collect data (pass rates) for six disaggregated groups (males, females, white, Hispanic, African-American, and other) and is evaluated each year.  All programs at SFASU are reviewed annually to review the pass rates on the Examinations for the Certification of Teachers in Texas (ExCETs) and to modify programs as needed to meet the standards.  The Title II “National Report Card” is yet another system in which we must report data on the performance of our candidates.  According to the 2003-2004 report, 99 percent of Stephen F. Austin State University students seeking initial teacher certification passed all state-required assessments in basic skills, professional knowledge/pedagogy, academic content area, and or teaching special populations. As the unit developed new vision, mission, and goal statements, it became apparent that the SFASU College of Education needed a more comprehensive assessment system to monitor the progress of all educator candidates’ at critical benchmarks throughout the preparation programs.

The Unit Assessment System

In the fall of 2004, a committee composed of faculty from each program began the task of creating a comprehensive unit assessment system that reflects the conceptual framework.  After a review of the current assessment practices, the committee developed a plan for the systematic collection of data to evaluate candidate performance.   The system was presented to faculty in January of 2005 and all programs will use the unit assessments for the systematic collection of data. The assessment system is designed to provide a plan for the collection and analysis of candidate performance data to improve the unit and its programs.   The assessment system includes candidate performance measures in the areas of knowledge, skills, dispositions, and PK-12 student learning and reflects the vision, mission, and goals of the university and the college of education as well as the state standards for teacher certification.  The unit assessment system has four benchmarks for the collection of data: Admission to Program, Field Experience/Clinical Practice, Program Exit, and Post Graduate Follow-Up Assessment.  At each benchmark, there are multiple assessments collected from both internal and external sources. 

Continuous Assessment

      The Unit assessment system provides a means to monitor candidate performance at each stage of the program and during the first years of practice. The Unit compiles, summarizes, and analyzes data from the assessment system for the purpose of improving candidate performance, program quality, and unit operations, and makes recommendations for improvement.  Likewise, the conceptual framework and assessment system are reviewed annually to reflect the conceptual changes and assessment modifications for the unit.  Data is shared on a regular basis with candidates and faculty to help them reflect on their performance and improve it. The unit assessment data is collected every semester and entered into the data management system.  Each program analyzes their data and evaluates program effectiveness and reports their goals for the next year to the dean of the COE.   Unit assessment data are regularly reported to educator programs, and governance and advisory councils.  Fairness and accuracy of data collection is reviewed and changes are made as needed to identify changes necessary to continuously improve COE programs and student and candidate learning. 

Conclusion

     The conceptual framework incorporates a shared view of how to best prepare the Stephen F. Austin State University College of Education candidates to deliver educational services to children and youth, schools, families, and communities.  This framework embodies the essential elements of our programs and provides a blueprint for ensuring coherence among curriculum, instruction, field experiences, clinical practice, and assessment for our candidates.  It is a guide for the systematic experiences we require of candidates in our programs and provides the basis for the continuous improvement process of candidates and programs.  The goal of this collaborative process is for candidates to develop the requisite knowledge, skills, and dispositions and for our programs to continuously evolve and improve.

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