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Conceptual Framework

Conceptual Framework: A conceptual framework establishes the shared vision for a unit's efforts in preparing educators to work in P-12 schools. It provides direction for programs, courses, teaching, candidate performance, scholarship, service, and unit accountability. The conceptual framework is knowledge-based, articulated, shared, coherent, consistent with the unit and/or institutional mission, and continuously evaluated. The conceptual framework provides the basis that describes the unit's intellectual philosophy, which distinguishes graduates of one institution from those of another.

A. Shared Vision: the Learner-Sensitive Educator

B. Coherence
C. Professional Commitments and Dispositions
D. Commitment to Social Justice
E. Commitment to Technology
F. Candidate Proficiencies Aligned with Standards

A. Shared Vision: the Learner-Sensitive Educator

The Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework is the shared foundation for all education programs at UMD. The framework is built on a foundation of professional standards and emphasizes five themes: social justice, collaboration, reflection, empowerment, and technology.

Faculty in the UMD Department of Education developed vision, mission, and belief statements in September 2001. Consensus was also reached to recommit to the Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework, originally developed in 1992, revised in 1998 to incorporate technology as a fifth theme, and revised again in 2006 - when faculty voted to replace the theme of diversity with the theme of social justice.

Our Department of Education vision statement: We envision a world in which education positively contributes to each person's ability to reach her or his potential in acting for society's good.

Our Department of Education mission statement: Our mission is to prepare learner-sensitive educators with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to contribute to a better society.

Our belief statements are included in the overview below of the Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework. Beside each belief is a goal statement describing how faculty and candidates will act to demonstrate the associated belief. We faculty members agree that it is necessary to model the behaviors we are seeking to help our candidates develop.

Table 4. Conceptual Framework

Learner-Sensitive Educator

UMD Education Department Philosophy

We believe:

Faculty & Candidate Goals

Faculty & candidates will:

Empowerment When our actions are rooted in integrity and respect, we, as educators, can change the world for the better.

All people have inherent worth and can learn and contribute to society.

Act with integrity and respect.

Be competent, caring, and qualified educators.

Empower learners to achieve their individual potentials in acting for the good of society.

Scaffold learners in becoming leaders.

Collaboration Learning is collaborative, continuous, and cross-disciplinary. There are many paths to the truth. Together, we understand more than we do alone.

Collaboration is a conscious effort toward bridging gaps between school, social justice, and community.

Initiate and contribute to collaboration with students, faculty, staff, families, and communities.
Social Justice Learning is enhanced when it begins with respect for and acknowledgement of each learner's prior experiences, knowledge, and skills.

In order to educate and empower learners to achieve their potential, educators need to be culturally competent and sensitive to the needs of all learners. Social justice sees differences as less important than differences in the positions of power one holds.

Build on students' and candidates' strengths.

Exhibit intercultural competence.

Think critically about reasons for underachievement and identify ways to modify classrooms accordingly to accommodate all learners.

Take action to bring about positive changes in the educational system

Reflection Reflection is a key to improvement as an educator. Be lifelong reflective learners and practioners.

Demonstrate reflection on curriculum, methods, and interactions.

Technology Empowering our candidates with a broad scope of technology skills will enhance their teaching and their students' learning. Enrich learning for all students by thoughtful use of learner-centered technology.

Enhance learning through appropriate technologies.

Select appropriate technologies for learning objectives.

Supporting Proficiencies:
Professional Standards National, state, and institutional standards provide a foundation for the development of essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions for educators. Meet or exceed appropriate national, state, and institutional standards.


Brief descriptions of each of the five themes of the conceptual framework are included below. Also included are some key references, an explanation of the title, and a description of the logo developed to symbolize the Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework.

1. Empowerment

Building empowerment in candidates is a process of developing skill, expertise, and confidence in one's capabilities. Empowerment means helping candidates develop voices as professional educators and use their voices to articulate well-considered beliefs and rationales about what they do as practitioners. Empowerment is important because we value emerging educators who work from a well-studied foundation of personally chosen and developed philosophies of education and positions on key issues facing our students, schools, and society. Empowered teachers

(Bandura, 1997; Goddard, Hoy, & Hoy, 2004; Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2001; Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2002, Wheatley, 2005).

Teacher empowerment develops as an individual construct (Bandura, 1997; Wheatley, 2005) and within a collective construct among teachers (Goddard & Goddard, 2001; Goddard, Hoy, & Hoy, 2004) that is influenced by school and social contexts (Bogler, 2004; Labone, 2004; Talbert, 2003; Tschannen-Moran & Hoy, 2002; )Thus, we provide our teacher education candidates with opportunities to exercise this process in our courses, in the community, and in field experiences in schools. We also challenge their thinking and help them further their professional development. We believe that this process results in educators who have a stronger, more personal ownership of their role as professionals because they have constructed it themselves through study, effort, and practice (Collier, 2005; Freire, 1970; Labone, 2004; Ogbu, 1992, Talbert, 2003).

2. Collaboration

Our programs promote the importance of and the skill needed for collaboration. We teach candidates teaching strategies, effective methods and for collaboration with students, parents, colleagues and the community, (Beegle, Blue-Banning, Frankland, Nelson, & Summers, 2004; Friend & Cook, 2003; West, Idol, & Cannon, 1989; Johnson & Johnson, 1998; Macdonald, 2003; Pugach & Johnson, 2002).

We demonstrate the process and concepts embodied in effective collaboration in many ways. Faculty members, across programs and departments, plan and teach in teams. Faculty members and candidates cooperate in joint research efforts such as those funded under the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). Faculty also engages in collaborative and action research that involves the regional educational community. These types of collaborative research efforts can have a positive impact on education and teacher preparation (Burbank & Kauchak, 2003; Gins, Heirdsfield, Atweh, & Watters, 2001).

The Department of Education at UMD is working toward implementing a Professional Development School Program (spring semester, 2007) to further foster strong collaborative partnerships that focus on strengthening teacher preparation as well as ongoing teacher professional development. The collaborative structure of a Professional Development School allows pre-service teachers, cooperating teachers, and university faculty to work together toward shaping and rethinking best practices (Darling-Hammond, 2005; Rice, 2002; Teitel, 2003). A pilot project in the area of Communication Arts and Literature has already begun with Central High School in Duluth for our teacher education candidates.

Additionally, faculty and cooperating teachers collaborate and confer about expectations for and experiences of candidates as well as joint research projects. Candidates learn through cooperative group experiences and facilitate group learning among P-12 students. Faculty, cooperating teachers, and candidates seek to involve and support parents in their children's education. Inter- and intra-agency cooperation ensures high-quality programs for students. In all collaboration, a balance of task (movement toward a goal) with maintenance (positive interpersonal interactions) is sought.

3. Social Justice

According to Oakes and Lipton (2003), a social justice perspective on education does three things:

  1. It considers the values and politics that pervade education, as well as the more technical issues of teaching and organizing schools.
  2. It asks critical questions about how conventional thinking practices came to be, and who in society benefits from them.
  3. It pays particular attention to inequalities associated with race, social class, language, gender, and other social categories, and looks for alternatives to the inequalities.

In embracing the concept of social justice, we recognize that differences among people are far less important than differences in the positions of power they hold. Unless the power structure is balanced, true equality and equal opportunity do not exist. Using a social justice framework, we believe social policies and procedures are often biased against people of color, economically disadvantaged, people with disabilities, and people whose voices are traditionally ignored. A social justice focus acknowledges that creating a truly inclusive environment is a difficult, complex task that is not solved by merely acknowledging differences. As educators, we realize that the playing field is not level for all students, and we as teachers must take an active role in equipping students with the skills and strategies for addressing this uneven playing field. We therefore work toward developing awareness in our students of the need to identify the effects of oppression in order to address the systematic advantages of the dominant cultures. We believe that P-12 schools are the focal point for bringing about social justice, encompassing all segments of society, and educators can collaboratively prepare the next generation to do better than previous ones (Cochran-Smith, 2004; Murrell, 2006; Taylor & Sobel, 2003; Wiedeman, 2002). As teacher educators it is part of our mission to prepare candidates to take action for systematic change that will lead to benefits for all students - beyond just being respectful and understanding of all students.

Within the concept of social justice, the unit explores diversity in its varied aspects of race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, religion, socioeconomic status and exceptionalities. We are committed to supporting diversity of perspective and individuality in the candidates who graduate from our program and in the ways that they teach. "Diversity of perspective" refers to the importance of developing teachers who can acknowledge differing views on accomplishing education in children and can accept the different views of others to that same end (Carlson & Holm, 1999; Quintero & Rummel, 1997). "Diversity of individuality" refers to our commitment to recruit and graduate educators and service professionals from all walks of life (Anderson, Keller, & Karp, 1998, Cruickshank, 2004). By individual diversity, we also mean that our graduates are people who have learned of the socio-cultural context experienced by the diverse individuals they will serve (Carlson, Grover, & Anderson, 1994; Ogbu, 1992; Phillon, He, & Connelly, 2005). Teachers and service professionals who graduate from our programs are expected to demonstrate knowledge and skill in recognizing the diversity of the groups they serve as individuals with unlimited, rather than limited, potential (Cochran-Smith, 2004; Sleeter & Grant, 1986). Our graduates are expected to address the educational issues that limit individuals and groups who should have the opportunity to benefit from education (Brown, 2004; Cochran-Smith, 2004; Frattura & Topinka, 2006; Oakes & Lipton, 2003)

As faculty, we demonstrate our strength in diversity of perspective and individuality (for example, our department is one of very few in the world with an Endowed Chair for American Indian education - Dr. Brian McGinnis currently holds the Ruth A. Myers Chair of American Indian Education). We use these strengths to instill in our candidates the capacity for diversity to empower rather than limit. In our classes, we promote readings, lectures, instructional strategies, and methods that help our candidates learn to use a wide range of skills to help all students learn. In discussing topics ranging from Anishinabe traditions to gender-related self-esteem issues, we hope to enable our students to comfortably and knowledgeably experience the world from many points of view (Bergstrom, Miller-Cleary & Peacock, 2003; Delpit & Dowdy, 2002; Miller-Cleary & Peacock, 1997, Sleeter, 2001). We do all these things from multiple perspectives and with multiple approaches because, in the end, we know we have to lead by example. Looking at pedagogy through a social justice lens, we promote teaching methods that cultivate a culturally relevant pedagogy.

4. Reflection

Synthesis is central to our preparation of learner-sensitive educators. We teach candidates to understand, reflect on, and integrate the best of what they are learning. Our philosophy of teacher preparation draws on the principles of education through experience called "active learning" (Dewey, 1916). We believe that teachers must be adept decision makers or “reflective practitioners” (Schon, 1990). Because of societal changes and concomitant classroom challenges these changes may bring, teachers cannot be prepared just with subject knowledge and teaching techniques. The knowledge base that each teacher has forms the basis on which to draw as the teacher makes decisions about the best professional practices to use in any give situation (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999). Brookfield's book, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (1995) describes how education faculty can assist candidates to develop as teachers through the process of critical reflection.

Our approach to reflective practice integrates action with thoughtful study. Placing oneself in a fully reflective process includes examining and questioning the values, assumptions and experiences one brings to the educative experience as well as critically examining the impacts of education on students and teachers (Beck & Kosnik, 2001; Harrison, Lawson, & Wortley, 2005; Hill, 2004; Liston & Zeichner, 1996). As candidates learn educational theory, they do so in the context of practice. They learn to examine educational theories in a variety of classes covering different educational topics. At the same time, they examine how theories can guide professional decision making in a variety of pedagogical contexts. Because our candidates study education curriculum while concurrently involved in practicum experiences, our candidates have the opportunity to bring real examples into their course work using such techniques as reflective journals where they integrate what is being studied with what has been observed and/or experienced. Through discussions with peers, role play, case study analysis, instructor coaching, reflective writing, portfolio development, and other techniques, candidates are guided to develop the skills they will need in the classroom to make balanced, well-considered pedagogical decisions (Lyons, 2006; Martin, 2005, Norlander-Case, Reagan, & Case, 1999).

Our reflective approach is a process which provides a foundation for beginning teachers who will pursue continued professional development throughout their careers, thereby increasing their understandings and effectiveness as professional educators. By fostering reflective practice in new teachers, we hope to empower them to continually reinvigorate their teaching throughout their careers, constantly changing to meet the needs of the changing contexts in which they work.

5. Technology

Understanding and using technology appropriately and meaningfully for enhanced teaching and learning is critical to the development of successful teacher candidates for the twenty-first century (ISTE, 2002; National Research Council, 1999). "Technology" refers here to all facets of information technology used for purposes of teaching students and enabling students to learn effectively across multiple abilities and curriculum standards. Devices in which candidates in our programs are expected to demonstrate knowledge and competency include the following:

Our licensure programs have a history of innovation and success in the application of educational technologies. We have received state and corporate recognition and been identified as a model training site by the Minnesota Department of Children, Families, & Learning. The UMD program is certified by Microsoft Corporation as an official training site for technology use in education. Additionally, the unit was a recipient of a US Department of Education's Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) Program grant. This grant program allowed us to partner with area schools in integrating teaching and learning across education programs P-16.

Every teacher candidate in our programs gains knowledge and practice in the varied uses of information technology for personal productivity and pedagogical integration (Eisenberg, 2001; ISTE, 1999; ISTE, 2002; Jonassen, 2004; Jonassen, Peck, & Wilson, 2001; Male, 1996; National Research Council, 1999; Russell, Bebell, O'Dwyer, & O'Connor, 2003). Through coursework in basic computer operations and concepts, candidates develop personal competency in using computers and the applications associated with them. Through integration of computers and other advanced information technology devices within our pre-service education course work, the candidates observe, participate in, and practice technology skills for the purposes of enhancing P-12 student learning. The candidates' expertise is then brought to the P-12 classrooms through field experiences and student teaching (Margerum-Leys & Marx, 2002). Classroom teachers have positive comments about our candidate's technology skills.

6. Professional Standards

Professional standards are the foundation upon which our unique Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework is built. In addition to alignment with the Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice and specific content standards, including professional associations' standards (NCTE, NCTM, NSTA, CEC, etc.), all undergraduate teacher education programs at UMD are based upon the Interstate New Teachers Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) Standards as the building blocks for the content of the programs.

Each of the unit's programs has a program matrix that articulates placement of standards within its required courses. The matrices identify courses where each standard is (1) introduced, (2) developed and/or reinforced, and finally (3) where candidate performance is assessed.

7. Learner-Sensitive Educator Title and Logo

The title, Learner-Sensitive Educators, was created to indicate the importance of being sensitive to learners, so that instruction meets the needs of the learner. The needs and abilities of each learner provide the focus for designing learning experiences which connect the real world of the learner with the educational world.

A logo developed by our art educators represents the Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework. The expanding figures symbolize two elements. First, they represent an individual's development through the life span, as the child matures into adulthood. Also, the symbol at the center of the logo represents the learner surrounded by teachers, parents, and other significant individuals who nurture him/her. Each figure encompasses the next in an ever-expanding circle of influence, support, and concern.

The five major themes of the framework reach out from the expanding figure as fingers extend from one's hand. This symbolizes how the learner sensitive educator reaches out to construct understanding of all peoples and races, thus emphasizing the global nature of education. The unit empowers its graduates by helping candidates develop skills in reflection, collaboration, technological competence, social justice, and proficiency in professional standards. In so doing, graduates are aided in developing their full potential as learner-sensitive educators. The unit's mission to prepare learner-sensitive educators underscores the circle.

8. History of the Development of the Conceptual Framework

In 1992, the faculty in all units within the College of Education and Human Service Professions (CEHSP) conceived of and adopted the Learner-Sensitive Professional conceptual framework at a college-wide retreat. The framework included four major themes: reflection, diversity, collaboration, and empowerment.

A renewed commitment to the Learner-Sensitive Teacher conceptual framework was made by the Department of Education during the 2009- 2010 school year. Continued development of the Learner-Sensitive Educator is evidenced by the unit's collaborative work to expand the conceptual framework to include a shared vision, mission, beliefs, and goals. This process began with a fall semester unit "advance" and has continued through 2005-2006 school year. Agreement for the current framework includes input and direction from unit faculty, from campus faculty through the Teacher Education Council (TEC) (Word format), and from P-12 faculty and administration through the Community Advisory Council on Teacher Education (CACTE) (Word format).

Major developments since 2001 include:

Major developments since 2005-2006 to present include:

The development and revision of the Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework is also informed by UMD graduates. In 2006, an alumni survey was conducted to assess the effectiveness of candidate preparation in reference to the INTASC Standards and the five themes of the Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework. At the same time, a survey was conducted of employers of the graduates as well as cooperating teachers to determine how well our candidates were prepared in these same areas.

In Spring Semester 2002, similar surveys were sent to program graduates from the past five years, cooperating teachers, and principals who employ our graduates. This assessment process was repeated during the 2005-2006 academic year. Results of the surveys have been helpful in ascertaining the strengths and weaknesses of each program and in improving all programs. The surveys of graduates complement the candidates' assessment of our programs that are being completed every semester. These assessments were initiated during the 2004-2005 academic year and focus the candidates' evaluations from the perspective of our conceptual framework.

9. Conceptual Framework for Graduate Programs

The graduate programs in the Department of Education are also based on the Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework. The M.Ed. program has required a set of core courses based on the themes of the Learner-Sensitive Educator framework for several years. The UMD M.Ed. program is a cohort model that uses a hybrid online delivery mode for its courses. Graduate students in the program meet face-to-face for only a couple of long, intense days each semester and the remainder of the instruction, processing, and evaluation is conducted via the Internet. The conceptual framework themes are integrated throughout the entire two-year M.Ed. program and the program is founded on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

B. Coherence

Course syllabi document that the Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework is embedded in all UMD education courses. The Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework is also integrated into field experiences and student teaching. Assessment of candidate performance is based on the conceptual framework. Faculty members model the conceptual framework through their teaching, scholarship, and service.

The conceptual framework provides direction for the selection of new faculty. The conceptual framework directs us towards professional development needs and opportunities. It steers us towards potential grant proposals for faculty. Program evaluation is also based on the conceptual framework, in surveys of graduates, cooperating teachers, and employers of our graduates. The conceptual framework guides and permeates all that we do.

C. Professional Commitments and Dispositions

The Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework is built on a foundation of professional standards, including:

The unit's commitment to developing programs based on these standards is well documented. Program matrices delineate courses in which the standards are introduced and developed, as well as courses where candidate proficiency is assessed on each standard.

In addition to this standards-based foundation, the UMD teacher education faculty, along with faculty in the arts and sciences and P-12 personnel, developed and endorsed the Learner-Sensitive Educator conceptual framework that emphasizes the five themes of collaboration, reflection, empowerment, social justice, and technology. These themes represent deeply held values in the unit.

The Department of Education has identified core professional dispositions (Word format) that all candidates are expected to develop and use in their teaching. Some programs have added specific dispositions beyond the core to meet the standards associated with their licensure. Candidates assess their own progress toward attaining and demonstrating these dispositions throughout each program. Faculty and cooperating teachers also assess candidate progress regarding these dispositions.

D. Commitment to Social Justice

Diversity has been one of the four central themes of UMD's conceptual framework since its inception over 10 years ago. Much evidence exists to document the emphasis in our programs on preparing candidates who have knowledge and skills to work successfully with students from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures, socioeconomic levels, and exceptionalities. During the 2005-2006 academic year the department reached a consensus to embrace the concept of diversity under the conceptual theme of social justice to include a call to action beyond awareness.

The Department of Education, CEHSP, and UMD all have made strong commitments to social justice. Evidence includes the following:

E. Commitment to Technology

Technology was added as a fifth theme in the conceptual framework in 1998 in recognition of the importance of enhancing our candidate's skills in this important area. Since then, the Department of Education has added a required technology course in all licensure programs, and nearly all of the full-time faculty members have attended Tech Camp or completed other training programs to develop their own technology skills. All programs developed plans and are now implementing them for the demonstration and assessment of candidate technology skills.

F. Candidate Proficiencies Aligned with Standards

A standards alignment chart (Excel format) illustrates the relationships among the various national, state, and institutional standards that undergird our programs. Candidates develop standards-based portfolios. Competencies are assessed in field experiences based on national, state, and institutional standards as well.

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