Conceptual Framework (Revised 2007)
Any systematic approach to education must include some conception of human nature and a vision of the social good. Teachers and other professional school personnel need to understand students, their physical, emotional, and intellectual development, together with the social, cultural, and political contexts of their lives. They should also be aware of the aims of education, including the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for a productive career, democratic citizenship, and an aesthetically rewarding life. In addition, educators also are responsible for the instructional practices, methods of assessment, and technological tools that most effectively help students realize these ends.
A philosophy of education is a coherent and intellectually grounded articulation of these various elements that serves to guide practice and infuse the enterprise of education with a sense of meaning and purpose. Not only has the College of Education formed its own philosophy of education, it holds this as an expectation for its graduates. We require future practitioners in all areas to develop an informed understanding of the nature and purposes of education; to engage in the ongoing processes of reflection and dialogue that are at the heart of professional practice. These abilities, together with a respect for diversity and a commitment to social justice, empower our graduates to be leaders and agents of change for school improvement.
Along with the preparation of educators, the College of Education also seeks to serve national and regional interests through the advancement of knowledge and promotion of socially responsible, theoretically informed practices. Combining a strong emphasis on scholarship with a commitment to critical and purposive engagement in the community, The College of Education prides itself as a regional leader in teaching, research, and service.
The Preparation of Professional Practitioners
In concert with institutional goals and professional and state standards, the preparation of candidates in initial and advanced certification and degree programs is guided by the concept of professional praxis—socially responsible, theoretically-informed, and research based effective practice. Integrating research, local wisdom, and democratic policies, this comprises knowledge, skills, and dispositions in three areas: The Student and The Context of Education, The Process of Instruction, and The Goals of Education.
The Student and the Context of Education
Elements of professional praxis in this area include an understanding of the
(i) physical, intellectual, and emotional development of the student;
(ii) diverse social, cultural, and political forces that shape the students’ identity and influence their opportunities in life; and
(iii) interests of concerned constituencies, such as parents, school boards, and the broader community.
Professional praxis demands an understanding of student differences so that learning environments and instructional activities can be designed to meet individual needs (Piaget, 1954; Vygotsky, 1978). This implies a conceptually informed practical understanding of the diverse pathways of development. Intellectual growth is continuous, but not linear; personal traits are plastic and highly sensitive to cultural situations (Gardner, 1983; Sternberg, 1985); and social and emotional well-being is necessary for effective learning (Mayer, Caruso, & Salovey, 1999; Zimmerman & Bandura, 1994). Moreover, professional praxis recognizes that schooling is influenced by cultural relations ranging from local to global contexts. The social conventions, economic structures, cultural values, religious convictions, and political ideologies generated by these systems have a profound influence on development (Bronfenbrenner, 1993; Erikson, 1950). Alert to these various forces, we train educators to cooperate with parents, school boards, academic bodies, and the broader community to foster democratic values and the full and harmonious growth of all students.
The Process of Instruction
Elements of professional praxis in this area entail a command of the
(i) instructional practices and curriculum materials that best serve diverse learners;
(ii) discipline area knowledge necessary for rigorous and stimulating instruction;
(iii) tools of assessment and evaluation that enable teachers to advance student learning; and
(iv) technology necessary to enhance instruction.
Professional praxis is based upon instructional principles that enable educators to design effective, research-based learning environments. School curricula comprise different types of content that call for different types of teaching (Shulman, 1987); diverse learners demand a mixture of instructional methods and learning activities (Brophy, 2001). Through classroom instruction and field experiences we train candidates to fashion students’ prior understandings into well-organized and conceptually grounded knowledge (Chi, Glaser, & Farr, 1988). We also teach candidates how to foster students’ control over their own learning through goal setting and self-monitoring (Ames, 1992; Bandura, 1997). These practices are developed within a framework that is learner-centered (instruction begins with what students think and know); knowledge-centered (instruction focuses on what is taught, why it is taught, and what mastery entails); assessment-centered (instruction is informed by students’ work and thought); and community-centered (instruction is embedded in a culture of questioning, respect and risk taking) (National Research Council, 2000, 2005). Our candidates understand that effective instruction is principled and content-based: aligning the learning environment, management system, curriculum, instructional materials, assessment, and technology. (Brophy, 2001).
The Goals of Education
Elements of professional praxis in this area demand a commitment to promoting
(i) the development of students’ physical, social, and intellectual abilities;
(ii) life-long learning informed by dialogue, practical experience, disciplinary expertise, and educational research; and
(iii) a democratic society that celebrates diversity and honors difference.
“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child,” John Dewey (1907) maintained, “that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.” (p. 19) More than a set of institutions, Dewey’s vision of democratic life requires emotional, cognitive, and social powers for decision making in a society that embraces pluralism and diversity. Certainly, the economic, cultural, and political realities of today’s world differ from Dewey’s, but we remain committed to the expansive ideals of critical inquiry. We teach respect for all participants, emphasize the importance of differing viewpoints, and model deliberation that attends to lived experiences, social theories, and research. These moral and intellectual values are consonant with professional and state standards and supportive of the larger goal of promoting educational excellence and social justice.
These elements of professional praxis, consolidated under the following five themes, are infused throughout the unit’s various programs providing a coherent and unified sense of direction within the college.
Disciplinary and Pedagogic Expertise
Collaboration and Life-long Learning
Service and Research
As the state’s flagship university we take seriously our special responsibility to support and lead education in Alabama. In addition to our top-ranked certification programs, we boast the Alabama Superintendents’ Academy, the UA/UWA Teacher In-Service Center; the Alabama Consortium for Educational Renewal (ACER); the Longleaf Writing Project; the Community College Leadership Program; and the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative Site (AMSTI). There is a strong collaboration with other academic units within the university (such as the College of Arts and Science and the School of Library and Information Studies) and with public education, most notably through our work in professional development schools. Constituents within this community have a valued voice in the research and service through groups such as the College of Education Board of Advisors and the Elementary Practitioners’ Advisory Board. We also work aggressively through our Educational Policy Center to promote effective reform in elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education. A chief concern linking these initiatives is ensuring the benefits of education for all Alabamians. Faculty members across the college are also vitally engaged in research and scholarly projects that inform educational practice at the national level.
This conceptual framework arose from an effort to find unifying themes in the diverse work of the College. Unit-wide discussions were led by a committee composed of representatives from each department. Analysis of programs revealed a sense of commitment to the preparation of practitioners who engage in critically reflective dialogue and supporting practical, socially responsible, and theoretically-informed action—as captured in the guiding concept of professional praxis. The articulation of this vision was reviewed first by the assessment committee and then by faculty across the College of Education. It was also shaped by the response of various professional partners. Fully consistent with State and professional standards, it was accepted in its current form at the November 2006 College-wide faculty meeting.
While the core principles of the conceptual framework are used to guide the unit’s constituent programs, they are not immune from critical examination. As the work of the college progresses, the conceptual framework will be reviewed, discussed and, where useful, amended. Committed to the ideals inherent in the concept of praxis, the College of Education at The University of Alabama seeks to transform the image of the school house door, and its symbolic representation of exclusion and lost opportunity. We stand boldly as a door of possibility open to all. Embracing diversity, and guided by values of democratic life, we offer a gateway to professional excellence for those who would dedicate themselves to the noble service of education.
Ames, C. (1992). Achievement goals, motivation climate and motivational processes. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of self-control. New York: W. H. Freeman.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1993). The ecology of cognitive development: Research models and fugitive findings. In R. H. Wozniak and K. W. Fischer (Eds.), Development in context: Acting and thinking in specific environments: The Jean Piaget Symposium Series (pp. 3—44). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Brophy, J. (2001). Subject-specific instructional methods and activities. New York: JAI – Elsevier.
Chi, M. T. H., Glaser, R., & Farr, M. (1988). The nature of expertise. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Dewey, J. (1907). The School and Society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.
Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Mayer, J., Caruso, D., & Salovey, P. (1999). Emotional intelligence meets traditional standards for an intelligence. Intelligence, 27, 267—298.
National Research Council (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school, Expanded edition. Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning and Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice. J.D. Bransford, A. Brown, and R.R. Cocking (Eds.). Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
National Research Council (2005). How students learn: History, mathematics, and science in the classroom. Committee on How people learn, a targeted report for teachers, M.S. Donovan, J.D. Bransford (Eds.). Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences in Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Piaget, J. (1954). The construction of reality in the child. New York: Basic Books.
Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard Education Review, 57, 1-22.
Sternberg, R. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Zimmerman, B., & Bandura, A. (1994). Impact of self-regulatory influences on writing course attainment. American Educational Research Journal, 31, 845—862.