Domains of Excellence

Domain I: Context
The ways in which knowledge shapes pedagogical skills and practices depend on the specific working context of the practitioner. These contexts are created by such conditions as the needs of diverse student populations and classes, by the school’s and teacher’s instructional goals, by the instructional demands and objectives associated with the curriculum, by students’ individual development and previous learning, by social and cultural contexts, by the organizational structure of the school and classroom, etc. Many researchers have attempted to describe the nature of teacher work (Eraut, 1994; Hargreaves & Goodson, 1996; Huberman, 1993; Jackson, 1986; Johnson, 1990; McLaughlin, 1993; Scribner, 1999; Talbert & McLaughlin, 1996). The Unit believes that Johnson (1990) accurately described the work of teachers as taking place in a “constellation of workplace variables” comprised of multiple dimensions including, political, economic, physical, organizational, psychological, cultural, and sociological. Any, and all, of these contextual factors can and do place certain constraints on the way teachers go about their work. Accordingly, the Unit attempts to make its Candidates aware of the importance of understanding the context of the educational system and the context in which learning takes place.

The Unit believes that prior to and concomitant with successful educational action, the educational practitioner must possess a general knowledge of the praxis of the profession. This knowledge provides the educational practitioner with an understanding of the past and present, and the static and evolving nature of the profession. Context knowledge encompasses the history and philosophical foundations of American education; the school curriculum, the organization and functioning of the school and school system; current standards, trends and issues specific to the practitioner’s educational and legal responsibilities; and community, family and school resources and how to utilize those resources to improve learning.

The Proficiency that derives from the CONTEXT Domain and applies to all three of our programs is: The Candidate understands the context of the profession, both current and past, static and changing.

Domain II: Content
Content knowledge encompasses what Bruner (as cited in Shulman, 1992) called the “structure of knowledge” – the theories, principles, and concepts of a particular discipline. Educational researchers have long studied the relationship between the content knowledge of educators and student achievement. Over a century ago Dewey (1897) began the process, and many others (e.g., Begle, 1972, 1979; Shulman, 1986, 1987; Ball, et. Al., 2001) have pushed the work on teacher content knowledge forward. Their research has indicated that such a relationship does exist, and it is the Unit’s contention that in order to promote a culture of excellence, educators should demonstrate general and subject specific academic content knowledge. General knowledge of academic content is promoted by a liberal arts education, and is intended to contribute to a well-rounded and informed individual. Subject specific content knowledge refers to the disciplinary subject matter that constitutes the school curriculum, and the content area standards of the relevant professional associations and/or CSDE requirements for licensure in a particular area. It includes the concepts, principles, theories and methods of inquiry of specific disciplines taught by the teacher. Educational practitioners must understand the core ideas in a discipline and how these help to structure knowledge, how they relate to one another, and how they can be tested, evaluated, and extended. 

The Proficiency that derives from the CONTENT Domain and applies to all three of our programs is: The Candidate demonstrates knowledge of facts, concepts, principles and methods of inquiry of the general and specialized content required for successful practice of the profession.

Domain III: Learner
This refers to the knowledge educational practitioners have of students, their development and learning styles, and their behavior in educational contexts. Researchers have found this knowledge is connected to knowledge of learning, development, and curriculum (Carter, 1986; Elbaz, 1983; Grossman, 1990; Grimmet & Mackinnon, 1992).  To achieve success for all students, then, educational practitioners need to integrate their content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge with their practical knowledge of students within their learning contexts, including an understanding and appreciation of diversity in all its forms, an understanding of the learning process, and knowledge of student growth and development theories. Studies of excellence in teaching demonstrate that a major aspect of expert performance is how teachers’ knowledge of subject matter combines with their knowledge of students’ abilities and personal experiences (Berliner, 1992; Berliner et al., 1988; Housner & Griffey, 1985; Leinhardt, 1988). Gardner’s (1986, 1993, 1999) work on multiple intelligences suggests that when educators are aware of the diverse modalities of learning exhibited by their students they can design curricula and employ teaching strategies that are adapted to the learner, rather than insisting that the learners adapt to the educator’s style. And there is ample evidence that the learner’s motivation and success improve when the teaching practices match the learner’s preferences (Stitt-Gohdes, 2003).

The Proficiency that derives from the LEARNER Domain and applies to all three of our programs is: The Candidate incorporates an understanding of cognitive and affective processes in designing and implementing learning experiences.

Domain IV: Pedagogy
To teach all students according to today’s standards, teachers need to understand subject matter deeply and flexibly so they can help students create useful cognitive maps, relate one idea to another, and address misconceptions. Teachers must be able to assess their students’ learning, and be willing and able to employ different strategies and teaching methods to insure that all students are provided with the best possible opportunities to learn. Research in cognitive science has shown that formative assessment can be a powerful tool in targeting instruction so as to move learning forward (Shepard et al., 2005). Shepard (2005) goes on to note “In contrast to earlier times, principles for effective grading practice derived from research findings in the areas of motivation, cognition, and measurement suggest that students should be afforded multiple ways to demonstrate their proficiency and should be judged in relation to performance expectations rather than in comparison to other students” (p. 276). A landmark review by Black and William (1998, as cited in Shepard, 2005) found that formative assessment, effectively implemented, can do as much or more to improve student achievement than any of the most powerful interventions, intensive reading instruction, one-on-one tutoring, and the like (p. 277). Candidates in the Unit’s programs are themselves assessed through a variety of informal methods such as observation, presentations, team activities, and oral questioning and through the use of more formal measures such as traditional quizzes, portfolios, or performance measurements. Thus our Candidates are introduced not merely to theories of assessments, but are actively engaged throughout our programs in hands-on assessment methodologies so that by the time they have begun their experience as professional educators they will understand and be able to devise and implement assessments that embody the standards and goals of instruction, which according to Wiggins and McTighe (1998, as cited in Shepard, 2005) is “central to good teaching” (p. 281).

Educational professionals also need to see how ideas connect across fields and to everyday life. This kind of understanding provides a foundation for pedagogical content knowledge that enables teachers to make ideas accessible to others (Shulman, 1987). Pedagogical knowledge encompasses core areas of knowledge shared by education professionals, as well as knowledge related to specific roles in the educational system. Pedagogical knowledge enables the practitioner to successfully exercise the specific tasks that characterize their role. This includes knowledge about: (1) the learning environment; (2) the learner and the learning process for typical and atypical students; (3) differentiated instructional design and delivery methods and techniques; (4) assessment of student learning; (5) curriculum resources and integration of technologies.

The Proficiency that derives from the PEDAGOGY Domain and applies to all three of our programs is: The Candidate demonstrates professional/ technical skills that are associated with successful educational practice.

Domain V: Educator
The National Council for Accreditation in Teacher Education Online Glossary has the following definition:  Dispositions.  The values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence behaviors toward students, families, colleagues, and communities and affect student learning, motivation and development as well as the educator’s own professional growth.  Dispositions are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility and social justice.  For example, they might include a belief that all students can learn, a vision of high and challenging standards, or a commitment to a safe and supportive learning environment.

Different researchers have placed special emphasis on the importance of particular beliefs, attitudes or behaviors as being desirable attributes of educational practitioners. Fried (2001) emphasizes passion as a primary attribute, while Usher (2003) synopsized the work of Combs (1999) into the dispositions of empathy, positive view of others, positive view of self, authenticity, and meaningful purpose and vision. With input from experienced teachers, school principals and other senior administrators the Unit identified several abilities and dispositions that it judges necessary for the educational practitioner to cultivate excellence in her/his professional activities. These may be defined as the abilities and dispositions required to: enhance the effectiveness of one’s communication; continuously reflect on one’s own and others’ professional performance; employ critical thinking skills to systematically identify and solve professional problems; engage in collaborative practice with others, both in the school environment and the community; demonstrate  personal sensitivity, respect, and interpersonal skills when dealing with others; demonstrate adaptability and creativity when addressing the learning and professional needs of others; be a lifelong learner and to engage in ongoing personal and professional development.

Self-knowledge on the part of the educator is so important that Parker J. Palmer (1998, The Courage To Teach as cited in Piderit & Quijano, 2002) contends that self-knowledge forms the basic building blocks for the commitment to and love and mastery of teaching. Palmer claims that “We teach who we are… teaching emerges from one’s inwardness” (p.1). Palmer goes on to argue that attempts to reform or improve education will never be achieved by “rewriting curricula and revising texts if we fail to cherish – and challenge – the human heart that is the source of good teaching” (p.3). The educator is the element of the learning process who intentionally creates the conditions that help students learn. Therefore, the educator must “reeducate her/his heart” so that it gets engaged in the “pursuit of truth in the company of friends” (Palmer, 1998, p.90). These beliefs are expressly embedded in the Mission Statement of Sacred Heart University and are embodied in its Education Department.

The Proficiency that derives from the EDUCATOR Domain and applies to all three of our programs is: The Candidate possesses the personal skills and dispositions, and professional commitments that promote excellence in self and others.