Guiding Principles of the Unit’s Philosophy
In developing professional programs that are consistent with and further the Unit’s mission and philosophy and are in accordance with the Conceptual Framework’s unifying theme, the Unit sought input from its fulltime and adjunct faculty and held ongoing discussions with public school teachers and administrators as articulated further in the Shared Vision component of the Conceptual Framework. The feedback derived from these meetings consistently identified four areas in which professional excellence is required: professional knowledge; personal and professional skills; personal and professional dispositions; and the ability of educators to respond to change – both changes in community and classroom demographics (diversity issues) and changes brought about by innovations in educational technology (educational technology issues). The Unit used this feedback to develop the following underlying principles which serve as the basis of the Unit’s Philosophy, and to guide the planning and implementing of the Unit’s programs. These four principles are listed and further articulated below.
1. A Culture of Excellence is promoted when the educational practitioner possesses a comprehensive, integrated and context-dependent Professional Knowledge Base that contributes to effective educational practices.
2. A Culture of Excellence is promoted when the educational practitioner effectively utilizes Natural and Acquired Personal and Professional Skills that promote successful practices in diverse educational settings.
3. A Culture of Excellence is promoted when the educational practitioner cultivates and consistently demonstrates Professional Dispositions and Commitments that contribute to the pursuit of excellence in self and others.
4. A Culture of Excellence is promoted when the educational practitioner is responsive to demographic, cultural and technological influences that affect Change in the Educational Environment.
These principles are in accordance with criteria of successful professional performance established by state and national accrediting bodies. These include the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), Educational Leadership Constituents Council (ELCC), Connecticut Standards for School Leaders (CSSL), and the International Reading Association (IRA).
Principle 1: Professional Knowledge Base
It is the position of the Unit that successful educational activities are predicated on the prior acquisition of a knowledge base (Bruner, 1990); that the knowledge base forms the substrate upon which effective action is deliberately grounded (Dewey, 1916); and that the acquisition of knowledge of facts, concepts, principles and theories precedes application and other higher order functions of analysis and synthesis (Bloom, 1956). Furthermore, the Unit contends that professional excellence requires practitioners to possess and demonstrate a Knowledge Base that is comprehensive, integrated and context-dependent.
The importance of a comprehensive knowledge base is clearly recognized by NCATE in its Vision of the Professional Teacher for the 21st Century. As articulated by NCATE (2006), teachers gain their ability to help all children learn through a broad liberal arts education; in-depth study of the teaching field; a foundation of professional knowledge upon which to base instructional decisions; diverse, well-planned, and sequenced experiences in P-12 schools; and ongoing assessments of competence to practice, through an array of performance measures. (p. 4). The Education Department of Sacred Heart University shares these beliefs and incorporates them in its programs, coursework and assessment systems.
Principle 2: Natural and Acquired Personal and Professional Skills
The Education Department believes that educational practitioners promote excellence by applying their knowledge in the educational setting with intentionality (Slavin, 2000, p.7). The successful application of knowledge is predicated on the intentional acquisition and utilization of personal and professional skills that enable knowledge to be transmitted and transformed into action. The coursework, and field and clinical experiences provided by the Unit help our candidates to acquire, develop and utilize these personal and professional skills of educational practitioners.
Personal skills may be classified as Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Critical Thinking skills. The importance of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills is reflected in the work of Goleman (1995) who concludes that these skills are integral components of emotional intelligence, and Gardner (1993) whose theory of multiple intelligences includes intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences. Critical thinking is an important aspect of the Unit’s preparation of educational professionals as it strives to help them become reflective practitioners who recognize and research the assumptions that undergird their thoughts and actions (Brookfield, 1987).
Intrapersonal Skills refer to the ability to understand personal emotions and to use that understanding to develop self-discipline and self-control. In other words, they enable the practitioner to develop him/herself as a professional. As articulated so poignantly by Jensen (1988), “Teaching is far more rigorous than it ever has been. It’s a front-lines position for courageous and committed learners willing to take risks and make some mistakes. It’s a dangerous job because teachers must confront whatever ideas, systems or relationships are not working in their personal or professional lives, and change” (p. 16). The same is no less true of all educational practitioners.
Interpersonal Skills enable the practitioner to empathize, understand and communicate with others as all seek excellence in their work. It its restricted sense, the skills are directed at individuals, and in a broader sense they are directed to groups of individuals and the community. Since interpersonal change is a learned skill (Zunker, 1994) the Unit fosters its development among the candidates in all of its programs by modeling a constructivist and collaborative approach to preparing educational practitioners who are committed to help children learn in a safe and caring environment.
Critical Thinking Skills enable the educational practitioner to apply, analyze and synthesize knowledge in the educational setting. In the words of Darling-Hammond (1998), “… teachers need to be able to analyze and reflect on their practice, to assess the effects of their teaching, and to refine and improve their instruction.” Therefore, the Unit’s programs are designed to integrate theory and practice in an interactive and collaborative setting. As Darling-Hammond observes from the work of Ball & Cohen (1998), teachers learn best by studying, doing and reflecting; by collaborating with other teachers; by looking closely at their work; and by sharing what they see. These “best learning practices” are reflected in the Unit’sMissionstatement and are imbedded in its Philosophy and throughout its Conceptual Framework.
Professional skills as used in this context refer to the ability of educational practitioners to apply knowledge and utilize pedagogical skills to facilitate and assess student learning. These professional skills are classified by Danielson (1996) as Planning and Preparation, and Classroom Environment. The Unit helps Candidates develop these skills through structured coursework, fieldwork, and supervised clinical experiences.
Planning and Preparation Skills are used by the educational practitioner to demonstrate knowledge of content and pedagogy; knowledge of students and the characteristics of age groups, varied approaches to learning, differences in student skills, knowledge, interests and cultural heritage; and the selection of instructional goals. Planning and Preparation Skills are also related to the educational practitioner’s ability to select appropriate instructional goals, designing coherent instructional and learning activities, and to assess student learning. It is the Unit’s position that educators must be more than repositories or even disseminators of information. They must understand how knowledge is acquired, how to facilitate the learning of others in a manner that best suits the learning styles of individual students, and how to measure the effectiveness of their impact on their students.
Classroom Environment Skills are used by the educational practitioner to create an environment of respect and rapport in interactions among and between the educator and students. In Danielson’s (1996) framework these skills are also used to establish a culture for learning in which the educational practitioner is able to impart the importance of the content, set expectations for learning and achievement, and help students take pride in their work. This same skill set enables the educational practitioner to manage learning environments including instructional groups managing student behavior, and to organize the physical space to enhance student learning.
Principle 3: Professional Dispositions and Commitments
The Unit is committed to fostering professional dispositions and behaviors that prepare the practitioner to participate in and contribute to ongoing excellence in the profession. We believe that successful educational practice is achieved when the practitioner acts in accordance with values, attitudes and beliefs that dispose him/her to seek excellence in self and others (Hiemstra, 1988; 2007). This principle is an integral component of the Institutional Mission Statement which asserts that “the University aims to assist in the development of people knowledgeable of self, rooted in faith, educated in mind, compassionate in heart, responsive to social and civic obligations, and able to respond to an ever-changing world.”
In reporting on a two-year study undertaken on behalf of the American Philosophical Association, and published under the title Critical Thinking: A Statement of Expert Consensus for Purposes of Educational Assessment and Instruction (The California Academic Press, Millbrae, CA. 1990), Facione (1997) states that, “The ideal critical thinker can be characterized not merely by her or his cognitive skills but also by the way she or he approaches life and living in general” (p.7). We believe that this disposition set of “affective dispositions” (Facione, 1997) precedes and sustains knowledge acquisition and application, thereby promoting excellence in action. The disposition set governs the educational practitioner’s desire and success in acquiring a knowledge base, and developing and utilizing personal and professional skills when applying knowledge in educational settings.
The educational practitioner's disposition to excellence in professional and interpersonal relationships is manifested in multiple forms: a commitment to achieving personal excellence, in self and others; a commitment to developing academic competence in students; and a commitment to enhancing one’s technical capabilities.
Principle 4: Change in the Educational Environment
The Unit is committed to promoting excellence within the context of a changing world. Central to this notion is the phenomenon of the changing, dynamic nature of educational environments. These developments are most clearly experienced in changing school demographics, and the resultant commitment to meeting the needs of diverse student populations and diverse communities; in rapidly evolving technologies and increasing accessibility to information; in changing national, state and local educational policies and priorities; and in the evolving knowledge about, and the changing expectations of communities, about the goals and content of educational programs.