The Catholic University of America Department of Education's conceptual framework moves from general (vision and mission of the University), to specific (the assessment system of the Educator Preparation Provider).  We include in our conceptual framework the University's vision and mission statements to help the reader understand how our department fits into the larger goals of the institution. The departmental vision and mission provide a snapshot of what we view as the philosophical essence of the department.  Reflective practice represents both the essence of our philosophy (why we teach) and our unifying instructional theme (how we teach).  The content of each individual course is built around the professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions established by national and specialized professional associations. What makes our programs special is this overarching theme of reflection that ties coursework and field experiences together.

History of the Conceptual framework

The unit's first conceptual framework was developed in 1989 to help university educators design consistent and coherent teacher education programs and to help candidates understand the deeper issues of social justice and equity embedded in the technical questions of day-to-day teaching. The framework was built on the fundamental interrelationships among educational theories, meaningful interaction with P-12 students, and personal reflection throughout the teacher education assignments and field experiences starting at the beginning of each program and culminating as a capstone experience during the student teaching semester.  All components and aspects of the programs were planned around this philosophical approach to teacher education, requiring gradually richer understanding and application of the reflective framework.

The Conceptual Framework in the program

By the end of each program the capstone experience includes a large research project based on research, current best practices reflection and the standard semester-long student teaching duties.  One of the major goals is to help candidates infuse the technical aspects of teaching with moral considerations so that candidates think beyond the "how to" of teaching to examine the goals, consequences, and values of their words and actions from multiple viewpoints.  The conceptual framework facilitates candidates' understanding and use of the framework for more meaningful personal reflection and serves as the cornerstone of education programs and as a guide to a oral approach to teacher preparation and learning.  The conceptual framework is infused in all courses and field experiences as an ongoing, iterative, and integrated process.  Its use is integrated in each teacher education program, course, and key assessment in a scaffolds and developmentally appropriate course of study.

The Components

Eight Elements of the Learning Environment

The unit's conceptual framework is seen as a mechanism to allow educators at all experience levels to move fluidly between philosophy, theory, practice, and personal reflection.  To accomplish this task, the framework introduces three components to guide reflection and decision making.  One component consists of the elements of the learning environment.  These elements are designed to help educators systematically analyze the complexities of each teaching and learning experience.  Originally based on Schwab's (1973) four commonplaces of teacher, student, content, and context, the new model expands this notion to include eight elements:

  1. diversity of student needs
  2. the educator's personal educational beliefs
  3. stakeholders
  4. collaborative practice
  5. instructional strategies
  6. discipline knowledge
  7. assessment
  8. classroom structures

Candidates are guided through exercises that address these elements individually and then in concert.  Key features of this component include the role of the learner as the central figure in every teaching./learning experience and the interactive nature of the elements (for example, it is meaningless to consider assessment without considering the needs of the learner and the nature of the discipline knowledge being assessed, just a stakeholder expectations and personal beliefs shape the classroom structures used).  Echoing Bronfenbrenner's work (1989), candidates are expected to consider the learning environments as embedded within larger social structures as well.

It is tempting for educators, especially teacher education candidates, to focus on the day-to-day technical aspects of teaching.  At this level, all challenges are viewed as problems to be solved with whatever tools are currently available.  While it is important not to minimize the importance of these daily challenges that all educators face, the conceptual framework is designed to help educators move beyond the surface level of teacher-as-technician to see the larger systematic impact classroom practice has on indivi8dual students and society in general.

Global Perspective of Education

The second component of the reflective practitioner framework builds on the work of Berlak and Berlak (1981) to describe and define fundamental educational essential questions, or dilemmas, that lie under the surface of classroom challenges.  Reflective practitioners need to stop to consider how one's perspective on these key questions can both inform and limit the options that seem reasonable in a given situation.  Using this component of the framework, educators can explore a broader range of possible solutions for a given situation by recognizing that there are multiple, morally defensible positions.  This process helps candidates address two of the most challenging elements of the learning environment: the impact of their own philosophy on their classroom choices and the possibly competing needs and values of the other stakeholders in the learning community.  In order to best meet the students' needs, considering options for curriculum (e.g., who decides what is worth knowing?), control (e.g., who sets the standards?), and society (e.g., what role should schools play in enculturation?) shapes the strategies that seem reasonable.  Not only do these essential educational questions impact decisions on a practical level, they also help situate ongoing classroom concerns in larger philosophical questions.

Modes of Reflection/Deliberation

To continue that process of considering larger philosophical issues, the third component of the three-prong approach to reflective practice consists of an iterative reflective decision-making process.  Reflective practitioners must consider their decisions using three modes of deliberation ("levels" in Van Mannen's work, 1977).  The philosophical mode prompts the educator to consider the role that education should play in society in general and in the life of the particular child.  Each decision should be examined for consistency and efficacy in supporting those larger goals.  The descriptive mode addresses the technical issues of how educational decisions are carried out.  Using the interpretive mode, educators must strive to assess their own practice and to look for new methods to consider the explicit and hidden messages classroom decisions send to students and all stakeholders.  Are expectations uniformly high?  Are the knowledge, skills, and cultural traditions children bring to class valued or marginalized?  Are parents seen as partners or obstacles?  These types of questions move the reflective practitioner back to the larger philosophical questions to begin the process again.  While it does not matter if the initial question is descriptive, interpretive, or philosophical, the model prompts the educator to see the process as ongoing and interrelated.