Mission of the Teacher Education Unit
The teacher education unit is committed to excellence in preparing individuals to work as educators and to become life-long learners. The mission of the unit includes teaching, service and research.
The teaching mission of the unit is to prepare graduates at all degree levels who are reflective practitioners in careers in education.
The service mission of the unit is to provide knowledge through leadership and service, concentrating on relevant and social needs of local, regional, and state levels.
The research mission of the unit is to advance knowledge and best practice by engaging in and reflecting upon relevant scholarly activities.
The COE will exemplify excellence in preparing students to educate our youth, expand the minds of all with whom they come in contact, enhance their work-place and communities, and embody the ideals of Brenau University.
Our programs, faculty, and courses:
Challenge learners to synthesize research-based knowledge and to generate new perspectives.
Clearly articulate the belief that all individuals deserve the highest quality education.
Offer an extensive curriculum which leads to academic degrees and professional licensure.
Vision of the Teacher Education Unit
The teacher education faculty continuously reviews relevant contemporary research on teaching and effective practice in the preparation of educators. The conceptual framework is a living document, regularly reviewed and modified to incorporate new knowledge and experience about best practices in education. After careful consideration of educational principles, the faculty has identified a conceptual model of teacher education at Brenau University that embraces the dynamic process of reflective decision making necessary for quality instruction and life-long learning. Finally, the conceptual framework provides a system for ensuring coherence among curriculum, instruction, field experiences, clinical practice and assessment across a candidate’s program. The model permeates all courses and activities of teacher education at the university and is articulated in the following vision statement.
The Brenau University College of Education has adopted “Reflective Decision Makers” as the theme for its conceptual framework. This model is based upon the belief that educators should make reflective decisions and take active roles in planning, implementing and evaluating effective teaching practices.
Dewey laid the groundwork for educators to strive to understand the importance of reflection (Dewey, 1902). Brenau students will graduate well prepared to face their students in the diverse classrooms that are prevalent in today’s schools. As reflective practitioners, they will be able to evaluate student achievement to make sound pedagogical decisions that are “reflectively formulated” (p. 109).
The process of being a “Reflective Decision Maker” focuses upon three areas that are essential elements of effective teaching. These areas include: content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and knowledge of the learner.
The theme of reflection, based on Schon’s writing (1987), is a natural fit with the unit’s focus on a constructivist approach to learning. A guiding principle of the unit is the understanding that only through the successful use of reflection can the candidate provide appropriate learning experiences that are responsive to the needs of the learners (Ornstein, 1995). The unit’s use of the reflective practice mirrors that described by Van Manen (1977) in that it is viewed as a developmental process for the candidate with the assumption that beginning teachers are likely to focus on the effective delivery of instruction in the classroom. The beginning teachers are likely to practice reflection-on-action or reflection-in-action (Schon, 1987) while the practicing teacher should be developmentally ready to engage in reflection-for-action.
The Brenau education programs are designed to develop candidates who use reflection as a part of the ongoing process of planning, implementing, and evaluating. Ducharme and Ducharme (1996) cautioned that the process of reflection is one of growth that requires patience and time. It becomes important, therefore, for the candidates to experience early and ongoing opportunities for reflection throughout their programs (Collier, 1999). The teacher education faculty believes that the use of an electronic portfolio facilitates the development of the reflection process for initial candidates and provides needed feedback for practicing teachers. (Borko, Michalec, Timmons, & Siddle, 1997).
It is also the belief of the faculty that reflective decision-makers use instructional media and technology to effectively facilitate planning, implementation, assessment, and reinforcement of student learning.
It is therefore essential that reflective decision-makers have an evolving conceptual understanding and ongoing adaptability to emerging technologies (Galloway, & Blohm, 1997; Galloway, 1990).
Darling-Hammond and Baratz-Snowden outlined what makes a good teacher in their 2005 National Academy of Education report, A Good Teacher in Every Classroom: Preparing the Highly Qualified Teacher our Children Deserve. They lay out a clear framework for understanding teaching and learning: to be a professional a new teacher needs to acquire knowledge of subject matter and curriculum goals (educational goals and purposes for skills and content subject matter), knowledge of teaching (pedagogy, teaching subject matter, teaching diverse learners, assessment, and classroom management) and knowledge of learners and their development in social contexts (learning, human development, and language).
It is the belief of the faculty that candidates must have a strong grounding in the content knowledge necessary to guide learners and must also possess the skills needed to respond to the needs of all learners. This grounding is supported by the liberal arts mission of the institution. This premise, based in part on Shulman’s (1987) work regarding the importance of the knowledge base, framed the initial conceptual model of the College of Education and remains an important component of the conceptual framework in its most recent revision. The Georgia Professional Standards Commission and the Georgia Department of Education guides the decisions made by the unit relative to the content that comprises each program.
In her book, Teaching to Transgress, (1994), bell hooks writes about education as the practice of freedom. Brenau students are exposed to different types of knowledge that will empower them to develop a deep understanding of themselves, and their beliefs about teaching, so that they may better understand their students. They are encouraged to become reflective thinkers through the process of learning more about how they gained knowledge, and how it shaped the belief system that they have. Ultimately, Brenau graduates will take these skills into the field of education where they will empower their students to be critical thinkers. According to hooks, “making the classroom a democratic setting where everyone feels a responsibility to contribute is a central goal of transformative pedagogy” (1994, p. 39).
Lisa Delpit’s book, Other People’s Children (1995) shares the hopes that minority parents have for their children’s education. Educators must be prepared to teach students from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Brenau students are able to gain knowledge about teaching, through their experiences in class, and through their coursework.
Brenau students increase their knowledge base when they are given opportunities to develop culturally responsive curriculum during their lesson planning. They must review current research to enhance their knowledge and further their understanding of students of different ethnic and cultural identities.
As Geneva Gay puts it: “Culturally responsive teachers are aware of the risks involved in learning and the need for students to have successes along the way to mastery. They plan accordingly and create infrastructures to support the efforts of students so they will persevere toward high levels of academic achievement. This is done by bolstering students’ morale, providing resources and personal assistance, developing an ethos of achievement, and celebrating individual and collective accomplishments.” (p. 32)
The federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) requires local school districts to ensure that all teachers hired to teach core academic subjects are highly qualified. This legislation defines a “highly qualified teacher” as one with full certification, a bachelor’s degree, and demonstrated competence in subject knowledge and teaching (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Many argue that teachers need to know about the subjects they teach (Shulman, 1987;).This means that they know about the creation, discovery, and testing of new knowledge; principle perspectives or “schools of thought”; how the field has developed; and key contributors to the discipline (Ball & McDiarmid, 1990; Shulman, 1987).
While educators and researchers have agreed that content knowledge influences student achievement, no evidence suggests that possessing content knowledge alone is enough to be an effective teacher (Berry, 2001). Darling-Hammond (2005) supports the position that the single most important determinate of what students learn is what their teachers know and confirms that it is essential that all candidates master both content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge.
The faculty believes that candidates should be knowledgeable about theories of cognitive development and learning while understanding the appropriate pedagogies to apply within the content areas. During programs of study candidates study a variety of learning theories, including behaviorism, schema theory, information processing theory, and constructivism, however, the teacher education program at Brenau is based largely along a constructivist perspective. As early as 1902, John Dewey wrote about how instruction is defined not only as a body of knowledge known as studies, but also by continuous reconstruction of this knowledge. Dewey asserted that teachers should “abandon the notion of subject-matter as something fixed and ready-made in itself, outside the child’s experience” (p. 109). Brenau students are immersed in studies that support the constructivist view of pedagogical knowledge.
Borko and Putnam (2000) describe pedagogical knowledge as including (a) the educator’s overarching concept of purpose and nature of content; (b) knowledge of potential understandings and misunderstandings; (c) knowledge of content, curriculum and materials; and (d) knowledge of strategies and representations for practice.
Knowledge of the Learner
One of the most influential people in shaping education as we know it in America, John Dewey, said it best: “The child is the starting-point, the center, and the end. His development, his growth, is the ideal. It alone furnishes the standard. To the growth of the child all studies are subservient; they are instruments valued as they serve the needs of growth. Personality, character, is more than subject-matter. Not knowledge or information, but self-realization, is the goal. To possess all the world of knowledge and lose one’s own self is as awful a fate in education as in religion.” (p. 107)
Students at Brenau are provided with a quality education that leads them to discover the importance of knowing each and every student that they teach. The coursework is designed in a manner that reinforces the importance of the cyclical, seamless, nature of instruction: assessment, instruction, adjust instruction based on assessment, repeat the cycle.
An understanding of and perspective for the learner is an important element of the conceptual framework and reinforces the institutional mission regarding community responsibility and global understanding. Decisions about the learning process must take place in the context of knowledge of the learner. Reflection provides one of the vehicles needed for the candidate to better understand what he or she knows (Loughran, 2002). Part of this reflective process involves facilitating the candidate’s capacity to accept, change, or balance one’s own ideas and goals with that of the learner’s and with the broader concepts of education (Jewett, 1998). It is important that this process not become one of rationalization about the events or problems that are the object of reflection (Loughran, 2002). If the shift to reflection-for -action is to be successful for the novice teacher, reflection must involve critical thinking as to problem resolution and seeking a positive direction toward success.
The programs for initial preparation are grounded in a constructivist approach as to how learners construct their understanding of new material. Candidates are guided through the process of establishing prior knowledge of learners and then providing support or scaffolding (Vygotsky, 1978) as they learn new material. In addition to assessing the prior knowledge, candidates must also seek and value the learners’ points of view as a component of building knowledge (Brooks & Brooks, 1999). Advanced candidates refine and extend their skills in creating a classroom that provides constructed learning experiences.
The teacher education unit strives to provide an environment that recognizes the importance of learning as a social construction (Colliver, 2002). Rainer (1999) purports that constructivist programs differ from traditional programs by shifting from a focus on teaching content to reaching content. Connections between the content, pedagogy and the learner are enhanced in a constructivist environment where the education professional supports the learner, examines content in the context of prior knowledge, and designs learning experiences that are meaningful and relevant.