The Conceptual Framework for the unit is guided by and grounded in social constructivism. We believe that the knowledge and skills needed to be an effective teacher, counselor, or administrator are both individually and socially constructed.
Learning is both a process of individual construction of knowledge and a process of enculturation that occurs while participating in cultural practices, often while interacting with others. In short, “meaning-making” is, at the same time, thoroughly psychological and thoroughly social. Individuals construct knowledge through reflection on their experiences in light of what they already know and can do.Â While experiences are crucial in knowledge construction, they are not themselves sufficient to make meaning. Experiences themselves do not cause individuals to construct knowledge. Rather, it is the learner's struggle to make sense of the experiences that results in the construction of knowledge (Dewey, 1939; Duckworth, 1996). Through a process of inquiry and reflection, individuals re-conceptualize, revise, and refine their current understandings.
Such meaning-making is embedded in the social and cultural contexts of which learners are a part (Fosnot, 1996; Wertsch, 1991). Individual learning is rooted in social interactions as learners internalize and actively transform cultural ways of knowing. Put differently, learners construct understandings as they participate in interactions with others. Rather than the construction of an isolated individual, knowledge is understood as jointly constructed through interaction with others. Knowledge construction is further infused with social meanings, because cultural tools, such as language and other symbol systems, shape and constrain the meanings that learners construct.
Grounded in these principles, the Unit's programs offer multiple, rich opportunities for candidates to build on what they already know and can do through shared experiences and individual and joint reflection on those experiences. These opportunities do not occur by happenstance. Rather, they consist of a balance of carefully contrived and naturally occurring opportunities for learning.
The opportunities for learning are designed to foster specific attributes that are characteristic of effective professionals. Passion and interest in all children is a critical aspect in encouraging P-12 student achievement. Candidates who are excited about learning themselves can help learners feel comfortable in the classrooms by providing opportunities for them to increase their academic self-concept, interest in the subject, and desire to learn more.
Fostering the development of future and practicing professionals is a central mission of the unit. Teaching is a profound activity that enables students to understand themselves and their society, and it prepares them to address the responsibilities of living in a democratic society and the many challenges of a complex world. Subject matter knowledge positively impacts professional practice, but it is not sufficient in and of itself. How subject matter is utilized and communicated is important. Within communities of practice, dialogue and discourse among professionals build a repertoire of skills that enhance professional practice. The unit is committed to producing graduates who understand these responsibilities and challenges and who are well prepared to guide their students through the educational experience. We strive to inspire in future and practicing professionals a passion for teaching and an appreciation of the responsibility that professionals accept for the development of their students.
Building and maintaining productive relationships with P-12 professionals and schools is essential to the strength and health of our programs. Field-based experiences involve the unit’s faculty in direct supervision of field experiences, developing and maintaining relationships with teachers, counselors, and administrators, and establishing a variety of partnerships with public schools. School-based teacher educators, all experienced teachers, play an important role as they mentor and guide candidates through their field experiences. College supervisors work closely with teacher candidates and school-based teacher educators throughout field experiences and student teaching. The cooperative relationships between college supervisors and school-based teacher educators are viewed as a critical component of the teacher education program, for it is these relationships that provide support for the growth and development of teacher candidates who demonstrate effective leadership skills. The same commitment to collaboration has been made in the counselor education and educational administration programs.