The six principles of our conceptual framework are manifested in our daily operations. These principles—learning, inquiry, collaboration, connections, reflective practice, and concurrent school improvement and teacher education—are enacted as we live out the theory taught in our courses through the PDS sites.
As mandated by Regulation 347/02, the process and structure of the WLU Teacher Education program reflects current research related to assisting new teachers in achieving the goals captured in our mission statement and to continually improving student learning. At WLU the conceptual framework permeates our courses and field experiences, our partnerships with schools and school boards, and our relationships with each other within the Faculty; in this sense, it is a living piece of our culture. TECs are introduced to the framework on the first day of the Professional Learning Camp and it is evident in our Professional Development School Handbook, website, and evaluation forms. Several intertwined principles form the basis of the conceptual framework. The following text briefly suggests how these principles will be employed.
It is not unique for a teacher education program to be founded on principles of learning. At Laurier we conceptualize learning in terms of ongoing, continuous, reflective practice; this applies to our own practices as well as those of our Professional Development School partners and our Teacher Education Candidates (TECs). The WLU Faculty of Education focuses on helping TECs learn instructional and assessment strategies that reflect current research knowledge on the learning process.
There is an additional aspect to the PDS model which distinguishes the Laurier program: inquiry. Each TEC is required to complete at least one inquiry (sometimes called “action research”) project within their PDS. They begin by seeking an inquiry question that is related to the school improvement goals. Principals often play a key role in suggesting questions that the school is asking with respect to student achievement. Arising from the faculty’s close relationships with the schools, there are also several research projects being conducted collaboratively by associate teachers and faculty members.
Continually improving one’s teaching practice through systematic investigation and reflection, is embedded in all aspects of our approach to teacher education. In the context of the Professional Learning Seminar, TECs research their PDS sites’ goals and objectives. Meanwhile, in courses they are considering current literature related to all aspects of teaching practice. In the context of their PDS site placements and as part of their Professional Learning Seminar course requirements, TECs work with their associate teachers and principals to identify classroom and school-based problems that could be addressed through inquiry during the year. Following the formulation and delineation of a research question related to the PDS site’s school improvement goals, TECs collect and analyze data, drawing conclusions as to the impact of their project on the school at large. TECs share their findings with one another and with PDS and board level staff at the Faculty of Education’s Knowledge Sharing Day that takes place at the end of the year.
Our PDS partnerships also facilitate school staff and faculty members engaging in their own inquiries, sometimes collaboratively. Our goal is for this kind of collaborative inquiry to grow in scope over time, as PDS site staff and faculty members develop stronger relationships and greater levels of shared interest.
Current research on teacher education consistently emphasizes the importance of situated learning and support for teacher education candidates in becoming enculturated into the school community (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Putnam & Borko, 2002). As with our focus on continuous learning, not just for TECs for also for faculty and school staff, our program has been structured to bridge the gap between university and PDS sites through active collaboration. The intent is for TECs to experience and participate in collaborative efforts to continually improve student learning school-wide. In addition to engaging in many collaborative group projects in their coursework, collaboration is practised and modelled through the inquiry projects.
When learners are able to connect ideas and concepts and relate them to a larger picture, it deepens their understanding and helps them to integrate and use more of what they have learned. The WLU Teacher Education program has deliberately sought ways for TECs to create such connections as they develop their concept of what it means to be an effective teacher. TECs need to make connections across content areas and contexts, and between what they are learning in university courses and their practices in the PDS sites.
Learning, collaboration, connections, and inquiry converge in reflective practice. Throughout their coursework, field experiences, and practica, TECs are encouraged to engage in written and oral reflection in, on, and for practice. Associate teachers and faculty members alike consistently ask them to think about their teaching, connect theory to practice, and, of course, focus on the learning of their students in order to foster the attainment of Ministry goals for the children and WLU goals for the TECs.
The Professional Development School (PDS) model provides the foundation for the WLU teacher education program. The PDS model assists TECs in becoming better teachers through more extensive, in-depth and sustained field experiences while simultaneously contributing to school improvement. Having TECs associated with school staffs for nine months grounds their understanding in the work of schools and enables them to become active members of their school community.