The five principles of our conceptual framework are manifested in our daily operations. These principles — learning, inquiry, collaboration and concurrent school improvement, connections, reflective practice — are enacted as we live out, within Professional Development School (PDS) sites, the theory taught in our courses.
As mandated by Regulation 347/02, the process and structure of Laurier's 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 Laurier 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. Teacher Education Candidates (TECs) are introduced to the framework on the first day of the Professional Teaching Orientation Week and it is evident in our BEd 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 PDS partners and our TECs. Laurier's 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 “action research” project within their PDS. These action research projects are built on identifying a question or problem related to student learning or teaching practice and then developing a plan to address the question or problem. Collecting data around the topic, reflecting on the results, and implementing new practices as a result are components of the inquiry process. This form of inquiry mirrors the type of evidence-based practice in which teachers engage at their schools. Continually improving one’s teaching practice through systematic investigation and reflection is embedded in all aspects of our approach to teacher education.
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 and concurrent school improvement. 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. Laurier's 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 Laurier goals for the TECs.