The five principles of our conceptual framework are manifested in our daily operations. These principles – learning, inquiry, collaboration and school improvement, connections, reflective practice – are enacted as we live out, within Professional Development School 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 candidates 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 professional development school partners and our teacher candidates. Laurier's Faculty of Education focuses on helping teacher candidates learn instructional and assessment strategies that reflect current research knowledge on the learning process. In particular, the Professional Development School model emphasizes teaching that is based on research literature, systematically collected evidence and reflection, and an understanding of individual students' strengths and needs.
Inquiry is a distinguishable feature of the Laurier teacher education model because of its role in the systemic investigation and reflection for continuous improvement of teaching practice. Each teacher candidate is required to complete at least one “action research” project within their school. 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. Continually improving one’s teaching practice through systematic investigation and reflection is embedded in all aspects of our approach to teacher education.
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 reciprocal collaboration and continuous learning, not just for teacher candidates but also for faculty and school staff, our program has been structured to bridge the gap between university and professional development school sites by making connections between what happens in the teacher education classroom and what happens in elementary school settings, with the ultimate goal of improving student learning. Teacher candidates engage school staff in conversations about what they are learning at the university, and by doing so, they see how these ideas find traction within the schools or alternatively, are critiqued and challenged, contributing to the professional learning of both parties. Finally, teacher candidates work alongside school staff in promoting student achievement and providing opportunities for children and youth that teachers may not have time to provide (such as extracurricular activities), thus contributing to student learning, engagement and well-being.
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 teacher candidates to create such connections as they develop their concept of what it means to be an effective teacher. Teacher candidates need to make connections across content areas and contexts, as well as between what they are learning in university courses and their practices in the school sites.
Learning, collaboration, connections, and inquiry converge in reflective practice. Throughout their coursework, field experiences, and practicum placements, teacher candidates 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 teacher candidates. Developing the habit of reflective practice as a teacher candidate encourages the same propensity for self-examination as a practicing teacher.
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