Preparing Teachers as Agents of Change
The Wheaton College Teacher Education Program Conceptual Framework
The Department of Education at Wheaton College envisions the teacher as an agent of change. This conceptualization of teaching has a spiritual and historical foundation as well as a theoretical framework. The role of teacher as an agent of change is tied closely to the college’s mission. For those who are called to service in our state’s, nation’s, and world’s public and private schools, this mission charges the candidates to devote their lives wholly to Christ by faithfully teaching all of His children to the best of their abilities while continually working to improve conditions in the schools.
Jonathan Blanchard, Wheaton College’s first president and a strident abolitionist, believed strongly in preparing Christian young men and women to fight injustice and improve life for those in need. Under Blanchard’s leadership, Wheaton College was the first four-year college in Illinois to graduate an African American and to enroll women on an equal basis with men. As an advocate for social reform, Blanchard’s activist role and nineteenth century ideals still guide the Wheaton teacher education program as it develops educators for an increasingly diverse nation.
Vision and Mission of the Unit
As the framework was developed, the unit and its partners were influenced by the work of Arthur Holmes (1987) and his vision of how one’s Christian faith and learning can be integrated. Holmes (1987) maintains that the integration of one’s Christian faith and learning can be approached in four overlapping ways: (1) attitudinally, (2) ethically, (3) foundationally, and (4) as a worldview. All of these concepts play important roles in classroom discussions about the centrality of the Christian faith in forming the basis of the unit’s conceptual framework and its translation to practice. This vision of integrating faith, learning and life service is consistent with the charge Paul gave to the church at Corinth, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31). As such, the mission of the unit is to prepare candidates through all of its approved programs who are agents of change, are able to ensure the learning of all of their students and, concurrently, to work effectively for positive change in their schools and communities.
What does it mean to be an agent of change in schools today? In order for educators to create a significant difference in the lives of their students, their schools, and their communities, the unit believes that these educators must be able to make responsible decisions that are based on a substantial liberal arts and professional knowledge base and reflect a strong commitment to their profession. Additionally, Christian teachers who seek to be agents of change cannot be content with merely replicating traditional practice but must accept the ethical responsibility to become, themselves, students of teaching and learning and effective models who demonstrate moral and professional behaviors. Finally, Christian teachers who seek to be agents of change are students of teaching and learning who continually seek and apply new insights, methods, and understandings of content and pedagogy in order to be a champion for social justice and to ensure that all students, regardless of any differences, are truly educated.
The Department of Education in consultation with its partners envisions a commitment to educational reform that is both consistent with Wheaton College’s historical and spiritual foundations and addresses the challenges of contemporary American education. Over the years, the unit and its partners have interpreted the conceptual framework to encompass three central themes as it works to further articulate its mission to prepare teachers as agents of change in the schools: (1) teaching for social justice, (2) making informed decisions, and (3) acting responsibly. These three central themes are the unit’s primary purposes and their supporting research forms the philosophical basis for the conceptual framework.
Teaching for Social Justice
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God?” Micah 6:8
Teaching for social justice recognizes the relationship between individual identity and the learning process. Each student engages in the task of learning according to his or her ability to connect this process to prior experiences, capacities, interests and ambitions. As the unit works to prepare teachers who can teach for social justice, a number of significant influences including race and ethnicity, gender, class, family, learning styles, developmental levels, and disabling conditions are addressed. The unit also believes that teachers who are informed about issues regarding social justice must first be made aware of the injustices that occurred in the past as a result of the pervading social milieu, one that supported segregation, inequitable treatment of women, and other marginalizing practices. Social justice, however, cannot exist apart from community. In order to establish a model of social justice within their classrooms, teachers who act as agents of change take this knowledge of individuals to create a safe and inviting learning environment, a critical component that has been supported by many. A socially just learning community enables every learner to establish high individual goals and then offers the opportunity to achieve them. Finally, teaching for social justice extends beyond one’s individual classroom. An agent of change is aware of current inequitable access to quality education and recognizes the inter-relatedness of educational opportunity and society at large. A Christian educator who serves as an agent of change seeks effective means for removing or modifying present structures that deny or limit students from reaching their potential through curricular, pedagogical, and political action.
Goals/outcomes related to teaching for social justice. The unit has delineated three broad goals related to social justice. The first broad goal is to ensure that candidates learn to work effectively with all children and their families regardless of race, creed, religion, national origin, sexual preference, disabling condition, or capabilities. The second broad goal is to ensure that diversity is respected and that candidates have the opportunity to work in diverse environments and with diverse colleagues and teachers. The third broad goal is to ensure that candidates understand current social justice issues in education and understand their obligation to work for positive change.
Making Informed Decisions
“It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.” Proverbs 19:2
Teachers are required to make numerous daily decisions in designing instruction, interacting with students, and assessing their own performance. As a culture that has been accused of being myopic during the twentieth century regarding its focus on the present, educators in the twenty-first century need a thorough understanding of the past to accurately comprehend the world around them. In addition to gaining an awareness of historical precedents, researchers have clearly shown that educators who acquire a broad understanding of childhood and adolescent domains of development are able to make informed choices regarding pedagogical practices and age-appropriate curricular materials. Competent decision-making includes the ability to offer a balance of individualized, collaborative small group and whole class instruction when appropriate for pre-school, elementary, middle and senior high school students. Teacher candidates who seek to be agents of change also need to understand various theories of learning and how these might be applied in diverse classroom settings in order to shape curriculum and establish instructional practices that are learner-focused, experiential, and cognitively challenging. Inherent in educational decision-making is the difficult process of providing for larger conceptual understandings of each discipline while at the same time offering the specific content and procedural knowledge necessary to apply such understandings in everyday experiences. In order to ensure that certification candidates at Wheaton College have sufficient content knowledge, all candidates for content-specific certification complete full majors in their subjects and elementary education majors complete a rigorous concentration in one subject area and a series of experiences in all the subjects they will teach.
Another of the more significant demands of educational decision-making is the need to balance individually differentiated instruction that addresses the needs and abilities of all students with uniformly high expectations. To meet this challenge, educators must develop an awareness of content area goals and benchmarks and the role they play in guiding curricular objectives. All candidates for certification at Wheaton College become familiar with the Illinois Learning Goals for K-12 students and demonstrate their understanding of these goals through their integration into all lessons. Candidates in their lessons also show that they can make adaptations that address individual learning needs and special situations.
Educators must also be able to demonstrate competence through meeting both professional and content-area standards as promulgated by the Illinois State Board of Education, the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, and the national specialty organizations that are a part of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. Specifically, all candidates demonstrate through their successful completion of key assessments that they have met all of the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards, the Illinois Core Language Arts Standards, the Illinois Core Technology Standards, and their specific subject matter standards as delineated either by the State of Illinois and/or the national Specialty Professional Associations. A candidate can only complete the program when his/her record indicates that he/she has successfully demonstrated at least minimum competency appropriate for a beginning teacher in each of the standards.
Making future decisions is strongly dependent on educators’ abilities to assess current performance. This requires teachers to develop expertise in a variety of assessment practices including norm-referenced and criterion-referenced evaluation as well as observation, portfolio and performance assessments. In addition to evaluating student growth, educators must engage in reflective practice in order to critically question the value of curricular content and the effectiveness of their own teaching. This process of reflective decision-making is stressed in all practicum experiences.
As technological advances continue to become a part of everyday life, informed teachers must be able to utilize various technologies to assist students in their learning. The primary technological focus of the unit is on technologies that can be used to support student instruction and professional growth, and all of the Illinois Core Technology Standards are addressed throughout the program.
Finally, educators who seek to be agents of change must recognize that sound professional decisions are not made in isolation. Teachers must collaborate with parents, students, and colleagues in order to make truly informed choices. In so doing, they become part of a pedagogical team in which disciplines intersect in order to encourage an engaging, integrated curriculum that will benefit school culture as a whole.
Goals/outcomes related to making informed decisions. The unit has developed five broad goals to support this purpose of the conceptual framework. The first goal is to ensure that candidates use a variety of current and validated techniques of effective teaching, understand the theory behind the techniques, and use assessments go guide developmentally and culturally appropriate instruction for children. The second goal is have candidates develop an individual philosophy of education based on Christian commitment, important philosophers, and contemporary issues. The third goal is to ensure that candidates understand human development and use this knowledge to prepare effective lessons. The fourth goal is to enable candidates to establish and maintain an appropriate climate for learning. The fifth goal is to ensure that candidates use and incorporate, when appropriate, current technology to enhance educational experiences for all children.
“Live as children of light for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.” Ephesians 5: 8-9
In order for educators to be agents of change, they must be committed to teach in a Christ-honoring, ethical manner. This is not a role to be taken lightly. The call to teach carries with it an implied stewardship of students’ and parents’ trust and time in addition to developing students’ moral, social, personal, intellectual and academic capacities.
Acting responsibly requires educators to fulfill their roles of instructor, advisor and evaluator with a high degree of integrity. This integrity must be cultivated through a rich inner life characterized by personal reflection. Teachers who hope to positively influence their students must be aware of their own identities and beliefs, both personally and professionally, before they can hope to become agents of change. The unit has instituted a referral process by which any professor may refer a candidate who, in the professor's professional judgment, may not exhibit the appropriate dispositions to teach. The referral process is designed to assist students in examining their own professional behaviors in light of both their commitment to Christ and their commitment to the education profession.
Goals/outcomes related to acting responsibly. The unit has articulated one goal related to acting responsibly, and that is to ensure that candidates exhibit appropriate dispositions for teaching including an articulated desire to teach all children, a passion for and capabilities in the appropriate subject area, a demonstrated ability to meet appropriate professional expectations, an acknowledgement of the need for continued professional growth and reflection, and a commitment to reflect Christ in all that is done.
Influence on Policies and Practices
The conceptual framework of the Wheaton Teacher Education Program has a direct effect on its policies and practices. First, the three guiding principles form the bases for all of the course offerings and experiences designed to prepare our candidates for tomorrow’s classrooms. Teaching for social justice is addressed in all of the unit’s classes to ensure that the candidates both understand and are able to demonstrate a respect for all individuals regardless of any particular characteristics, belief systems, or disabling conditions. Making informed decisions is addressed most heavily in the program during the candidates’ junior and senior years when they begin exploring effective means by which they will be able to help all of their students to learn. Effective, research-based techniques are covered in classes, and candidates demonstrate their understanding of the techniques through completion of several sequential practicum classes culminating in an intensive student teaching experience. The third principle of acting responsibly is a focus in all classes and experiences both within WheTEP and the College as a whole. As Christians, all candidates agree to abide by the College’s Community Covenant which illustrates clearly that acting responsibly as a Christian teacher goes far beyond adhering to a simple listing of rules. It involves acting in a manner that is viewed as ethical by the education profession and that reflects Jesus Christ in all interactions with students, their parents, and coworkers. Responsible actions are stressed in all classes, issues are explored, and real-life examples drawn from the candidates’ experiences are discussed in a manner that enables the candidates to learn the depth of acting responsibly as a teacher.
The conceptual framework is also addressed specifically in each education class. All instructors have included a section titled “Relationship to the Conceptual Framework” in their syllabi. This section describes in more detail how the principles of the conceptual framework provide the guidance for the conduct of each class. Each syllabus also includes an expanded knowledge base in which the research that forms the content of the class is delineated.
The unit’s conceptual framework has also been used to develop the evaluation forms that are completed on each candidate after the completion of each practicum experience. The three guiding purposes (teaching for social justice, making informed decisions, and acting responsibly) form the major headings, and the specific behaviors that allow both the College personnel and our school partners to assess the candidates’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions for teaching are grouped under each heading.
In addition to its influences on the classes and school experiences of the candidates, the conceptual framework also guides the practices of the faculty in all aspects of their work and the unit itself in its assessment of its own effectiveness. As new faculty members are recruited, all are provided with a copy of the conceptual framework. During the interview, the faculty candidate’s fit with the College’s beliefs regarding the preparation of teachers is assessed. Additionally, all current faculty members address aspects of the conceptual framework in their research on effective practices and policies, in their service to the profession and the community, and in their service to the College. Finally, the unit assessment plan has been designed to assess whether or not the unit’s graduates are becoming agents of change in the schools through its annual surveys of graduates and their employers.
Performance Expectations and Assessment of Candidates
The standards promulgated by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), and the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and its specialty groups (SPAs) are incorporated into all of the unit’s programs. With the conceptual framework as the overall guide, the unit has designed both its classes and its assessment devices to reflect specifically the Illinois Professional Teaching Standards (which incorporate the INTASC standards), the Illinois Core Language Arts Standards, and the Illinois Core Technology Standards. Each individual program ensures that its offerings reflect both the standards of the national specialty group for its program and the Illinois content area standards.
Each class and practicum experience has specific, delineated standards it addresses, and candidates are assessed through a variety of means to ensure that each candidate who completes the program has demonstrated that he/she has the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for success in the classroom as a beginning teacher and can function as an agent of change in the schools. Each candidate’s knowledge and skills are assessed in classes through a variety of means including but not limited to examinations, papers, presentations, demonstrations, and observations. All of these assessments are tied to the conceptual framework through one or more of the three central purposes. Throughout the program, candidates’ dispositions for teaching are assessed through the completion of several sequential practicum experiences where the candidates are observed closely.
While the addressing of all relevant standards is a critical component, the various standards do not form the whole of the Wheaton Teacher Education Program. The conceptual framework provides that the program’s candidates must strive to do more than simply meet mandated standards. Instead, its candidates must strive to affect the world for Christ and His Kingdom through faithful service in the state’s, the nation’s, and the world’s schools. As such, the program includes numerous reflective components designed to ensure that its graduates are lifelong learners who will strive to affect the profession in a truly positive manner.
The unit has identified five specific checkpoints during each candidate’s program where the candidate’s knowledge, skills, and dispositions to teach are closely checked. Each checkpoint includes increasingly more rigorous requirements.
Assessment of the Conceptual Framework
As a living document that provides the overall guidance for WheTEP, the unit’s conceptual framework must be assessed on a regular basis. Changes or updates to the conceptual framework may be proposed by any member of the Teacher Education Advisory Committee. Additionally, input from selected school partners, candidates, graduates, and employers regarding the conceptual framework and other matters that affect the program is solicited annually through a mailing requesting formal feedback. At its annual spring meeting, the Teacher Education Advisory Committee will consider any suggested changes to the conceptual framework and make appropriate revisions.
To download a PDF version (21 pages) of the complete Conceptual Framework, click here.
Response to February 23, 2010 "Social Justice" Radio Commentary
Original Conceptual Framework Adoption: September, 1993
Latest Revisions Accepted: May, 2004