Union University
Union University School of Education
Paige Ward helps a student with her pottery assignment at Madison Academic.

Conceptual Framework - Updated Enhancement

The conceptual framework for Union University's Teacher Education Program is "A Teacher-Student Dynamic of Sensitivity, Reflection, and Faith." This framework is congruent with the identity, core values, and mission of the university. Union is an academic community, affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention, equipping persons to think Christianly and serve faithfully in ways consistent with its core values of being excellence-driven, Christ-centered, people-focused, and future-directed. These values shape its identity as an institution which prioritizes liberal arts based undergraduate education enhanced by professional and graduate programs. The university's mission is to provide Christ-centered education that promotes excellence and character development in service to Church and society.

A teacher student dynamic of sensitivity , reflection and faith

In the Conceptual Framework, there is first recognition that the relationship between a teacher and a student is to be prized as Dynamic. The dynamic of the relationship is one where the teacher serves a holism of roles and meets a breadth and depth of goals as a Transformational Teacher who places the learner at the center of the pedagogic classroom model. The roles include scholar, practitioner, and relater (Rosebrough & Leverett, 2011). Scholars are "educators who have reason to be superbly confident in their subject" (p. 35). Practitioners "specialize in methodology that engages learners" (p. 35). And, Relaters are "teachers who nurture the pedagogic relationship, who care about and attend to their learners' essential natures as persons, their human potential" (p. 36).

It takes a whole teacher to teach the whole child, and "transformational teachers are whole teachers because they use academic, social, and spiritual means to teach the whole child" (p. 35). The Transformational Pedagogy Model (p. 16) has become a source for informing and changing the Conceptual Framework since the last NCATE review. It is illustrated in Figure 1.1 below and demonstrates the relationship between the learner and the three educational goals of academic, social, and spiritual. The three goals work in synergy in the model, with all three interacting for a combined effect greater than the sum of the individual goals. Academic goals "spring from the traditional liberal arts as well as professional education . . . Social goals . . . are designed to improve human welfare. They are relational, temporal, and self-directed . . . Spiritual goals in the model deal with dynamics of human relations and the human spirit, and include the transcendent values of hope and self-sacrifice" (pp. 27-28).


Social as well as spiritual goals are found in the Conceptual Framework where the first distinct facet is Sensitivity. A sensitive teacher is certainly a "Relater" who can discern the difference between a challenge and frustration for a child because she/he knows the learner. In this age of standardized curriculum and assessment, it is more vital than ever for teachers at all levels to be sensitive to the learner's experiences (needs, interests, home environment, etc.) in order to connect teaching to how students learn. Sensitive teachers meet diverse needs and demonstrate "informed empathy" (Ladson-Billings, 2006), where teachers "feel with students rather to feel for them. Feeling with students . . . does not excuse students from working hard in pursuit of excellence" (p. 31). Price (2006) says that "when students trust that a teacher authentically sees them as important, valuable, and intelligent people, they begin to respect and learn from that teacher, regardless of his or her color" (p. 126). Learners need sensitive teachers.

Reflection is the second distinct facet in the Conceptual Framework. Academic goals drive reflection for teachers as well as for students. Teacher-scholars know their academic domain(s) so well that they become reflective-practitioners who select pedagogy that inspires critical thinking in students (Dewey, 1916). McTighe et al. (2004) remind us that teachers can best raise test scores "by teaching in rich and engaging ways" (p. 27). Reflective teachers inspire a search for meaning in students. Brooks (2004) says that "living means perpetually searching for meaning. Schools need to be places that keep this search alive" (p. 12).

The third distinct facet of Faith undergirds all that Union University seeks to accomplish in classrooms. Integrating a concern for spiritual outcomes along with academic and social goals in teaching is a vital part of the mission of Union. Most educators in "secular realms do not consider taking even the first step in such a journey" (Rosebrough & Leverett, 2012, p. 475). But faith can lead teachers to reflect and act upon the priority of "who" we teach over "what" we teach. Both are important, but transforming students can subsume the more limited concept of informing students. The sacred realm can be seen as overlapping with the secular, where the intersection of the two realms illuminates a teacher's calling, "because it is where we find purpose, our passion to serve" (Rosebrough & Leverett, 2011, p. 31). To have spiritual goals in teaching means that we can connect to the spiritual in our students. Willard (1998) tells us spiritual is who we already are, not something we become.

The Conceptual Framework of "A Teacher-Student Dynamic of Sensitivity, Reflection, and Faith" for Union's Teacher Education Program represents a more holistic vision for an educational preparation where teachers and leaders care about what they know, what they can do, and what kind of people they are becoming. Expected knowledge, skills, and professional dispositions are enhanced by thinking of pedagogy on a continuum with exposition on the right side, inquiry-teaching on the left, and discussion in the middle (p. 122). If students are allowed to create their own learning, they are more likely to remember what they have been studying. Engaged learning can occur at any point on the continuum, but, if the goal is student-directed learning, it is more likely to occur with discussion and inquiry-teaching.

John Dewey (1938) termed the goal of student-directed learning over a lifetime "continuity of experience." By allowing students to develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions through more engaging processes in a supportive environment, students develop good learning qualities; they develop deeper understanding of content; and they build a disposition toward lifelong learning. A conceptual framework that promotes such development is the goal and desire at Union University.

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