Union University
Union University School of Education
Dr. Cherry listens as students give feedback about their assignment

Conceptual Framework

Shared Vision

The conceptual framework for Union’s Teacher Education Program is "A Teacher-Student Dynamic of Sensitivity, Reflection, and Faith." First, there is recognition that the relationship between a teacher and a student is dynamic. This word connotes energy and action, not passivity. A dynamic is a cooperative and collaborative relationship, one where the teacher is also a learner and the student is a reflective practitioner. This relationship is also an attitude. As Dewey (1938) expressed in his summary work, Experience and Education, "the most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning" (p. 48). It is the hope and desire of the Teacher Education Program that Union’s teacher candidates are prepared to foster in their students this attitude of enthusiasm for life-long learning. The dynamic is also highly repetitive. Philip Jackson (1968) suggests that elementary teachers engage in as many as 1000 personal interactions each day. Most of these interactions involve minor as well as major decisions.

A teacher student dynamic of sensitivity , reflection and faith

The three distinct facets of the conceptual framework are sensitivity, reflection, and faith.


Sensitivity has many dimensions because it is attitudinal. But it also must be intentional. The good news is that it can be taught as a concept and skill. Bransford et al. (2000) in How People Learn emphasize that learners must construct their own knowledge and understanding based upon their prior experience. Teachers at all levels must be sensitive to the learner’s experiences (needs, interests, home environment, etc.) in order to connect their teaching to how the students learn.

Many authors and researchers in the "brain learning" field have called for an emotionally safe learning environment for optimum learning to take place (Howard, 1994; Jensen, 1998; McGaugh et al., 1993). When a child feels intimidated in the classroom environment, an overproduction of noradrenalin causes that child to focus attention on self-protection instead of learning. Sensitivity also involves the teacher’s ability to orchestrate learning where students experience appropriate levels of challenge (Tomlinson & Kalbfleisch, 1998). If the curriculum is well beyond the students’ readiness levels, interests, and/or learning profiles, the brain overproduces "stress hormones," neurotransmitters that impede learning (Koob, Cole, Swerdlow & leMoal, 1990). Conversely, if the classroom environment is tedious and boring--beneath the student’s level of readiness and interest--the brain is not inclined to engage and consequently responds with apathy (Shultz, Dayan, & Montague, 1997). A sensitive teacher knows students to the point of discernment of the difference between a challenge and a frustration which is directly related to active engagement or tedium.

"The student teachers with whom I have worked have demonstrated a high degree of sensitivity to the many diverse learners I teach in ESL."
-Anita Kail
Bells City School

An example of teaching sensitivity as a concept and skill is in the field of reading instruction. It is vital that a first grade teacher "knows" his/her children. Having learned various teaching approaches, the sensitive teacher can discern which method works best for the child who is having difficulty. If the learner is not able to detect the various sounds used in the part-to-whole strategy, the sensitive teacher will switch to strategies like whole-to-part, the language experience, or the whole language approach to meet the needs of the learner. Such sensitivity enables the teacher to teach children to read through diverse means that "work" for them.

Sensitivity can also be seen as vital for a teacher in fostering emotional and social learning. Many educators agree: emotional and social learning cannot be treated as a fad. The work of Howard Gardner (1983), Daniel Goleman (1995), James Comer (Comer, Haynes, Joyner, & Ben-Avie 1996) and Carol Gilligan (1987) tells us why. It is the recognition of the relational nature of learning which constitutes an essential missing piece in our educational system. Until it is given its proper place, one cannot expect to see progress in combating violence, substance abuse, disaffection, intolerance or the high dropout rate.

Robert Sylwester outlines six areas in which emotional and social learning must converge for the benefit of children and schools:

  • Accepting and controlling our emotions
  • Using metacognitive activities
  • Using activities which promote social interaction
  • Using activities which provide and emotional context
  • Avoiding intense emotional stress in school
  • Recognizing the relationship between emotions and health
He also points out that multiple intelligences are socially based and interrelated: "It’s difficult to think of linguistic, musical, and interpersonal intelligence out of the context of social and cooperative activity, and the other four forms of intelligence are likewise principally social in normal practice." (1995, 75-77, 117)

Miranda Lindsey does and activity a group of Kindergarteners at Medina Elementary


Reflection is also multi-faceted. Howard Gardner (1993) has labeled it as "intrapersonal intelligence." Armstrong (1994) describes intrapersonal intelligence as:

Multiple Intelligence theory suggests that intrapersonal intelligence can be taught through a variety of means: providing space and time for student privacy, allowing authentic choice in how they are to learn, developing self-paced projects.

Another dimension of reflection is inquiry and reflective thinking. As a nation, American educators and other citizens have always wanted schools to teach thinking. Dewey (1916) approached the teaching of thinking through problem-solving. He defined a problem as anything that gives rise to doubt and uncertainty and posed two criteria: (1) the problems to be studied had to be important to the culture, and (2) the problems had to be important and relevant to the student. Beyer (1971) described the role of the teacher in inquiry teaching as (1) posing a meaningful problem, and (2) providing the resources with which the students can solve the problem. This role is a major paradigm shift for many teachers.

Yet another aspect of reflection is understanding. One set of curriculum specialists use the term to mean that a student goes beyond textbook knowledge to really "gets it." Wiggins & McTighe (1998) say that understanding involves sophisticated insights and abilities, that knowledge and skill do not automatically lead to understanding, and that misunderstanding is a bigger problem than most realize. The authors suggest designing or redesigning curriculum to make student understanding more likely.


Faith undergirds all that Union University seeks to accomplish in its classrooms. Union’s teacher education students have the opportunity to tap into a holistic education which includes the spiritual dimension. James Sire (1997) contrasts a statement from Stephen Crane on the plight of late 20th century human beings:

A man said to the universe: "Sir, I exist."
"However," replied the universe,
"The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation."

How different this is from the words of the ancient psalmist (Psalm 8) who looked around himself and up to God and wrote:
O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is thy name in all the earth!

"I am most thankful for how the professors continually pointed me to Christ, the Great Teacher. Specifically Dr. Chris Hail would consistently ask me about the relationships I was building with students. He exhorted me to think eternally and to remember that my classroom is my mission field."
-Amanda Cary (’03)

Life can be seen as a struggle to discover one’s faith, worldview and beliefs about reality. At Union, teacher education balances its conceptual framework on faith. The university wants to nurture belief in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. It also desires that its students will be "overcomers" in life through the power of God’s spirit. This ability is surely relevant as teachers seek to be sensitive and reflective in their classrooms. It is also vital that students form a consciousness of not only their own way of thought (their own worldview), but also that of other people so that they can understand and communicate with others in a pluralistic society.

One way to challenge students is to ask good questions. Three questions asked of educators at Union University are: (1) How does a Christian worldview relate to a curriculum for preparing teachers? (2) What foundation do students utilize for making crucial decisions in their own lives? (3) How can we design programs that effectively bridge the differences between the sacred and the secular?

An additional question for teacher educators at any university concerned with a more holistic vision for education is, "How do we produce graduates who know what they believe, who measure their beliefs against moral and ethical standards, and who can and will incorporate those standards into what and how they teach?" An important question for students who are preparing for the teaching profession is, "Are you aware that what you believe, regardless of its integrity, will be conveyed to the students you teach?" At Union we ask, "How can we lead pre-service teachers to reflect upon their worldviews and to act upon them in school classrooms? Do they have a reckoning point for moral and ethical beliefs and conduct?" The questions are as important as the answers because they require a theological reflection rarely found in higher education in America. The questions are simply not pertinent to the missions of teacher education programs (or to the missions of other academic programs as well) in most universities because of the fragmentation of their visions for education. The answer for teacher educators at Union can be found in a newly-utilized triangulation of inquiry among three foundational points: faith, character, and service-learning.

Such inquiry presents a pedagogical problem even at a Christian university because the graduate preparation of most professors is secular. And, unfortunately, most contemporary graduate cultures deny the needed holistic vision of education. At Union, educators are seeking to formulate a curriculum for undergraduate and graduate education based on critical questions. The goal is to connect the triangular points of faith and character with the philosophy and action pedagogy of service-learning, and, to actualize those connections with an inquiry process. Such an emphasis on service-learning represents a pedagogical change and enhancement since the previous NCATE visit.

Union University’s exploration of the role of faith and character in teacher education programs acknowledges the moral development work of Piaget(1965), Kohlberg (1969), Perry (1970), Astin (1977), and the civic and character education advances of Lickona (1995, 1999), Colby, Ehrlich, Beaumont and Stephens (2003), but expands this basis to include the impact of faith. Fowler’s (1981) stages of spiritual development are a factor in designing a curriculum where adolescent college students consider their faith and worldview. Westerhoff’s (2000) four styles or stages of faith development provide operational insights into how college students perceive their faith and act on their beliefs. These faith development stages inform the curriculum that will assist students in the establishment of a Christian worldview.