Institutional Report for NCATE

II: Conceptual Model

Overview: The theme of the unit’s current conceptual model or framework first emerged as the result of a faculty retreat held in late May of 1987. Those faculty who participated in that retreat, including five who still serve the unit, took the first steps toward a new curriculum. Their work together produced consensus on the need for curricular revision, on concerns that should be addressed in such a revision, and on standards that would guide an emerging curricular design. Later that summer the unit’s faculty members agreed upon a curricular philosophy and specified an initial set of goals describing the knowledge, skills, and values required of successful novice teachers. The resulting design, anticipating current trends in teacher education, identified the need for performance standards that candidates for licensure should meet to affirm their competence.

Growing out of research on how classroom teachers made instructional decisions (Walter, 1984), one of those goals called upon prospective educators to “recognize that teaching is a decision-making process.” While other facets of the resulting curricular design would change in response to emerging national standards and to changes in Minnesota’s teacher licensure process, subsequent statements of curricular intent retained an emphasis on teachers as planners and decision makers. The unit’s current conceptual model, “Teacher as Decision-Maker,” grows from this earlier curricular work. That model introduces prospective educators to teaching as a decision-making activity informed by knowledge, values, and standards within the context of human, fiscal, and physical constraints:

The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University (CSB/SJU) Education Department recognizes that purposeful decision-making is at the heart of effective teaching. We aim to develop exemplary teachers who have a strong liberal arts background, who exemplify Benedictine values, and who consistently make professional decisions which help all students achieve their full potential as persons and as responsible world citizens in a democratic society.

Purposeful decision-making for our teacher candidates takes place in consideration of a body of knowledge that is deep and constantly expanding. It draws on timeless Benedictine values that include reverence and care for each person, concern for the common good of the community, and balancing the needs of body, mind, and spirit. Decisions also reflect the professional standards that guide effective, ethical practice as well as the constraints within a particular teaching context. Effective teachers make decisions that address

  1. Subject Matter. We prepare candidates for licensure as Minnesota teachers who understand the central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures of the disciplines they are preparing to teach so that they will be able to make this subject matter meaningful for their students (Knowledge Base, p. 2)
  2. Learning and Development. Our candidates draw on their understanding learning and developmental processes to choose optimal ways to encourage their students’ intellectual, social, and personal development (p. 9).
  3. Diverse Learners. Our candidates, recognizing how differences among students can influence their learning, make instructional decisions that reflect their students’ backgrounds and exceptionalities (p. 18).
  4. Instructional Strategies. Our candidates use their knowledge of instructional strategies to decide upon and employ those that are most likely to encourage their students’ critical thinking, problem solving, and performance skills (p. 27).
  5. Learning Environment. Our candidates use their knowledge and skills to create just and disciplined learning communities that can motivate students to achieve personal and academic success through positive social interaction and active engagement in their learning (p. 33).
  6. Communication. Our candidates use effective verbal, nonverbal, and media communication techniques to foster their students’ learning (p. 38).
  7. Planning Instruction. Our candidates plan instruction by deciding the knowledge, skills, and values they will teach, who they will teach, in what ways they will teach, and the effects of their instruction (p. 42).
  8. Assessment. Our candidates use information provided through their use of formal and informal assessment methods to make instructional decisions that will support their students’ continuous development (p. 47).
  9. Reflection and Professional Development. Our candidates critically reflect on the effects of their instructional decisions on the performance of their students, on the practice of their colleagues, and on the actions of others in their learning communities, using those reflections to direct and sustain their professional renewal (p. 55).
  10. Collaboration, Ethics, and Relationships. Our candidates enhance their effectiveness as educators by working together with their colleagues, their students’ parents, and members of their school community to create and sustain a positive learning environment that can enhance students’ learning and well-being (p.58).

The unit conceptualizes its shared vision of teaching decision-making within three realms:

We believe that teachers should actively participate in the decision-making process, rather than being mere technicians who implement only a prescribed curriculum and decisions made by others. Carl B. Smith (1992) defines a decision-maker as one who regularly selects from among alternatives before taking actions that impact persons’ lives. In our view, this definition describes much of what teachers do.

Both Cooper (1999) and Smith classify teaching decisions into three categories:

Planning decisions occur prior to the actual teaching and include determining outcomes or objectives (i.e. the content one will teach); selecting teaching techniques (or pedagogy), identifying materials and resources to be utilized, choosing appropriate motivational and management strategies, and deciding on evaluation procedures;

Interacting or implementing decisions occur during teaching. These involve providing instructional guidance and support, intervening when students are misbehaving or off task, and making mid-stream adjustments in instructional procedures;

Evaluating decisions typically take place after teaching and include such choices as determining how to apply scoring criteria, determining grades, and deciding what information to provide to parents (Conceptual Model, p. 2).

The unit further believes that competent professional educators cannot arrive at such decisions without the benefit of a rational decision-making process. Working from a four-step model of how teachers make such decisions, the unit has added a fifth step encouraging teachers to consider the outcomes of their decisions.

We agree with Smith that teacher decision-making should be purposeful and involve a rational choice based on available alternatives. To assist our students in making purposeful choices, we have adopted Smith’s Rational Decision Model (1992). This model consists of four steps:

Formulating the decision question (planning, implementing, or evaluating),

Collecting/considering information that reveals available alternatives,

Selecting criteria through which alternatives are sifted, and

Making a choice regarding the decision question. Then,

Reflecting on the outcomes of the decision. (Conceptual Model, pp. 2-3)

Once they perceive the need to make decisions about planning, implementing, or evaluating instruction, candidates who have been introduced to a rational decision-making process are more likely to make use of it. Toward this end, the unit’s framework includes a detailed description of each of the five steps in that process to enhance its adoption.

To effectively implement this decision-making model, teachers must have a firm grasp of a diverse, research-based body of professional knowledge. This body of knowledge forms the basis of the information from which available alternatives for the decision questions are formulated. These alternatives are then judged (or sifted) on the basis of specific criteria. Values form an important component of the filter through which decision options should be judged. Aspects of the teaching profession must also be considered, such as established professional ethics as well as state and school district curriculum standards and one’s philosophy of teaching.

Finally, as Brubaker and Simon have noted (1992), constraints must also be considered, as they may limit the number of practical options within one’s current situation. These include such factors as time, availability of resources, the collaborative nature of many teaching decisions, and the realities of district and community politics. To complete the decision-making process, we have added what we believe is a crucial fifth step, reflection. Like Cooper (1999), we feel that "reflection is the decision-making system’s way of correcting itself" (p. 8) in that it adds to one’s body of knowledge for use in future decisions. Reflection occurs primarily after the decision is implemented and away from the hustle and bustle of classroom interactions. It involves self-evaluation through a critical analysis of the decisions and their outcomes to determine how effectively each of the three teaching functions (planning, implementing, and evaluating) were handled (Cooper, 1999). However, as Valli (1990) has noted, reflection must not only involve technical and content-related considerations, but must also include moral and ethical reflection to ensure that the decisions were in the students’ best interests.

The unit visualizes this decision-making process with a simple model.

We realize that in actual practice the decision-making steps and domains may not always be as clear-cut as described above. However, we believe that having an understanding of the decision-making process, the criteria that influence decisions, and the decision-making domains will result in better choices and, therefore, more effective teaching (Conceptual Model, p. 3).

The unit has devised a simple graphic to portray this conception of teachers’ decision-making process within the context of knowledge, skills, and values defined by its program goals.


Shared Vision. The record of colleagues’ shared contribution to a stronger, more useful conceptual model testifies to the nature and strength of the units’ shared vision of teachers as decision-makers. Extensive revision of that model began in the spring of 1999. Those attending a department meeting on 14 March, after reviewing the model and the ways it informed their teaching, concluded that it should be revised and updated by inserting a specific decision-making process and connecting the model to the current professional literature. The group reached consensus that the theme, “Teacher as Decision-Maker,” should be retained along with the four decision-making categories (body of knowledge, humane interaction, teaching in a changing world, and teaching as a profession). Professor Edmund Sass accepted the task of revising the model.

Working informally with his colleagues, Sass clarified and expanded the model within the framework suggested by these four decision-making categories. He incorporated Smith's decision-making model as a starting point for more attention to the process by which teachers might make instructional decisions. He shared a draft of his work with all unit members during June and July of 1999, incorporating further suggestions.

Sass brought a current draft of the model to an August conference in Philadelphia sponsored by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. That draft of the model was read by two conference consultants, Dr. Erskine Dottin and Dr. Darnell Williams. Both felt that it represented a good start and would serve as a viable theme and rationale. However, both agreed that a revised philosophy, mission, aim, goals, and knowledge base were required if the model were to serve as a coherent guide for the unit’s programs.

Sass returned from Philadelphia with a renewed vision of how the model he first began to consider in 1986 might be strengthened. During September of 1999, he offered a new draft of the theme and rationale for the Education Department faculty to review. Following helpful discussion, the unit approved his revision and encouraged his continuing efforts.

During the unit’s October 1999 gathering David Leitzman, Director of Teacher Education, led department members in a “card sort” activity to help them begin to write a departmental philosophy and mission statement. During this structured activity all department members wrote at least three statements which reflected their beliefs regarding effective teachers and their preparation. Each belief was recorded on a separate 3 x 5 note card. Sass and Leitzman later sorted these cards into thematic categories.

Dr. Sass transcribed these statements and their emerging categories during January 2000. Using this transcription as a starting point, Sass composed a draft of a revised unit philosophy. This draft was shared with all department members with a request for their suggested changes or additions. After receiving contributions from seven department members, Sass further revised the philosophy statement.

Building on this revised draft, the departmental theme, and the joint mission of the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University, Sass next drafted a departmental mission. This was also mailed to all department members. Five responded with suggestions. Several of these suggestions were incorporated into a revised mission that was subsequently approved at a department meeting in February of 2000.

In April Professor Sass led the unit in an activity designed to classify the ten terminal Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice for Teachers into one of the four decision-making categories that were part of the previous version of the conceptual model (body of knowledge, humane interaction, teaching in a changing world, and teaching as a profession). Department members found this a difficult task. These standards were so broadly focused that they could easily fit into more that one of the four categories.

After much discussion during a subsequent department meeting, the unit decided not to group the standards into the models’ four categories. Furthermore, the unit’s faculty decided that the theme and framework should be revised to more clearly reflect the identity of the department, particularly in regard to the values that informed its program. Such changes would further reduce the usefulness of the four categories. Those present elected to remove them from the model. Members also proposed, discussed, and accepted the ten standards as program goals to guide candidates’ preparation, a change which all who were present approved.

Work continued through the spring and on into the summer of 2000 on refinements of the emerging framework. Most of the unit’s faculty contributed to the development of an integrated synthesis of research and practice that could support each of the ten program goals with a base of research, theory, and practice. Visuals that could capture key elements were devised, discussed, and revised until they evolved to the forms we now use. With the growing availability of electronic information exchange, the unit elected to share its work on the framework with a broader audience by incorporating its elements in the department web site, a task which will continue for some time.

Coherence. The unit’s shared vision of effective teachers as decision-makers encourages the use of this model to plan, effect, and judge the merit of all aspects of its approach to teacher preparation. The unit’s past practice, as revealed in records of its proceedings, confirms that it uses the “Teacher as Decision-Maker” model and the conceptual framework that supports it in the design of candidates’ formal and informal learning experiences. Course documents and the learning activities developed for those courses affirm that faculty members use the model as they create candidates’ learning opportunities. Reflective opportunities included in field and clinical experiences include attention to elements of the framework. The unit’s faculty use the model to structure their review of new courses or experiences proposed for its curriculum. Annual review of faculty performance includes an opportunity to reflect on contributions to the model. Examination of the unit’s assessment plan, technology plan, partnership plan, and diversity plan reveal close attention to relevant aspects of the model in their design. The model is thus a significant element in the unit’s preparation of prospective professional educators.

Professional Commitments and Dispositions. The unit’s conceptual model draws on a knowledge base of theory, research, and recommended practice aligned with the Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice for Teachers that reveals expected candidate knowledge and skills. That model integrates this base of knowledge and practice, focused by its ten program goals, with the unique set of values that give direction and emphasis to the unit’s conception of effective teaching. The unit’s philosophy calls candidates to use the knowledge base, supplemented by the research and practice, to anchor their emerging practice as they employ “a variety of instructional strategies” to advance the belief that “all their students can learn” the knowledge, skills, and values appropriate for their area of licensure.

Further, candidates are prepared to employ these strategies on behalf of their discipline within a “safe, humane, and welcoming classroom community” that “values student diversity and various cultural realities” so that all learners can “achieve their full potential.” This community of learners, guided by “holistic, collaborative, and constructivist pedagogies” whenever feasible, should reflect “the Benedictine values of commitment to service, concern for community, and respect for all persons.” When candidates’ practice is informed both by knowledge of their discipline and by knowledge of their profession, and when that practice is anchored in the values advanced by the unit’s program of study and practice, those individuals will be…

Not only knowledgeable and caring, but have a passion for teaching to improve the lives of their students. This passion is apparent not only in their enthusiasm for the subject they teach, but also in their commitment to the principle that all decisions and subsequent actions must be in the best interests of their students. Finally, it is our steadfast belief that effective teachers are active decision-makers who have the courage and self-confidence to take charge of their own classroom rather than operating as technicians who merely implement a prescribed curriculum and the decisions made by others (Conceptual Model, Philosophy, pp.3-4).

Commitment To Diversity: The unit’s conceptual framework directs the preparation of candidates toward making “professional decisions which help all students achieve their full potential as persons and as responsible world citizens in a democratic society.” Guided by the Catholic and Benedictine values on which it is founded, the unit advances this aim through its mission by developing…

Teachers who have a commitment to service and to building a classroom community which respects all persons. We realize that for this to happen, we must be vigilant in our efforts to increase teacher candidates’ knowledge of diversity and to help them examine their own biases and belief so that they are able to make educational decisions that enhance the development of all learners. Therefore, content and experiences involving elements of cultural diversity are consciously woven throughout out curriculum. (Conceptual Model, p.6).

The unit’s goals include the expectation that candidates, “recognizing how differences among students can influence their learning, make instructional decisions that reflect to their students’ backgrounds and exceptionalities” (Knowledge Base, Goal 3, p. 18). Empirical investigation integrated with the wisdom of practice suggests that novice teachers having both awareness of and appreciation for diversity will be able to respond to all students needs. Our view is that

“successful teachers embrace the concept of multicultural education by seeking ways of teaching that are congruent with a student’s language, ways of learning, and participation strategies (Cleary and Peacock,1998, as referenced in the unit’s Knowledge Base on page 19).

The unit’s approach for providing greater diversity of candidates, faculty, and experiences takes more detailed form in the Education Department Diversity Plan (2000). That plan, developed by Professor Deanna Lamb after extensive consultation with the unit’s faculty and the colleges’ staff, offers six goals, their related objectives, a set of detailed activities for each objective, and supporting attachments. The unit, with the support of its sponsoring colleges, will work to…

  • Develop a diversity focus in the early foundations of education block.

  • Increase candidates’ field experiences in classrooms with diverse populations.

  • Increase diversity among faculty and students in our program.

  • Ensure more pluralistic thinking among students and faculty.

  • Increase Education Department faculty and staff knowledge about minority groups.

  • Learn about and use pedagogies that give all learners opportunities to learn.

We envision this plan as a critical contribution to our capacity to prepare candidates who can meet the need of tomorrows diverse society.

As its Teacher as Decision-Maker model would indicate, the Education Department’s goal is to prepare candidates who are equipped to make effective and responsible decisions on behalf of their students’ learning and development. According to James A. Banks (p.34), “the key goal of the multicultural curriculum should be to help students develop decision-making skills.” He explains that effective and responsible decision-making requires higher level thinking and knowledge, clarification of related values, and informed action-choices. A perusal of the Teacher as Decision-Maker model confirms that those components form the backbone of the Education Department’s model. The model is intended as a guide to ensure that our candidates have the necessary professional preparation to ensure that all learners have the opportunity to succeed. (Diversity Plan, p.2)

A review of this plan and its supporting research will provide a detailed explication of how the unit will increase the diversity of candidates’ field and clinical experiences, the diversity of its college and clinical faculty, and the diversity of its candidates.

Commitment to Technology. The unit’s philosophy acknowledges that while “all students can learn,” they do so “in different ways and at different rates.” Effective teachers incorporate this recognition into their decisions about not only what they will teach to a diverse group of learners but also how they will “use a variety of instructional strategies and approaches appropriate to the diverse learning needs of students” (Conceptual Model, p. 3).

Recalling this philosophical commitment, the unit’s conceptual framework advances informed, rational, and systematic decision-making as central to effective teaching and meaningful learning. Among those many decisions that teachers make each day are those which Smith (1992) describes as “planning decisions.” These include…

Determining the outcomes or objectives (i.e. the content one will teach); selecting teaching techniques (or pedagogy), identifying materials and resources to be utilized, choosing appropriate motivational and management strategies, and deciding on evaluation procedures. (Conceptual Model, p.2)

Such decisions depend upon a “firm grasp of a diverse, research-based body of professional knowledge” which includes “understanding of the principles of effective practice,” including those principles which relate to the use of instructional and informational technologies (Model, p. 2). Two goals drawn from the unit’s framework support Candidates’ efforts to acquire and use that professional knowledge within their area of licensure.

4. Instructional Strategies. Our candidates use their knowledge of instructional strategies to decide upon and employ those that are most likely to encourage their students’ critical thinking, problem solving, and performance skills (Knowledge Base, p. 27).

7. Planning Instruction. Our candidates plan instruction by deciding upon the knowledge, skills, and values they will teach, who they will teach, in what ways they will teach, and the effects of their instruction (Knowledge Base, p. 42).

Guided by these tenets of its conceptual framework, the unit developed and approved a technology plan to guide its preparation of candidates in the use of technology. This plan will “help all students achieve their full potential as persons and as responsible world citizens in a democratic society” (Education Department Technology Plan, p. 9). That plan reminds us that…

The world is a complex place that is undergoing much change. Changes in society constantly place new demands on schools. And yet, in the midst of all these changes and new demands, schools are now held to a higher level of scrutiny and accountability than ever before. At the dawn of the 21st century, the CSB/SJU Education Department has identified three core values as the guideposts for evaluating the quality and effectiveness of P-12 schools in this changing world. These values include

Equity of learning opportunities,

Respect for human dignity with appreciation for human diversity, and

Responsible world citizenship in a democratic society.

We see these values as the guideposts for much of current educational research, policy making, and curriculum development and reform. As such, we believe these values are at the core of the best educational decision-making today. Technology goals for P-12 schools should use educational technologies to effectively address these values:

That technology resources be planned for and used by schools in ways that promote equity of learning opportunities.

By this we mean that all students have access to the technologies that can assist them in learning to their full potential. Educators must understand and look for ways to use various technologies that support and address individual learning needs and styles so as to assist all students in meeting various curricular learning standards.

That technology resources be planned for and used by schools in ways that recognize and support the dignity of all persons.

By this we mean that technologies are to be used in ways that promote respect for human differences. Educators must understand and look for ways to use various technologies in ways that recognize and celebrate the human dignity of all persons. Educators must model and teach ethical uses of technology.

That technology resources be planned for and used by schools in ways that promote responsible citizenship.

Educators must understand and look for ways to use various technologies to promote creativity, critical thinking, and informed decision making in addressing issues of social justice, care for the environment, and aesthetics. Students must learn to use technology to access information and evaluate its accuracy and significance so that they can make informed decisions, and working with others and alone, creatively solve problems about real world issues.

In summary, our vision for P-12 education is that technology will transform schooling by re-defining the contextual places and times in which students and educators alike can access information, can communicate with each other, and can learn. Educators must be prepared to make decisions that will actively guide, direct, and effect this transformation in their respective schools. They will be prepared for this end as they develop a thorough understanding of the diverse ways in which students learn, as well as the standards of excellence to which student learning is to be directed. Candidates must also know how to use technology to creatively engage all their students in achieving standards of excellence in classrooms that are unbounded by time and geography. (Technology Plan, pp. 4-5, 7).

Pursuit of seven goals and their related objectives, aligned with the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) as developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), will guide candidates’ efforts to acquire the knowledge and skill that will guide their decision-making efforts (ISTE, 2000).

Goal 1: To provide all pre-service teachers with appropriate opportunities to learn, apply and be assessed on the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS).

Goal 2: To annually assess the current state of technology integration in courses taken by pre-service teachers.

Goal 3: To provide staff development for Education Department faculty that will lead to greater implementation of best practices for using technology in teaching.

Goal 4: To give high priority to recognizing and encouraging both the effective and the creative uses of technology by Education Department faculty.

Goal 5: To work with partner schools in developing and/or implementing their respective plans for effective integration of technology in P-12 teaching.

Goal 6: To provide Education Department faculty and students with ready and appropriate access to the best available technologies and support for effective research, personal productivity, and teaching.

Goal 7: To establish annual benchmarks and employ a review process for assessing the preparation and readiness of pre-service teachers to teach effectively with technology.

When implementation begins in September of 2001, this plan will provide opportunities for the unit’s candidates to acquire the foundation of knowledge and skill that will enable them to determine how to best use available technological resources that can help all their students learn. Review of the unit’s plan will reveal how these goals will be achieved in the years ahead.

Candidate Proficiencies Aligned with Professional and State Standards. The unit’s focus on teacher decision-making requires that it offer opportunities to acquire and refine a knowledge base from which candidates can draw plausible alternative responses to the “decision questions” emerging from their practice. The ten goals included in the unit’s conceptual framework offer candidates’ an integrated foundation of research and wisdom on which to base their practice.

Each of these goals is derived from one of Minnesota’s terminal Standards of Effective Practice for Teachers. These ten terminal standards are in turn supported by a set of 120 enabling standards. Together, all 130 statements define a necessary core of professional and pedagogical knowledge, skills, and values for those who would be licensed as novice teachers for practice in Minnesota. They in turn guide our efforts to prepare candidates for that licensure (Minnesota Rules 8710.2000).

Candidates seeking licensure as Minnesota teachers must complete an approved preparation program. All such programs are approved by The Board of Teaching, the State of Minnesota’s licensure agency subordinate to the Department of Children, Families, and Learning. Approved programs, as a condition of their approval, must assure the Board that candidates for licensure have multiple opportunities to know, to apply, and to be assessed on each of the 130 Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice for Teachers. Courses, field experiences, and clinical experiences are planned and aligned to provide these opportunities. Board staff members verify such opportunities as teacher preparation programs may describe through the documentation those programs offer for review. The results of this “standards-based” approach to must be “measured by teacher performance, and performance of the students they teach” (Minnesota Rules 8700.7600.5.B.4.). All of the unit’s programs have been approved for the Standards of Effective Practice for Teachers.

Minnesota also stipulates the professional standards that must be evident in the experience of the candidates for licensure who are recommended for licensure by approved teacher preparation programs. These standards are derived in part from the work of professional associations. Approved programs, as a condition of their approval, must assure the Board of Teaching through documentation and performance that they provide their candidates with multiple opportunities to know, apply, and to be assessed on content standards for their area of licensure. Licensed K-12 teachers and content specialists verify such opportunities as teacher preparation programs working with their institutional colleagues endeavor to provide. All of the unit’s programs have been approved with the exception of World Languages and Cultures K-12: French and the related grades five through eight elementary language specialty. The Education Department was notified on 11 April 2001 that these last two programs will be recommended by the Executive Director for full approval by the Board of Teaching at its next regular meeting (scheduled for 11 May 2001).

Formative assessment of candidates’ success in meeting these standards is included as part of each course, field, and clinical experience. Summative assessment of candidates’ performance, as described in the Unit Assessment Plan (2001), is aligned with the unit’s goals, the Board of Teaching’s program approval standards, the Minnesota Standards of Effective Practice, and the professional standards issued by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. When fully implemented, the measures included in that plan of candidate assessment will explore performance in ways that are congruent with relevant standards for each licensure area. The unit thus assures its candidates, its school partners, and its licensure agency that the instruction, field and clinical experiences, and assessments used to prepare those candidates are guided by and affirm attainment of relevant professional, pedagogical, and p.34.subject matter standards.


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