The overarching theme for the unit, "Educator as Advocator," is a distillation of our vision, mission, beliefs, goals, central philosophy and five related tenets. This overarching theme captures a central philosophy of social justice, the related tenets of diversity, achievement, compassion, knowledge, and service and a constructivist instructional approach to help define who we are and what we are about as faculty, staff and candidates in the unit. The theme, philosophy and tenets also provide a context for: (1) the work that we do in collaboration with the College community, P-12 schools and broader community; (2) our collective efforts to provide high-quality faculty, programs, services and experiences that prepare candidates to work effectively with all students; and (3) continuous improvement in programs, practice, scholarship and service.
Social Justice: Philosophy of the Unit
Social Justice is the central philosophy on which the Unit's Conceptual Framework is based. This philosophy is deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition under which the College was originally founded, and served as the central focus of the life of our patron, St. John Fisher. Consistent with this tradition, the Unit seeks to provide our candidates, faculty and staff with insights of a more "just" world in which people treat one another civilly, humanitarianly, and honorably. To accomplish this noble purpose, our candidates must know how and be able to: (1) provide all learners with equitable access to knowledge about themselves and the world in which they live; (2) engage in caring and effective pedagogical practices that support the acquisition of new knowledge and skills; (3) help students become independent and lifelong learners, and active participants in a social and political democracy; and (4) advocate for the interests of the students that they serve. To these ends, the Unit's philosophy of social justice is characterized by five interlocking tenets: Diversity, Achievement, Compassion, Knowledge, and Service.
Good teaching begins with an understanding about the lives of our students that guides us to plan learner-centered, inclusive instruction. The implementation of inclusive education requires that the teacher and educational leader seek diligently to be informed by the multiple cultures and values represented by the students, families and communities they serve, believe in the innate curiosity and potential of all children, and strive engage this curiosity in experiences that are culturally relevant. When an educator becomes an advocator, he or she must be self-efficacious, acquiring the knowledge skills and dispositions that evidence their conviction to help all children learn regardless of differences among groups of people and individuals based on age, ethnicity, gender, geographical area, language, race, socio-economic status, physical and mental abilities, sexual orientation, spiritual practice, and other human differences. To accomplish this purpose, we prepare educators who are knowledgeable about and willing to challenge societal inequities and practices that are unjust both within and outside of the classroom and school context.
By placing high priority on promoting achievement to advance social justice, the educator as advocator accepts the responsibility to provide the appropriate conditions, opportunities and resources to promote individual growth so that all students can and will learn. Effective teaching begins with the prior knowledge of the learner upon which the skillful teacher builds so that the content being taught is transformed into new understandings. We prepare educators who can create classroom environments that effectively engage students in learning new content by inviting students to achieve and inspiring them to attain the critical skills and perspectives necessary to participate in a democratic society. Achievement-oriented teachers and leaders are adept at designing experiences that guide students to practice new competencies in real-world applications.
Father Hugh J. Haffey, the first president of the College indicated that the single most enduring and necessary feature that distinguished St. John Fisher as a college was its high priority on compassionate practice: compassion on the part of administrators and teachers towards the students; compassion on the part of the students for each other. Compassionate practice has remained a value at the College. In the Unit, we manifest compassionate practice in working with the entire school community—students, families, neighborhoods. To practice compassionate teaching, the educator as advocator must accept the challenge to recognize inequity and intolerance and to work to become an agent for positive change in the lives of students and their families.
The Unit's faculty model the exchange of knowledge as that which is acquired through dialogue between the teacher and the learner, between the text and the reader, and among those who form a community of learners. Curriculum and instructional practice exemplify a constructivist approach where the acquisition of knowledge is a socially constructed and developmental process during which learners derive meaning through intellectual and personal interactions, and have an opportunity to apply what they have learned in real world contexts (Bransford, J, Brown, A., & Cocking, R., 1999). Our faculty teach by example, modeling research-based practices of pedagogy that require the teacher to be skilled in assisting student learners to acquire new knowledge by building on prior knowledge and experience; identifying and building on strengths; and applying new knowledge in meaningful contexts.
The Unit's commitment to community service has grown from the College's mission to prepare individuals for lives of intellectual, professional, and civic integrity, in which diversity and service to others are valued and practiced. The Unit works to instill within our candidates, faculty and staff the importance of professional preparation as a vehicle to improve the quality of life for others through service. Within a learning community, the educator as advocator is committed to a lifelong search for truth, the dignity of every individual, and service to others as a necessary expression of our humanity. We see our own future as intractably tied to the future of others, and by serving others we are in essence serving ourselves. We believe that improving the quality of life for others improves the quality of life for ourselves and ultimately for the society as a whole.
Instructional Approach: Inquiry, Informed Theory, Best Practice and Reflection
The unit believes that professional educators should develop content knowledge and pedagogical skills concurrently and in the most authentic settings possible. To accomplish this, the unit seeks to get its candidates out into the field early so that they can begin to: (1) critically observe and experience the relationship between their coursework and the educational, social and cultural context in which student learning takes place; (2) demonstrate their knowledge through inquiry, critical analysis and reflection; and (3) synthesize theory with practice. "Training in inquiry also helps teachers learn how to look at the world from multiple perspectives, including those of students whose experiences are quite different from their own, and to use this knowledge in developing pedagogies that can reach diverse learners" (Darling-Hammond, 2000). To this end, the unit's programs stress the importance of integrating theory and research with best practice, and contextualize teaching that draws upon representations from the students' own experience and knowledge base.