Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Knowledge Bases

4.3 Knowledge bases – including theories, research, “wisdom of practice,” and educational policies, which describe and support the philosophy, purposes and professional commitments and dispositions valued by the education unit

We will organize our discussion of the knowledge bases under-girding our programs mission by discussing the four goals of professional educators

The professional educator engages in active learning.

Darling-Hammond (2000) says that without knowledge of content, teachers cannot offer their students adequate learning opportunities. Shulman (1986) notes that we sometimes take teachers’ knowledge of subject matter for granted, assuming that teachers know what they are teaching. We agree with Shulman that grasp of subject matter cannot be taken for granted and with Mosenthal and Lowenberg-Ball (1992) who emphasize the importance of concepts, rather than fragmented facts, in preparing teachers to use strategies in inquiry learning. Along with McDermott (1993), we acknowledge the differences between knowing enough to understand the content oneself and knowing enough to teach the content. Candidates must know how content is  tied to other aspects of the discipline. Excellence in learning requires that candidates learn how to acquire discipline-specific and interdisciplinary knowledge; how to use library resources and information technology; and how to evaluate sources of information.

We are committed to the use of appropriate technology in all of our School of Education programs. The justification for this commitment exists in many disciplines, but we offer one from mathematics—a justification equally apt in other disciplinary areas.  Both the AMATYC (2004) and NCTM (2006) have detailed the necessity to include technology in the curriculum for all pre-service teachers. This is not a new idea; NCTM Curriculum and Evaluation Standards (1989) recommended, as early as grades K-4, an increase in the use of technology to aid in the conceptual understanding of mathematics and to view technology as a problem-solving tool. Additionally, the NCTM Professional Standards (2004) extended that organization's support of the use of technology in the classroom. The current enthusiasm for technology is aptly summarized by Baggett and Ehrenfeucht (1992): "Our position is: Let the teacher explain. Let the student think. Let the computer do the mindless work" (p. 61).

“Active learning” is the antithesis of mindless repetition. We have moved beyond the point at which learning may be thought to occur whenever teachers give information or talk about concepts while students listen passively. Memorizing definitions, lists of words, or mathematical algorithms does not mean that meaningful, effective learning has occurred (Holt, 1964). We now know that learning takes place when the learner is obligated to modify his or her already existing cognitive schema (mental models) to accommodate the new information or concepts (Rogoff, 1998). This accommodation occurs when the learner has grappled with the concept or phenomenon on a personal level, and experienced the concept in a way that causes them to "own it," rather than just read about it. Learning may involve actual physical manipulation of an object or objects, or spending a certain amount of time thinking about a new idea in light of prior understandings (Smith, 1975 & 1998). To us, active learning means mental exploration and contemplation and, sometimes, physical and social interaction with the concept.

Another hallmark of active learning is metacognitive reflection. Candidates gain skill in metacognition as they gain knowledge of their own learning – as they learn how to learn (Nelson, 1999). Active learners might, through reflection on their learning, raise questions or recognize that more information and explanation is needed to make concepts truly their own. According to Dewey (1921) and Smith (1975), the guiding factor in the process of reflection is the demand for the solution of a perplexity. Some of these perplexities may be resolved metacognitively by "thinking about thinking." For teachers and teacher candidates, metacognition includes the ability to examine one’s own beliefs about teaching and the ways in which one teaches; to introspect on one’s own learning, including one’s perceptions about the subject matter. Moore & Moore (2004) describe situations in which teachers’ thinking about the ability of lower socioeconomic students leads to less effort to actively involve those students in classroom activities. We want our students to be able to reflect on their thinking and be aware of how their thinking can impact their teaching and their students’ learning.

By definition, metacognitive teaching is reflective, active teaching. Reflective candidates also monitor their decisions about what and how they teach and are “intentional” in making those decisions (Slavin, 2002). We coach candidates to be reflective practitioners. Reflective practitioners do the following: 1) seek solutions to problems rather than ignore them or rely on tradition or imitation as guides to instructional practices, 2) persist in their search for successful responses to instructional challenges and remain unsatisfied with superficial or simple solutions, 3) keep a professional focus on students' needs, and 4) review, study, and reconsider what has occurred in the classroom for purposes of revising practices in ways that will better serve students' needs (Eby, et al., 2001).

In our professional and pedagogical courses, we employ learning models influenced by psychological and sociolinguistic research indicating that people learn most effectively when they make sense of new information by mentally reconstructing and projecting new ideas onto an objective world (Bruner, 1986). Micro-teaching, simulations and responding to cases give our TE candidates the opportunity to create understandings that can consciously guide their teaching. Schön (1983) advocates creating "practice situations" in which candidates can learn by doing and then receive rich feedback. Our goal is to create an environment in which candidates' actions and thoughts about issues lead to new levels of understanding - an approach they may resist, due to the lack of a "right answer" and their insistence to be told what is "correct." However, the teacher-coach manages a transaction between learners and their environment, rather than offering information. 

In an effort to build more opportunities for our preservice teachers to be actively involved in transactions between learners and their environments, in 2004, we created sophomore blocks for our elementary education and early childhood education majors. These blocks consist of day-long field experiences that are integrated into a combination of methods and social foundations courses.  Candidates spend 8 full days in the field as sophomores and 12 full days as juniors. These extended and more intensive internships provide true active learning experiences in which our candidates teach lessons under the direct supervision of Millikin SOE faculty. In fall 2006, we are received a grant to enable us to develop a block experience for secondary education candidates as well.

Uncertainty and conflict about values are inevitable, but moving beyond the uncertainty through insight results in creative solutions associated with professional excellence (Davidson, 1998; Meyer, 1995). In Piagetian terms, candidates elaborate their understanding of teaching and learning through assimilation and accommodation. When candidates apply knowledge to interpret a new situation, they understand the situation by assimilation. When candidates redefine problems and change their pre-existing schema, they understand the situation by accommodation. In Perry’s terms (1998), candidates move from the dualistic to the multiplistic and then to the relativistic views of teaching and learning. Perry’s “positions” suggest that certain dispositions are important to intellectual maturity – e.g., the disposition to tolerate ambiguity and an enjoyment of metacognitive reflection, among others. These dispositions are ones for which we seek evidence as we work with TE candidates.

Becoming reflective and active in one’s learning is a developmental and intentional process. The development of a reflective, metacognitive learner involves specific modeling, reflecting on the modeled process, and deliberate problem solving. It involves offering candidates complex performance “projects” in their liberal arts, major and professional courses—projects that draw on central disciplinary concepts; that connect professional and liberal arts understandings with life experiences—in short, that connect theory and practice.

Another definition of active learning is evidenced in our programs: candidates are guided in their teaching by research. Candidates in our physical education program are guided by health research indicating that 40% of adults do not engage in the minimum amount of exercise recommended for health gains and disease prevention and that the number of children and young men and women participating in daily programs in physical activity is diminishing as well (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, 2000 & 1996). In the Exercise Science and Sport Department at Millikin University, students graduate with knowledge, skills, and dispositions that help promote healthy lifestyles for all individuals. As certified physical education teachers from this department and the Education Department at Millikin, candidates are prepared professionally to help encourage these characteristics in school-age children. 

Music education candidates actively make music and art throughout their programs. Common sense dictates that to talk about music or teach music without making music is a contradiction of terms. For this reason, music education is experiential and involves the act of making music in various class settings. These settings include methods courses, theory classes, applied lessons, performance ensembles and classrooms within the contexts of schools and the Preparatory Department of the School of Music where children from the community learn music through making music in our ensembles. Rather than view music as “aesthetic education” or education for the inner realm, meant for the purpose of reflection and refinement of mind and spirit (Reimer, 1989), we follow Elliot in viewing music as something that people do, something they actively participate in together (1995). The view of active music making is evidenced throughout history in all cultures and underlies music education at MU. Similarly, art education is grounded in praxis. From the initial portfolio evaluated by the art faculty before admission to the art program to the final senior show, each art educator candidate “does art” while preparing to teach art. At MU, those who can, teach.

The professional educator creates communities of learning.

A primary role of teachers is to create communities of learning that are fair and consistent, that help each individual within the community grow and learn, and that foster and promote mutual respect and responsibility. The wisdom of practice suggests that creating a learning community requires the development of such key skills and dispositions as:

  • an ability to tailor instruction to the developmental levels of all students;
  • a commitment to assisting each student to develop emotionally, socially, physically, and intellectually;
  • respect for the diversity students bring with them--the varied learning styles, diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and individual aptitudes and needs;
  • going beyond the accommodation of diverse needs to a celebration of diversity;
  • the desire to create a learning environment in which self-discipline, intrinsic motivation, and a sense of responsibility flourish; and
  • language and interpersonal skills to collaborate and communicate with all stakeholders—students, parents, other members of the community, fellow teachers, and administrators.


In the early stages of their journeys, candidates often express concerns about the need to control the learners, to take charge of classroom behavior, and to maintain their position of authority. We believe, along with Kohn (1996), that learning is best supported when teachers journey beyond authoritarian conceptions of classroom management to views of classrooms as learning communities. Candidates who begin their journeys with strong convictions that student behaviors are best controlled by extrinsic rewards and punishment are ripe for views of learning that seek to enable instead of control learners. Learning occurs best in environments free from threat—environments that have the feel of community (Rogers, 1969; Hamachek, 1978). We are also impressed with recent works of Fay & Funk (1998) and Marshall (2001) and MacKenzie (1996) that provide concrete suggestions for teachers concerning how to encourage problem solving and involve students in becoming a community that works together to assist one another, as opposed to treating misbehavior punitively.

The goal of effective classroom management is to create a community of engaged learners who interact with mutual respect, cooperation, and responsibility (Marshall, 2001). Candidates craft their own philosophies of effective classroom management by exploring behaviorist, humanistic, and cognitive learning theory. B.F. Skinner’s (1953) work helps candidates see the prevalence of behavior modification in the schools, including how operant conditioning and reinforcements shape and control behavior. They recognize that learning is social. As they study Bandura (1986) and Vygotsky (1978, 1993), they see that the acquisition of cultural knowledge comes through social activity. They also explore cognitive/constructivist views of learning that value the centrality of each student’s understanding in designing learning experiences (Piaget, 1954; Bruner, 1956; Brooks & Brooks, 1993; Vygotsky, 1993; Smith,1975, 1998). Finally, they respond to theorists who emphasize the importance of self-esteem and belongingness as the root of motivation (Rogers & Freiburg, 1994; Kohn, 1996; Maslow, 1968).

Classroom management is related both to the teacher’s view of learning as well as to the teacher’s interpersonal skills, concern for others and sense of social responsibility. Dewey (1964) emphasized the importance of reflecting on what is moral and responsible. Goodlad (1990) speaks out passionately for teaching that the greatest good for one’s self derives from actions that are in the best interest of the whole group. He argues for cooperation, mutual understanding and supportive classrooms, insisting that it is the teacher’s role to create a community of learners for the common good.  Likewise, Steffy, et al. (2000, p. 3) says, “Excellence in teaching depends upon the centrality of caring—for students, self, ideas, and the profession.” Caring begins with a sense of mutual respect for all within the learning community. Gordon’s (1974/2003) emphasis on communication that conveys acceptance of the student who misbehaves without tolerating the misbehavior and Curwin and Mendler’s (1988) advocacy of a class-wide discipline plan with input from students offer candidates variations on behavior modification—variations which make mutual respect a central consideration. Teachers may be courting what Ross Greene (1999) calls “meltdowns” when they assert dominance over the class and ignore student needs in the process. 

Through authors such as Kronowitz, (2003) and Wong & Wong (200?), classroom management is also being defined in a different light from the community building approach. Kronowitz provides a thorough overview of how teachers build community by thorough advanced planning of classroom management routines and organization of materials within the classroom.

Teaching requires an understanding of how students develop physically, cognitively, emotionally, ethically and socially through qualitatively different stages (Piaget, 1954; Kohlberg, 1962; Erikson, 1968; Perry, 1998). Further, students’ learning experiences are mediated by their developmental stage. Kohlberg’s (1962) stages of moral reasoning and Erikson’s (1968) stages of psychosocial development emphasize the need to plan instruction that accommodates respectively several levels of moral reasoning and several senses-of-self in social settings. Candidates study discipline specific developmental stages. Music education candidates learn that children acquire musical skills and knowledge best by beginning in early childhood and progressing through an eight-stage process that begins with aural and oral experiences with music and ends with theoretical understanding; audiation being the goal (Edwin Gordon, 1971). English and elementary education candidates learn about typical stages of language acquisition and literacy development. Developmentally appropriate physical activities play an especially crucial role in the elementary education and both physical education programs. Through developmentally appropriate physical activities, candidates in these programs create communities of learners with cooperation, diversity, respect, self-discipline, and individual and community goals. By applying principles of health-related fitness and training to teaching, professionals in these fields facilitate social, personal, and physical development in the student.

Perry’s (1998) research suggests the need for teachers to be aware that students’ views of learning impact their experience of the classroom. And, Brooks & Brooks (1993), drawing on Piaget and other cognitivists, urge the importance of such developmental considerations as students’ suppositions and points of view. The more contemporary work by Goleman (1998) helps candidates see the relationship between “emotional intelligence” and academic achievement. Learning takes place in the context of the learner.

The work of educators who concern themselves with acting-out or disruptive students helps candidates contextualize learning for bullies (Olweus, 1993), violent students (Gable & Van Acker, 2000), explosive children (Greene, 1998) and those students who share learning environments with them. Candidates learn the importance of early intervention (Bowlby, 1988), response to peer rejection (Parkhurst, 1992), and conflict resolution strategies (Bodine & Crawford, 1998; Levine, 1994) which help build learning communities in the classroom and teach skills students can use outside their schools as well as within. Candidates learn to identify normal or typical behaviors and use this knowledge as a baseline for recognizing atypical behaviors and learning needs.

In understanding human development, candidates identify what is normal or typical behaviors and use this knowledge to identify atypical and diverse learning needs. Through their internship experiences, candidates quickly encounter differences in learning styles, in ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and in abilities and attitudes.  Our own candidates themselves bring some diversity to our School of Education, but they must be prepared for even greater diversity when they enter the teaching profession. We are committed to the following assumptions:

  • Education is for all students. All students should be helped to feel respected and valued.   Teachers must strive to create learning communities in which there is equity, cultural sensitivity, and a lack of bias.
  • Our world is made richer by the presence of diverse individuals. Making environments more inclusive of diverse learners can increase learning when the diversity itself becomes a learning resource.


Danielson (1996) categorizes diversity in terms of equity, cultural sensitivity, and students with special needs. Whatever the category, candidates must create learning environments that truly communicate respect for all students and that fulfill MTS #3 (see below). According to Grossman (1998, p. 1), equity of learning opportunity is an increasingly acute issue in schools: demographics in the United States show clearly that the gap between the “poor” and the “rich” is becoming bigger and bigger. With regard to cultural sensitivity, Vander Zanden (2000) points out that candidates informed about actual cultural differences are freer from discriminatory stereotyping which can all too frequently play itself out as self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. We agree with Carter and Carter (1994) that specific training in antibias practices is effective. We also acknowledge that the journey towards equitable and culturally sensitive teaching takes time, since it involves the candidates’ views of themselves in relationship to those who are different. As cognitivists point out, individuals need to set aside inaccurate assumptions as they learn about differences (Elichirigoity, 1985). Their learning is freer when they understand that “a difference is not a deficiency.” Enlightened views of diversity are facilitated by the opportunity to interact with culturally, racially, and socioeconomically diverse students during clinical practice. Danielson’s special needs category includes knowing how to work both with students with differing “intelligences” (Gardner, 1997), learning styles, learning needs, and learning disabilities (Hallahan & Kaufman, 1997; Gearhart & Weishahn, 1988).

An approach to diversity that is frequently used in schools and has now become integrated into several courses in the early childhood and elementary education program is Ruby Payne’s (2005) A Framework for Handling Poverty. Since teachers in our local school districts have been trained in the use of Ruby Payne’s approach, the use of the materials that assist in developing empathy and understanding of behaviors that at first seem not to make sense is supported in the schools, as well as in Millikin’s coursework.

Effective learning environments are shaped, in part, by effective classroom communication. In order to teach effectively, teachers must be able to transform the knowledge into experiences that are appropriate to the level of the students they are teaching (Shulman, 1986). Transforming knowledge into apt learning experiences is a communication task—one Cochran, DeRuiter & King (1993) call “pedagogical content knowing.” Pedagogical content knowledge involves the integration of a candidates’ subject matter knowledge with knowledge of students and knowledge of teaching. It involves adapting content to their students’ learning levels, meeting the varied needs of diverse populations, and creating positive learning environments. Making a similar point, Shulman (1986, p. 9) notes that effective teachers must learn “the most regularly taught topics in one’s subject area, the most useful forms of representation of those ideas, the most powerful analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, and demonstrations—in a word, the ways of representing and formulating the subject that make it comprehensible to others.” In other words, they learn subject matter with the purpose of teaching in view. They need to be equally attentive to the ways one communicates subject matter as to the subject matter itself.

Effective communication involves more than the teacher’s selecting the best ways to make subject matter comprehensible to learners. Wisdom of practice shows that effective communication:

  • establishes the norm of an open exchange of ideas;
  • establishes an atmosphere in which learners feel accepted and valued; and
  • makes learning expectations clear.


Wong & Wong (1998, p. 40) explain how communication is important to effective learning when they write, “Students tend to learn as little or as much as their teachers expect.  Teachers who set and communicate high expectations to all their students obtain greater academic performance from these students than do teachers who set low expectations.” Candidates must be aware that communication occurs both nonverbally and verbally, and they must be sensitive to what they are communicating to students. Rosenthal and Jackson (1968) found that teacher expectations were directly related to student success. Canter, L. & Canter, M. (1992) called for communication that neither shows disrespect to the students nor allows students to be disrespectful of the teacher or other students. Their specific communication strategies and those of Gordon (1974/2003) offer many approaches for maintaining positive interactions within the classroom. Canter & Canter are particularly effective in assuring novice teachers that they have both the right and the responsibility to stop disruptive behavior, while at the same time supporting their desire to communicate respect to their students. Gordon’s active listening and I-messages invite student-to-student communication and assist teachers to facilitate empathic problem solving. If students feel acceptance within the classroom, they are more likely to take risks as learners, to express their ideas, and to become actively involved in the learning process. 

Problem solving and critical thinking are logical outcomes of effective communication. Open classroom communication helps students learn to problem solve and support the quality school (Glasser, 1998) in which all members of the school community, including parents, administrators, counselors, custodians, secretaries, and students, are part of students’ learning experiences. Glasser (1998), Canter, L. & Canter, M. (1992), Curwin & Mendler (1988), and Albert (1989) provide models for problem solving for teachers to use with students and for students to use with one another. 

Key beliefs about creating communities of learners have distinctive manifestations in various programs. In our music education program, our commitment to diversity is expressed by music education candidates learning the importance of both “multiethnic” and “world music education.” After studying multiethnic music, they develop lessons for K-12 students on how music is performed and experienced in various ethnic communities of the U.S. They also learn how the various elements of music are compared across cultures in a broad sampling of world music styles, which defines “world music education” (Anderson & Campbell, 1996). Music teacher candidates also learn valuable lessons in individual difference with regard to ethnicity, race, socio-economic status, and individual learning modes and styles (Barbe and Swassing 1979; Dunn and Dunn, 1984), as they interact with learners at various service learning sites in Introduction to Music Education, methods courses, and student teaching.

The professional educator facilitates learning for others.

While we provide opportunities for the development of our candidates’ own active learning and reflection, we also prioritize the importance of developing their abilities to facilitate learning for others. With the 2003 addition of early childhood education to the offerings of the School of Education, we now need to prepare teachers to facilitate learning from birth through twelfth grade. The early childhood program Candidates must tap a variety of knowledge, skills, and dispositions as they identify the expectations they desire for their students, develop instruction to effectively meet the needs of their students, and provide appropriate means for assessing student learning and growth. At the foundation of this process is the candidate’s ability to provide what Bruning, Schraw and Ronning (1995, pp. 231-232) envision as a “reflective classroom.” This type of classroom:

  • places student knowledge construction as its centerpiece;
  • organizes class activities around long-term, thematic projects in which students acquire knowledge they can use in ways they find meaningful;
  • provides a hands-on teacher who makes little use of the IRE [initiate-respond-evaluate] pattern of discourse and who lectures infrequently and instead works as a partner with the students and who has organized classroom activities around student information seeking and information exchange;
  • includes a great deal of purposeful activity, as teacher and students work together to achieve goals of their projects; and
  • develops, over time, students who are more expert and self-directed.


The above description sees student learning as more than transmission of information. It implies the students’ direct involvement in their own formation of knowledge and development of cognitive processes. The candidate, as teacher, cannot provide students with knowledge; students must construct knowledge and meaning for themselves. Effective methods of facilitating learning are those that encourage students to experiment, discover, and apply concepts on their own and help them identify and monitor their own learning strategies. Vygotsky (1962) and Bruner (1993) emphasized that students learn through constructing their own knowledge and through interaction with their social and physical environments. Excellence in teaching includes putting a priority on designing activities in which learning is student-centered.

We also prepare our candidates to develop “constructivist classrooms,” as described by Brooks and Brooks (1993). They identify teaching and learning as active processes that require high levels of student engagement, interaction, reflection, and construction of meaning. By engaging candidates in learning, candidates will more successfully meet the diverse needs of students and provide relevant, meaningful instruction. As facilitators of learning, candidates learn to help students to construct meaning for themselves by organizing learning in cooperative groups for creative assignments and performance assessments, and describing and analyzing text/music/art/athletic performance using given specific criteria (Duffy & Jonasson, 1991). This model can be used in performance ensembles, academic classrooms, art studios, science laboratories, athletic fields or recording studios.

Of course, not all effective instructional practices derive solely from cognitive theory. Indeed, the impact of behaviorism is ubiquitous in American schools, and behavioral techniques, such as behavior modification and the assigning of grades as operant conditioners, are staples in practice for controlling students’ learning. We recognize that our students will teach from the theories they have truly internalized. Therefore, we value, along with Solis and Phillips (1998), students’ understanding of alternative perspectives on learning so that they can be self-critically introspective about the approaches they have experienced and choose to adopt.

An important aspect of the learning process is motivation. Music and art educators often feel that they have a distinct advantage when motivating and managing learning. Participating in the act of making or doing art or music is known to be intrinsically motivating with its own internal rewards. Candidates in the other ten Teacher education programs must rise to the challenge of uncovering the intrinsically motivational aspects of their disciplines in ways their students can grasp. The cognitive view of motivation emphasizes the arousal of cognitive disequilibrium as a means to motivate students to learn something new. For example, if students face a problem, they will desire to solve it. This is consistent with Piaget’s concepts of organization, adaptation, and schemas. When people experience a discrepancy between something new and what they already know or believe, it produces a state of disequilibrium they are driven to eliminate in order to achieve equilibration. The difficulty is inducing students to experience a cognitive disequilibrium sufficient to stimulate them to seek answers (Brennan, 1982).

So what does this mean for our candidates? The instructional and assessment approaches selected and implemented by our candidates should provide effective opportunities for active, relevant learning and development as lifelong learners.  Inherent in the “reflective” and “constructivist” classrooms described above is the inquiry approach to teaching. The inquiry approach focuses upon active involvement of the learner as he/she makes sense of the new concept in light of prior knowledge. This approach provides the learner with opportunities to investigate real-world problems in an authentic and meaningful way (Collins & Stevens, 1983). Inquiry requires candidates who think critically and make reasonable decisions about what to believe and what to do (Ennis, 1996). Effective instruction employs critical thinking to solve problems, analyze historical situations, and make sense of data or information. As lifelong learners, the development of critical thinking processes provides candidates with the ability to make sound life choices and decisions that will impact their future and to model, in turn, that ability with their students.

Beyond critical thinking, we value our candidates’ developing what Freire (2000) called critical consciousness, “conscientizçao.” Freire defined conscientizçao as “learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions, and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality.” Instructional approaches, such as raising questions about power and authority in historical, social, political and economic contexts, help candidates understand the external forces affecting the classroom and community. Critical consciousness helps candidates plan a curriculum that is “problem-posing” (Freire, 2000, 1995) as well as “problem-solving” (Dewey, 1944).

Metacognition, the process associated with the self-analysis of one’s thinking and reasoning (Nelson, 1994), is as important to effective planning, instruction and assessment as it is to active learning. Various educators have devised tools for assisting the student in visualizing and monitoring their patterns of thinking, such as concept mapping, graphic organizers and rubrics. By teaching such strategies, candidates are equipped with tools for making plans, organizing thoughts and assessing learning effectively (Novak, 1990). Candidates who can identify how they best process information can then effectively assist their own students in metacognition.

With the expectation for more reflective and constructivist classroom activities comes the need for authentic forms of assessment. As stated by Stiggins (1989), assessment of learning achievement should appropriately measure the tasks or concepts in such a way as to reflect the nature of the desired outcome. Clearly, paper and pencil tests cannot be the only form of assessment. Authentic or performance assessment is useful in measuring student mastery of Illinois Learning Standards: complex performances typically can be aligned to multidisciplinary standards and typically offer multiple indicators of student learning. In addition, performance assessments typically can measure performative and dispositional, as well as prepositional, learning (Wolf, 1991).

In order to provide valid evaluation of student growth and development, candidates need to be able to identify the learning outcomes for their students, develop an effective instructional design that focuses upon these outcomes and takes into account the needs of the students, and identify and develop appropriate assessment strategies that will provide feedback and evaluate student achievement. Only when all three aspects of the instructional planning process are fully developed can meaningful facilitation of learning take place.

In addition to the above, wisdom of the practice serves to identify many of the skills and dispositions we believe are requisite to effectively facilitate learning. To attain excellence as facilitators of learning, practice indicates that candidates must demonstrate . . .

  • a zest for life-long learning,
  • a broad repertoire of teaching methods and strategies,
  • skill in the preparation of instructional materials that stimulate student motivation,
  • skill in utilizing technology to enhance and support instructional planning and preparation,
  • skill in using a variety of assessment strategies, including authentic assessment tools,
  • skill in accommodating special needs students and students with different learning styles,
  • skill at planning lessons that celebrate diversity by incorporating diversity-relevant content into learning activities,
  • commitment to plan instruction that will assist students in fulfilling local, state, and national learning standards,
  • enthusiasm, precision, and sensitivity to students’ responses,
  • sensitivity, precision and fairness in formative and summative assessment of student progress toward learning goals,
  • ability to self-evaluate one’s own instruction and to revise and improve upon earlier lessons,
  • skill at individualizing instruction.


Given the list of requisites above, it is abundantly clear that tolerance for ambiguity is a required disposition for teachers who wish to facilitate their students’ learning. We recognize the accuracy of Schön’s description (1987) of  “…the problems of real-world practice [which] do not present themselves to practitioners as well-formed structures.  Indeed, they tend not to present themselves as problems at all but as messy, indeterminate situations. . . .” Competent teachers must become skilled at recognizing the existence of problems, particularly problems that are ambiguous. Further, teachers must become comfortable with the idea that many situations encountered in teaching cannot be solved in any technical way, but instead must be solved through both reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action. We are committed to preparing students for competence in “the indeterminate swampy zones of practice” through skillful and habitual reflection.

The professional educator collaborates with others.

We see our candidates’ collaboration with other professionals as part of their career-long journey toward excellence. Excellence requires collaboration with others – when the wider community is pleased with the school’s performance and when it is not. For us, collaboration means having a disposition that is self-critical, that is ready, as Freire (2000) put it, to “problem pose” as well as problem-solve and to do so in terms of the school’s specific social and political context. Sara Lawrence Lightfoot (1983) made a similar point in her study of “the good high school.” Specifically, she found that school professionals forged collaborative relationships with each other, with parents/guardians and the community when they were ready to recognize persistent inequalities, identify conflict and describe imperfections. Lightfoot found that the communities appreciated educators who had the intellectual skills, confidence and dedication needed to identify problems for solution. Those skills and dispositions are honed by our candidates as they reflect on their work throughout their Millikin program and as they collaborate self-reflectively and self-critically with clinical faculty.

Collaboration depends upon more than the courageous disposition to identify what can be improved in schools. Effective collaboration requires continued growth on the part of the professional. As Sarason (1990) put it: “For our schools to do better than they do, we have to give up the belief that it is possible to create the conditions for productive learning when these conditions do not exist for educational personnel.” Continued professional development is key. We have modeled our preparation programs after what Stallings considers to be the cornerstones of effective professional development:

  • Learning by doing—try, evaluate, modify, try again.
  • Link prior knowledge to new information.
  • Learn by reflecting and solving problems.
  • Learn in a supportive environment – share problems and successes (qtd. in Fullen, 1991).


Stallings’ list helps us realize the many ways in which our preparation programs model the cornerstones of effective continued professional development.

Growth as a professional collaborator also depends upon the concept of continued improvement and the capacity of teacher and student alike to contribute to improvement. Deming believed that improvement was supported by empowering everyone in a community – parents, students, and teachers as well as administrators. Such disciples of Deming as Glasser (1992) showed that Deming’s ideas are as applicable to school professionals as they have been to corporate leaders. Appreciating Deming’s profound insight that the “customer’s experience”— i.e., the student’s experience in school – is key, we’ve modeled many of Glasser’s ideas about student involvement in our preparation programs. We know our candidates as individuals and value their feedback on courses and field experiences. We seek to find and solve the systemic problems with our programs and help our candidates do the same in their approaches to teaching during internships. We solicit feedback and input regularly. We seek to emulate the effective “lead-managers” who “make an effort to combine what [students] are looking for (actually what all humans are looking for) with what [we] are asking them to do” (Glasser, 1992, p. 41).

In providing our teacher-learner candidates an understanding of the role of the community in learning, we draw on Millikin’s many service learning opportunities. During their first and last semesters on campus, candidates donate their time and effort to community causes. Elementary Education candidates collaborate with Junior Achievement to help students in area schools better understand economic concepts in order to become successful in the workplace. All candidates engage in service, addressing both their learning goals and community needs. They think critically about how the experience connects to knowledge from course work to emerging skills and diverse values. Candidates who "participate in social changes” help “victimized excluded ethnic and racial groups become full participants in society” (Banks, 1997, p. 198).

Collaboration includes the integration of one discipline with others. For example, we see the professional physical educator as collaborating with other teachers of other disciplines to connect the life of the mind and the life of the body. The professional physical educator also has opportunities to engage friends, family, and members of the community to promote active and healthy lives for all. In a like manner, candidates in all fields find connections across disciplinary fields when they adopt a student-centered, authentic (i.e., “real life”) approach to instruction. The nature of making music together suggested by the Praxial Philosophy of Music Education (Elliott, 1995) makes collaboration with others mandatory in the area of music. In music as in other program areas, candidates work collaboratively with professors, teachers in the schools and children in the Millikin Preparatory ensembles. Candidates collaborate with those in university and field settings throughout their programs.

Wisdom of practice also contributes to our knowledge base in understanding how teachers journey toward excellence in fulfilling professional responsibilities. Professionals meet and exceed professional responsibilities when they demonstrate:

  • effective problem solving skills. When professionals approach most instructional and behavior problems from a problem-solving perspective, they typically tap multiple resources in school and community and prevent colleagues, students and parents from developing failure identities, which might impede long-term student success.
  • commitment to ethical and responsible professional decisions.Making decisions grounded in professional ethics serves to model ethical decision making for students.  Taking responsibility for one’s own actions and expecting students to be responsible for their actions in school are the most direct ways to teach students principles of ethical behavior.
  • currency with educational research and, guided by theory, blending research and practical experience to develop improved educational practice. Slavin (2002) describes educational practitioners as teachers who “think on their feet,” but later evaluate their actions in light of research.  Excellence in teaching is an outcome of the best use of research and theory, tempered with common sense.
  • the habit of reflection. Professionals continue an internal dialogue about their teaching and learning and share it formally and informally with colleagues.
  • willingness to partner with members of the wider learning community, including parents, administrators, fellow teachers, the community and profession. Collaboration is a necessity today more than ever.  With modern technology, it is also very possible. The journey toward professional excellence is collective as well as individual and characterized by creative collaboration.


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Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL