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What is the Scholar-Practitioner Model?

The key message that we have tried to convey is that Teachers College is even more advanced and more sophisticated at following our Scholar-Practitioner Model than we were in 1991. The Scholar-Practitioner Model is the conceptual framework for student learning in the professional education program. Using the Scholar-Practitioner Model as a guide means that our pre-service programs are based on best practices and on scholarly literature, and that students are placed early and regularly in field settings in which they can inquire about and reflect upon their own work as educators. At the graduate level, students are mentored to investigate important practical problems, to disseminate research results to varied audiences, and to work with practitioners to implement and test research findings in educational settings.

In addition to its influence on student learning, the Scholar-Practitioner Model also serves as the conceptual framework for teaching, research, and service activities conducted by the faculty and students of Teachers College. This means that we have committed our professional energies to building connections between scholarship and practice activities. Our ultimate goal is to enhance educational practice and to improve educational systems. To accomplish this, we collaborate with our students, K-12 professionals and other education stakeholders to investigate important educational issues.

In past years, the Scholar-Practitioner Model has served as an important organizing principle in the College. The influence of the Model is evident in:


The Evolving Scholar-Practitioner Model

The faculty have adopted the Scholar-Practitioner Model as the conceptual basis for teaching, research, and service activities in Teachers College. This means we have committed our professional energies to building connections between scholarship and practice activities. Teachers College professors accomplish this work by linking our work to the world of practice in meaningful ways, modeling the attributes of an active and reflective learner, and teaching students to become reflective professionals who can investigate on their own.

The Scholar-Practitioner Model is also the conceptual framework for student learning in the professional education program. Using the Scholar-Practitioner Model as a guide to teaching means that students are placed early and continuously in field settings in which they are challenged to examine their own behavior and the practices of their host settings in light of existing literature on best practices. These experiences also illuminate significant questions from the field through scholarly inquiry. At the graduate level, students are mentored to investigate important practice problems, to disseminate research results to varied audiences, and to work with practitioners to implement research findings in educational settings.

A special characteristic of the Scholar-Practitioner Model is that it demands an articulation among the many functions carried out by faculty members. Our goal is to conduct teaching, research and service such that each element informs the other. This integration of the professorial functions is intended to create synergistic outcomes for our students, school personnel, learners and the body of knowledge in our disciplines.

In the last six years, the Scholar-Practitioner Model has served as an important organizing device in the College. We have described new initiatives, refinements of our procedures, and changes to our curriculum and "continuing implementation of the Scholar-Practitioner Model." The influence of the Model is evident in the pronounced movement toward a more field-based, collaborative curriculum in our professional education programs; the emphasis on practice-focused scholarship in our position descriptions and hiring decisions; the centrality of relevance, integration and reflective inquiry in our revised Tenure and Promotion document and annual review processes; the commitment to studying student learning in our academic programs described in the Program Reflection and Documentation Plan; the enhancement of collaborative partnerships resulting from the faculty's increasing complex roles in area schools; and the broad multi-constituency conversation about teacher education that has been facilitated by our membership in the National Network for Educational Renewal.

In this on-going process of implementing the conceptual model, our understanding of what it means to be a scholar-practitioner has grown. One excellent product of our preparation for the NCATE visit has been our realization that we think, talk and act differently about the Model than we did in 1991. This evolution has affected the faculty, staff and students of the College in several significant ways. Two aspects of the continuing evolution of the Model are described below.

We have expanded our understanding of reflective inquiry.

Faculty members in the College have well-established habits of engaging in empirical research and of inquiring about their own teaching. These domains were the original focus for our thinking about what it meant for a faculty member to be a reflective inquirer. Reflection meant that we do well informed research and that we study our own teaching. Very naturally, we came to believe that our students should also be engaging in reflective inquiry, and we structured our courses and practica to facilitate that habit. But over the last few years, faculty in the College have expanded the notion of reflective inquiry beyond the narrow focus our research or our teaching. Essentially, the faculty have learned that we must try to reflect and inquire about our careers as a whole and our curriculum as a whole. Two examples illustrate this change.

In 1993, the faculty began a two year process of rewriting the College promotion and tenure document. The primary reason for this change was that, even though our old document was quite traditional, we were receiving very nontraditional files from the faculty. Promotion and tenure files had begun to present more than mere lists of publications and numeric teaching ratings. Faculty members were also including lengthy narratives in which they reflected about the assumptions on which their work rested, the importance of their work and its relationship to the world of practice, the cohesiveness and integration of their activities, and the ways that they had both influenced and been influenced by students, school personnel and university colleagues.

It became obvious that the current direction of the College faculty was not well described by our old document. In the simplest sense, the old document asked the question, "How much work have you done?" Over the course of the revision process (which included across-department small group meetings, focus groups, department meetings and a series of e-mail white papers), the faculty came to realize that new questions, based on the Scholar-Practitioner Model, actually guided career development in the College. The new document asks, "What have you done, why have you done it, and why does it matter?"

The final document, approved by a unanimous vote of the College faculty in 1995, uses the vision of faculty performance embodied in the Scholar-Practitioner Model as the basis for all faculty evaluations - hiring, promotion, tenure, and annual reviews. This institutionalizes the faculty's commitment to applying reflection and inquiry to all aspects and all stages of the professorial career. We are moving beyond the narrow definition that we should reflect about our own teaching and our own classrooms to a broader belief that reflection and inquiry must be applied holistically to the complex set of activities that compose the work of the faculty. As our new document states, "The single most important premise is that a faculty member is a continuing and reflective learner."

A second example of the broadened definition of reflective inquiry is provided by the College's new Program Reflection and Documentation Plan. Written during a year-long series of meetings of an ad hoc committee and approved by the faculty in 1996, the Program Reflection and Documentation Plan extends the notions of inquiry and reflection to curriculum as a whole. The plan commits us to expanded data collection activities focused on the nature of student learning in our academic programs. It also lays out a systematic process in which faculty members reflect upon and utilize evaluation data to improve academic programs. This process will provide new opportunities for the faculty to view, and judge, the curriculum as a total experience designed to produce a set of overarching skills and attributes in our graduates.

Both the new Promotion and Tenure Document and the Program Reflection and Documentation Plan demonstrate an expanding understanding of the role that reflective inquiry plays in the Scholar-Practitioner Model. They also illustrate the more complex and holistic scope for reflective inquiry that faculty members are discovering as they enact careers as scholar-practitioners.

We have realized that our work is best accomplished in learning communities.

The notion of collaborative learning communities increasingly influences the way that we organize and conduct our work. Teachers College faculty and students, Arts and Sciences faculty, and K-12 teachers, administrators and students form a learning community whose purpose is to understand the nature of effective pre-service teacher education. Similarly, Teachers College faculty and students, clinical faculty, speech-language pathologists, audiologists, special educators, teachers and parents are a learning community whose purpose is to understand the development of effective communication in children. Teachers College faculty and students, adult learners, employers and human resource managers form a learning community whose purpose is to understand how to enhance methods for in-service education in business and industry. Teachers College faculty and students, school counselors, school psychologists, special educators and school administrators are a learning community whose purpose is to understand how to improve the effectiveness of services for students with special needs.

We are also realizing that the notion of "influence" is central to our collaborative work. Our goal is to influence and be influenced by other members of the learning community. Effective collaborations that result in simultaneous renewal happen when there is the possibility for mutual influence. Only then is it likely that the results of our collaborations will ultimately enhance both the body of knowledge and the world of practice. In this evolving perspective, the boundaries between faculty members, students and practitioners, between theory and practice, and between the university and the community are permeable. Insight and influence flow both ways. This perspective takes us beyond the traditional tripartite missions of teaching, research and service. These once-separate activities are increasingly integrated and increasingly imbedded in the world of practice. The "Scholar-Practitioner Model" becomes a dynamic, iterative process. Teachers College faculty and students involve themselves in a cycle of activities in which they are creating and applying new knowledge that originates from and is applicable to the members of the learning community.

An example of the College's commitment to learning communities is our membership in the National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER). NNER is a program of the Center for Educational Renewal housed at the University of Washington and directed by John Goodlad. Its aim is to create a movement for simultaneous renewal of teacher education and public schools in the United States. UNL lead an effort in which ten Nebraska higher education institutions were admitted to the Network as a consortium. The purpose of our participation in the National Network for Educational Renewal is to engage the varied groups involved in the preparation of K-12 educators (Teachers College faculty, Arts and Sciences faculty and K-12 personnel) in a collaborative inquiry aimed at preparing exemplary professional educators. NNER activities are illustrative of the movement toward more complex forms of collaborative work being done in the College.

For example, a Teacher Education Council was developed to facilitate a more holistic approach to the preparation of educators. This Council is College-wide in scope, and includes faculty from throughout the University (especially Arts and Sciences) and K (or P)-12 schools. The Council is charged with developing strategies for involving arts and sciences faculty more effectively in planning and conducting teacher education at UNL and identifying general education courses that would be particularly supportive of the NNER postulates and the preparation of teachers. Our NNER activities have also helped to focus and enhance the collaborative work being done at our K-12 Partner Schools Lincoln High, Benson High, Lefler Middle, Clinton Elementary.

Other examples of learning communities at work in Teachers College include:

Within the College, within the university and within the larger education profession, Teachers College students and faculty are increasingly involved in collaborative activities with varied constituencies. The effect of this trend has been to expand the scope of expertise represented in our preparation programs, which simultaneously influences the quality and effectiveness of student learning. This trend also connects our research and service activities more productively to the world of practice.

In summary, the last several years have been a time of intense evolution for the Scholar-Practitioner Model. Through the ongoing process of implementing the Model, the faculty and students of the College have learned more about what we mean by "scholar-practitioner." Over time, the complexity and sophistication of our implementation activities have markedly increased. We have hired, tenured, promoted and rewarded faculty based on a more focused definition of the Model. We have selected students, developed curriculum and revised programs with the Model as a guide. Our faculty think about and enact their research activities with the Model as an overt guide. As we move through a period of shrinking budgets, we will use the Model as the focus of our resource allocation decisions. The Scholar-Practitioner Model has become what Margaret Wheatley would call an "organizational field," a set of shared values that pervade an organization's culture.


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