Unit for the preparation of education professionals conceptual core

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The Unit’s Conceptual Core represents the theoretical and empirical knowledge upon which the Unit’s educator preparation programs are grounded. It is characterized by the phrase, “we prepare leader-educators and practitioners who share our commitment to serve society responsibly as change agents in meeting diverse human and social needs and engage in lifelong learning.” This phrase makes reference to the four domains of knowledge that constitute the conceptual core. These domains are defined below; in the subsequent sections of the document each domain is described in greater detail and the knowledge-based supporting each domain is presented.

  • Leader-Educators and Practitioners: the Unit prepares expert, ethical and reflective leader-educators and practitioners and decision-makers who are committed to holistic learning, and engage in collaborative and professional service to society.

  • Change Agents: the Unit prepares leader-educators and practitioners who address the changing human and social needs through inquiry, research, assessment, critical thinking, problem-solving, and proactive use of technologies.

  • Diversity: the Unit prepares leader-educators and practitioners who appreciate the variety of human cultural expression, employ multiple approaches to inquiry, use knowledge and practice for the benefit of a diverse society, and promote social equity and justice for effective civic engagement.

  • Lifelong Learning: the Unit prepares leader-educators and practitioners who engage in self-reflection and professional development for continuous personal growth, and who inspire such practices in those whom they serve

Leader Educators and Practitioners

The Unit prepares expert, ethical and reflective leader-educators and practitioners who are committed to holistic learning and engage in collaborative and professional service to society.


Effective professional educators possess specialized knowledge and skills (Jarolimek & Foster, 1996) as well as dispositions that encourage dedicated, ethical, and collaborative application of such knowledge and skills (Katz, 1993; Riehl, 2000). Professional practice grounded in this combination of knowledge, skills, and dispositions fits with contemporary definitions of leadership, such as that offered by Drath and Paulus (1994, p. 4): "Leadership is the process of making sense of what people are doing together so that people will understand and be committed,” and that offered by Michael Fullan (2002), asserting that effective leaders change what people value and how people work together. They make important changes through the construction of perspectives, processes, programs, and theories (e.g. Larson & Murtadha, 2003).Adding to the sense-making and change functions of leadership are the dimensions of responsibility (e.g., Ciulla, 2006), expertise (e.g., Mott, 2002), and power-sharing (e.g., Hoerr, 1996).

Knowledge Base

The discussion below considers each of the five dimensions of leadership upon which the Unit bases its programs. Then Table 1 lists the theoretical and empirical knowledge supporting these dimensions as well as related readings that are included on syllabi from various courses offered by faculty in the Unit.

Leadership as ethical responsibility. Although one thread in the literature on business administration focuses on the moral import of leadership (e.g., Gini, 1998) the literature on leadership in schools invariably touches on its moral character (e.g., Duignan, 2012; Sockett, 1993; Starrat, 2004). The formative role that education plays in the cultivation of each rising generation and its position as the major institution for the construction and maintenance of democratic communities imbues educators with considerable power and the associated responsibility to use that power for the good of individuals, communities, and society (e.g., Beane & Apple, 2007; Purpel, 1989).

Educational leadership—whether provided by teachers, principals, superintendents, or counselors—calls forth an ethic of care because of its direct engagement with vulnerable members of society who are compelled to participate in the schooling enterprise (e.g., Noddings, 2005). An ethic of care, moreover, requires leader-educators to direct their efforts toward the well-being of individual students and the health of communities (e.g., McBee, 2007; Theobald, 1997). Arguably, such care-giving can occur only when educators seek to redress the social injustices that constrain opportunities for children from some groups and with certain characteristics (e.g., Kozol, 1992; Kozol 2012). As Jenlink (2001) notes, effective educational leaders bring skills of social critique and scholarly inquiry to bear on cultural patterns of the educational system and community in which they serve.

The Unit provides a variety of experiences—both in course work and in the field—through which candidates can come to understand what leadership means when it is grounded in an ethic of care. Faculty members often use case studies as a way to assist candidates in thinking through ethical dilemmas such as those that often confront educators throughout the course of their careers. Participation in classrooms and schools in Appalachian Ohio, moreover, enables candidates to observe firsthand the educational consequences of social inequities and to assist their cooperating teachers in finding ways to improve the life-chances of the students in their charge.

Leadership as expertise. Like other professionals such as doctors and lawyers, educators acquire and use specialized knowledge to inform their practice; but unlike other professionals, educators’ function is to share a significant amount of their knowledge—namely their knowledge of academic content—with their “clients” (Covaleskie & Howley, 1994; Gutstein, 2006). Among teachers in particular, expertise entails knowledge not just about how to teach, but also knowledge about what to teach (e.g. Hansen, 2011). Increasingly, as teachers take on mentoring roles providing leadership to less experienced teachers, they must also make decisions about how and what to teach their peers (e.g. Taylor, 2008). Horn (2001) points out that practicing teachers seldom encounter educational theory in their professional development experience and that “without theory as a referent the necessary dialectical reflection on practice cannot effectively take place” (p. 358).

Neither pedagogical nor content knowledge is static. Knowledge of academic content increases and changes, thereby requiring teachers to participate in on-going professional development related to their disciplines (e.g., Ellis, 2007; Moyer-Packenham, Bolyard, Oh, Kridler, & Salkind, 2006; Salzman & Snodgrass, 2003). While relatively few P-12 teachers become intellectual leaders in these disciplines, the extensiveness of their knowledge has a direct bearing on the quality of the knowledge they convey to their students (e.g., Shulman, 1987; Summers, 1994).

Knowledge about how to teach (or provide guidance, or administer school programs) also evolves over time in response to an emerging body of research in these fields. Educators keep current with expanding knowledge and develop their expertise further through ongoing professional development that includes reflective engagement with their craft. Like other professionals, their effectiveness as practitioners depends on their ability to combine craft knowledge and scientific knowledge in ways that respond to the circumstances they confront (e.g., Salzman, 2006; Wood, 2007). Among these circumstances is subject matter, as research on teacher leader efforts to mediate instructional reform has shown that the challenges that teachers meet in improving instruction differ among subjects taught (Hoang, 2008). According to Theoharis (2009) knowledge of social justice issues is developed through professional development programs that emphasize the importance of inclusiveness and connectedness in improving the core learning context—which embeds assessment and the learning environment, in consideration of interactions among the learning task, the student, and the teacher.

Programs in the Unit prepare candidates to be knowledgeable about relevant subject matter, pedagogy, and the intersection of the two—what’s often termed “pedagogical content knowledge.” In addition, as is discussed in the section on lifelong learning, the Unit’s programs show candidates the importance of on-going engagement with professional development, and the programs cultivate habits of mind that encourage candidates to inquire and reflect about the various types of knowledge that have a bearing on their professional work.

Leadership as power-sharing. Although theorists often prefer to focus on the differences between (even closely related) theories of leadership, several theoretical perspectives converge in their concern for power-sharing. Theories of “democratic leadership” (e.g., Starrat, 2001), “teacher leadership” (e.g., Katzenmeyer & Moller, 1996), “participatory leadership” (e.g., Schlechty, 1990), “leadership substitutes” (e.g., Kerr & Jermier, 1978; Schriesheim, 1997), and “distributed leadership” (e.g., Spillane, 2006) all treat leadership as a function rather than a role. And they all maintain that, when leaders share power, they increase, rather than vitiate the overall power in an organization (e.g., Conger, 1989; Pearce & Conger, 2003). This viewpoint is grounded in the belief that the most meaningful type of power within organizations such as schools and school districts is “power to” rather than “power over” (e.g., Lukes, 2005). “Power to,” in this view, involves the collaborative exercise of power, which some refer to as “power with.”

“Power to” denotes the capacity of an individual or an organization to accomplish its goals. In schools, teachers who give power to their students increase their students’ capacities for learning, decision-making, and self-direction, thereby providing students with the power to address life’s challenges in meaningful and productive ways. Similarly, principals who empower teachers enable them to exercise sufficient autonomy to act on behalf of students’ learning. Arguably, schools that promote this type of power-sharing expand the resources available to them for accomplishing needed changes and making significant improvements in performance (Goddard, Hoy, & Hoy, 2000).

Endorsing this perspective on capacity building, the Unit engages candidates in significant and meaningful learning that increases their capabilities as decision-makers, educational planners, and self-directed professionals. Practical experiences that confer upon candidates the “power to” take place in early field experiences, professional internships, and, perhaps most dramatically, in the professional development school partnerships. Faculty also build candidates’ capacities for self-directed learning by giving assignments that require candidates to think critically, solve problems, and develop innovative products.

Leadership as sense-making. As suggested above, leaders can build capacity for understanding, critiquing, and reinventing the world by sharing power. This insight fits closely with the view of leadership as sense-making (Drath& Paulus, 1994; Weick, 2001). Theories of organizational sense-making, however, extend beyond structural considerations, such as those relating to power dynamics, to explain how participants interpret organizational events in ways productive of shared understandings. Bolman and Deal (2008) view these understandings as part of the fabric of organizational culture, along with the norms, rituals, and celebrations that contribute to organizational stability. From their perspective, cultural change is difficult because organizational culture, by its nature, tends to sustain traditions.

Weick (2001), by contrast, posits a more dynamic view of sense-making—akin, in fact, to Piaget’s ideas about accommodation and assimilation. He suggests that the old and the new are inevitably in conversation such that the old often provides participants with insights that help them interpret the new. Curiously, of course, if what’s new is incomprehensible in terms of what’s already known (i.e., the old), then existing ways of seeing the world can actually promote misconceptions. As Weick (2001, p. 356) puts it, “retained knowledge is partly a useful guide to the future and partly a misleading guide.”

These two perspectives on organizational (e.g., school) culture provide conceptual tools with which faculty and clinical supervisors can assist candidates to move from their pre-existing beliefs (e.g., about schools, teaching, rural and urban communities) to richer and more inclusive beliefs. Guiding candidates as they work to understand traditions, while at the same time helping them resist the temptation to become prisoners of traditions, is subtle and difficult work, but it is absolutely necessary if educator preparation hopes to change how schooling functions in the wider society.

Leadership as cultural change. Although the literature on leadership for change in schools offers inconclusive claims about the difficulty with which change is accomplished, most theorists and researchers recognize that change is necessary—at the very least as a mechanism for adapting to dynamics in the external environment. Intentional change, however, is more than adaptation because it embeds a direction (or vision) of a better future. Indeed, a great deal of the prescriptive literature on leadership focuses on the need for the leader to create, communicate, and sustain a “vision” to guide improvement (e.g., Haydon, 2007).

Improvement of the culture of a classroom, school, or district inevitably entails a determination about what future state is valued and by whom. For a number of years, for example, policy makers have paid attention to increases in academic achievement as the single vision of an improved future state for public schools (e.g., Daly, 2009). Many teachers, administrators, and parents, however, see other outcomes—democratic engagement; community connections; and cultivation of independent thinking, such as “theorizing back” (Tuck, 2009, p. 111)—as equally or even more important (e.g., Gerstl-Pepin, C. & Aiken, J.A., 2009; Ryan & Rottmann, 2009). Debates about such matters have diminished in the “era of accountability” (e.g., Glass, 2008), but leader-educators can make sure that such debates continue to play a vital role in the life of a school and its surrounding community (Covaleskie & Howley, 1994). According to several writers, schools are one of the few remaining sites for local democratic action (e.g., Harkavy& Hartley, 2009; McNeil, 2002). As a result, the discussions that take place around school outcomes contribute to wider debate about the desired future state of neighborhoods, communities, and society generally (Alexander, 1999; Basu, 2006; Oakes & Rogers, 2006; Parker, 2006).

The Unit appreciates schools’ role in safeguarding democratic institutions in the United States and therefore prepares its candidates to think about and act on a wider set of issues than just technical matters about which educational practices lead to higher student achievement (see Table 1 below for readings that illustrate this perspective). In fact, commitment to this view of educators’ potential influence informs the conceptual framework so significantly that an entire separate consideration is given to change-agency and the cultivation of change agents.

Table 1: Knowledge Base—Leadership Dimensions

Theoretical Foundations

Empirical Foundations

Illustrative Reading Lists

(from syllabi)

Argyris, C. (1993). Knowledge for action: A guide to overcoming barriers to organizational change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Angelle, P. S., & Schmid, B. (2007). School structure and the identity of teacher leaders: Perspectives of principals and teachers. Journal of School Leadership6, 771-799.

Altrichter, H. (2005). The role of the "professional community" in action research. Educational Action Research, 13(1), 11-26.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2008). Reframing organizations: Artistry, choice, and leadership (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Chrispeels, J. H. (Eds.). (2004). Learning to lead together: The promise and challenge of sharing leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Bennie, W. (2009). On becoming a leader. Philadelphia, PA: Basic.

Deal, T. E., & Peterson, K. (2009). Shaping school culture: Pitfalls, paradoxes, and promises (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Firestone, W., & Martinez, C. (2007). Districts, teacher leaders, and distributed leadership: Changing instructional practice. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 6(1), 3-35.

Cambroon-McCabe, N. Cunningham, L., Harvey, J., & Off, R. (2005). Superintendent’s field book: A guide for leaders of learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Harris, A. (2003). Teacher leadership as distributed leadership: Heresy, fantasy or possibility? School Leadership & Management23(3), 313-324.

Graczewski, C., Knudson, J., Holtzman, D. J. (2009). Instructional leadership in practice: What does it look like, and what influence does it have? Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 14(1), 72-96.

Hoy, W. K., & Miskel, C. G.; (2001). Educational administration: Theory, research, and practice (6th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Mangin, M. M., & Stoelinga, S. R. (2008). Teacher leadership: What it is and why it matters. In M. M. Mangin& S. R. Stoelinga (Eds.), Effective teacher leadership: Using research to inform and reform. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hoy, W. K., Hannum, J., & Tschannen-Moran, M. (1998). Organizational climate and student achievement: A parsimonious and longitudinal view. Journal of School Leadership8(4), 336-359.

Lieberman, A., & Miller, L. (2004). Teacher leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Murphy, J. (2005). Connecting teacher leadership and school improvement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (2008). Linking leadership to student learning: The contributions of leader efficacy. Educational Administration Quarterly

Journal, 44(4), 496-528.

Lieberman, A., Saxl, E. R., & Miles, M. (2000). Teacher leadership: Ideology and practice. In The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (pp. 348-365). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Pellicer, L. O. (2008) Caring enough to lead: How reflective practice leads to moral leadership (3rd ed.).

Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Leithwood, K., & Mascall, B. (2008). Collective leadership effects on student achievement. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44(4), 529-561.

Little, J. W. (2000). Assessing the prospects for teacher leadership. The Jossey-Bass reader on educational leadership (pp. 390-399). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Reeves, D. B. (2009). Leading change in your school: How to conquer myths, build commitment, and get results.

Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Mangin, M. M. (2005). Distributed leadership and the culture of schools: Teacher leaders' strategies for gaining access to classrooms. Journal of School Leadership15(4), 456-484.

Marzano, R., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Spillane, J. P. (2006). Distributed leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Valli, L., van Zee, E. H., Rennert-Ariev, P., Mikesha, J., Catlett-Muhammad, S., & Roy, P. (2006). Initiating and sustaining a culture of inquiry in a teacher leadership program. Teacher Education Quarterly33(3), 97-114.

McEwan, E. (2003). Seven steps to effective instructional leadership (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Strike, K. A. (2007). Ethical leadership in schools: Creating community in an environment of accountability. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Mertler, C. A. (2012). Action research: Improving schools and empowering educators (3rd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Spillane, J., & Diamond, J. (2007). Distributed leadership in practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Wheatley, M. (2001). Leadership and the new science: Learning about organization from an orderly universe. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Yukl, G. (2002). Leadership in organizations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Zepeda, S. J. (2007). The principal as instructional leader: A handbook for supervisors. (2nd ed.). Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

Change Agents

The Unit prepares leader-educators and practitioners who address changing human and social needs through inquiry, research, assessment, critical thinking, problem-solving, and proactive use of technology.


Over the latter half of the twentieth century and continuing into the twenty-first, the shift from an industrial to a post-industrial economy and from an era of analog and print communications media to an era of digital media (what some refer to as “the information age”) has changed human experience in many ways—how we work, do business, communicate, entertain, and how we teach and learn. Emerging technologies and shifts in global economic relations have produced changes in political, social, and cultural domains. These accelerating changes have affected dominant and marginalized groups in starkly different ways (Aronowitz & DiFazio, 2010; Karoly, 2004). Their eventual impact on individuals, cultural groups, geographic regions, and the world at large—as benefits, depredations, or both at once—is yet to be determined (Bauman, 1998; Eller, 2008; Friedman, 2007).

According to some commentators and policy groups (e.g., Friedman, 2007; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009), the twenty-first century—an era of outsourcing and “offshoring”—requires all nations to adapt to the challenges of a “flattened” world. In this view, contemporary society has changed and continues to change exponentially, but schools are hard-pressed, often unable, to keep up (e.g., Darling-Hammond, 2010). Although many of today’s students live in a world that is extremely fast-paced, constantly changing, technologically mediated, and media-saturated, many of our schools continue to provide instruction through an outdated “factory-model” of education based on principles of scientific-management (Shaw, 2004). Preparing students for adult life in this century—for adaptation and inventiveness—demands a different approach to education, one in which teachers function as change agents within their own schools and school-communities (e.g., Owens, 2008).

For some commentators the most salient changes for educators in the twenty-first century relate more to issues of diversity and distributive justice than to economic and technological innovations (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Sleeter, 2001). Notably, these commentators claim that demographic changes in this century will require schools to become more responsive to cultural and linguistic diversity (Balfanz, 2009) and more critical in regard to representations of normalcy (Semali, 2001). Furthermore, some writers claim that the major focus of educators’ change agency ought to be the creation of a future in which greater social justice prevails (e.g., Giroux, 2013; Mullen, 2008; Simon, 1992).

Despite the recent resurgence of interest in change and the role of education in accommodating and shaping change, the concern is far from new. Progressive educators throughout the twentieth century saw change agency as the fundamental work of educators (Freire, 1970, Neumann, 2003). John Dewey (1915), for example, responded to the social transformations around him: “It is radical conditions which have changed,” he wrote, “and only a radical change in education suffices. . . . Knowledge is no longer an immobile solid; it has been liquefied.” Dewey believed the aim of education was not the production of a labor force, but the enrichment of the individual and society by developing each child’s “social power and insight” (p. 12).

The Unit grounds its programs on what progressive educators such as Dewey (1915), Jerome Bruner (1977), and many others advocated—learning by doing—a curriculum designed to enable students to understand and draw effectively on their own past experiences through an active engagement with new experiences structured to develop their commitment and ability to effect positive change at the classroom, school, and community levels. Other educator preparation programs also embrace change agency as part of their conceptual framework, and reports about some of these initiatives have informed our work to define this emphasis within our conceptual core (e.g., Catapano, 2006; Cooper, 2006; Donnell & Harper, 2005; Ford & Coballes-Vega, 2001; Lane, Lacefield-Parachini, & Isken, 2003; McCay, Flora, Riley, & Hamilton, 2001; Price &Valli, 2005; Shosh & Zales, 2007).

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