KNOWLEDGE BASE 2
Knowledge of School Systems and Culture
A second foundation of the Arkansas Tech University Unit of Education's conceptual framework is preparing the Professionals of the 21st Century with a growing knowledge of school systems and culture. According to Ryan and Cooper (2007):
Cultures, including school cultures, can be good or bad, leading to good human ends or poor ones. A strong, positive school culture engages the hearts and minds of children, stretching them intellectually, physically, morally, and socially. A school with a weak, negative culture may have the same type of physical plant, student-teacher ratio, and curriculum as a neighboring good school, but it may fail to engage students (p. 13).
It is important that the Professionals of the 21st Century understand the general aspects of school systems and culture as well as the idiosyncrasies within the particular school system and culture in which she or he will be participating. Further, not only are there general aspects of school culture as well as particular distinguishing characteristics of particular school cultures, but continuous change focused toward impacting student learning is to be expected (Fullan, 2001; Richardson, 2002; Senge, et al., 2000). This includes potential change in instructional approaches, curriculum design, assessment, school leadership, etc. Our candidates enter school systems and culture in which certain aspects are fairly stable (time, classrooms, etc.) and in which change is generally a necessity due to higher standards and external demands (Sparks, 2002).
Therefore, Professionals of the 21st Century must have a growing knowledge of the school systems and culture as well as the understanding of the changing dynamics within that culture that the particular system exists (Fullan, 2001; Senge, et al., 2000). As our candidates progress through our undergraduate and graduate programs, this knowledge and understanding should be continuously improving. This emphasis is benchmarked through the state and national standards for each program respectively, and this emphasis is infused throughout our programs via the unifying forces.
The Unifying Forces of Diversity, Leadership, Oral and Written Communication, Technology, Purposeful Reflection, and Parents and Community in Our Knowledge of the School Systems and Culture:
Our Professionals of the 21st Century should have an understanding of the diversity of the school systems and culture as it relates to students, colleagues, administrators, parents, etc (Danielson, 2007; DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour 2008; Fullan, 2001; Sparks, 2002; Stronge, 2002). This is particularly important since the members of this diverse learning community will be the professional educator's key partners in "impacting learners in diverse and evolving learning communities (Stronge, 2002).
Our Professionals of the 21st Century must also understand the role of leadership at various levels of school systems and culture (DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2008; Fullan, 2001; Reeves, 2008; Senge, et al., 2000). This leadership may involve at particular times and settings a diverse range of leaders with various leadership styles. Our candidates should understand the importance of the endeavor they are pursuing to improve student learning in these learning systems and the necessity of being a leader in their respective context and/or position (DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2008; Fullan, 2001; Hord, Roussin, & Sommers, 2010; Reeves, 2008; Stronge, 2002).
Moreover our Professionals of the 21st Century must demonstrate effective oral and written communication skills particularly since school systems and the cultures therein involve such a diverse array of stakeholders and since the teacher is viewed by many as a model of expertise (Rose & Gallup, 2003; Stronge, 2002). According to Rose and Gallup (2003), "The public has high regard for the public schools, wants needed improvement to come through those schools, and has little interest in seeking alternatives" (p. 53). Due to the importance of oral and written communication in the school culture, many experts have established this characteristic as a benchmark for the educational professional (Cooper & Morreale, 2003).
The role of collegial and purposeful reflection is also a necessity in every school system and culture. According to Stronge (2002):
Effective teachers also work collaboratively with other staff members. They are willing to share ideas and assist other teachers with difficulties. Collaborative environments create positive working relationships and help retain teachers. Additionally, effective teachers volunteer to lead work teams and to be mentors to new teachers. Effective teachers are informal leaders on the cutting edge of reform and are not afraid to take risks to improve education for all students (p. 19).
Professionals of the 21st Century must exhibit a continually improving ability to purposefully reflect initially concerning the learning and assessment of their own students, methods, evaluation approaches, and so forth. Next, they must begin to develop this ability in new positions of leadership and to encourage others in the school system and culture to develop and/or improve this ability as well. This purposeful reflection is essential in improving as a professional (Stronge, 2002) and in improving the learning organization (Donaldson, 2006; Donaldson, 2001; Fullan, 2001; Mertler, 2009; Picciano, 2006; Reeves, 2008; Senge, et al., 2000).
In addition it is essential for Professionals of the 21st Century to demonstrate an understanding that they are part of a system with an overarching goal of improving student learning (Donaldson, 2001; Morrison, Ross, & Kemp, 2001; Ryan & Cooper, 2007). As Donaldson (2001) has noted, professional educators should view themselves as more than independent and individual beings but instead as part of a larger organization or system. Candidates' systemic and developmentally appropriate practices should continue to improve as they progress through our undergraduate and graduate education programs. This improvement is evidenced through assessments founded upon respective program-adopted standards.
Finally, the role of technology within the school system and culture should be emphasized in the development of our Professionals of the 21st Century. As posited by ISTE (2002) and Baylor (2000), the use of technology is an essential tool in assisting the learning and thinking of learners within the diverse school culture (Picciano, 2006). Due to internal needs and external opportunities/pressures, the use of technology as a communication, learning, assessment, and data management tool will only increase within the respective school system and culture (ISTE, 2002; Ryan & Cooper, 2007). Therefore, our Professionals of the 21st Century need to be prepared with knowledge of technology use currently within the school system and culture in which they participate and the potential for its use in their future educational endeavors. This knowledge should improve over time across their undergraduate and graduate preparation.