Being a Teacher
What Outstanding Teachers Know and Do

An outstanding teacher engages students in negotiating ideas in a manner that develops desire and skill to be life long learners through communication within a variety of experiences in a caring manner that contributes to a variety of community structures that respects and supports life.

Observing outstanding teachers is - seeing artistry in action.

Every decision teachers make is based on their questioning (inquiry) and thinking (reflection) about what they know (knowledge base) and can be represented with a conceptual framework.

Conceptual Framework

A conceptual framework is information teachers use to make teaching decisions. The quality of information used in making these decisions is related to the likelihood of the teacher's and students' success.

Information used, to create and provide learning experiences for students is selected based on beliefs of how students' learn and how to best facilitate their learning. Professional educators make decisions based on their knowledge base and continually evaluate them based on their understanding of research and current practice through inquiry and reflection. Through this evaluative process they make decisions to plan and implement future opportunities to facilitate student learning, which in turn will inform their practices.

While a conceptual framework is the mental structures each teacher uses to make decisions curriculum designers often refer to conceptual frameworks as a document that attempts to identify and describe the information needed for best practices. As the name implies it doesn't suggest a completed structure, but a framework, like the iron work of a building or the wood framing of a house. Similarly a conceptual framework documents categories and suggests information for professional educators to use to make better decisions when they evaluate their practices.

Teacher's philosophies and beliefs are combined with their understandings about the world, people, students, and learnings to create their conceptual framework. The following links provide activities and information to help review or write a general educational philosophy. Focus on the purpose and big reasons for education in general. A stronger focus on the classroom can come later.

As with the Donkey Fable, whether people are aware of their basis of decision making or not, they have a philosophy and conceptual framework they use to make their decisions, they just may not know what it is. To make better decisions it would seem necessary to know and develop a comprehensive understanding of our conceptual framework.

A comprehensive framework would include all the variables that affect how educational decisions are made. It would need to include information from the world, teachers, and students and how they all interact. The major mediator being communication.

Here is a a Professional Educator Conceptual Framework.

This general framework can be used to guide decisions teachers make and for the development of curriculum.

So now we have a general philsophy for education and a framework to use to consider various conditions for making decisions. What other documents can be created with comprehensive statements for teachers to use to guide their decision making? The following are such documents related to specific subjects.

These principled procedures are used to guide decision making. Outstanding teachers use principled procedures along with a comprehensive understanding of what students want to learn to plan and facilitate learning, while in the process continuing their own professional development as teachers.

Let's continue to focus on subjects.

Subject Knowledge
How to Know the Subjects We Teach

The more teachers know and understand, the better they facilitate students' learning. Since information students learn is categorized by subjects or disciplines, it is important to know the characteristics or dimensions of disciplines or subjects.

Most people often begin to define disciplines or subjects with definitions. However, if we look at some examples of subject or discipline defintions...

As teachers we need to know what content students should learn and it becomes apparent definitions are insufficient to know what is necessary for students to know to be literate.

Definitions are interesting and can connect important ideas to the subject in a powerful emotional manner that provides unique insights into significant aspects of the subject. However, even the most comprehensive definition lacks sufficient information to inform teachers and students what is needed to be learned to be literate in that subject.

To provide that depth, various learned societies have brought together experts, who have written documents that describe information a person would need to know to be considered literate in different subjects. Information which has been published in documents that are often called standards.

This link has a directory with summaries of standards and links to many of the learned societies that publish them and to where they maintain their current documents.

Subject Knowledge Organization
Their Common Categories or Dimensions

Before standards people still thought about the content a person needed to know in different disciplines, or subjects, and published their ideas in documents, but didn't call them standards. A survey of their work and the organization of the standards reveal four common categories or dimensions for all subjects. This is helpful to know, so thes categories can be used when thinking about all subjects.

Four dimensions or categories:

  1. Practices of the subject or discipline and the processes and or skills which are used to create knowledge in the discipline (the how: inquiry, investigation, mathematizing, problem solving, observation, classification, representation, reasoning, search for answers, communication of problems and answers, resolution of conflicting opinions, ...).
  2. Content knowledge or information created by the practice and use of the processes related to the subject or discipline (the what: facts, ideas, concepts, generalizations, principles, theorems, and laws).
  3. Attitudes or Dispositions or Habits of Mind or Values and mental states people have when they practice or inquire to learn the subject in successful ways. Attitudes to have when doing the subject to create knowledge in the discipline. Dispositions that are usually valued in using or studying most subjects include: curiosity, desire to understand, open-minded, skeptical, persistent, ...).
  4. Perspectives or relationships and connections of the discipline to society, culture, history, the discipline itself and society, culture, history of it, how it can and can not be used in all respects.

A comprehensive literacy description for any subject or discipline includes substantial references to each of these areas.

The following charts illustrate how these four dimensions relate to categories in the following national standards:


Outstanding teachers have a very comprehensive understanding in all these dimensions, or categories, for the subjects they teach. Knowing these dimensions helps teachers understand, remember, and create better opportunities for their students to not only learn information in a specific subject, but to participate as a scholar of the subject and create knowledge for their own personal inquires.

As you study different subjects think about the four different dimensions and as you do you increase your understanding and power in using the subject you study.

Professional Educators and Development


How to plan




Dr. Robert Sweetland's notes
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