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Fearless Teaching Framework

What Is The TLTC's Fearless Teaching Framework?

Fearless Teaching Framework graphic shows 4 interlocking puzzle pieces labeled Practice, Assessment, Climate and Content

The Fearless Teaching Framework (FTF) is a conceptual model of an effective course based on decades of educational theory and empirical research. When instructors receive support and guidance on evidence-based approaches to teaching, their increased knowledge about teaching and learning will help them construct climates, content, practices, and assessments that motivate and engage students. Each of these four pieces of effective courses can work in tandem to promote student achievement and learning. 

Climate: Classroom climate refers to the sense of warmth and support within a learning context. Inclusive classrooms with open communication, supportive relationships, and a shared emphasis on promoting academic progress are considered to have a positive climate. When students feel that the context is supportive, they are more likely to ask questions, ask for help, support their peers, engage deeply with material, and achieve academically. Learn More (Climate)!

Content: Content refers to what course topics are covered in a class. Research indicates that students are more successful when course content is appropriate for their developmental stage and academic ability. Further, students are more likely to be engaged when they understand that the content prepares them for the next courses in their sequence of study, and is relevant to their lives outside of the classroom.  In other words, high quality content meets students where they are, and prepares them for where they need to go.  Learn More (Content)!

Practices: Research has shown that some teaching practices promote learning better than others. For example, providing students with clear expectations and timely feedback has been shown to promote student engagement and learning, because students are better equipped to meet the demands of the course, and adjust their approach over time. Overall, these evidence-based practices are those that rely on supportive, active, responsive pedagogy. Learn More (Practices)!

Assessments: Learning assessments are most productive when they are valid, reliable measures of stated learning outcomes. Assessment structures promote learning when they provide time for feedback and growth, and include a number of different methods of understanding student mastery. Transparent, attainable expectations help students believe that success is possible and devote higher levels of effort in the course.  Learn More (Assessments)!

Surrounding these four pieces are the institutional and ecological contexts that are often outside of the control of the instructor. Compensation, room design, expectations for promotion, political climate, and other extraneous factors can all affect course design and student achievement. At the same time, students come into classrooms with their own characteristics and expectations. Students differ in their interests, academic preparation, and prior experiences in school, and these differences can lead them to engage more or less in a particular course, regardless of the instructor’s design. The framework acknowledges the role that these contexts play on learning outcomes, but we choose to focus here on what instructors can do to increase the effectiveness of their own course.

Dr. Alice Donlan, and TLTC colleagues publish the Fearless Teaching Framework (Feb 25, 2019)There is often a disconnect between the unit of analysis in rigorous education research, and the types of recommendations that instructors find the most useful to improve their teaching. Research often focuses on narrow slices of the student experience, and university instructors often require broad recommendations. 

In their recently published article in To Improve the Academy, Dr. Alice Donlan, Dr. Sandra Loughlin, and Virginia Byrne present the Fearless Teaching Framework to address this gap between research and practice. The Fearless Teaching Framework defines four pieces of effective teaching that promote student engagement and motivation to learn: classroom climate, course content, teaching practices, and assessment strategies. 

Find the article at


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