Thursday, October 11, 2007

Put the 'experts' back in front of a class!

Dear....... , I am sorry to tell you but you have lost your job due to a glut of 'experts' - please report to the classroom to take up real work on Monday!

Expertise increases, it seems, by distance in time or place from the reality of the classrooms.

It is amazing how much 'wisdom' is gained overnight by people appointed to advisory positions. Equally amazing is how classroom teachers automatically presume such 'advisers' must know what they're talking about just because they have been given a title. More depressing is the ease which teachers demean their own experience and bow down to these 'so called experts'.

It is not to say such advisers do not have knowledge to share but all too often their 'wisdom' evaporates as they become purveyors of 'best practice' ideas to impose on teachers.

It is time for teachers to appreciate it is they who really understand the demands and challenges of teaching. There are no 'right answers', no 'one size fits all' solutions, available to solve any ones problem. That every teacher, and all students are idiosyncratic, and, as well, all schools have their own particular cultures and circumstances is a often forgotten understating by distant planners.

Creative teachers have always known this.

Unfortunately over the years 'experts' have done their best to impose solution onto schools by means of complicated curriculum statements and constraining accountability systems. There was a time when such technocrats even openly talked about 'teacher proofed' curriculums!

So lets put all the experts back into classrooms.

Give such 'experts' the challenge of engaging and developing the gifts and talents of all students. At least let them teach for a year and see what they can do.

Now as a bit of a 'expert' myself what would I do if I were to be placed back in a classroom and told to get on with it

This has happened to me once before in my career and it was a real learning curve. My own advice, that I had previously thought possible, I found I had no time to put into practice! All sorts of demands, let alone the diversity of learning needs of the students, just got in the way. After several months I managed to raise my head above the water and start to cope well and, eventually, to really enjoy the challenge.

The experience 'taught' me a lot.

I now appreciate the emotional demands placed on teachers simply accommodating the individual needs of the students - let alone teaching anything.

I now respect any teacher who stays in front of a class day by day, week by week. Each teacher is a 'world expert' on his, or her, own class.

I learnt that keeping the joy of learning alive in every student is the real challenge and nothing must get in the way of this.

I learnt it is better to do 'fewer things well' than to try and comply to all the impossible curriculum demands, and to work with individual students to see each learner 'feels' pride gained through success and in turn recognition as a person.

My own belief is that if teachers in any school were to develop process to tap into the 'wisdom' that all collectively hold their ideas would be as viable as those 'delivered' by the various experts. Certainly they would be a lot more 'doable'.

What we now meed are experts skilled in helping teachers uncover what they already know but have often have not had the time to share and make explicit.

When these ideas have been developed into a set of shared beliefs that they all would be prepared to be held accountable to then we would begin to make real progress.

Best of all teachers would feel they had done it themselves - that they are the real experts after all.


Anonymous said...

As you suggest the real 'experts' are found in classrooms and quite often overlooked by their own staff. Ironically many really good teachers are forced to sit through tedious staff meetings, after a hard but productive day in the classroom, listening to so called experts talk about illusiory or misguided possibilties. Worse still many schools create their own paper barriers that make it more difficult for creative and purposeful teachers.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Although I can appreciate your point I believe that any group of people diverse enough, who go through a process to share their ideas to reach an agreement of what they will all do, will develop better ideas than those imposed by 'experts'. This was the point I was making. Any process has to get around internal school barriers you mention.

Brian O'C said...

Why do we take teachers out of the classroom and turn them into experts to tell all the other teachers what to do who are already doing it?
What we need are skilled expert teachers to teach our kids. So many of these are now being removed to teach so many other things. We are so short of skilled teachers applying at our school that we are going to introduce our own programme of development.
A school-based local development programme must be better than an external one made up by 'experts'.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Greetings Brian

I guess the reason why teachers become 'experts' is the opportunity of sharing their expertise. This is worthwhile enough but, the trouble is, they then lose touch of the reality of the classroom. And, to make it worse , the teachers they help, all too often, do not have the understanding of the 'expert' so there is a mismatch.

The answer is for schools to develop such an inspiring purpose that 'experts' would find satisfaction in staying to realize such a vision. To keep ( and attract) such teachers the school would have to develop new structures to allow teachers to develop their innovative ideas.

When teachers are connected to a shared purpose in a collaborative environment, able to share and help others, who would want to leave?

Ensuring all students developed their 'learning power', by having their talents realized and, in the process, developing the hope, optimism and a postive sense of self required for life, would be a powerful purpose? All in democratic learning comminity.

If all schools shared a similar community biulding vision, rather than competing - that would be exciting?

School (then inter school) development using 'experts' from within would be the new norm.

Some real courageous leadership will be required.

Anonymous said...

The thought of all the so called 'experts' having to go back into the classrooms ( including principals and all the 'walking' people in schools) would give them a badly needed dose of reality! Their 'expertise' would soon dry up!