Saturday, August 13, 2011

The artistry of the teacher.

A book put together by a master teacher - Bill Guild

Ministry bureaucrats, politicians, and many parents  seem to have simplistic view of the teaching learning process. Teachers teach , students learn. Ministry technocrats develop simplistic standards and school 'deliver'  them and then everybody knows how well students are achieving.Yeah right!

The dynamics of every classroom are different.

Every teacher brings with them their own set of beliefs and, often hidden , assumptions about how children learn, and the role of the teacher in the learning process. Even just being in a particular school will effect how teachers teach as they do their best to do what is expected of them.

The diversity of teachers is multiplied by the even greater diversity of  their students. Students come from different cultural backgrounds, home circumstances, different expectations ( based on their previous success or lack of it), and their own unique ways of perceiving and behaving.

Purposeful classrooms are webs of positive relationships but  in other cases rooms are 'tense' until the rooms develops a learning culture - in some cases this never evolves.  To make things even more difficult some children arrive in classes aligned with school expectations while others find classroom life problematic.

Alignment between home school and students is the ideal but where there is conflict this is not aways easily achieved.

Who ever thought teaching was easily - but paradoxically for some it is just that; teachers who have ,what Jerome Bruner writes, a certain 'artistry'. In the right conditions, or cultures,  most teacher can develop this 'artistry'.

Few people have studied life in a classrooms but one helpful research study ( Jackson 1968) researched life in American elementary schools.

Jackson looked at ways teachers judged their  own work and how they gained their satisfaction.

The following are the points he found:

Most teachers emphasized the importance of immediacy - their world revolved around the present -  as a result of their students' spontaneous responses.

The second issue was informality - they emphasized informal relationships with their pupils as being important while still  retaining their responsibility and authority.

Third was autonomy.While they welcomed guidelines and collaboration but they felt most comfortable with classroom doors closed and curricula guides tucked away.

The final point was individuality .Teachers assessed their success as teachers from their personal observations of their pupils.They knew when they were succeeding from the look on their students faces.

Such teachers sound like teachers who deserve to succeed because they are responding all the time to their pupils.

 It was noted what they did not do - they did not have behaviourally precise objectives, nor were they sympathetic to objective evaluation. The sample chosen were often not able to rationalize their approaches - they 'taught through the seat of their pants.'

Teachers, like their pupils, rise ( or settle) to the expectations that the school has of them. Once a school is thrown into higher state of excitation, by a wider vision and a new purpose, then the familiar and humdrum can be transformed. In such situations teachers extend themselves to meet new expectations.

Lessons here for school change models and leadership . Roland Barth has written that true transformation 'comes from within' - it cannot be simply  'delivered' to schools by contractual advisers armed with other peoples' 'best practice'. It is the culture that counts


Alison said...

That's SO good - thanks Bruce.

Anonymous said...

All that rings true to me. However so much of what we have to do about providing evidence that we are conforming and so little has to do with how our kids are 'performing'. Happy children, who love to be at school, will learn, and socialize through their learning.

Steve said...

Hi Bruce,

this reminded me of a great quote I got from an article by Mike Radford earlier this year:

"In this context, the practitioner is less like the bulldozer driver carving a way through the landscape to a pre conceived objective, more like a combination of canoeist shooting the rapids and creative artist exploring possibilities and waiting for inspiration."

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Alison, Loadeddog and Mike -good quote Mike.