Editor's Comment: The power of reflection

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PDT Issue 16.2

Can just anyone be a teacher? Graham Handscomb contrasts the simplistic government proposal that unqualified people can be teachers with a deeper understanding of the nature, purpose and skills of teaching.

The status of teaching as a profession is under attack. This appears to be the growing feeling amongst many teachers and others involved in education. Despite some assurances from government and the initial White Paper it produced in 2010 when coming into office which put the spotlight on ‘The Importance of Teaching’1, there is a sombre mood abroad within the profession.

Yes, there are strong political messages about control being devolved to teachers and schools, particularly in the context of more and more responsibilities (and indeed rather ambitious expectations) being placed at the door of Teaching Schools, together with active debate about a College of Teaching. However, these have been overshadowed by concern regarding the government’s fundamental view about what it entails to be a teacher.

The declaration by the Secretary of State that formal qualification for teaching is not needed has sent tremors through all those involved in the business of teaching and learning. It has profound implications. And we need to be clear – the response to the statement has not been about a precious and reactive outlook of an educational cartel seeking to protect its interests and boundaries. It is much more to do with our professional understanding of the nature of teaching and what it is to be an effective teacher.

The ‘extended professional’
Ever since the early work of writers like Eric Hoyle, there has been an appreciation that teaching is a multi-faceted, complex and demanding enterprise, and that effective teaching involves development as an ‘extended professional’2.

This is described as comprising a number of features such as skills derived through an interplay between experience and theory, a perspective embracing the broader social context of education, comparing methods and practice with colleagues, and placing value on professional collaboration.3 Above all, it involves teachers reflecting on and being professionally self-critical about their work, and continuing to learn further ways to hone and improve their practice.

So, the latest issue of Professional Development Today emphasises and explores the importance of reflective teaching. Indeed, Andrew Pollard sees the reflective teaching materials and exercises that are presented in our ‘How to…’ section as a riposte to the notion that any unqualified person can teach – they ‘stake out the high ground for teacher professionalism by arguing that teaching has high moral purposes and requires sophisticated forms of expertise’.

In these ‘How to’ pieces, Andrew explores how reflective practice can be used as the vehicle for teacher education and development. They cover a number of aspects ranging from how to examine teachers’ perceptions of pupils to how to develop a repertoire of strategies to manage behaviour, and from how to analyse the use of classroom time to how to mentor a student teacher.

Professional knowledge
The demands and complexity of teaching are very much to the fore in the first article by David Hopkins and Wayne Craig. This is the second of three articles they are providing in successive issues of Professional Development Today.

In it, they explore six theories of action for teachers, captured within their ‘Curiosity booklet’, which they have used in Australia, Wales and London. These are all designed to increase the level of professional skill so that this impacts on the learning of students. The article also reports on how this approach has led to significant commitment of teachers to their own professional learning, along with increased engagement of headteachers with school improvement and student learning.

Lesley Saunders also focuses on the nature of teaching in her consideration of the knowledge, understanding and skills that teachers need to acquire. Intriguingly, her approach is to use an imaginative Renaissance metaphor which reflects on the art, craft and science of teaching.

She sees the ‘art’ of teaching as being particularly downplayed in current debates but regards this as being fundamental, ‘irreducibly personal’ and connected “with the traditional idea of a ‘vocation’ or calling”. The ‘craft’ of teaching emphasises that teaching is also ‘grounded in bodies of explicit and codified disciplines’, and the value of the ‘science’ of pedagogy is that it stresses the importance of research, teaching as an enquiring profession, and the ‘multiple aspects of teaching and learning’.

What comes through powerfully from her article is a shift from preoccupation with the language of targets and outcomes to a focus on understanding the dynamic character of teaching.

The pupil contribution to teaching
A key part of this dynamic is of course the quality of relationship that the teacher has with their pupils. Marcella McCarthy’s article explores how student voice and participation, which are now commonly found in schools, can be given real potency through contribution to the teaching process.

She describes an explicit coaching model which goes beyond simply asking student opinion to demanding commitment and focus from both teacher and student. In her article, she describes her step by step GROW coaching model in which pedagogy is fashioned collaboratively by both parties. The scene that is painted is one in which student and teacher use the coaching process to reflect together, check on progress and refine practice. Readers will find a wealth of practical ideas and guidance in this piece.

Challenging orthodoxies and raising expectations
In the laudable drive towards seeing CPD as being best located within the school and focused on teaching and learning, there is the danger of making the assumption that schools have all the expertise they need in-house.

In the light of this, the article by Philippa Cordingley and Natalia Buckler sets out the reasons why whole-school CPD opportunities are often ineffective and make the case for how school-based professional development can be enriched through external expertise.

This includes facilitating changes in teachers’ practice through encouraging experimentation, making theory and research evidence available alongside practice development, and introducing new knowledge and skills. Most importantly it is argued that the contribution of such specialists ‘can challenge orthodoxies and raise expectations about what might be possible’. So, rather than being a departure from school-based development, external expertise can bring skills to promote ‘teachers’ growing independence, autonomy and control’.

Finally, the article from Judy Durrant connects with the messages heralded in Marcella McCarthy’s article and also with the ‘How to’ section in our last issue of PDT on reflecting and learning with and from children. She sees children and teachers as being ‘agents’ of school improvement and working together to determine the nature and purpose of schooling.

We are also given a detailed case study of a school-based enquiry to improve learning, which involved children and teachers, with both reflecting on the process and sharing outcomes. She concludes with some significant thoughts about a new landscape for professional learning where ‘teachers see themselves increasingly as learning from their students, as well as being leaders of learning, of both their students and one other’.

No, not just anyone can be a teacher
This understanding of the sophisticated nature of teaching, involving a depth of relationship with students, is in stark contrast with simplistic notions about drafting unqualified, minimally trained folk into teaching.

The good news is that whilst there may be a perceived threat to the status of teaching, the articles in this issue of PDT demonstrate an appreciation that teaching is a complex and demanding process, requiring a considerable degree of professional knowledge and curious reflective practitioners who are ever vigilant in their role as leaders of learning.

 


References
1. Department for Education. (2010). The importance of teaching: The schools white paper 2010. [online] Available at [Accessed 03/03/2014].
2. Hoyle, E. (1975). Professionality, professionalism and control in teaching. In Voughton, V. et al. (eds.) Management in education: The management of organisations and individuals. London: Ward Lock in association with the Open University Press.
3. Evans, L. (2008). Professionalism, professionality and the development of education professionals. British Journal of Educational Studies, 56 (1), 20-38,

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