“Teaching more than virtually any activity (aside from parenting, perhaps) depends on quick instinctive habits and behaviour, and on deeply held ways of seeing and valuing.” ~Deborah Meier~
When you spend a few hours in the classroom of a skilled teacher (as I did today) the gravity of Deb Meier’s quote becomes apparent. A skilled teacher makes is all look so easy that the old cliches about how ‘any one can teach’ become almost believable…almost.
It is important for me to remember that, although it is the teachers who are seen, what must be observed is the practice, not the people. Failing to observe and describe the practice, and ascribing credit to the personality, or aura of the person is a risky and ultimately unproductive endeavour.
Let me give a contextual example. If you walk into any K-12 classroom and ask a student to tell a bit about themselves it is unlikely that they will tell you that they are a ‘student’ or launch into a complicated description about how the task they are engaged in defines who they are or what they value. Kids are able to separate who they are from what they are doing (at least in school). It would be great if teachers adopted the same disposition.
Often, in my supervisory capacity, I work with teachers around changing their practice and often this is taken as a personal or evaluative challenge to who they are (as opposed to what they are doing). This is why I spend a lot of time and effort building trust and using precise, non-judgemental, descriptive language when working with colleagues.
It is, after all, about the practice, not the person. Our challenge is that we have evolved a culture in our schools that places too much emphasis the ‘personality’ of the teacher and not enough on the practice. It is easy to see how this can be, things move so fast in classrooms that there exists a steady blur between the teacher and the teacher’s practice.
Let’s work on changing this, let’s lead in a way that helps our skilled and dedicated teachers know that we want to use processes like Action Research, Lesson Study and Co-teaching to capture the best practices so we can build a body of professional knowledge that all of us can draw upon.
After all, the people are important…and so is the practice. We need both.