We Need to Talk about Pedagogy

Do most teachers really know why they do that they do?

I’m not sure.

We spend so much time explaining how they should be adhering to new standards, how to prepare students for standardized tests, and how to accommodate whatever new legal rules exist in the field. However, all too rarely are teachers asked to articulate their own philosophy of teaching, and even more rarely are they challenged to re-examine that philosophy within the context of their growth as educators. Because of this, all too often, new ideas in education are rarely contextualized–many accept unquestionably the tenets of the new concept/idea/practice, while others reject it holistically as a “fad.” Nowhere is the starkness of this divide more apparent than in writings about education online (which shouldn’t be surprising, as the online world can easily promote polarization). There seems to be a clear trend cycle that emerges online, that usually begins with a new idea/concept/technology. At first, this idea is introduced. Immediately, many rush to sing it’s praises. After a few weeks of praise, the backlash pieces begin, identifying how this technology is awful and is demonstrative of something evil.

These debates miss the point. It’s not about technology. It’s not even about the individual approaches or theories themselves. It’s about us, and how we haven’t spent enough time really solidifying why we do what we do in our classrooms each day.

We need to collectively pump the breaks a little. We need to develop a way to contextualize new ideas/concepts/technologies within our own pedagogical frameworks so as to implement the most useful ideas within a new technology or concept and discard those that are not useful to good teaching. However, we cannot do that if we, as educators, do not root ourselves firmly in sound pedagogical philosophies that are at the core of what makes a good learning environment for students.

We need to talk about pedagogy more.

Essentially, it should break down like this:

1. Develop a clear, cohesive personal teaching philosophy. Personally, I would root it in Dewey’s timeless philosophies, expanded upon by constructivists throughout the last 50 years. Revisit that philosophy constantly; consider how your classroom embodies that philosophy. NEVER do anything in a classroom that is counter to that philosophy–design all student experiences with that philosophy in mind. Discuss that philosophy with other educators in your building, among your fellow teachers, and online. Spend as much time as you have available to discuss with other about HOW to teach, not WHAT to teach.

2. Be open to every concept that floats across your twitter feed, be it SAMR, Design Thinking, Flipped Learning, whatever. There is nothing lost in reading and understanding unique ideas about teaching and learning.

3. Fit these concepts into your teaching, but only insofar as you believe they support your personal philosophy and experiences. For example, the “flipped classroom” is not a way to teach most of what I do–I find a lot of it to be simply another way to lecture, just using video; however, I do like to create “how-to” videos for students to allow them to revisit specific writing skills we’ve covered in class (things like thesis development, topic sentence reminders, etc.).

The idea that anyone should adopt any of these educational frameworks (or, as some might refer to them, “fads”) is ridiculous. If I found myself doing that, I would first question my own pedagogical competence, as it would be insane to traipse from approach to approach based upon what’s popular at the moment. However, the inevitable cycle of “here’s a new idea”–“Wow, this idea’s great!”—“Here’s why this idea is ruining education” has gotten a bit tiresome, and may simply be a result of too many teachers who understand their own educational philosophy in a meaningful way.

As professionals, we should spend more time rooting ourselves in a sound pedagogical philosophy, then evaluating each and every new idea within that framework. Only then will we find ourselves improving our pedagogy through technology, rather than leaping from trend to trend.


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