Teaching is probably the only profession in the world where everyone already has fifteen or more years of experience before they even begin their careers. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what good teaching looks like because we’ve all been through school. There is no shortage of advice given to teachers. Most of the time, teachers are executing ideas and directives that come from elsewhere, usually from people that don’t actually teach every day. This often creates a disconnect between the mandates imposed on us and the actual challenges we deal with in our classrooms on a daily basis.
This leads to the question: what should advice look like?
According to Doug Lemov in his book, Teach Like a Champion 2.0, advice comes in three varieties: 1) Ideological 2) Research-Based 3) Data-Driven.
Let’s have a look at each in more detail.
This is the most common form of guidance that is given to teachers. It seems like every few years (often coinciding with a new government) different learning models and strategies are imposed on teachers. There is a desire to re-invent the wheel and make teachers use the supposedly latest and greatest in their classrooms. This experimentation seems to happen more at the elementary level for some reason. Why is that the case? Maybe because secondary teachers often are more experienced and less willing to accept change. Or is it that they just don’t like to be told what to do as much. The problem with all this ideological advice is that, as Lemov states, “it contributes to the development of schools where teachers are always trying to do lots of things that people are telling them to do, instead of using their insight, problem-solving abilities, and a wide array of tools to achieve specific goals.” All this advice shows a fundamental mistrust of our profession.
Educational researchers have had a greater influence on teaching practices in recent years. Research is definitely a more effect approach than just simply allowing ideologies to inform good teaching. The difficulty with research lies in making it applicable and practical for teachers. What works in theory doesn’t always work in practice. There are so many variables that happen in a classroom that the research (often developed in relative isolation) can’t account for. The actual implementation of the research findings can be a tricky matter. And even if you do use the recommendations of the research, it might not have any real value at all. There’s a lot of research out there of varying quality. How do we determine what good research looks like? How do we decide which research to use in our teaching? Why don’t we trust teachers and let them decide what research to use? As Lemov writes, “research, in other words, works best when it is a tool, not a mandate.”
The guidance offered by data is based on what did happen when success was achieved, not on what should happen. It looks at how the ideas and research were melded together and how effective they actually were when used in a classroom. It is based on facts not speculation. One of the great benefits of this approach is that it generates its knowledge from teachers. We know what works best for our students, not politicians or university researchers, who haven’t stepped foot in a classroom in years. Or ever. Lemov writes: “it considers teachers not just as recipients and implementers of the field’s knowledge but as creators of it – problem solvers, entrepreneurs, generators of the professional insight. It makes teachers intellectuals.” This notion of teachers as intellectuals changes the perception of the profession and elevates the stature of our work.
Who do you turn to for guidance on teaching?
Where (besides Twitter) do you look for advice on teaching?