There are many fine people in education, contrary to what media pundits with dubious expertise and experience might say. My colleagues in schools and in faculties of education with whom I collaborate work hard, are busy, and try to be thoughtful within the seeming chaos of education policy. Yet not every great classroom teacher or education researcher is cut out for the bridging that is teacher education.
So what sorts of people best fit teacher education and how can we help them?
- They must be skilled in either research or practice + have an interest in the other side as well as the educators who represent the best of research and/or practice.
- They must have a mindset to avoid the schylla of cynicism or the Charybdis of faddism.
- They really want to mentor younger teachers; this should be a requirement for anyone wishing to move into an enhanced role such as grade or department chair, consultant, teacher educator, or administrative role.
- They must be open, fair, and critically minded to resist the “curse of knowledge” or the “confirmation bias”.
I first came across this through the work of Chip and Dan Heath who define it thus. “The problem is that once we know something—say, the melody of a song—we find it hard to imagine not knowing it. Our knowledge has “cursed” us. We have difficulty sharing it with others, because we can’t readily re-create their state of mind.”
We often do this in senior high school or college teaching. It is one reason why great coaches usually come from the ranks of athletes who had to think through things to keep up with the “stars” who seemed to do it automatically. Good coaches and mentors are more like Batman who needs discipline and tools to work well rather than Superman who does it “naturally” without having to think about it.
“Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweight evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis.”
Even scientist and teachers and researchers in education do this—automatically seek out articles and people who agree with them rather than struggle with ideas that are different. We need to think these things through do determine their veracity. We are all too familiar with “magic bullets” in education!
How can we resist the thinking flaws above?
Collaborate with lots of folk, listen more and talk less (that’s why we have two ears and one mouth). Working with teachers outside of our subject area is one way to do this. I went to grad school nearly 30 years ago and connected with science teachers looking at the same learning issues as I did. I learned a great deal from them and still do.
So teacher education reform as I have tried to articulate in the four posts in this series needs to be thoughtful and rigorous with a dash of humility: humility for those of us with experience who think we know it all, including me.
Teaching is much too complex.