Friday, February 27, 2009

'Understanding the thing that one Tames'

A recent reread of Antonine De Saint-Exupery's delightful book the Little Prince lead me back to an earlier post, The Tame and the Wild. One of the many stories the Little Prince relates to the pilot, is his meeting with the fox. The fox, longing to be tamed eventually explains to the Little Prince that to be tamed is to establish ties, to be connected and to create memories of that which has been tamed. The Little Prince however tells the fox while he would like to tame him, he has no time. Disappointed,the fox replies, 'One only understands the things that one tames.' He goes on to tell the Little Prince that this taming takes patience and perhaps very little words.

This I think adds something to my earlier exploration of the metaphor, 'The Tame and the Wild' and what it means for education. If understanding is the tussle of taming the wild, then we need to start with some wild ideas or topics in our curriculum. Like the Little Prince we should not be scared of or scared off engaging with the wild (the wild fox initially tells the Little Prince he can not play with him because he has not been tamed; he's off limits!). The understandings gained through venturing into the unknown will be of great depth and relevance to the learner, because as the fox suggests, you have to invest so much of yourself into 'the taming'. However if we keep the curriculum safe and start with the tame, well, the discovery has been done and you only come to know how someone else tamed the wild.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is it Doing it Better or Thinking It Differently?

In recent discussions with teachers and school leaders about the kind of student learning they would like to see in their school and in turn the kind of teacher pedagogy needed to enable this learning, I have been asking that they not focus on what they want to do better, but rather how they might 'think differently' about what they are doing. What kinds of questions do they need to ask to promote different ways of thinking?

This has a subtle yet powerful effect on the kind of discussions about teaching and learning. I brings a greater mindfulness to what is already happening and how teachers are currently thinking about their practice. This then becomes the basis for critical reflections, grounded in their own context and experience, mediated by a rigorous dialogue.

When the emphasis is on 'doing things better' or 'being like the best teacher' the catalyst for change remains outside the lived experience of the teacher. However when opportunities are created for self awareness and thoughtfulness about practice that validates the teacher as researcher of his/her practice, an environment is created that is ripe for change and innovation.

UK education academic Peter Mortimore in his visit to Australia last year and more recently quoted in the Age Newspaper comments that 'You can't bully teachers into improving and wanting the very best....... it happens by getting them to challenge themselves to be critical of what they're doing and getting them to want to improve.... he warns of the less than effective 'top down' approaches to effect change in teacher practice but rather supporting and valuing critical and reflective teachers who are the creators and innovators of what is best practice.'