Issues Associated with Introducing an Inquiry Approach to Teaching, Learning and Assessment in a Queensland School: Part Seven

In their paper, “Pathways for Middle Schooling: Walking the Talk”, the Brisbane Catholic Education office clearly identifies the central role of “outstanding educators” in the learning process, arguing that “adolescence need to experience a personal relationship” with such teachers. ( 2004: 2)  If the redesign of pedagogy to better address the needs of students in the middle years is to succeed, then a primary force in this success will be the quality of the teaching. Steve Holden identified the significant role of the teacher in effective learning as a key area of consensus at the 2004 “Making Schools Better” Summit where it was universally agreed that “teachers matter most” (2004: 2) but goes on to highlight the difficulty the conference presenters and participants had in defining exactly “what quality teaching looks like”. The same problem faces the wider educational community, although as Professor Eric Hanushek pointed out “everyone knows a good teacher when they see one” (2004:3).  However, many of the skills and abilities which the ‘outstanding’ teacher demonstrates in a classroom are the result of their own values about what is important in teaching and were acquired as a result of years of teaching, "gained from a thousand crises met and mastered" (Waller in Abbott-Chapman, 1991: 7).

Abbott-Chapman and Hughes in their attempt to identify the characteristics of 'good teaching' "dispels the single typology as being an accurate description of the good teacher ... the effective teacher can be [any style] and chooses each emphasis appropriately from particular cues in the learning setting" (1991, pg 22).  A problem with sharing this expertise, however, is that much a teachers’ knowledge about effective teaching is tacit; "the teacher knows how to do things he or she cannot explain" (House, et. al. in Ross, 1992,: 14). The key to successful pedagogical reform, then, is to develop teachers’ capacities to be "able to make explicit some of the very sophisticated thinking which is involved in their everyday teaching but which is usually only semi-conscious and not articulated." (McIntyre, 1992: 120).   

If teachers are to continually improve their knowledge and understanding about the craft of teaching and translate that knowledge into practice, it is vital that schools allow time for teachers to work collaborative to support each other and share skills.  Most teachers, regardless of experience or curricular philosophy, have wisdoms to share. It would be dangerous to assume that the needs of students in the middle years can only be met by a single approach to learning. As the research of Abbott-Chapman and Hughes concluded, dispelling the myth of a "single typology" of "the good teacher ... traditional, progressive, child centred, subject centred" is necessary as we must recognise that "the effective teacher can be all of them, and chooses each emphasis appropriately from particular cues in the learning setting" (1992: 22).    If changes in curriculum designed to better meet the needs of students in the middle years, such changes need to be introduced in a collaborative manner that acknowledges the various repertoires and agendas each teacher will bring. The design of new learning and assessment tasks must be through a "collegial, non-directive and supportive [approach] rather than [one which is] coercive in style, and [must] seek to foster professional autonomy." (Wilson & Cameron, 1992: 2). Teachers must be assured that the changes to pedagogy will be grounded in their own practice and focused upon their real concerns.

While time must be devoted to the development of deeper understandings of the theory related to the middle years movement, teachers must be assured of an "essential interaction between the theoretical and practical knowledge" (Renshaw in Golby, 1975: 510) which is necessary if thought and action are to be "dialectically related " (Kirk, 1988: 15).  Teachers, caught in the heavy demands of their profession, will only see such professional development as credible if it avoids "the artificially constructed separation of thought from action, of theory from practice" (Smyth, 1992: 300). Fundamental to the success of any efforts to encourage change in teaching practice is a recognition that "top-down, externally imposed change does not succeed" (Romanish, 1991: 8)  and that developments of new understandings about effective pedagogy for the middle years must developed collaboratively through “a 'bottom-up' rather than a 'top-down' view of teacher development" (Burns, 1990: 263).


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