Confidence and uncertainty in teaching about teaching.
Past research efforts into teaching and teacher education have focused very little attention on the nature of teaching about teaching itself; in fact, Richardson (1996) and Wideen, Mayer-Smith, and Moon (1998) note the scarcity of literature from teacher educators themselves. Although some may not find this situation particularly surprising as teacher educators are often the least experienced writers and researchers among their academic colleagues, there is growing interest in better understanding their work--particularly by teacher educators themselves (Zeichner, 1999). Consequently there has been a steady growth in projects examining teaching about teaching and learning about teaching. Self-study of teacher education practices (Hamilton, 1998) is one approach to researching practice that has facilitated the development of more informed understanding of teacher educators' practice.
This paper reports research from the self-study of my practice as a teacher educator through my efforts to understand the relationship between my teaching about teaching and my students' learning about teaching. An important consequence has been the identification of difficulties and dilemmas, or tensions, that teacher educators regularly face as they attempt to enact new approaches to practice that challenge the traditional expectations and experiences of teacher education. In this paper, I examine the meaning of my experiences in the light of these tensions, in particular between the notions of confidence and uncertainty as I have endeavoured to help my students learn about teaching at the same time as I question the nature of my own teaching about teaching.
The paper is organised so that each section illustrates a specific concern or issue arising from my examination of my teacher education practice. As a way of summarising each section, I pose one (or more) questions about the particular aspect of my practice under consideration. In the final section of the paper, I revisit and re-examine the meaning and implications of the questions I have raised. This structure is purposefully designed so as to withhold closure about each issue, hence to stimulate the reader's thinking about links between the narrative text and the reader's own experiences of the issues being raised and explored. My approach is intended to reflect my belief about the importance of challenging a traditional model of education that regards teaching as telling and learning as listening (or in this case, reading). Just as I invite my student teachers to suspend judgement and to trust in my purposes, I now invite the reader to do the same.
Traditional teacher education as perpetuating 'sacred stories'
Traditional models of teaching about teaching are based on technical-rational paradigms of knowledge development in which the teacher educator assumes the role of expert and presents knowledge (usually in the form of theory) to student teachers, who are then expected to learn and reproduce this knowledge successfully in their classrooms. Such an information delivery model of learning is a function both of taken-for-granted assumptions about teaching within higher education contexts and the expectations of teacher educators about the process of learning to teach. Given that many teacher educators are former classroom teachers who themselves experienced traditional teacher education and who take on the role of teacher educator with little, if any, formal preparation or ongoing professional support, it is perhaps unsurprising that, over time, the practices of teacher education have remained largely unchanged. The 'sacred theory-practice story' (Clandinin, 1995) continues to dominate teaching about teaching, despite considerable research evidence that it fails to make an impact on the practices of new teachers (Korthagen, 2001;Wideen et al., 1998; Zeichner, 1981).
Preservice teachers' expectations of teacher education generally conceive learning to teach as the provision of 'how to' or 'what to' teach together with pedagogical tips, tricks and techniques. Teacher educators who choose to challenge these expectations about teaching are often viewed by their students as unrealistic and unhelpful (Britzman, 1986). In response to this situation, a growing number of teacher educators have expressed dissatisfaction with traditional teacher education practices and have begun to investigate alternative approaches to teaching about teaching. Self-study research, with its emphasis on teacher educators' collaborative learning about their practice, has emerged as one response to such challenges.
Learning about practice as recognising and managing competing tensions
Teacher educators' efforts to tackle problems of practice rarely result in tidy solutions. Knowledge that is developed through investigations of teacher educators' own teaching about teaching reflects the 'indeterminate swampy zone' of practice described by Schon (1983). It is a complex and messy terrain, often difficult to describe and full of competing tensions, or dilemmas. These tensions and dilemmas grow out of teacher educators' attempts to match their goals for their students' learning with the needs and concerns that student teachers express for their own learning.
Following an extensive review of the literature (Berry, 2004), I have drawn upon the notion of tensions as a way of describing teacher educators' knowledge of practice in order to capture the feelings of internal turmoil that many teacher educators experience in their teaching about teaching. Others have portrayed these tensions in research accounts, as 'deliberating about alternatives rather than making choices' (Nicol, 1997, p. 96), 'deciding which voices to listen to' (Brookfield, 1995, p. 45), and 'conflicting stories' (Clandinin, 1995, p. 30).
From my analysis, I have identified a series of notable tensions that exist in the work of those teacher educators who investigate their practice. One of these tensions is framed as developing a balance between confidence and uncertainty. Two strands of this tension stand out: making explicit the complexities and messiness of teaching and helping student teachers feel confident to proceed; and exposing one's vulnerability as a teacher educator while maintaining student teachers' confidence in oneself as their leader.
In the remainder of this paper, I explore the strands of this tension in the context of my own teacher educator practice; and my intention is to illustrate the nature of the relationship between teaching about teaching and learning about teaching.
Sources of data for this study
The data used in this research were collected during the 2001 academic year within the biology methods class that I taught in the preservice teacher education program at Monash University. The sources of data include: individual interviews conducted twice during the year with a small cohort of student-teachers from the biology methods class; my private journal in which l recorded my thoughts and ideas about my intentions for teaching and my reflections about my teaching, following classes; an online journal available to all students from my class in which I reflected on my intentions for students' learning in my classes and encouraged student teachers to engage in electronic conversation with me about their learning from my classes; and a regular private e-mail 'conversation' with one student from the class, Lisa, who asked me questions about my practice and offered feedback about her learning about teaching from her various experiences of method and practicum. Additionally each of the biology methods classes was videotaped (a camera set up on a tripod was positioned to give a broad view of the room) so as to provide me with an opportunity to review my in-class interactions with students.
Data are reported in the following way. Individual interview data are indicated in the form of A1: 00-01, where the letter represents the interviewee's initial (pseudonyms apply), the number directly following the letter represents the interview number (either 1 or 2), and the number after the colon represents the transcript coding unit/s. Journal entries are indicated as: Berry, personal journal, date, 2001, following the extract; and e-mails from Lisa (a pseudonym), indicated by her first name and the date of the e-mail, again following the e-mail extract.
Challenges of change
As teacher educators begin to move away from traditional models of teaching about teaching to explore new ways of working with their students, many begin to experience feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty about how to proceed in this task (Emert, 1996). Teacher educators often struggle with the frustration that they may know what changes they wish to make to their teaching practice and possess the formal knowledge to support their reasoning, but do not have the personal, experiential knowledge to carry out their role in the manner they wish. As Mueller (2001) observes, 'There is no script for teacher educators' (p. 3). My experiences of learning to teach about teaching biology mirror these difficulties.
Since beginning the role of Biology Method lecturer four years ago, my aim has been to create an environment that will encourage the growth of critically reflective, innovative, new teachers who really care to transform biology teaching practices in schools. I hope that these new teachers will, through their experiences of Biology Method, come to recognise that much of the teaching that they have experienced, and that persists still, stifles the growth of the process of understanding, because of its reliance on reproducing propositional knowledge and pleasing the teacher.
Beginning from an initial approach that emphasised me as the provider of knowledge about how to and what to teach in biology classes (the provider of endless resources, motivation and information), I have shifted to a new role in which I have deliberately taken a back seat in order for my students to assume greater control over their learning. Wherever possible, I have attempted to hand over responsibility to the student teachers for decisions about what is to be learnt, how and when. I have de-emphasised myself as the 'answer provider' and pushed student teachers to examine their own, and each other's, needs, and their understanding of biological concepts and teaching approaches.
Developing and implementing this approach has been uncomfortable and messy. I have often struggled to enact my new role in ways that reflect my intentions. As a consequence, my confidence as a teacher educator has been regularly eroded and I have often felt 'stuck', unable to see a path that might take me and my students forward; yet I am unwilling to return to former practices that do not support the kind of learning to which I am now committed.
At the same time that l am Faced with feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty, I recognise that student teachers beginning their preservice preparation also experience these feelings about their own competence in their new role as teacher. A consequence of this for student teachers is that they usually look to their teacher educators for certainty and confidence to help them learn the right ways to teach. Therein lies the source of the tension between confidence and uncertainty: How can I build student teachers' confidence to grow as new teachers, when I am simultaneously questioning the nature of my own teaching about teaching?
This tension exists for me as two strands. One strand relates to exposing my vulnerability in my role as teacher educator, and at the same time attempting to maintain student teachers' confidence in me as their leader. The second relates to my deliberate choice to expose the uncertainties behind my own teaching as a prompt for my student teachers to think about teaching as an uncertain and problematic enterprise, and at the same time helping them to feel sufficiently confident that they could successfully develop as new teachers.
For both student teachers and teacher educators alike, confidence matters. An important goal for me is to help my student teachers to develop as confident new members of the teaching profession. However my notions of confidence differ markedly from those of many of my students. To me, confidence means being willing and ready to explore new possibilities in teaching, a willingness to listen to students and their ideas, and a preparedness to make changes to teaching that facilitate more meaningful learning. These ideas are embodied in Dewey's (1933) personal attitudes of open-mindedness, whole-hearted interest, and responsibility in facing consequences. In my approach, I seek to represent these attitudes as a form of confidence, a boldness to explore with my students the relationship between my teaching and their learning.
This notion of confidence carries a different meaning when considered from a student-teacher's perspective because, commonly, many see teaching as an uncomplicated act of telling students what to learn--a consequence of years of uncritical observation of their own teachers at work (Britzman, 1991; Pajares, 1992). Consequently beginning teachers may enter preservice programs with an expectation that they can be told how to teach and therefore appear to be in search of a recipe for teaching. This means that confidence comes in the form of a recipe that may well comprise a set of practical teaching strategies to ensure their success in the classroom. Student teachers may therefore be critical of their teacher preparation program if this does not occur (Britzman, 1986).
This was certainly the case for Bill, one of the student teachers in my biology methods class, who felt that he was not supplied with the helpful materials for teaching biology that he received from his other method subject. This led him to feel under-prepared (and therefore less confident) in his new role as teacher. An excerpt from my interview with Bill illustrates this point:
Bill: I mean there's a general feeling, and I think I speak on behalf of quite a few people, that your biology is quite different to the other sciences and even my other method class as to what preparation is being given us ... to get us ready for it [teaching] and the answer's not much. And that might sound overly simplified ... Mandi: Mmm ... Bill: In that, I see that you are dealing with us on a more cerebral level than perhaps a lot of the other method teachers. Do you know what I'm saying? Mandi: Can you tell me about what you mean? Bill: Well, I think you're trying to, you know, get us to do our own thinking, but the others aren't, and so we feel like we're being neglected a bit. That's probably a bad word, neglected's not the fight word but we're, we don't feel well armed in biol. (B1: 32-36)
Although I feel pleased that Bill interpreted my actions in biology method as encouraging self-reliance (after all, encouraging student-teachers' independence is an important goal of my teaching), at the same time I feel disappointed that what I did was not perceived as helpful. Bill told me that what would be more helpful for building confidence and competence as a new teacher would be to do as (some) other method lecturers did and work towards building a resource bank of activities that could be used with school students 'every day of the year'. My discomfort in this situation--how do I help Bill feel more confident about what I am offering for his learning about teaching biology, when I am not sure myself--illustrates the tension of confidence and uncertainty as it played out in my practice.
Bill: I think that what people have said to me was that--and this could be wrong--that they feel like they're not getting any methods of teaching biology under their belt ... like in [other method] we spend most of the time digging up resources and activities for each other and we're collating this pile of activities and games and interesting things. And we're just piling it all up for the VCE [Victorian Certificate of Education: state mandated curriculum for final years of secondary schooling] study guide ... in order that we all will get a copy of everything that everybody's collected. You know, a resource that you'll be able to use every day of the year--there'll be something in there for us. But biol's not. When I look at my folder there isn't much that I can see. Now that's up to me I can see that, but I just thought while we were here, maybe we could do a bit more of that. (B1: 50-51)
My purpose in teaching biology method in the way that I did was to look beyond this view of teaching as the 'stockpiling' of activities. My goal was to challenge the notion of teaching as an uncomplicated act of following particular tried and tested routines. I wanted student teachers to develop their thinking about why and how they might teach, so that they could evolve their own approaches and activities that were more congruent with facilitating their students' meaningful learning of biology. However, in so doing, I had neglected to acknowledge the needs of the student teachers with whom I was working. For many, their sense of confidence was dependent on having these resources at hand, to help them feel prepared. This is a critical aspect of the dilemma faced by many teacher educators who choose to risk the uncharted territory
of new approaches to practice that challenge the oft-held traditional expectations of student teachers and education faculties.
When the implicit message from student teachers is for the teacher educator to be seen as a competent expert, and student teachers' experiences of learning about teaching seem to reinforce this view, then it is difficult to avoid feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy as a teacher educator when one's practices do not conform to these expectations. (At the same time, it is difficult for the student teacher to suspend his/her immediate desires for certain knowledge and to take a leap of faith to trust a teacher educator who chooses to work differently--a point that will be taken up later in this paper).
White (2002) captured this sense of personal struggle in her account of her attempts to enact a constructivist approach in her teaching practice.
Finding myself in the middle of a class peopled by students and content, I was uncertain what specific actions to take that might be constructivist in nature, or when to take them. Knowing what not to do did little to nothing to inform me about what to do. My teaching was analogous to trying to walk on quicksand. I had no lodestone from which I could launch my teaching to begin to establish a foundation from which to operate. Most of the students in my elementary mathematics methods class became frustrated with me, saying I was unclear and did not provide adequate leadership or direction. Frustration for them translated into anxiety for me. At times my resolve weakened, and I was tempted to return to transmissive teaching--a zone of comfort for both my students and me. My belief in the power of student ownership of ideas was strong, however, so I persisted. (White, B. 2002, p. 308)
New approaches to practice require confidence to persist, yet organised support for teacher educators who choose to challenge traditional approaches to practice is seldom a feature of faculties of education. Consideration of this issue leads to the question: What sorts of conditions would support the development of teacher educators' professional confidence to sustain investigations of practice beyond individual 'one-off' efforts? Finding ways of responding to such a question offers one approach to challenging the status quo of 'normal' university teacher education practices.
Subject matter confidence
Another element impacting on student teachers' need for confidence in their development as new teachers comes from the knowledge status of biology as a senior school subject. From my experience of teaching biology method, I have found that student teachers often begin their preservice education feeling that they have insufficient content knowledge to be successful teachers of senior biology. Because their view of teaching biology is commonly associated with effectively supplying large amounts of information to their students (with effectiveness measured by their students' success in external testing procedures), they believe that they must know 'all of this content knowledge' well, in order to supply it. These student teachers usually feel an overriding responsibility to ensure that their students can leave their classrooms with the correct and appropriate scientific concepts (Hewson et al., 1999) because they 'feel constrained to "honor" the content more and their students' thinking less' (Lemberger, Hewson, & Park, 1999, p. 381).
Such a view of biology teaching as the effective and efficient supply of content knowledge is often reinforced by supervising teachers during the practicum experience, who regularly criticise student teachers for their lack of content knowledge appropriate to the biology curriculum. This, in turn, impacts enormously on how preservice teachers measure their competence as beginning teachers, what they want to learn about teaching particular subject matter content, and how they respond to teacher educators' messages that do not conform to these ways of learning to teach. In hindsight, it is not surprising that the approach to learning about learning to teach biology that I took, with its emphasis on exploration and questioning of traditional transmissive approaches and consideration of biological knowledge as uncertain rather than timeless truths, mattered much less to many of my student teachers than their need to feel confident about their content knowledge and effective ways to impart it. Our purposes were at odds, with their most pressing concerns for confidence and certainty reinforced as legitimate by most of what they saw around them within the teacher education program and in schools.
Thinking about the problems of subject matter knowledge in this context leads me to two questions: How might teacher educators help student teachers question stereotypical views of learning and teaching in particular subjects in ways that would allow them (and their students) to welcome uncertainty, and move forward in their learning about teaching? What implicit messages about teaching as the supply of expert knowledge are being reinforced not only from school-based student teacher supervisors but also, perhaps unwittingly, by university teacher educators themselves?
Building (and losing) confidence
The development of confidence in one's competence is tricky because it does not occur as a lock-step progression. Confidence can be quickly and easily undermined in the process of learning to teach from a comment, or experience, as Bill describes in the interview quoted below. The undermining effect of such an experience is amplified when the view of teaching held is that there is one right way.
Bill: Just when I feel like I've got a grip on what this teaching thing is all about, because it was all a bit vague at the start, as all things are when you first try them and I was just about to sort of ok, I can get nay hands around this, some criticisms had come in from where ever and then I felt insecure again, because I thought I had the hang of this ... I'm not doing it the right way. I feel I'm using my personality, trying to get what I've read and what I know across to them in a way that's going to be reasonably easily explained, varying the stimulus, you know, activities, bit of talk, bit of humour you know, overheads all that sort of stuff, and then, you find out that you've missed something happening in the class or you know, it's like it's trying to swim in the dark to the end of the pool and you think you're there and you sort of turn the light on and you find out you're only a third of the way there. Am I ever going to get down to the end? That's how I sort of felt a bit. (B1: 25-26)
Bill identifies the importance for him of developing a feeling of confidence in his teaching abilities. He wants to get the hang of it. However his confidence is undermined after he receives some negative feedback about his teaching that led him to feel insecure and frustrated. Despite his efforts to incorporate techniques that he has learnt in order to teach the right way (i.e. straightforward explanations, variety in presentation, and a personally engaging style), he learnt that there was more to teaching than these things, and more than he could see at that time. For Bill, the need to feel sure about his approach to teaching was clearly strong.
I now turn to the second strand of the tension between confidence and uncertainty, played out through my efforts to make explicit the complexities and messiness of teaching, and at the same time attempt to help my student teachers feel sufficiently self-confident that they could make progress in their learning about teaching.
The idea of teacher educators deliberately making explicit the complexities and messiness within their own teaching departs from normal practices of teacher education. Teacher educators do not usually reveal to their student teachers the problematic nature of their work. The motivations of the teacher educator (or school-based supervising teacher) in devising the lesson, the alternatives that she considered in planning or implementing the lesson, or the (sometimes problematic) decision making that she faces from moment to moment within the lesson are rarely made apparent to student teachers. As a consequence, prospective teachers commonly see teaching enacted, within schools and education faculties, as little more than a set of smoothly executed skills and routines. Consequently the pedagogical significance of what is being observed can make teaching appear deceptively simple.
Explicit modelling as opening up new ways of learning about practice
It is my belief that teacher education should provide opportunities for preservice teachers to 'see into' teaching practice in ways that challenge their existing perceptions and encourage consideration of alternative flames of reference. In this way, they may be motivated to consider new and deeper understandings of teaching and learning. A variety of methods may be useful for this process--for example, keeping a journal to record and reflect on pedagogic experiences. However, more powerful still, is the experience of teacher educators opening up their teaching practice to their students as they think aloud about the uncertainties, dilemmas, questions and contradictions they face in their own experiences of teaching preservice teachers.
In my approach to teaching about biology teaching, I wanted student teachers to become more aware of their processes of pedagogical decision making, so that they might be more thoughtful about the pedagogical choices they made. I chose to work towards this goal by explicitly modelling my own decision-making processes for my student teachers.
Explicit modelling operates concurrently at two levels. At one level, explicit modelling is about my doing in my practice that which I expect my students to do in their teaching. This means I must model the use of engaging and innovative teaching procedures for my students rather than deliver information about such practice through the traditional (and often expected) transmissive approach. At another level, I need to offer my student teachers access to the pedagogical reasoning, feelings, thoughts and actions that accompany my practice across a range of teaching and learning experiences. But fostering a climate that supports sharing of confusions is not easy. I chose to make such access available in a variety of ways,
Confidence and uncertainty in teacher education through thinking aloud (see Loughran, 1996), journal entries, and discussions during and after class with groups and individual student teachers.
Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule (1986) identify the importance of teachers revealing the thinking behind their actions for their students.
The teacher ... takes few risks ... he[sic] composes his thoughts in private. The students are permitted to see the product of his thinking, but the process of gestation is hidden from view. The lecture appears as if by magic. The teacher asks the students to take risks he is unwilling--although presumably more able--to take himself ... So long as teachers hide the imperfect processes of their thinking, allowing the students to glimpse only their polished products, students will remain convinced that only Einstein--or a professor--could think up a theory. (p. 215)
Revealing 'the imperfect processes of [my] thinking' is what I am calling the second level of explicit modelling. Persevering with explicit modelling carries with it a certain amount of tension and uncertainty. Making a choice about what to make explicit both in my talking about practice during classes and in my journal entries was a constant dilemma. I had to choose carefully what I held up for public examination that would be useful and accessible for these student teachers and, in hindsight, I do not think I really recognised how the different scripts that we carried for teaching affected their perceptions of what I said or wrote. I wanted to convince my students that it was okay to be unsure of one's own practice, to see that teaching is problematic.
Even though I have identified that articulating my thinking about teaching during the act of teaching is an important goal of my teaching, I have also found that this is not an easy goal to 'live' as a teacher educator. I am not always consciously aware of my actions, in action, nor am I able to readily articulate my pedagogical reasoning on the spot. Usually, there is a multitude of thoughts running through my head as I teach. How do I know which of these is useful at any particular time to select to highlight for my students? (Berry, personal journal, March 10, 2001)
I shared this journal entry with one of my student teachers, Lisa, via e-mail. She e-mailed the following response:
I think it was important for us to trust that you would be able to teach us well, and that opening up your vulnerability and uncertainty about things was unsettling for many ... It was like 'whoah! She doesn't know what she's doing all the time--holy hell!--what hope have we got?'. (Lisa, e-mail, March 15, 2001)
Lisa helped me to learn that, in choosing to make available my thinking about my teaching, some student teachers experienced a loss of confidence in my ability to guide their development successfully. Their views of my role were not compatible with the role I was enacting. Interestingly, during her initial teaching round experience, Lisa deliberately chose to teach science in a way that more faithfully represented the uncertainties of its processes--to reveal its constructed, human, imperfect nature and so challenge students to think about science ideas as other than black/white, right/wrong. After I observed her teaching and talked with her following her class, I wrote in my journal about the difficulties of balancing trust and vulnerability.
Lisa brought to my attention something really important ... There is a distinction between helping students see that science is socially constructed knowledge and that teachers are humans who can be wrong, and trusting that your teacher knows what s/he is doing. A distinction that sounds easy but in fact can be difficult to enact. I feel like I have perpetuated that to some extent through my being very honest and vulnerable with my students, which led Lisa to see merit in that and do that with her students. But because they didn't really know what she was on about, ... it didn't work in the way she wanted it to. Perhaps that is the same for me. (Berry, personal journal, May 16, 2001)
Another student, Jill, told me during interview that she found my thinking aloud helpful for her thinking about practice because it gave her cause to reflect on her own teaching, although she added that it was not an approach she would use with her high school students because of the difficulties associated with trusting the competence of the teacher.
Jill: I think that the reflection within the class allows us to know what's going on and so that it's a kind of a process of 'Would I do that, or would I say that?' So as an example, when you say, 'Oh I've just cut that discussion off and I probably shouldn't have done that ...' it actually gives us some insight into the way that you're thinking, and I would say 'Is that something I would do in class?' ... It's not something I would do in a VCE [senior] class because I think that students really need to know that the person out the front has some confidence in what they're doing and they make a decision for a particular reason, so I'm not sure how those students ... would find that, but for me, it's good because I can say, now would I be thinking that at this particular time? Would I have cut that discussion off? And if I did, would I be thinking the same thing that you're thinking? Would I be thinking it was an inappropriate time to stop that discussion? (J1: 25-27)
Just as it was difficult for me to identify and articulate what I was thinking while I was teaching, so too my students, immersed in the here-and-now of an experience, found it difficult to look beyond what immediately preoccupied them. The challenge of attending to learning on several levels is considerable and, unless I encouraged my students to look around to consider the bigger picture of their learning about teaching, there is a real danger that they will believe that what immediately surrounds them is all there is to see. I wanted to make explicit to them differences between being a learner of teaching and a 'doer' of teaching so that they might come to better understand the ways in which these different perspectives influence practice. However, if my students saw me as somehow very different, not connected with the real world of practice, and they saw that experienced teachers in schools did not explicitly consider their teaching in this way, then what I did may have simply been interpreted as an (unnecessary) academic exercise.
I came to see that if supervising teachers in schools made explicit only one role, that of doer, then the power of my message was considerably reduced. This was particularly evident when one of the student teachers told me that there had been some discussion between class members that they would like to learn more about teaching and less about how I teach. This was further emphasised for me a little later in an e-mail from Lisa.
Today Mandi stopped the class and explained why she was doing something and how she thought it would work. I really liked this but I wonder if there were some students who thought, 'I really don't care'? ... What I am trying to get at is: Do we need to know we are meant to be learning something to learn it? (Lisa, e-mail, April 2, 2001)
Bill reported that my thinking aloud was unhelpful for his learning about teaching because it added an extra dimension of thinking that overloaded and confused him.
Bill: We're trying to learn to teach ... we're trying to be students and we're trying to be students of teaching all rolled into one ... It's a funny little world, because when you are in a class sitting, watching, it's difficult ... you're thinking of a number of things. You're thinking ahead, backwards, all this stuff; sometimes it's hard ... it's difficult for people to think on two levels all the time. Sometimes you know, everyone's sort of going, What's going on? What's this all about? I was just starting to think about the task I was doing and you're asking us to think about why you organised it that way. [B1: 53]
Teacher educators report feelings of uncertainty as they begin to enact new approaches to practice (White, 2002). These feelings can be conveyed to student teachers and interpreted as shortcomings on the part of the teacher educator. Deciding what aspects of practice to make explicit, how to make them explicit, and when, so that they are useful and meaningful for student teachers, lies at the heart of this strand of the tension between confidence and uncertainty. It is a risky business for the teacher educator and requires the establishment of a trusting relationship with the class, as I learnt. Loughran (1995) had already discovered this in his efforts of similarly 'thinking out loud' with his student teachers.
Choosing an appropriate time to explain that I would be 'thinking out loud' and my purpose for doing so was important. I had to have a sense of trust in the class and they with me otherwise my behaviour could appear to be peculiar rather than purposeful. There was a danger that talking aloud about what I was or was not doing, and why, could be interpreted as lacking appropriate direction. This could be exacerbated by the fact that many beginning teachers enter the course believing they can be told how to teach. It could be a risk which might compromise nay supposed 'expert' position as someone responsible for teaching teachers. (Loughran, 1995, p. 434)
The view expressed by Loughran about the possibility of compromising one's position through what one selects to share with student teachers echoes the ideas expressed by Lisa. It seems odd, in hindsight, that I did not attend more carefully to the possible conflict between my own expectations and those of nay students in deciding to share my teaching in this way. Mostly I think that I assumed that my teacher educator 'authority of position' would afford me an expert status that would automatically convince student teachers that what I was doing was worthwhile. Alternatively I may have assumed that what I was attempting to show my student teachers about teaching was so compelling that they could not help but be convinced by the valuable insights they were gaining into my teaching that would assist in the development of their own. Reflecting on this situation, I now wonder how I can distinguish between my own needs, my needs for my students and my students' needs for themselves. Or, more broadly, what would encourage teacher educators to consider opening up the problematic nature of their practice to others?
The role of trust is crucial in supporting new approaches to practice. For example, what reason would Bill have to trust that it was worth suspending developing certainty and confidence for the uncertain alternatives that I was proposing? A readiness to take a leap of faith comes from trust in the teacher educator, so that even though the student teacher may not agree with what the teacher educator is doing, there is at least a preparedness from the student teacher to make a wholehearted effort. Doug reported that, for him, preparedness to step out and do something different came from knowing that the teaching approaches that he had grown up with, and that had worked for him, were not necessarily helpful for his students' learning.
Doug: Most people won't abandon what they know and what works because there's just too much risk involved, but what you should do is maybe, people such as myself should maybe really think, no don't worry about what I do know and what does work, I'll try this. I really will try ... Mandi: What would motivate you to try? Doug: The knowledge or the information ... at a very early stage, the awareness that what I do and what I use probably doesn't work for most people at a secondary [school] level. (D1: 61-63)
Trust is something that is developed within and supports a safe environment. However, in paying attention to social aspects of learning about teaching, there is a need for all involved (teacher educators and student teachers) to trust that learning through experience is valuable and worth the effort. This is not really possible if the teacher educator assumes total control of the learning environment, losing sight of, or not acknowledging, individuals' needs. In my efforts to minimise my role as expert and hand over the learning to the students through such activities as peer teaching (pairs of students taught, and then had their teaching debriefed by their peers), it became clear to me the importance of recognising and acknowledging feelings and expectations of student teachers about learning to teach.
Trust (and, in its wake, confidence) can be quickly undermined when teacher educators are not attentive to the emotional as well as the pedagogical needs of their students, as I soon learnt. A number of students felt very uncomfortable with my efforts to create a climate in which their teaching was open to professional scrutiny by their peers, which led me to question, 'How do I help student teachers see learning as a collaborative venture, open to professional critique, and challenge yet not break their confidence in themselves, each other, or me?'.
Revisiting and reconsidering some issues raised in this paper
I now turn to reconsider the questions that I have raised within each section of this paper about the challenges associated with my efforts to implement a changed approach to teaching about teaching. Readers expecting tidy answers to these questions will be disappointed. My purpose in this section is twofold. It is to encourage consideration of the extent to which these issues resonate with the reader's own practice and context, and to prompt thoughtful consideration of the ways in which such issues might be tackled so as to promote sustained and meaningful learning about teaching for individuals (student teachers and teacher educators).
1 What sorts of conditions would support the development of teacher educators' professional confidence to sustain investigations of practice beyond individual 'one-off' efforts? The development of teacher educators' confidence to explore more meaningful approaches to learning within preservice programs works at both individual and institutional levels. Challenging the status quo of normal university teacher education practices requires individual and collective effort for sustained and meaningful change to occur. Productive learning about one's own practice means moving beyond simply acknowledging that a problem exists. It involves making a decision to pursue ways of understanding practice and enacting change. However, as Larrivee (2000) notes, shedding beliefs shakes confidence, leaving teacher educators who choose to challenge accepted practices feeling very vulnerable (p. 295). Challenging currently held beliefs can also bring teacher educators into direct conflict with institutional priorities and power hierarchies (p. 298). This means that genuine involvement from those in positions of power in faculties of education is required to support any meaningful, long-term efforts directed towards changing practice. It is worth considering whose needs are best served by current program structures. For example, how does the administratively convenient delivery of material compare with the actual needs and interests of those whom the programs are designed to serve? How will we know?
It is heartening to read of the work of some teacher educators whose institutions have not only acknowledged that pursuing better understanding of issues of teacher education matters, but have deliberately targeted teacher educators' professional development needs through creating opportunities to meet and work together towards the improvement of their pedagogy (see, for example, the work of Korthagen, IVLOS Institute of Education, Utrecht, Netherlands; Ethell, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand; and Kosnik & Beck, OISE, Toronto, Canada). 2 How might teacher educators help student teachers question stereotypical views of learning and teaching in ways that allow them (and their students) to welcome uncertainty, and move forward in their learning about teaching? What implicit messages about teaching as the supply of expert knowledge are being reinforced not only from school-based student teacher supervisors but also, perhaps unwittingly, by university teacher educators? It is easy to criticise the actions of others (in faculty, institution, or schools), but it is important to consider the ways our own actions contribute to the problem of 'teaching as the delivery of expert knowledge'. And, if supplying knowledge about teaching to student teachers is not what teacher educators do, then what does it mean to be a competent leader, or an expert teacher educator? The urge to tell about one's own experiences of approaches to teaching or classroom management strategies, or to provide structured approaches to learn about teaching--for example, lesson planning--can be irresistible. Each teacher educator has a collection of activities that work with preservice teachers, together with a well-reasoned agenda for what is important for preservice teachers to learn. But how much of what might seem intuitively helpful to teacher educators in preparing student teachers actually works against their long-term interests as professional learners of teaching? How will we know?
3 How can I distinguish between my own needs, my needs for my students and my students' needs for themselves? More broadly, what would encourage teacher educators to consider opening up the problematic nature of their practice to others? For me, coming to understand some of the difficulties associated with learning to recognise when I was pursuing my own needs and when I was responding to students' needs came out of my investigation of my practice. There are no scripts to know how to behave in such circumstances. Mason (2002) writes about the importance of teachers developing self-awareness through ongoing critical self-observation of their teaching practices. Mason acknowledges that the act of being both observer and participant in teaching is not easily achieved and requires considerable practice, but is essential to inform and improve teaching practice. My ideas about the development of teacher educators' expertise take this idea further. Teacher educators not only need to be able to articulate a 'running commentary while driving' (Mason, p. 224) about what they are doing and why, but they also need to select thoughtfully what to make explicit from their commentary for their students, when and why, if they are to help their students confidently develop their understandings of the complex uncertainties associated with teaching.
4 How do I help student teachers see learning as a collaborative venture, open to professional critique, yet not break their confidence in themselves, each other, or me? The development of trusting relationships between student teachers and between student teachers and their teacher educators is an important contributing factor in their preparedness to open their teaching to others' scrutiny. Feelings of fear and doubt are real and student-teachers need to believe that risk taking is worthwhile. Building relationships is an important cornerstone of trust. It involves both an understanding of individuals and the ways they interact and develop within their group. And just as each individual learns and develops, so too the group (which comprises those individuals) develops as the relationships within the group evolve in response to these changes. These relationships clearly involve important social understandings and practices. I have learnt that building relationships requires a genuine concern to listen to, and be aware of, the changing nature of the classroom context, and to be interested in, and responsive to, the needs of students (as individuals and as a group).
Challenging established practices and taken-for-granted assumptions about teacher education is a messy, complex and uncertain business that requires courage and confidence to pursue. Self-study research enables the development of personal perceptions while trying to (act to) improve one's own teacher education practices, and an approach to sharing that which has been learnt with others in ways that build confidence, both individually and collectively, among the teacher educator profession.
In reconsidering the questions and issues raised throughout this paper, I have asked, 'How will we know about the effects of our practice as teacher educators on our students' learning as new teachers?'. One way of developing such knowing is through teacher educators' systematic examination of their practice and openly sharing their research efforts. The process of developing knowledge of practice requires more than simply sharing our stories as teacher educators. I have learnt a great deal about my pedagogy through the careful investigation of my practice. This means analysing and challenging the basic assumptions of my work as a teacher educator, and trying to understand, name and frame my experiences.
In this case, tensions emerged as an appropriate frame for understanding and learning from my experience. If, as teacher educators, we are serious about challenging traditional models of teacher education, we need to do more than share experience; we need to share knowledge. A challenge for teacher education lies in how to grow new knowledge. This paper presents an account of the nature of the knowledge I have developed to contribute to this challenge.
self evaluation (individuals)
teacher education programs
attitudes teacher researchers
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Amanda Berry is a Senior Lecturer in Education at Monash University, Wellington Road, Clayton, Victoria 3800. E-mail: Amanda.email@example.com
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|Publication:||Australian Journal of Education|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2004|
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