According to the Sutton Trust, good teaching is measured by the progress of our students. Coe (2014) gives six key components: pedagogical content knowledge, quality of instruction, classroom climate, classroom management, teacher beliefs and professional behaviours. When I first wrote about what makes good teaching, I focused on four traits and one skill, patience, empathy, confidence, compassion and room reading. Whilst I still think focusing on characteristics is important, which is why I propagate Bennett’s virtues of good teaching, they are limiting by themselves. I have also included an awareness of folk pedagogies to improve the focus on the needs of our students, ‘practical judgement’ as advocated by Heilman (2015) and JPD as propagated by Gregson (2015).
Folk pedagogy, intuitively-held beliefs on teaching based on our previous life experiences, are deeply ingrained in our psyches. Bruner (1996) writes that these beliefs, from teacher and student, can have a huge impact on classroom dynamics. The reason it is so important to engage with our folk pedagogies is that our biases will impact our teaching, though well-intended, folk pedagogies are not neutral in nature. Admittedly there are probably no neutrally-made decisions, though we must make sure that we don’t mix up the nature of our mind with the student’s mind, or make assumptions based on what would work for us. As Bruner (1996) writes ‘Teaching, in a word, is inevitably based on notion about the nature of the learner’s mind’. We must be mindful of the reasons we act and the reasons that our students act. As teachers, we must challenge our views for the benefit of education, and try to understand the world views of our students to inform our pedagogical choices.
Secondly, I would like to address the matter of traits inherent to good teaching. I made my own list for the previous assignment as can be seen above. Bennett focuses on virtues of character, including justice, courage, patience, wisdom and compassion. Characteristics are useful as they can refer to more than themselves, such as the characteristic of wisdom. Bennet suggests there is theoretical wisdom or knowledge, and practical wisdom, putting that knowledge into practice. He writes ‘Wisdom is the rational process of evaluating and identifying processes that reach for aims towards successful outcomes’ (Bennet 2012). He goes on to explain that we can use wisdom to make decisions such as when and when not to enforce rules, judging our decisions on the mood of the class. In this way, Bennet’s traits encapsulate good teaching through characteristics, which also point towards individual skills. As skills and techniques change and develop, we can rely on these characteristics to remain the same and of use, leading us to research and adopt the best techniques of our era.
Practical judgement and evidence-informed practice, suggested by Ruth Heilman, supports Bennet’s position of practical wisdom. Heilbronn identifies three dimensions of practical judgement: ethics, flexibility and personal rootedness. She stresses the importance of ethics to teach from a position of mutual trust, and flexibility to be able to adapt to the situations we find ourselves, writing ‘expert practitioners can flexibly respond to changing situations’ (Heilbronn, 2011). Bennett’s definition of wisdom as evaluating and identifying processes to reach a solution is very similar. Practical wisdom and practical judgement are key to flexible, ethical and ultimately successful teaching.
Finally, Gregson writes on the use of Joint Practice Development’s role in continuing professional development. JPD consists of a six-stage cycle, consisting of six workshops to develop a project and its purpose, aimed at better-informing teaching practice. To measure impact, soft and hard indicators are determined, soft indicators being an unquantifiable outcome such as classroom atmosphere, whereas hard indicators measure and quantify the study such as achievement rates (Nixon, 2015). Through JPD teachers can reflect on their practice and then examine how they can improve. Reflective practice is useful, but JPD adds an empirical and measurable element which enables teachers to test their theories and develop teaching strategies.
These four aspects are imperative to good teaching. Investigation of our folk pedagogies provides us with a conceptual tool with which to identify our own biases. Bennet’s teacher traits remind us that, whilst the best course of action is subjective, we must determine the best course of action from a position of compassion and ethical behaviour. Heilbronn’s three dimensions of practical judgement reinforce flexibility’s position in good teaching, being adaptable placing some control on situational events. Finally, Jameson and Hillier illuminate the importance of continuous learning and progression and provide a model with which to evidence our progression.
Bruner, J. S. (1996) The Culture of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
Bennett, T. (2012) Teacher: Mastering the Art and Craft of Teaching. London: Continuum
Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S., Major, L. (2014) What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research, Sutton Trust.
Gregson, M., Spedding, T. and Nixon, L. (2015) Helping Good Ideas Become Good Practice: Enhancing Professionalism through Joint Practice Development (JPD). London: Bloomsbury.
Heilbronn, R. (2011) ‘The Nature of Practice-based Knowledge and Understanding’. In R. Heilbronn and J. Yandell (eds) Critical Practice in Teacher Education: A Study of Professional Learning. London: IOE Press, 7-9.