The Teaching Game - Tennis or Football

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When I started teaching in the early 70’s I came out of university with all the enthusiasm of youth, limited pedagogical knowledge and an environment in schools where teachers relied to a large extend of their experience of schools to frame their practice. With hindsight I am surprised that my students survived my initial efforts to be a ‘teacher’. We were expected to do our job with little support and what support we did get was mainly on the administrative side with little focus oin pedagogy. In fact it wasn’t until many years later that I actually found out that there was a word to describe the process and act of “teaching”. At weekly staff meetings the Principal talked through a list of issued for the coming week, duty, discipline, upcoming events, rosters and issues of general concern to him. There was little or no mention of ‘pedagogy’ or how we were to ‘teach’ or how we would know we were going fulfilling our role as a teacher. In ‘subject’ or ‘faculty’ meetings there was more focus on the curriculum but again the focus was on content, what we should teach, and assessment, how well the students had learnt the content, there was little conversation about how we should teach other than to point us towards what were considered exemplary teachers as role models. There was no time for observation just an expectation that if we did what they did we would be OK and over time would get better. When the Principal walked into my classroom an immediate hush would descend on the room as we waited to see what was wrong, how we would be judged.. Was the room too noisy, had somebody complained, was somebody in trouble we waited expectantly as he walked around the room, raising the occasional eyebrow. Having taken a your around the room he left with a muttered. “Sorry to have interrupted you, continue with your work!” Teaching was very much an individual sport played by a set of rules were we were all trying to improve our individual practice. You were lucky if a more experienced teacher took on the role of mentoring you, or a senior staff member shared their knowledge and experience with you. Professional learning was almost entirely based on attending a one day seminar/workshop model where we were given the lastest information from an acknowledged expert. We took the learning experience/activity back to our classroom and duly tried it the next day. There was little follow-up. When I started teaching we were the masters of our own domain, our classroom. We closed the doors and got on with the job. Privacy of practice was the mantra of the day. Do your job well and nobody will criticise you, never admit you have a problem as this opens you to adverse judgement. How things have changed in many schools but maybe not all. Today there is a recognition that teaching is a team sport much like football. As the saying goes a champion team will always beat a team of champions. Our challenge in schools is to build a culture where effective teamwork is possible. Teaching has such a history of valuing individual excellence and teachers of building their pedagogy around their own experiences that there is no inherent culture of teamwork in schools. In actual fact I would go as far as saying that working as member of a team is not a skill possessed by many teachers. They are working so hard on their ‘own’ work that they see any attempt to get them to work in groups or as members of a team as a waste of time and unproductive to the point where great teachers can become antagonistic and work to actively undermine efforts to build collaborative teams. This will not change until the work of collaborative teams produces outcomes that are demonstrably better than the outcomes produced by people working alone. But what outcomes? The best teacher will presumably always produce better individual results for students in their classes. So until teachers start to accept responsibility for the learning outcomes of students who they DON’T teach then it will be difficult to convince them to share their time with others. It is only when school sets a ‘whole school ’ improvement agenda that they can begin to implement the changes necessary to build a culture of teamwork and mutual responsibility, and move teaching from an individual sport to a team game.

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