Teaching is like walking through a maze… you are often sure that the turn you took was the right decision, but you’ll never be able to be absolutely sure that the turn you ignored wouldn’t also have been a good one.
A thought that has been weighing on my brain is something I heard Mike Mattos say at a PD recently, and that is “There is no one best pedagogy“.
That sentence was the breath of fresh air I needed to hear.
It was obvious, but I needed to hear it.
I have noticed myself becoming a little bogged down lately by the range of knowledge I have on the different methods and approaches I can take to help my students learn. The last couple of years have been a turning point in my thinking; I have gone from simply sponging up everything I could about teaching, to trying to connect all the dots and sink my teeth into the best stuff. This is a huge feat and one I never expect to accomplish fully… there are too many moving parts. What has really become evident to me is that what is best sometimes might not be best at other times. And sometimes there is more than one best way and you just have to make the call.
As we become more experienced and more connected as teachers we learn about so many new or different ways of doing things. It is easy to get overwhelmed in a sea of best practice talk by teachers, schools and leaders as well as by the community. While this dialogue is integral to improving our practise it can be difficult to navigate.
With all the advantages of sharing teaching approaches online, comes the risk that we get the “Instagrammed version” of people’s teaching… it means we see all the fancy, different, showy and impressive parts of what other people are doing. We often don’t see the humdrum stuff that we’re most likely all doing. With sharing, we have the natural tendency to show only our best work and this can create confusion when we try to learn from each other.
Sometimes when we hear about new pedagogical concepts we hear them from the fanatics and it comes across as all or nothing… “do it this way or you’re doing it wrong”. Out with didactic teaching! Flipped learning for everything! Inquiry learning, all the time! Explicit teaching! No explicit teaching! Sometimes we become the fanatic, trying out new ideas with enthusiasm and freaking out our colleagues in our excitement.
But if we know anything about teaching, we know that is a broad and varying skill-set with a million nuances that can make all the difference in one child’s learning. Surely our greatest skill is to know good practices that we can apply, and from that to choose the ones that will be most effective in the situation we are in.
It is important that as teachers, we stay open-minded and ready to learn. Sometimes it can feel exhausting, confusing and frustrating to always have something that needs to change and to never feel quite like you’re getting things just right. But ours is a profession that needs to be constantly evolving. We know we are working in an antiquated schooling system and have a lot of catching up to do. When we hear new things, it is essential that we engage in dialogue about our practise and think critically about the why and how of what we are doing. But we must remember that learning new things does not mean to forget everything good we’ve done so far.
This means it is also essential that as leaders, we guide and support teachers to bridge knowledge gaps and broach new territory in a way that is respectful and supportive, and in a way that values what has come before, promotes practise, failure and taking risks. Often in a leadership position we can be all too aware of the many ways our schools need to change but without building a culture of trust and open-mindedness, change is impossible.
Professional learning and the constant evolution and evaluation of our teaching practice certainly is essential to what we do. There’s no way any of us know everything there is to know about teaching and execute it all to perfection. But sometimes we just need to remember – there is no one best pedagogy.