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Getting the Balance Right

When I look back at my over 20 years spent in the world of schools, one thing in particular strikes me as very interesting: those with influence over education tend to take on an ‘all or nothing’ approach to our practice. When presented with new research and evidence of best practice, leaders and schools can tend to adopt approaches holus-bolus. Quickly upskilling our teachers in the latest program, intervention or curriculum and making this ‘our way’ of doing things, often without taking the time to consider whether this approach is best for our kids, or our context. We can tend to throw the baby out with bath water, so to speak, and our new practice becomes our identity; we are a Play Based School, an Explicit Direct Instruction School, an Inquiry School, and a One-to-One Device school. I want to stress right away that there is nothing wrong with these approaches. In fact, the evidence for these and many other strategies is strong and compelling. However, I can’t help but wonder – what is our teacher’s intuition? As educators, we understand the different ways children learn and the variety of experiences our young people require to develop different skills and competencies. However, the risk of our practices becoming ‘our way’ and the only way is that we lose the balance. In other words, while research-based backed approaches can work successfully to achieve the outcome we are after for our students, we need to remember that there is always more than one intended outcome.

If the goal is to systematically teach new concepts to achieve mastery, then direct instruction may be your answer. If we are looking to develop students’ communication, collaboration and problem-solving capacities, we will need students to engage in a very different way. Producing tech-savvy individuals is a noble pursuit of schools, but so is having young people leaving school with the confidence to converse with a wide range of people with varying opinions and views on life. No one strategy or approach can possibly achieve these things, and even when we are clear on our purpose, no one program or intervention is a one size fits all ‘silver bullet.’

When I talk with teachers about what is hard about teaching right now, there is often an undercurrent of frustration about the rate of change and the ‘new’ programs and approaches that are introduced and expected to be adopted without the time for teachers to consider how this practice fits with what they are already doing, or even to trial and incubate it in their own unique context. The question from educators is often, how am I supposed to fit this in? and the underlying feeling is sometimes one of quiet resentment at having to implement a new approach fully and without question.

Because the thing is, good teachers know what works. They look at new research and best practice and assimilate them into their pedagogies without chucking out all the other good stuff that is so important in readying young people to become great citizens who contribute to the community. They trial things with the kids in their classrooms and see what works and what needs tweaking. They are constantly considering the whole child and what they need at that moment, and they know that no program or device is ever a substitute for a sound teacher-student relationship, where the expectation and support are high and the boundaries known. And I reckon something that could go a long way in helping our teachers right now is letting them know that we absolutely trust them to do this and giving them the space and time to get on with the job.

Check out other articles Kirsty has written here.