What if we assumed that learning is as much a part of our human nature as eating or sleeping, that it is both life-sustaining and inevitable, and that – given a chance – we are quite good at it? And what if, in addition, we assumed that learning is, in essence, a fundamentally social phenomenon, reflecting our own deeply social nature as human beings capable of knowing? What kind of understanding would such a perspective yield on how learning takes place and on what is required to support it?
Etienne Wenger (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, & Identity. Cambridge University Press, p 4.
How many of us can work well on our own, really alone? Yes some of us crave peace and quiet and can’t stand the distractions. Some of us can switch off all the chatter with, from my perspective green envy, and work away productively as if they were the last one standing on a deserted continent. But can we really? What is Wenger saying? I believe he is striking a chord here; yes the majority of us do need to be away from distractions as we lack the perfect self discipline to work efficiently with too much distraction around but really we do need community to give meaning and identity to our practice. Personal learning (informational absorption, analysis, and retention) is not the end of learning only the beginning.
In my work as a teacher-trainer, we combine face-to-face learning opportunities with online learning. In recent years the pressure has mounted to increase the online component and decrease the face-to-face. But so many students find the ability to connect in the online space so hard. I think some of them manage by asking questions, phoning or emailing, simply to maintain the human-to-human contact. I think they could really work out the answer to their question if they had to but they prefer to have the human contact. Others slide the other way, not confident to break the communication barrier and struggle away alone with questions they can’t resolve.
So back to the heart of teacher-training; reflect with me into that most challenging and also the potentially most exhilarating part, the professional experience placement, once known simply as the prac. Here the pre-service teacher is placed in a range of schooling environments for a few weeks at a time. Each time, more and more is demanded of them and each time the assessment of their performance becomes more and more intense. How many times have I seen the pre-service student in tears, either of relief or of disappointment? It is into an intensely stressful, unreal situation that we place these novice teachers.
So what is the answer? I think that it is the Clinical Teaching Model (CTM). Over a year ago, I made a few visits to my local hospital and reflected on the tea-shirts of some of the nursing staff, Sydney University, University of Technology Sydney. These pre-service nurses were on clinical placement. They were operating in the real world in the community with patients, doctors and experienced nurses. They had to keep anti-social hours, they were contracted to be there, but above all they were learning and applying their study continually throughout their training.
Why not do the same with teacher-training? Some colleagues and I did some benchmarking, fancy language for seeing what others do, and the result we built an initiative based on the nursing training model, a teacher training model from the United Kingdom and Melbourne University’s Clinical Teaching Model. There it was noted that ‘graduates of programs that incorporate an extended practicum experience interlaced with coursework have increased confidence, are more effective teachers and increasingly committed to teaching as a long-term career’ (Darling-Hammond and Bransford 2005, 411). Our program has also been benchmarked with the NCATE Clinical Practice Model from the US, and which in turn has been championed by the current initiative of the NSW government – Great Teaching Inspired Learning (GTIL).
In essence, a pre-service teacher, known and accepted as part of a community, now steps up and starts their professional training to be a teacher. However, they don’t have to uproot themselves from family friends and church but they remain there, picking up their studies online but continually able to test and practice their new found skills and initiative in the safety of their own school community. Notice, I have not once mentioned assessment yet. The emphasis throughout the CTM is on learning, on apprenticeship and on the job training.
These pre-service teachers have to keep strict time commitments, they have to be professional in their interactions and above all they have to develop their teachable spirit with those around them now willing to share their experiences and wisdom. I see this as the most natural, nurturing setting for teachers to develop their craft. Going back to Wenger (1998) the pre-service teacher is learning more and more about the value of community, not just for themselves but for each component of their community. They are beginning to see that their identity is critical for their role as teachers. Yes they need to know the techniques and have the current knowledge at their command but unless they are prepared to share themselves with their students they cannot really model anything. The pre-service teachers are also much better placed to find meaning in what they are learning as they can see firsthand the value or otherwise of their theoretical knowledge. This has to be so central for the new teacher, unless they can find true meaning for their work within their own identity, I contented that their new found skills and techniques will be short-lived. Finally, the pre-service teacher can practice and practice their new found skills in a supportive community of practice. In so doing they should be equipped to counter the criticism that new teachers are not being really equipped to face the reality of school life by the current teacher training methods.
As you can see, I am passionate about the CTM. Here at Alphacrucis we have built this model into both our new Bachelor of Education (Primary) and the Master of Teaching (Secondary). These new awards for us have already been accredited by TEQSA and we are expecting BOSTES approval ready for the launch of these programs in 2016. I am expecting that the CTM will be endorsed by BOSTES as we have had great support from them all the way through the developmental process. In fact I would love to think that we could be pioneering a new mode of teacher training that could be applied in many sectors not just in Christian education. I would love to do anything to raise the status of teaching as a profession in our society. The more we value our teachers the more effective they will be in shaping and steering our young people to reach for their dreams. I tend to think that when people have dreams they tend to be self-less while young people who are selfish tend not to dream!
My final idea is this, perhaps you may know someone dear to your heart that really is a great teacher but they don’t know it yet. You have shied away from suggesting they go away to train as you don’t want to lose them. Now you don’t have to. They can stay in your community and train up right there, where they are known and loved in a CTM. And when they are full trained they can stay there making a huge difference in the lives of others.