Playing the Game

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:33 pm

One of the graduate students I’m working with sometimes gets a bit despondent when he sees the extent to which academic work is a game, with certain rules to be followed that aren’t necessarily the same as those in other parts of life. I’m sure it’s not only academic life that’s like that, of course: most jobs have sets of rules that might be more or less arbitrary but nonetheless are essential for success. But here’s something I wrote to that student recently:

Yes, it is a game. But it’s your personal integrity that determines whether or not it’s just a game. That is, I personally believe it’s possible to leap through the various hoops and over the various hurdles, and still teach in ways that enrich the lives of students, and still do research that serves the profession.

It’s possible to get cynical and just play the game, but if that happens you’ve lost out. On the other hand, if you get all principled and refuse to play the game, then it’s the game-players who get to teach and research… and the field loses out on your contribution. It’s a difficult balance, and we all have our days when the game pisses us off, but I think it’s important to keep the faith and do good work within/through/despite the game.

Do you agree? Or am I just being over-optimistic (again)?

Party Platforms 1: Bloc Quebecois

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:36 pm

No particular reason why I’m starting with these guys, except that they’re the one I know least about, and therefore can probably learn most about.

Of course, being the Bloc, there’s no English version of their web site, so I’m cast back on my abysmal schoolboy French to try to figure out their policies. Actually, I’ll start with Wikipedia first:

The Bloc Québécois is a left-wing federal political party in Canada that is devoted to the promotion of sovereignty for Quebec. It also holds the goals of social democracy and the “defence of the interests of all Quebecers in Ottawa” (notably by promoting, in the federal parliament, the consensus of the National Assembly of Quebec).

The Bloc Québécois is supported by large sections of organized labour in Quebec and works closely with the Parti Québécois.

Among other things, the Bloc supported the Kyoto Accord, gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization, and opposed Canadian participation in the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003.

Looking at the site and navigating in French, there’s a section for Le Chef, and a section for Les Candidats, but no section that specifically outlines the party’s policies in a systematic way. I guess we’ll just have to go with what Wikipedia delivers as the key policies: Quebec sovereignty, social democracy and Quebec interests. They’re also tied in with the unions and a fair way to the left politically.

We won’t get the choice in Edmonton to vote for the Bloc, but given that I think Canadian unity is an important value and Quebec whinges too much about having its rights protected at the best of times, they probably wouldn’t get my vote despite being on my side of the continuum… On the other hand, if Canada had the Australian system of preferential voting (see the discussion under Call It below), their position on Kyoto and gay marriage would probably get them above the Conservatives on my preference list… but I shouldn’t pre-empt that until I’ve taken a close look at the Conservatives’ policies.

More Ideas, Not More Bells and Whistles

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:31 am

There are a couple of blogs and forums I write on (I won’t out them here, but people can probably guess). In both cases the guys who run them – and more power to them, they do a great job – are tending to add more technological bells and whistles to their sites. One is a group blog and is adding a forum, the other is a forum and is adding blogs! (It already has chat.) These additions require lots of time, money, work and energy, but it seems to me as though they don’t actually help to serve and support the core functions of the sites.

In the final analysis, I think what keeps people coming back to a site is the ideas. The community and interchange of ideas is important too, but it’s hard to spark that without some intriguing content. So my suggestion, to both of those sites and to the rest of the web, is an old one but I think still valid: “Content Is King”. The site can be as technical and multifaceted as you like, but the predominant focus in expending energy to build up sites should be on the ideas.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:52 am

Wikipedia has a feature article on its main page every day, and today’s is ‘cyberpunk‘ (I’ve linked tha main article so it’ll still work tomorrow…) It’s one of my favourite sub-genres within science fiction, and I suspect my own SF, if I ever get around to writing it, will have a heavy cyberpunk influence.


Coming Soon: Armchair Political Analysis

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:54 am

While there might be the ever-present ‘Western Alienation’ and a very understandable urge to punish the Liberals for AdScam1, I don’t think either of those is a really good basis for voting in (or out) a government. The government will be running the country for the next 3-4 years, so the basis on which votes are cast should be the party platforms – what they stand for and what they plan to do.

Over the next few days I want to try to analyse the platforms of the four major parties contesting the Federal election. In starting the research I was already pleasantly surprised to see that the Conservatives favour retaining, strengthening and reinvesting in Canada’s public healthcare system rather than moving to a public-private mix. So I’ll be hitting the high points of the key issues that matter to Canadians – health, education, government services, tax, defense and so on… Your responses and input are, as always, very welcome.

  1. The political scandal involving huge payments for very little work to advertising agencies in Quebec, which apparently then funnelled some of that (taxpayers) money back into Liberal party coffers – it’s what the Gomery inquiry was investigating.


Call It

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:30 pm

In response to yesterday’s post, Lorne wrote:

Well I for one look forward to this election and I don’t care when it happens. It is time for a change…actually it has been time for a change for quite some time. We out in the West can only hope (again) that the people of Ontario have the same thoughts.

So, call it! That is, what do you think will be the outcome of the Canadian election? I’d generally vote Liberal here (if I was voting), but even I think it’s time for a change federally in Canada – the Libs are taking it for granted, and there seems to be a culture of snouts in the trough.

Having said that, I’ll be astonished if we have a new Prime Minister after the election, so my call, reluctantly, is for a returned Liberal government. What do you think?


A Roll for the Polls?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:12 am

So, a vote of no confidence brought down the minority Liberal1 government in Canada yesterday2. Prime Minister Paul Martin had said that when the Gomery inquiry into a political scandal in Canada that effected the Liberals brought down its report he’d call an election. The report came out recently, but Mr Martin then had a change of heart and said “People don’t want an election over Christmas, so we’ll just govern for a few more months (and implement more of our agenda), and then call an election in February or some time”.

The minor parties are, of course, eager to have a try at playing with the big train set, so they were able to get together and vote the no confidence motion that brought down the government. That means we’ll be having an election over Christmas after all.

I normally strongly resist ‘government by the polls’: I have this old-fashioned belief that governments should choose a principled position, put it to the people clearly in their election campaign then implement it. Bowing with every wind of the polls leads to bad government. But it occurred to me that this is one instance in which a politician could actually listen to the polls: “what’s more important, a quick election or an election after Christmas?” It’s almost like a referendum, but using a smaller sample.

Maybe some polling has been done of people’s attitude to this question – if so, I haven’t seen it. But at least, if nothing else, it would give Paul Martin an excuse to hold off, saying he was bowing to the will of the people. Or else it would force him to call the election (or to own up and say “no, we’re having too much fun with the big train set and we want to hang onto it”). As it is, it sounds like a complete pretext…

  1. For my Aussie readers, the ‘Liberals’ are the party of the centre left, not the right, in Canada. The oxymoronically-named ‘Progressive Conservatives’ are on the right.
  2. And man, they move fast – junk mail in the mail this morning from Anne McLellan, the deputy Prime Minister and our MP.


They Breed ‘Em Rough In Alberta

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:10 pm

There’s a very sad case in the news this week in Edmonton. A 17 year old school boy was beaten to death with baseball bats and other weapons at a birthday party by a bunch of kids around his own age. Senseless and stupid.

But one thing that jumped out at me was an sound bite I heard on the CBC radio news from an interview outside the court with a female school friend of the dead boy. She said “They’re cowards, bringing weapons like that. They should just fight with their fists like we do.” What the…? Apparently “They should find something more productive to do than fighting” is not on the menu…

Something I never knew

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:35 am

I read somewhere today that the population of North America at the time of settlement is estimated to have been 100 million, while the entire population of Europe at the time was 70 million or so. Kinda puts a new spin on the myths of ‘discovery’ of the new world, and of settling an almost empty land.

This tale focuses a bit too much on Thanksgiving and mythbusting, but if the facts it relates about the diseases that killed off the Native American populations are correct, it’s certainly a different version of history to the one we usually hear.

I’m not talking about this to bash or guilt-trip anyone, by the way: I was just astonished at my own ignorance.


One More Tweak At The Banner

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:21 pm

I changed the text from yellow to cream on the ‘Bravus’, and substituted the original photo of me back for the one Cibby had modified with some art filters and for colour.

alternative banner

Based on another style of graphic that Dyllea made for me (see above), I added the four descriptions of the blog’s content on the right. They’re not clickable at this stage, and that will be difficult because (a) it will require technical image-map stuff I’m not sure that (i) I can do or (ii) Word Press will handle and (b) these headings don’t exactly match up with the categories of posts I use, although these ones probably do a better job of briefly introducing the blog… Anyway, as always, feedback is welcome.

What Beginning Teachers Need to Know and Be Able to Do

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:22 am

(A series of images in dialogue)

We teach based on who we are, so learning to teach is coming to be – becoming a teacher is an identity project

Knowing how is more important than knowing that, but knowing why is the key – or to put it another way, a teacher education that is idea/theory-based is richer, deeper, more memorable and better adapted to diverse contexts than one that is technique-based. (This may involve us in resisting demands from students, graduates, the profession and society more broadly for a ‘practical’ (read ‘technical’) teacher preparation program.)

Subject matter knowledge needs to be deep and broad, but those spatial metaphors miss the quality of knowledge that’s required: a rich blend of knowing that, knowing how and knowing why, as well as enough philosophy to be able to teach about [subject area] as well as to teach [subject area].

Teachers live between communities of students, parents and governments – governments communicate their input to the process through documents – teachers need to learn to read and interpret those documents and implement (and sometimes contest) their prescriptions. They also need more and better skills in listening to students and parents

Teachers are asked to measure learning and rank students – they need to understand how to do this in rich ways in a variety of contexts, but even more they need to know why they are doing it (the multiple purposes of assessment) and how assessment can best serve learning (this may involve contesting assessment prescriptions that don’t)

Teachers are part of a professional community, and need skills and support to work within that community, individually and corporately – teaching is currently a lonelier profession than it needs to be. Collective action is the only viable way to contest societal and governmental imperatives that harm learning

Technology – old and new, low and high – pervades everyone’s lives these days, in school and outside. Teachers need to (a) know how to choose and use appropriate technologies in their own lives, (b) know how to integrate appropriate technologies as tools in their students’ learning experiences and (c) learn enough to be able to teach about technology as well as to teach technology and teach using technology – get beyond ‘Luddite versus technophile’ narratives to a critical perspective on technology

Students come in all different flavours. Every student is unique, and has unique learning needs. Understanding something about the range of human needs – intelligence, learning styles, personalities, but also disabilities, cultures, communities, orientations, family situations – that characterize students is crucial to all teaching. Teachers need strategies for identifying and meeting the needs of every student, and for building a learning community with the students in every classroom, but even more than that they need the compassion and maturity to want to.

As schooling is currently constituted, teachers are responsible for managing the behaviours of everyone in the classroom. Beginning teachers need to understand classrooms in rich ways so that they understand the complex interactions between learning, needs and attitudes/actions in the classroom. Experienced teachers understand that it’s all about relationships, not behaviours: can we make the switch earlier in teacher preparation?

This was prepared for a committee I’m a member of that’s exploring the whole teacher education program at the University of Alberta to try to improve it. We on the committee decided it’d be useful to have a sense of what we believed beginning teachers need.


Stage fright

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:40 am

Good taste warning: this post is about human eliminative functions

Some of the guys, and none of the girls, will already know what I’m talking about. I’ll try to put this as delicately as I can.

In the ladies’ room, it’s all cubicles. In the men’s there’s usually a row of cubicles and a row of urinals. The latter might be a single long wall of stainless steel just above waist high with a trough at the bottom (with some brightly coloured ‘trough candy’ cakes in the bottom for odor control), or it might be a series of individual porcelain receptacles. In particularly considerate places there’s even a privacy screen between each urinal.

Some guys – and I happen to be one – get ‘stage fright’. We find it difficult to pee in company, to be frank. We’re fine if the room is empty, or if the next guy is a long way away, or with a privacy screen, but if someone is standing right beside us it’s… difficult to get into the flow of things. For me, someone rattling around in the background out of sight is even worse.

Of course, it’s not always possible at a concert or sporting event to get the privacy we crave, or to get a stall, so sometimes we have to stand there and close our eyes and think of England, or wait a while for things to proceed, or whistle a merry tune. And sometimes if someone comes up beside us we’ll just end up giving up and going away to wait for a cubicle.

Some might consider this evidence of insecurity – about our size, or our ability to defend ourselves, or whatever. I, on the other hand, like to think it’s a high level survival adaptation. When there’s a rustling in the bushes behind you, it might be a leopard, and it’s the guy who is not stuck in mid-stream who can run away quickest… so stage fright is just evidence of superb survival instincts, really. 😉


Faking the Fake

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:41 pm

Interesting story from Salon.com on bras that are alleged to make real boobs look like fake boobs… huh?

I Sold a Book Today

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:43 am

How do I know? The sales rank on Amazon.com for my book was around 1.5 millionth yesterday and moved up to something like 1.2 millionth today! OK, it’s a looong way outside the New York Times bestseller list! But when you realise that Amazon.com lists something well over 2 million books, and that mine has gone as high as 500,000th… 😉 OK, it’s a pretty narrow niche publication. And it’s way too expensive (the paperback is coming out soon, and the hardback is also much more deeply discounted at the publisher’s web site than at Amazon – and you don’t want to buy it from Amazon Canada). I’ve probably only sold maybe 20 copies in total at Amazon, and the great majority of the sales so far have been from the publisher direct to libraries. It’s cool to have it on Amazon and be able to see these kinds of fluctuations, though. And I still nurture the secret hope that when it’s available as a reasonably priced paperback, research methods profs will start using it as a class textbook…

Anyway, I have a huge pile of assignments to mark today before I can dive back into writing the next one. That one — Undead Theories — should be out next year and start out in paperback, and therefore be much more accessible right from the start.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:49 am

When I hear about ‘anti-globalisation demonstrators’ it always makes me a bit confused — firstly because protesting against globalisation seems like fighting a lost cause because it seems to be here to stay, and secondly because I tend to think of globalisation in some ways as a good thing.

That’s probably because the term ‘globalisation’ is used in so many different — and some times mutually exclusive — ways that it’s almost meaningless. Unless it’s preceded by some sort of qualifier, like ‘cultural globalisation’, or ‘economic globalisation’, the only way to figure out what someone means is from context, and that can take a while. Wikipedia lists ten different meanings for the term.

I don’t think we need quite that long a list, but my friend and colleague David Smith has described three different forms of globalisation:

Globalisation One (G1) — the whole ‘free trade’ and free flow of global capital movement.
Globalisation Two (G2) — public reactions to G1, both adaptations and resistance.
Globalisation Three (G3) — global dialogues for a sustainable human future.

We could say that G1 is couched in the language of economics, and of rights, G2 tends to fall into those same ways of thinking and speaking because it is just a reaction to G1, but G3 is about our responsibilities to the planet, to one another and to those less fortunate than us.

I guess I’d also thought about globalisation as just the fact that I’ve now spent time on all but two continents of the world, and that I have online friends in dozens of countries all over the world. That means it’s a lot harder to be stuck in the kind of narrow knowledge that led to my Poland gaffe. In general it’s this kind of globalisation — of perspective and understanding of the world — that I see as a good thing. I hope that it will tend to lead to G3 type globalisation; as we get to know people in other places, we’ll come to understand some of our responsibilities toward them.

Of course, I might be a bit too optimistic: in at least some people we seem to be seeing more fear and xenophobia, not less, as people are forced to look at the larger world. The world is a big place, in which not everyone looks or thinks like you, and if you didn’t realise that and have it thrust upon you it can be scary.

This kind of globalisation also has dangers for indigenous languages and cultures — I have all these international online friends, but I speak to them all in English… I’m less worried about that than some; although there’s the potential for English and for Western (Hollywood) culture to march in and make indigenous cultures extinct, I’m more optimistic, and see other languages and cultures being included and blended in. After all, English has been stealing words and grammar from other languages virtually since before it existed!

And perhaps, as our genes and our cultures blend, we’ll lose the ancient, inherited hatreds that divide us… Admittedly, that doesn’t seem to be happening so far, but I remain positive in general about the future. It might look dark at the moment, but I honestly don’t think there’ll be a global winner or loser in the current crusades/jihads… rather, the monoliths will beat themselves to pieces against one another, and we’ll all play in the sand.

The anti-globalisation demonstrators are, of course, protesting about G1. ‘Free trade’ might sound like a positive thing, and something we shouldn’t fight against. But in practice what it translates to is increased exploitation of workers all over the world. Jobs go to countries like China with low labor costs (and poor human rights records), which means those workers get exploited by those with more capital in the West, without having their own standard of living rise much. Meanwhile the workers in the West whose jobs were exploited are unemployed, and end up getting hired part-time, at lower wages, with little or nothing in the way of benefits and conditions.

I’d argue, though, that the solution to G1 is not G2, but G3: a global conversation about our rights and responsibilities, and about other people’s rights and responsibilities, in which each of us attends much more strongly to his/her responsibilities than rights. What responsibilities do I have to other people, here and in other places? What responsibilities do I have to other species, and to the environment as a whole?

global warming world map

Part of our visualization research project is just about looking at the world as a whole, recognising the interconnectedness of all the parts: a healthy form of globalisation.


Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:53 am

I think we all have memories that cause us to cringe with embarrassment. Don’t worry, there are some of mine that I definitely won’t be sharing here! But I think sometimes it’s worth sharing them – it lances the boil somehow and lets the pressure out. (Now there’s a charming mental image!)

One of mine is from primary (elementary) school: maybe Grade 2 or so. We came in to school dressed up to represent the countries we (or our ancestors) came from. Can’t even remember what I wore – maybe some Irish green or something. But Peter Janiuk, a Polish kid in my class, had a little paper crown that said ‘King of Poland’ on the front. Full of my own knowledge of the world, I told him that there was no such country as ‘Poland’: he must have spelled ‘Holland’ wrong…


Iraq then, now and in the future

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:34 am

At The Guvnor Times, an international group blog I sometimes post on, I’m the token leftist. I don’t think I’m all that far to the left, but the other posters in general are pretty far to the right, so…

In the last couple of days The Guvnor, who runs the site, has challenged me to say how I’d solve the situation in Iraq now – that is, to stop looking back at BushCo’s lies (that’s a whole other argument) and mismanagement of the occupation, and to think about ‘where to from here’ – so I did.

Then Canadian Gypsy, who is a Canadian living in OZ (my evil twin? ;)) challenged me to say what I would have done in Bush’s place in 2003 – so I did.

And finally, I felt I needed to provide a little context for why I think invading to free the Iraqi people was a bad idea1 – so I did.

  1. Yes, I know that ‘freeing the Iraqi people’ was only the third pretext given for the invasion, after ‘because they’re linked to Al Qaeda and attacked us on 9/11’ and ‘because they have WMD’ had already failed…


Time is Money

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:45 am

Building construction costs in Alberta are (for a variety of reasons) currently undergoing inflation at 1% per month. That means that if the Facilities Development Committee that I’m on decides to table a $10 million building project and ask the architects to come back to us at our next meeting the following month with more information, that information comes with a $100,000 price tag.


New Banner 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:47 pm

Cibby sent me a bunch of new choices for the banner – new fonts, new pictures. They all looked great (see below), but I ended up mixing and matching from a couple of them for the new banner above. I also compressed it down using png (portable network graphics) format instead of jpg, and it seems to have worked better from an artifact perspective. Waddaya reckon? (I still have the old new one!)


Knowing, Learning and Teaching 3 – Teaching

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:37 am

With all this stuff in place by way of background, time to talk about teaching. In the same way that I said a theory of knowledge can provide a sort of foundation for a theory of learning, but that it requires further thought and we bring in other commitments, beliefs and assumptions when we move from knowing to learning, I also think that understanding learning does not, by itself, provide us with a theory about teaching. What we think, know and understand about teaching will draw on particular ideas about what it means to learn and what we have to do to support that. But it will also draw on our experience of being students, children, teachers and parents, and on a whole raft of our other ideas and beliefs. I’ll talk about this more at the end, but teaching really draws on all of who we are.

My colleague Max van Manen here in Secondary Education at the University of Alberta writes about teaching more touchingly and beautifully than anyone else I know. He doesn’t actually talk about ‘teaching’, because that focuses too much on what the teacher does, but about ‘pedagogy’. He defines pedagogy as ‘any relationship in which an adult is with a young person with the intention of helping the young person grow and develop’ (that’s my paraphrase). That means that quite a lot of what parents do also counts as ‘pedagogy’ under that definition, and also that quite a lot of the managerial and other stuff that teachers do doesn’t count as pedagogy. Pedagogy exists in relationships, and Max’s interest is most strongly in recognising what the experience is like from the child’s perspective.

Max has written two books, ‘The Tact of Teaching’ and ‘The Tone of Teaching’, that both address what it means to be a teacher in relationship with students. He talks about ‘tact’ as relating to the two different senses of ‘thoughtfulness’ – to be thoughtful is to be kind, caring, considerate, to place the child’s interests ahead of our own, but to be thoughtful is also to be reflective, to think about what we’re doing and find ways to do it better.

Learning to teach is an iterative process of paying attention to the students and to ourselves – of reacting in the moment to the situation as it presents itself, but also of thinking later about how we could have done it better. Here’s Max:

…pedagogy requires a reflective orientation to life… By thoughtfully reflecting on what I should have done, I decide in effect how I want to be. In other words, I infuse my being and my readiness to act with a certain thoughtfulness. And yet, how I am now as a teacher will not be clear until I have had further opportunities to act in more appropriate ways. How I am as a teacher depends on what I do, on my possibilities for acting thoughtfully. But my possible actions do not magically arise, they depend on the thoughtfulness that I have been able to acquire in recollective reflection. (Van Manen, 1991, p. 116)

A lot of nonsense has been written lately in education (actually, since about the late 1960s) about ‘teacher as facilitator’, and about moving from being ‘the sage on the stage to the guide on the side’. The language of ‘student-centred instead of teacher-centred’ teaching is also emphasised, and ‘learning’ is talked about much more than ‘teaching’. Yet all this stuff tends much more to diminish than to redefine the role of teacher – and I think that’s a mistake. I’ve written about ‘the myth of student-centred’ teaching and the ’empty centre’: that is, the teacher steps out of the ‘centre’1, but the students choose not to step in, so the course ends up with an ’empty centre’.

I think it comes from an egalitarian impulse to get away from a hugely unequal power relationship between students and teachers – and perhaps also from the fact that the growth of knowledge means no-one can be ‘the expert’ any more. But I think it’s a mistake for a number of reasons:

  1. The teacher just simply does know more – in the rich, structure/network/soup sense – about both the content of the subject they teach and the methods of knowing and learning in that area. To pretend that s/he doesn’t is just to waste that source of knowledge.
  2. The teacher does have much more power than the students, and that’s necessary and good. Children and young people are immature because they’re supposed to be, and the teacher’s power is legitimate (when it’s not abused) to help the students become more mature. Pretending that everyone in the classroom is equal is fake, and kids see through fakes in a second. It also puts the power relationships beyond negotiation, so ironically it’s less empowering rather than more.
  3. The teacher knows how to plan the learning and activities so that they’re fun, varied, interesting and challenging. The teacher knows how to differentiate the activities for students with different needs and abilities. The children aren’t yet mature enough to plan their own learning.

I’m not advocating for the teacher to just stand at the front of the class and lecture: there’s lots of excellent research to show that that doesn’t lead to good learning. Look at the knowing and learning posts again: students need opportunities in class to process the new knowledge, by themselves, with the teacher and with the other students, not to just absorb it. What I’m saying is that the teacher is responsible for planning what happens in the classroom, and for finding rich ways to impart knwoeldge, skills and, yes, values and beliefs too.

Teachers need an extensive repertoire of different learning activities (also called ‘teaching strategies’, but maybe I’ve succumbed to some of the ideas about focusing on learning!) that includes some lecturing when it’s appropriate, some use of technology, some group work, some whole class discussions, lab work, drama and role plays, field trips, guest speakers and as many other alternatives as their creativity will allow them to use. Teachers also need to have expert content area knowledge in their teaching subject(s) – not so much because they’re the source of knowledge for the students but because they need to know about the field in a deep way. I really like Lee Shulman’s retort to George Bernard Shaw’s (in)famous: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. Shulman said “Those who can, do; those who understand, teach.” What a teacher needs in addition to what a practitioner needs, in any field, is some understanding of why the practitioners do what they do.

Final point about teaching – we teach out of who we are. Everything that happens in the classroom, including our eye contact and body language and relationships, the jokes we tell and laugh at, the ways we choose to explain ideas, the students we ask to answer our questions and those we don’t… everything is important to who we are as teachers. And it’s just impossible to do all of that consciously and intentionally: it can’t all be planned. That means that we teach based on our whole selves. That further means that developing as a teacher means developing as a human being: becoming more caring, more wise, more connected with other people, kinder, smarter, better…

Let me finish with a quote from another wisdom literature:

James 3:1 Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers [and sisters], because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

It’s true – judged by ourselves and by our students. It’s a calling and a vocation and a profession, and it’s not easy – but it’s incredibly rewarding.


Van Manen, M. (1991). The tact of teaching: The meaning of pedagogical thoughtfulness. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

  1. What ‘the centre’ means is itself often not clear: does it mean the authoritarian centre of power and control, or the authoritative centre of knowledge and skills, or the emotional centre of relationships, or the conceptual centre of planning and coordination? Probably some of each of these, but talking about it as though it’s one thing is counterproductive