Brookfield (2015) states that “(s)imply having experiences does not imply that they are reflected upon, understood or analyzed critically. Individual experiences can be distorted, self-fulfilling, unexamined and constraining” (p 12).
I had the opportunity of homeschooling my two children for a period of about twelve years. It was during this time that I was able to hone my skills as an educator – in other words I did all the things wrong that you possibly could do because I couldn’t get fired. When I read the quote above I immediately thought of one particularly uncomfortable and miserable homeschooling experience: writing essays. It went like this: I would provide a scintillating and profound prompt and send the kids off to write an equally scintillating and profound response in essay form. When they would come back proudly bearing their work I would ‘mark’ the paper i.e., bleed red ink over all the things that were wrong with it and then I would rewrite the paper to show them how it should be done. (It seems my Apprenticeship Perspective was well established even back then). The kids would cry and hate me for taking over their projects. I felt badly but I certainly didn’t change anything and continued to tell them that this was the only way they were going to get better at writing (being their mother apparently made me an expert on everything).
Brookfield (2015) encourages us to be “experts on our own teaching” (p 11). To do this it means being critically reflective so that we can “unlock . . . experiences and reflect on them in a way that provides problem-solving insights” (Brookfield, 2015, p 11). As I read my own experience outlined in painful detail above I am horrified. What on earth was I thinking? Why didn’t I critically reflect and try to change things up? I mean, it was a pretty ghastly experience for all of us. I suppose now it was because I didn’t have a competency framework to guide my practice. I was simply using trial and error (like much of parenting was for me) and hoped that things worked out.
Without a competency framework I see that I too am prone to continue with strategies that simply aren’t working for learners. Teaching is a profession where there is a power gradient (just like parenting) and without a competency framework to keep me accountable, I am at risk of exerting my power in an inappropriate and destructive way. A competency framework will keep me real, in balance and able to grow as a teacher. Let’s take a look at how I can help my homeschooling self use the competency framework we developed in the workshop to improve the situation.
Communication: Yes, I know that these are your kids but sometimes kids have some really good points to make. Have you taken a moment to listen to your kids about how they would like to learn how to write essays? Think about how you might want to do this. Communication doesn’t have to always be verbal. Hey, great idea! You could get them to write on how they want to learn.
Evaluation: Is bleeding red ink all over a writing assignment really the best way to give feedback? Have you heard of formative assessment? How might you incorporate this into your teaching strategies?
Lifelong learning: What about taking some courses to learn about how to improve your skills teaching?
Evaluation: You have a facilitator that works with you. Have you considered asking her for feedback?
Flexibility: Try out a new teaching strategy!
Flexibility: Is having your kids be angry and upset going to help their learning? Listening to their feedback could help you grow as a person.
Caring/Empathetic/Compassionate: Yes, you can be like this even when you are teaching your kids.
Integrity: It seems to me that you have been pretty set on continuing to use this approach even though it doesn’t seem to be working. Is this the kind of behaviour you want to model to your kids?
Fairness: Ok, so your kids don’t want to learn how to write essays but you think they should. This sounds like what Kidder (1995, 2005) would define as a short-term vs. long-term ethical dilemma: you feel that if your kids don’t learn how to write essays now their career choices (as they won’t be able to get into university in the future) may be somewhat limited. Kidder (1995, 2005) describes three principles that you can use to resolve this dilemma (p 24-25):
- Ends-based thinking – doing whatever produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
- Rules-based thinking – acting in ways that model the highest principles regardless of the consequences.
- Care-based thinking – taking the perspective of another and encourage promotion of his/her interests.
I would also suggest that you take a look at Kidder’s Nine Steps of Ethical Decision Making to help you resolve this dilemma.
Acknowledging Bias: I see that you have a very strong preference for Apprenticeship. Do you think that this is always the best approach to take? What about the other approaches like Developmental or Nurturing? What about your bias about children? Do you believe that they are unable to tell you what helps them to learn?
Self-reflection: Have you taken any time to self-reflect on this? This article from the University of Waterloo has some great tools to help you with self- reflection. Mmm, yes, I see how doing a Feedback Instrument for your kids would seem a bit strange but maybe a good place to start could be filming yourself as you teach. Seeing how you are communicating with your kids might help you reflect on things you like (Tools for Reflecting on Your Teaching, n.d., para 36):
- What am I doing well/not doing well?
- What do the students seem to enjoy least/most?
- If I could do this session again, what are 3 things I would change?
- What resources do I need to use in order to change?
I am happy to conclude that my kids did eventually learn to write essays, that they both graduated from university ‘with distinction’ and that they still talk to me from time to time.
Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Kidder, R.M. (1995,2005) Overview: the Ethics of Right versus Right. In How Good People Make Tough Decisions: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living (Institute for Global Ethics), (pp 18-29). Retrieved from: https://usm.maine.edu/sites/default/files/core/How%20Good%20People%20Make%20Tough%20Choices-Kidder%20chapter1.pdf
Tools for Reflecting on Your Teaching. (n.d.). Centre for Teaching Excellence Retrieved from: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/professional-development/enhancing-your-teaching/tools-reflecting-teaching