David Didau rightly picked me up this week for misusing the word “ideological” to question a whole school approach to teaching. In Twitter shorthand, I had used the word in it’s political sense of “narrow, inflexible and informed by prejudice”. His response, that all teaching is idealogical, led me to think yet again about my own practice.
I believe passionately that teachers need a range of teaching strategies that broaden and deepen through their reflection on experience. This belief is founded on reading research about the varying impact of different approaches on children’s learning, based on a complex, inter related range of factors. I concluded in my early career as a classteacher that there is no single approach, to any aspect of my job, that would meet the needs of all 30 children (or 26 when I was teaching Reception). This was both a challenging thought (I would never be in a position to feel I had mastered my job) and positive (I would never feel bored).
This developing ideology influenced me in different roles including as a headteacher. As government funding increases in the 90s, I found I was contacted by more and more companies claiming to have a product that would solve an issue for all children. It is the role of salespeople to be persuasive but it was my role to make judgements using a framework which is where my ideology was important.
In my current, privileged role leading a university PGCE programme, I have needed to articulate an understanding of teaching. Based on my ideology, I have used the concept of a search for balance to encourage students to keep asking questions. In every issue the students are urged to 1) remain open-minded 2) ask where does this idea originated 3) search for the balance of approaches that meets the needs of the majority of children 4) based on their knowledge (subject knowledge, understanding of child development and experience), search for strategies that support children whose needs are not being met by everything tried to date 5) Be passionate about deepening and extending their pedagogy in order to search for the balance 6) Be passionate about other things outside of teaching in order to keep their own lives in balance and model passion for children 7) never limit their understanding of a child by putting a label first (i.e. not to say “the SEN child or the high attaining child” etc but “the child on the SEN register” or “the child who is bilingual”)
I want the students to know that there are no “magic wands” out there and the answers to their questions will be explored through their ongoing relationships with classes. This is not an easy message and could be said to be confusing (as Didau pointed out). I have to acknowledge that my ideology is partly driven by who I am and seek to ensure that I remain a teacher who is both true to my ideology and welcoming of criticism.