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Needs must…

The previous blog suggested that we have focussed too much attention to the ology’s of physical education and sport (i.e. the sociology and physiology) and have subsequently lost site of the physical experience. Too much time is spent learning the ology’s and not enough time is spent learning how to teach (‘the pedagogy’) and what to teach (‘the content’). In other words we need to focus more on pedagogical content knowledge. In the discussion on the blog it was suggested that we need to put the ‘beauty’ back into our subject by moving away from assessment and instead focus on the physical. It was also suggested that Siedentop’s argument is too simple and fails to take into account the cultural context in which PE occurs.

This week’s blog argues that student teachers are almost forced into a culture of compliance and replication that stagnates practice. The blog asks how we are expecting to make change and develop teaching if we don’t problematize taken-for-granted truths about teaching and learning. 


Volume 3: Teachers, teaching and teacher education in physical education

Paper 68:

Tinning, R.I. (1988/2012) Student teaching and the pedagogy of necessity. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume III. (pp. 426-434) London: Routledge.


My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

“You do what you must do to survive and pass the course. Once you get a job then you can do what you really want to do. Just remember the teacher you want to be while you appear to be the teacher they want you to be.”

This is the advice that I give to student teachers when they express concerns about their cooperating teachers (or school-based mentors) and/or when they highlight the gap between what they are learning at university (and what they tell me they want to do) and what they are able to do in school (and what they are allowed to do). I’m not naïve enough to think that similar conversations don’t occur, in reverse, in schools. Either way, while morally – and in the moment – this seems like the right advice to give I wonder if I/we are simply playing a part in prolonging the status quo, 

When I write or talk I do so with the belief that things need to change and we need to prepare our future teachers, in the words of Mary O’Sullivan, to be change leaders. Yet, here am I advocating ‘compliance’ and ‘getting by’ - hardly a rallying cry for change – and this is the core problem.

“Do as I say, do as I do even but only so long as it is convenient to do so?” This seems like a message that is the core of many of the ills in the world. We fundamentally don’t agree with child labour but we also want cheaper clothes. We want to save the rainforest but we also need palm oil to make the things we like to have. We want innovative teachers but they need to get jobs as well and that means bowing to necessity.

Should I be encouraging my students to make waves and stick to what I tell them is best? Or should I go into their school and make waves so they can pass and get a job doing things the way I want them to be done?

In the grand scheme of things it is a compromise. The idea of holding on to the image or notion of the teacher they want to be is all well and good. Yet, in truth, is it the hope for the future rather than the reality of the moment? Is this why little or nothing changes?

In adopting what Tinning calls a ‘pedagogy of necessity’ our students are only doing what is needed and probably what we did. I know I did it. Early on in my teacher-training course I was asked to comment on the deputy-head of department’s lesson – a skills and drills based lesson where the kids dribbled a ball up through some cones and back down again. I can still see the bag of twenty (ish) balls sat on the side and the one ball per ten or twelve pupils. He asked me what I thought so I told him, and that is when my troubles began. I was reported and put on a warning because I decided to say it as I saw it.

You see what I missed was the implicit understanding that he didn’t want to know what I thought but wanted to hear how great a teacher he was. He wanted to be told (reassured even) that I aspired to, one day, be as good as him. Because I didn’t ‘play nicely’ he made my life difficult and, if I am honest, nearly cost me my career. This is my point. After that I always adopted a ‘pedagogy of necessity’ when necessary and it wasn’t until I was in a position to challenge what I did and saw that that I sought and advocated for change.

Which leads me to my conclusion. How do we change the world if we can’t change the villages that we live in? How can we change the village if we don’t change the world? Should we sacrifice a few young people here and there so we can make change happen? A ‘pedagogy of necessity’ is easy (well easier than one of resistance) so should we simply comply or give more of our efforts to changing what happens in physical education?


The Paper

Writing more than a quarter of a century ago Tinning begins by indicating his belief that teacher education is implicated in the general failure of education to “envision a world of schooling any different from the present one.” In seeking better social order, Tinning writes, we must find alternatives to the current ways of ‘doing’ education. One of the problems is that the early practices of teachers – student teachers specifically – are conservative and cling to the idea that there is a correct way and an incorrect way to teach (something that is vindicated by their peers and mentors both in school and in university).

The sticking point, so to speak, is that the default position for new teachers seems to be “going with what works” which often involves, Tinning argues, a hunt for “cookbook” knowledge or, as I as interpret, for recipes for success. This is made doubly true when they are given lessons that work and told to stick to ‘the recipe’ if they want to do well. These working lesson (or lesson that work) are provided by cooperating teachers (or mentors) through tradition (these have been used for years), circumstance (that was a good lesson, can I use it with my next class?) and external authority (this is the way to teach this group). They require little in the way of thought or dispute on the behalf of both new and established teachers and are the ‘bread and butter’ of practice. It is doing what is necessary rather than what might be possible and it fits under the banner of a ‘technical rationality”.

Tinning questions this approach and links it to the wider behaviouristic perspective of teaching. This perspective subscribes to the idea that teachers, to be good teachers, need to develop “specific, observable teaching skills which are assumed (or perhaps known) to relate to pupil learning”. In other words, learn these techniques and you will be a good teacher. Under this technical rationality, however, Tinning argues that the student teacher is seen as “a passive recipient of professional knowledge” – a knowledge that leads directly to effectiveness. Consequently learning to be a teacher involves modelling cooperating teachers (mentors) practices (even their individual lessons) and this becomes the focus of any school or field experience.

Consequently technical skills are seen as the means through which to bring about the desired end rather than teaching (and particularly its evolution and development) being about making problematic what we take for granted. Inherent in this idea, as far as I see it, is the belief that certain technical skills equate to certain learned outcomes. That seems naïve in the least when we consider what students learn as a consequence of these types of lesson. We need to problematize the taken for granted ‘truth’ that learning occurs (what I will equate to the desired end) and consider that education is complex and uncertain, unstable and unique, and not a vehicle for problem solving. We need to move away from a baseline of “if it works in practice” i.e. a ‘pedagogy of necessity’ and move, as Tinning suggests, to a ‘pedagogy of possibility’.


What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.


The blog is also available as a podcast:


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor and Routledge (part of the Taylor and Francis group) for donating a copy of the Physical Education: Major themes in education series. Their respective help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. 

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On Saturday 17 May at 12:50 William Bode said
Dr. Casey, the article is spot on. One of my solutions to this in my own career as a young teacher has been to separate my classes from the other "this is how we do it at our school" classes. I was labeled " young, naive" and thankfully left alone to in their eyes "learn my lesson." We'll 20 years later I am still doing what is best for students. I do not have very many "canned" lessons, because students are always different. As a teacher I have learned to be flexible, innovative, and to personally engage myself into the overall development of each and every student. I wish I could say that I learned this from a wise professor during my college days or a great Professional Development session, but sadly I did not. I have learned from the thousands of students that have been in my classes, and my constant pursuit of proven research in our field. Now that I have the opportunity to hopefully influence the next generation of teachers, I hope that they will take away more than just lesson plans and classroom management strategies, but rather an attitude of being a consistent, on going learner with the perspective that things always change and should change to better serve your students.
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On Sunday 18 May at 15:15 Alan Thomson said
An interesting topic Ashley! The analysis chapter I am currently writing (should be 'was writing' now the marking season is in full swing) deals with two teacher's stories within the same PE department to represent the contestation and conflicts that take place in constructions of effectiveness. One story is entitled 'Engage with the machines,' while the other is 'Rage against the machines.' Engaging with the machines is indeed following a pedagogy of necessity, but not in the manner of going with a 'traditional' approach to teaching. It is about following what the Head of Department wants him to do as her Assistant. It is about ensuring that his teaching (and thinking) aligns with Ofsted's own construction of effectiveness (Outstanding). He is not challenging the thinking of others or even his own thinking. He wants to be a Head of Department, and he doesn't want to rock the boat - he wants to avoid conflict and not show divisions between himself and the Head of Department. The teacher 'Raging against the machines' harks back to 'traditional' performance based lessons and will not apologise for that. This causes problems for herself (with regards to her lack of compliance), and conflict within the department/for the Head of Department as she has so much more experience than the much younger line manager. For her it is also a pedagogy of necessity in that she feels that what has always worked in the past for her will/does continue to work, and that the others in the department are not delivering what she would understand as 'physical education.' What I think is an important point to get across is that a pedagogy of necessity is the reality for many teachers and for different reasons at each career stage of their teaching. It is not just about going against 'traditional' and engaging with alternative models. I see the main underlying problem as arising in the teachers' differing constructions of physical education, seeing/believing their construction as 'correct,' and therefore their pedagogies as 'the' necessary. This in turn leads back to the role of those involved in PETE and their own pedagogies (of necessity?).

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