The first time I heard him speak I thought he was a lost prophet, a zealot preaching a message of ‘power to the pupil’. I was a ‘rugby man’, an archetypal product of a middle-class school with a highly traditional approach to physical education and GAMES – with the emphasis squarely of the games. So what time did I feel like giving to such an idea? Put the pupils in charge and you’ll have an unmitigated disaster. Slowly however, as I worked more closely with my prophet, I began to comprehend his ideas.
Extract from Armour (2006)
I wrote this (and more) towards the end of my masters’ degree when I was asked to consider my journey towards pedagogical change. At the time of writing that reflection I was ready to acknowledge the huge role that my prophet had in my change journey. His was an approach to teaching based on the student while mine at the time was self-sufficient inasmuch as I could rely on myself. We had different views on what good pedagogy was (not that I think either of us would have recognized that term at the time) and in some respects we were each right – depending on which angle you looked at it from and whether you squinted your eyes and tilted your head slightly or not. Still we both came at teaching from a different perspective.
I wish I had had the chance to work with him on more than the odd summer camp and learn from him and his ideas. That said his impact has been far reaching and has been supported on the way by a number of individuals who have helped me to shape my pedagogy into something of my own. Yes, it still has some remnants of his ideals, but it is now honed through the application of research and practice.
When I talk about pedagogy I do so from this position and while I am still influenced by the work of others, I feel that I am more adapting than rebuilding my notion of good pedagogy. When I read the work of others, and when I talk to them about their ideas of good pedagogy, I experience a reaction. Sometimes I am pleased that we think alike, other times I am saddened that we don’t see eye to eye and occasionally I am horrified. I see the work of others (from a distance) and think, “I wish I could have done just a fraction of that when I was a teacher” or “that’s not teaching in any sense I recognize”. But that’s the crux of this argument. After all, as the saying goes, one person’s rubbish is another’s treasure.
My prophet did things that I didn’t see as teaching and vice versa and perhaps, in the mix of all the whirlwind of change that seems anchored above education and educational institutes this is the key to better understanding. I now advocate for a child-centred, Models-based Practice approach to teaching because I believe it is capable of achieving the best possible outcomes for all students. I know that others can use a teacher-centred approach and yet still embody a student-focused mentality that really helps their students learn. It is about outcomes and not necessarily inputs – although as a caveat I still believe that a Models-based Practice approach is better positioned to achieve the aims and purposes I see for physical education. Good pedagogy is not one thing or the other, it is something that is capable of helping kids to learn and develop. It is something that is right for the context, the students and the teacher. Consequently, we need to be more tolerant of alternatives and be prepared to keep learning from each other.
That said we must stop being accepting of exclusive pedagogies that deprive all young people of success – no matter how passionately our peers argue for its worth. But we mustn’t make snap judgements simply because it is different. Different is good but indifference is bad. Let’s try and fight for the same ends even if it is by different means.
Kelly and colleagues set out to challenge pedagogues everywhere to work more collegiately with one another when considering the idea of ‘good pedagogy’. However, they do this by suggesting that we (as pedagogues) are more critical in our consideration and deference to expertise – both ours and other peoples. Good pedagogy inevitably means different things in different contexts. So-called experts construct good pedagogy in education generally, and in physical education specifically, depending on where they work (universities, schools, clinics or government departments) and their sub-discipline (biomechanics, physiology, psychology, sociology, or pedagogy). This produces what Kelly and colleagues call both complementary and competing notions of what constitutes good teaching in physical education.
Fundamentally, therefore, our definitions of good teaching need to be approached critically and “everyday words like good, bad, true, false, and even teaching” need to be problematized and considered a little sceptically and controversially. Why? Because they might mean different things to different experts and we cannot assume that three different people will view these words in the same way when it comes to good pedagogy.
For example, a scientist might suggest that good pedagogy can be rendered identifiable, quantifiable, and predictable – all of which can be measured. In contrast a critical social scientist might argue that good pedagogy is educational, empowering and emancipatory – none of which would be easy to measure. How, after all, would you measure how ‘free’ you feel today?
Both are particular versions of the truth and both, in the words of Kelly and colleagues, should be considered as being “principled positions”. They are a form of truth telling but only when you consider the position that the teller comes from. Either way, both approaches suggest that there is a final solution – a perfect pedagogy so to speak – that might be obtained. However, good pedagogy (perfect pedagogy in fact) is not a commodity or an object. Good pedagogy does not exist outside of our conversations about it – regardless of our expertise. Good pedagogy is not a static thing but should be fluid, contingent and inherently unstable if it is going to be good in different circumstances.
However, good pedagogy as it stands promises a degree of mastery and control and seems to be grounded in the idea that it can be identified, measured and predicted. PE teachers are experts in their schools and their classrooms, but that expertise is not always readily transferable from context to context e.g. from school to university or university to government office.
We are constantly given advice on how to live, on marriage relationships, diet, exercise, and, of course, how to teach PE from so called experts. What we need now, is to more discerning of this advice. We need to stop seeing experts as unchallengeable and start, instead, to unsettle the traditional ways of living. Trendsetters are people who find new ways of doing things (if you see the bandwagon you are too late to influence it) and who aren’t happy with the status quo. We need, in the words of Kelly and colleagues, to get involved in ‘everyday experiments’ and concern ourselves with the ‘life chances’ of those in our care and not just their ‘lifestyles’. We should ask questions like “How should I ‘practice’? or “what is a good pedagogy to achieve these aims?” We are repeatedly asked to adapt in our daily lives. Time, after all, stands still for no one. So, let’s stop being so accepting and start practicing some ‘radical doubt’. After all, as Einstein said, idiocy is trying the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.
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 Twitter (@DrAshCasey) to ask a question, seek clarification, maybe 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.
Kelly, P., Hickey, C., & Tinning, R. (2000/2012). Producing knowledge about physical education pedagogy: problematizing the activities of expertise. In D. Kirk (ed.) Major Themes in Education: Physical Education: Volume III. (pp. 258-271) London: Routledge.