Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Pedagogy - Public Opinion Gap

I contend that there is a Pedagogy-Public Opinion Gap in education.  For the sake of this post, I would define this Pedagogy-Public Opinion "gap" as:

The gap in understanding between what professional educators and researchers, who work with students on a daily basis, see as "best practice" in education (teaching, learning and schooling) and those "outside" the world of professional education - whose ideas, understanding and opinions about teaching (pedagogy), learning and school are formed, primarily, from their own personal experiences and memories.

 I also wonder if this "gap" is widening.

I invite you to read some of these examples and draw your own conclusions:
  • The "No Zeros" Debate - check out these articles and comments -  here and here
  • Check out these public opinion comments on the Homework Debate? 
  • Should we stop giving grades to students when reporting learning?  Check this on-line "vote" and comments on the CBC website
  • Awards in School?  Check out the hundreds of comments related to the story of a high school principal who wanted cancel academic honours awards.
  • My recent post on "unpacking" of academic excellence  was prompted, in part, by this perceived "gap".
It is my contention that one of the causes of this gap is the presence of "Edu-Blah."  In a previous post on this topic I wrote that:
We do ourselves, as educators, a huge a disservice when we use "Edu Blah" to communicate with our students, parents and greater communities.
We lose them.
And if we, as educators (and schools), can't communicate our own "story" effectively, we run the risk of creating a communication void or vacuum- leaving it to someone else to potentially distort or misrepresent
So how do we bridge this "pedagogy-public opinion gap"?  I offer the following suggestions (and I certainly welcome others to offer their own suggestions)

Individual Students at the Heart of the Matter
Keeping individual students at the heart of our practice and decisions will provide greater understanding and clarity.  For example, our school has a Grading Policy & Guideline.  The policy provides teachers direction for dealing with students who struggle to meet deadlines.  It recognizes that, in most cases, the students who struggle to meet deadlines are our most vulnerable students.  It provides support to students who need to learn the value of meeting deadlines and setting priorities.  With this in mind we place a heavier focus on our  junior students (gr. 8-10) in a effort to identify and support students with challenges long before they become senior students and graduate.

Research Rooted Practitioners
Whether it's brain based learning, assessment practices, student motivation, instructional practices or technology integration - as educators we have a professional and ethical obligation to be "up to speed" with what the researchers are discovering.  Books like John Hattie's "Visible Learning"  provide "evidence-based research into what actually works in schools to improve learning."

Mission & Vision to Set Priorities
"It is far better to do a few things well than to undertake many good works and leave them half done." St. Francis De Sales
There is no shortage of initiatives that we can direct our energies.  To do any of them the proper justice they deserve, we have to determine what students and communities need and prioritize accordingly.    I have found that revisiting your mission, vision and values as a school community or teacher can help with establishing priorities.

It's all about Communication
There are many aspects to an effective communications plan.  I am certainly not an expert in this area.  What I have found, however, is that any communications plan is as effective as the quality of the one on one conversations we have within our communities.   It's about responding to questions, providing exemplars, painting a vivid picture of the preferred future, explaining our "why", deep listening, admitting our mistakes, documenting our struggles, successes and doubts - these, I would argue, are the enduring and effective aspects of communications.

These are a few ideas that may help us close the Pedagogy-Public Opinion Gap.  At the end of the day, our children deserve what's best....


  1. I like that you provided suggestions to help remedy this problem. As an educator I was often frustrated by what reigned in public opinion (e.g., hearing otherwise-educated friends praise voucher systems = ouch!). On the topic of communication, I've found that PR tools can really help, particularly around the times when scores and/or media pieces are released. When I was a TOSA I created a brochure through which our site explained its achievements in a way more accessible to parents than a SARC, and when I was a district admin I created a handout for school front offices explaining the district's performance within the context of how state vs. federal accountability works. This made it easy for busy educators to educate parents and the public, who want to be informed but often hear mixed messages.

  2. So pleased to read all you have to offer, and can't wait to share your "edu-blah" post with parents next year at curriculum night. So real and to the point. I look forward to reading your posts with depth some quiet afternoon this summer as I know your work will positively affect the work I do with colleagues and children. Thank you.

  3. Outstanding job of identifying and naming the gap (and realizing it is widening). But the gap won't be narrowed if the assumption is that the pedagogy is right and the public wrong. Excellent paper here to illustrate: http://www.visionandvalues.org/docs/Edwards_Hirsch_Twentieth_Century_s_Liberal_Conservative_Educator.pdf
    I have blogged here on the topic, though not as comprehensively as E.D.Hirsch! http://edrogue.blogspot.ca/2013/04/more-red-flag-jargon.html