The Pedagogical Dance

This September marks the full implementation of the new BC Curriculum K-9, the BCEd Plan. This plan has some laudable goals and is, on the whole, well-supported by educators. Its main focus is to create space within the curriculum for learners to be personally engaged, allowing them to identify and pursue their own learning interests through an emphasis on competencies (core and content) and skill outcomes, as well as, big ideas that enable learners to connect isolated information into meaningful patterns and concepts. The full details of the plan are easily found online.

This post is not a critique or analysis of the new plan. I appreciate that it will bring new energy and like most new initiatives, a correcting of imbalance. It may also create some new imbalances that will then need to be corrected in the future.

Instead I want to think more generally about decision making in the classroom around issues of pedagogy and curriculum. You don’t need to be around education very long without hearing some cynicism expressed about the pendulum swings that seem to be inevitable. What’s new is often simply a new expression of what has been previously important to educators and our society. The swings attempt to correct a perceived imbalance, and while on paper (or on the screen, which is where you will find the new curriculum) the correction appears in black and white, what happens in the classroom is much more fluid, dynamic and rhythmic. Good teachers know about the pedagogical dance and do all they can to hold together unnaturally dichotomized poles in that dance, poles that actually rely on one another and make the dance even more beautiful.

Good teachers have always known that learning to read requires immersion in powerful literature experiences and explicit contextualized understanding of how language works.

Good teachers have always understood that active learning requires opportunities for students to do their own thinking in quiet reflection.

Good teachers have always understood that Math understanding is built through both conceptual development and accurate practice.

Good teachers have always understood that facts, in order to be recalled and applied, need conceptual frameworks.

Good teachers have always understood that the wisdom of elders inspires the next generations, that this wisdom illumines new discoveries and provides an ethical grounding for their use.

How is it that they have known this? Maybe it’s because they understand the dynamic always evolving nature of the learning process, and because they understand the relational aspect of the dance. Good teachers are paying attention and responding to their partners, their students. They are aware when they are stepping on toes and interfering with the flow of learning, they know when to lead and when to let the students lead, they are thinking about the kind of learning dance their students most need and can participate in. They know that balance is a moving target and that what is in balance for one, may not be for the other. But they are good at balancing, because they’re good at the dance.

Max Van Manen (1986) called this dance a ‘pedagogical seeing’.

The teacher has a pedagogic interest in the life of the child. He stands in pedagogical relationship to her, and he cannot help but see the child as a whole human being involved in self-formative growth….the teacher is a child-watcher. That does not mean a teacher can see a child ‘purely’ without being influenced by the philosophic view that teacher holds of what it means to be human. One cannot adequately observe children without reflecting on the way one looks at them. All I am saying here is that a teacher must observe a child not as a passerby might, or a policeman, or a friend. A teacher must observe a child pedagogically. That means being a child-watcher who keeps in view the total existence of the developing child. (p. 18)

Van Manen calls this act of decision making in the classroom a ‘pedagogical seeing’, I am using the metaphor of dancing, but we are essentially saying the same thing about good teaching. Good teaching is a living tradition, a social practice, a moral craft. Good teachers are not just passing by with the latest, newest curriculum or fad. The principles of good teaching don’t change much, and the prescribed curriculum will change much, but what matters most is that both of these aspects are enlivened by unique teachers who dance the tradition with their unique students in the many unique contexts in which they teach.

Welcome back to the dance.

Van Manen, M. (1986) The tone of teaching. Scholastic: Richmond Hill, ON.

Outstretched hands

Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue.  And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand…Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other.  (Matt. 12: 9-14)

Fr. Lev Gillet, in his book called, “In thy presence”, writes about the everyday gestures of Christ and their possible meaning for those seeking to become Christ-like – His getting up, His ability to read, His need to wash, eat and drink, His need to leave His home to do His work in the streets and in the fields, His need for rest.  Fr. Lev’s meditation does not go to the place where we often go when we think about imitating or being like Christ, believing that we could imagine what Christ would do if we were Him.  You know, that old WWJD question.  He sees this as a fruitless question, as a question that looks for a difference between us and Christ by focusing on His human abilities rather than examining the way His fully divine nature interacts with His fully human abilities.  “What Would Jesus Do” is a question that cannot possibly be answered outside of our imaginations – a highly unreliable source of truth.  It is a question that seeks a black and white or right and wrong answer, leaving us trapped in our minds going through a discursive process of thinking rather than staying present and embodied in the moment, and in the hope of God’s presence with us.  It also leaves us frozen in paralysis because no one has time to question and think through every gesture or every action.  This is especially true in a classroom setting that demands a quick flow of response to many needs and situations.

Instead, Fr. Lev suggests an alternative question as one that is much more fruitful and inspirational.  Rather than imagining what Christ would do, ask yourself in what spirit he would ALWAYS be performing the gestures that you are actually making or that you will need to make.  In other words, all of our actions have the potential to bring us into union with Christ if we are conscious of how they can and should be qualified by the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, long-suffering and self-control.  Out of the heart, the mouth speaks and the hands act.

It is inspiring to think about the many ways Christ used his ‘outstretched hands’.  We are sometimes so focused on His words as recorded in the gospels, that we forget every aspect of His body was in union with His Father and the Holy Spirit, and vital to sharing the good news.  He immediately stretched forth His hand to Peter in the storm, He took the daughter of Jairus by the hand and raised her up, He took a blind man by the hand and touched his eyes, He healed a deaf man by placing his hands into his ears and touching his tongue, He blessed his disciples with his hands, he held young children in his arms.

I don’t get the impression that Christ planned these events or spent a great deal of time thinking or making agonizing decisions about what to do, but His hands were always ready to respond in a way that brought healing, strength, deliverance, peace.  He was so in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit that His hands couldn’t help but be miraculous, couldn’t help sharing eternal life with all He encountered in ways that couldn’t possibly be misunderstood.  Even though His gestures were often enhanced with words, they didn’t need words to communicate truth.  In fact, I think that often the words were more for the observers and mockers than for the ones being healed or saved.  What could words add to the true gift of life, sight, sound?  How could those who were healed or delivered not know that Christ was the Way, the Truth and the Life?

When I think about how important it is to qualify my teaching gestures with the Holy Spirit, I become aware of how often my hands act in unqualified or indifferent or irreverent ways.  My hands are often out of control and graceless even when outstretched, because I forget to stretch my hands out to Christ first.  When my outstretched hands are not conditioned or made whole by the Holy Spirit, I am actually preventing Christ from reaching out to the person I am gesturing towards, my hands become useless to God, withered.  And the opposite is also true.  Stretching out my hands to God is also lifting up my heart for healing.  This is the stance of true prayer – hands lifted up to God bringing our whole bodies in submission to Him.   As God heals my heart, my withered hands become healed.  The gestures of my ‘outstretched hands’ can then share the life of Christ.

Kimberly Franklin

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