Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
The excerpt below looks at how different beliefs about the roles of teachers can impact effectiveness, both in the classroom and as recipients of faculty development efforts. It is from Chapter 2, "A Brief History of Educational Development: Implications for Teachers and Developers," pp. 31-35 by Richard G. Tiberius, University of Toronto, in: TO IMPROVE THE ACADEMY: Resources for Faculty, Instructional and Organizational Development, Volume 20., by Devorah Lieberman, Editor, Portland State University, and Catherine Wehlburg, Associate Editor, Stephens College. Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network in Higher Education. Copyright 2002, by Anker publishing Company, Inc., Bolton, Massachusetts, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
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BELIEFS ABOUT THE ROLE OF TEACHERS
Implications for Teachers
My journey into the history of faculty development has convinced me that both teaching and our practice are guided by beliefs about the role of teachers and about the type of relationship between teachers and students. I have identified four belief systems: teacher as content expert, who serves as a resource to the learner, like a book or a picture; teacher as performer, who makes learning happen by transmitting information or shaping students; teacher as facilitator, who encourages learning through interaction with the learner; and teacher as helper, who uses personal engagement and the teacher-learner relationship as a vehicle for learning.
Since these belief systems tend to predispose teachers to particular strategies of teaching, it is tempting to ask whether some belief systems, and thus some strategies, are superior to others in promoting learning. In other words, do these four belief systems form a hierarchy of teacher development? It seems more likely that, under the right conditions, a teacher who holds any of these conceptions of teaching can be effective.
Why is this so? If we accept the assumption that any individual teacher is not the only influence on the learner but is part of a system of influences, then each teacher need only supply a necessary, not a sufficient, ingredient of learning to be considered effective (Bess, 2000). Since the basic ingredients of learning are 1) motivation of some kind, 2) deliberate practice with feedback (or knowledge of results), and 3) options or alternatives, then a successful teacher will supply one or more of these ingredients that are not supplied by other components of the system, such as other teachers, administrators, books, settings, or the learners themselves. A teacher who has the good luck to land in the situation in which he or she is providing just what the learner needs will likely be effective. A teacher who is not so fortunate can improve her or his match with student needs by changing strategies, doing something different. The problem with belief systems is that they tend to reduce flexibility by limiting teachers to particular types of strategies.
Dr. Kontent, the child psychiatry expert who preferred not to teach residents, nevertheless promoted learning because her residents needed the information that she had. The residents also needed feedback but they provided feedback for one another by identifying their own areas of confusion because they were highly motivated, self-directed learners. Residents in this situation also needed help in striking an appropriate relationship with Dr. Kontent. The residency coordinator helped with the following advice: "Observe her and ask questions but do not expect her to clarify your learning needs,"
Ms. Drama, the performer, our patient-educator who delivered information about diabetes but who did not take questions or establish a relationship with her audience, had some content expertise, a highly developed performance, and little appreciation for the interactive and relational roles. Although the patients needed relevant content, Ms. Drama did not interact with the patients to ensure that her content was relevant to the patients. She did not need to. The match was already made by the coordinators of the visit who had previously surveyed and screened the learners, admitting only newly diagnosed diabetics who had a uniform knowledge level. The patients also needed answers to specific questions which Ms. Drama did not provide but the regular ward nurse told the group, prior to her visit: "Jot down any questions that you have and I'll answer them later. Ms. Drama is a great performer but what she tells you is all she knows. She can't really answer questions." The ward nurse also helped create an appropriate relationship with the group by telling the patients: "We are really fortunate to have her coming here."
Our facilitator, Professor Two-way, engaged his students with questions and games during an interactive lecture, but his extreme anxiety gave him a rigid, haughty appearance in class. In small group interaction with his TAs he established a warm, supportive relationship. The TAs, in turn, helped students to see him in a kinder light.
Our clinical mentors, who are good examples of the fourth role, build alliances-authentic, trusting relationships-with their learners. Such relationships allow mentors to refer their students to colleagues for help in the areas in which they are not expert.
The teachers in these four examples were lucky. Circumstances provided them with a good match between what they offered and what the learner needed. To put it another way, what they could not provide the learner was provided by other components of the system. In contrast, teachers who are ill matched to the learning needs of their students generally get low ratings and need help. One role of the developer may be to arrange the elements of the teaching situation so that such teachers can succeed without changing their belief system. Of course, teachers who possess the conceptual flexibility to move from one belief system to another, to radically change roles not just strategies, as the situation requires, are in a much better position to succeed. Perhaps a second service of the professional developer, then, is helping teachers broaden their conceptions of teaching and learning.
Implications for Developers
Can a developer, who is limited to one of these four belief systems, be effective in helping teachers? Let us take the case of a developer who holds the same belief system about teaching as the client. They are likely to enjoy pleasant interaction that may result in better teaching if they are lucky. Assume that I, as developer, hold a performer model of teaching. Professor Gunnar, the ultimate performer, tells me that he had been sharpening his lecture all weekend. He has a dynamite lecture, targeted perfectly for his students, that is going to slay them in the aisles. He asks me, as a teaching consultant, to evaluate his effectiveness. The professor and I can delight in sharing war stories as I reinforce his behavior and arm him with even more powerful techniques for dynamic presentation. If his performances supply what the students need from him, I will succeed in helping him improve his effectiveness.
However, Professor Gunnar's orientation toward teaching performances may cause him to overlook strategies such as listening to students or building a supportive relationship. And if the latter is the missing ingredient, then I could help him most effectively by finding out what the students think about him and helping him form an alliance with his students, rather than by improving his classroom performance. If I were unable to think beyond the performance role O would be unable to help him.
Second, let us assume that I hold a different model of teaching from that of my client. If I held the facilitator model my reaction to Gunnar might be quite different: "He wants me to do a body count! His militaristic language and the narrowness of his conception of teaching-which invites no input from the students-offend me. He violates my cherished beliefs about the interactive nature of teaching." I might judge him; focus on what he fails to do rather than what he is doing, to use Bob Kegan's (1994) analysis. Not a good beginning for a consultant-teacher relationship.
How much better if I were able to see Professor Gunnar's approach to teaching as emanating from a legitimate belief system about the role of teaching rather than from a sadistic desire to harm. As a developer, I need to keep from feeling threatened, personally violated, when my definition of teaching is challenged. To do this, I need to mentally step away from my own values and definitions (Kegan, 1994), Kegan's (1994) research indicates that only at this level of consciousness are people able to stand apart from such belief systems as I have outlined here, to see them as "out there," as "objects," rather than as part of oneself. Moreover, this ability is not a discrete skill that we developers can learn at a POD workshop. It requires an evolution of consciousness, a gradual development process. And only about half the population has reached this level.
I am fairly certain that I have this ability to stand apart from and avoid being completely identified with any one of the four belief systems about teaching. The resulting flexibility enables me to arrange teaching contexts in which teachers can make effective contributions to learning even if their view of teaching is more limited. I confess that thinking about this evokes a warm feeling of professional competence, a rare treat for developers, as if I am living in a three-dimensional world helping flatlanders negotiate their two-dimensional spaces. But what happens when I encounter Professor Post Modern who functions at Kegan's next level of consciousness? I'll tell you. Professor P.M. heard my lecture at POD and, although she understood what I meant by these different roles, she saw them as different modes of herself manifested in different contexts. Most of the time, she said, her teaching embodies all of these roles.
How do I help Professor P.M. when my best practice consists of adjusting relatively durable elements of the system so that my client can be an effective contributor? What is my role in helping a teacher who is not a durable element? It's nuclear, as the surfers say. As I write this I feel the familiar strain that attends growth mixed with anxiety about my role as a developer in a postmodern world. At present I can see postmodernism with peripheral vision only. When I look at it directly it disappears, like a very dim light.
Bess, J., & Associates. (2000). Teaching alone, teaching together: Transforming the structure of teams for teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kegan, R, (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Tiberius, R.G. (1986). Metaphors underlying the improvement of teaching and learning. British Journal of Education Technology, 17 (2), 144-156.
Richard Tiberius is at the Centre for Research in Education in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, Canada, and is Professor of Psychiatry. His main roles include collaboration with health science faculty development activities. He teaches graduate courses in research methods and educational development at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Torono.