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Teaching as a moral craft – The hand, head and heart.

For those of you who read my previous post on bringing your kete to the classroom, you’ll know that my interest these last few weeks has been on authentic culturally responsive practice. My interest was initially piqued by Angela Watson’s recent interview on Truth for Teachers with Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy. In the interview they broke down myths about teaching. She stated that one large myth we often believe about teaching is that the inclusion of students’ cultures in lessons was the most helpful way to engage with students of different ethnicities.

There is no doubt that representation is valuable. Thoughtful selection of texts is appreciated but this isn’t the heart of culturally responsive teaching. These musings reminded me of a Masters assignment I wrote whilst at University in 2018.

“Fostering and maintaining cultures of belonging begins with what teachers do, know and believe about inclusive classroom practice (Rouse, 2007). Rouse’s (2007) separation of inclusive practice into three parts (do, know, believe) echoes Sergiovanni’s (1994) postulation that teaching is a moral craft, compromising of three elements, philosophy and values, pedagogy, and practices/strategies; labelled the heart, the head, and the hand, respectively.”

This tripartite lens may be the crucial element to changing what actually happens in our classrooms; to finding the gaps between our espoused practice and our practice in theory. The idea of the heart, the head and the hand is critical to understanding not only how we observe cultures of belonging being implemented in schools but also in how we shape our own beliefs, pedagogy and practices. I reflected in this assignment that whilst on practicum at different schools I had observed honest, albeit misguided, attempts at culturally responsive practices. Many of these practices were unsupported by beliefs of Kaiako. What teachers were doing in their classrooms culturally responsive, but their beliefs were not on par with their practices. They had read the ‘right articles’, ‘had the right posters’ but in reality they had a different set of expectations and beliefs for their students of colour. Practices (hand), and pedagogy (head) were present, but their heart (beliefs and values) didn’t match.

The problem here is that they did not know that they had a different set of expectations for certain students. The microaggressions we make towards those students are things we are unaware of; they are our blindspot. These values, beliefs and the behaviour they inform are part of our unconscious bias. I would argue that one of the most pernicious qualities of unconscious bias, is that it is just that, unconscious. I guess it’s very definition lies in the fact that you cannot see it. So how do you reflect on it?

In pop culture there is this idea of “being woke” to social issues. "Woke" is the past tense of "wake" — as in, someone who is past the process of waking up. They've evolved from being asleep and hitting the snooze button 15 times. Their eyes are being opened to social issues, such as discrimination. I’d like to apply this challenge to our teaching; how do I become more ‘woke’ to my unconscious bias and how it plays out in my classroom? How do I find the gap between my espoused practice and my practice in theory? What are my blindspots?

If unconscious bias isn’t obvious, how do we open our eyes to it? What can we do to notice and subsequently change these behaviours? Here are my four suggestions.

Get to know your students

We can increase our contact with the relevant groups of whom we have these beliefs about. That can seem hard if you don’t teach a diverse range of students but even becoming more invested in those you do teach can drastically change the way you view them and your beliefs about them. This has to come from a place of seeing them as valuable individuals with a voice worth hearing. Knowing they play rugby might be an interesting fact but it’s what you do with that fact that will make the difference. You have to ask GOOD questions, to glean information from you students and enable yourself to see through their eyes.

Get others to check you.

One of the struggles with this challenge is that we often do not have relationships with our colleagues where we are comfortable calling out each other’s biases. Our relationships with colleagues are not formed or developed in a way that allow us to be vulnerable. We do not often call out each other’s language, practices and beliefs. Further, we fall into this trap of complaining about students to one another. There’s seems to be a fine line between what some teachers refer to as “venting” and the act of consistently presenting views about your students that are problematic or deficit. Our language is shaped by our beliefs. So, get others to actively check your language and to call you out when it doesn’t match with your espoused beliefs. This doesn’t have to be in public or a culture of criticism but rather remind one another why you are on this journey, to help and support all students.

Be constantly observed

Gaps in our practice become most evident when we are observed, questioned and challenged on our practices. We may think we do things, such as moving around the classroom regularly, but when observed discover that we spend a large portion of classroom time at the front giving whole class instruction. If you find someone who you can be open with about both your practices, then take the opportunity observe one another in the classroom.

Reflect & Learn.

Constantly be reflecting on your interactions with students. This might seem obvious but if you can film your own practice and reflect after each lessons, you’ll be on your way to becoming a better practitioner. Listen and learn from fellow colleagues, teacher blogs and podcasts.

Hopefully these thoughts are helpful as we go into the break and you can figure out what needs to shift in your practice. Maybe your heart is exactly where it needs to be, but you need to do some work on pedagogy (head) or having the right strategies (hand). Maybe it’s time for a fundamental shift in the way you view students or learning because ultimately all of the strategies and knowledge in the world are useless if you do not truly know the young people whose learning you have been entrusted with.

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