Understanding Pedagogical Change

Why classroom strategies are just the tip of the iceberg

Adam Kuss Aug 12, 2020

School leaders channel vast amounts of time, energy and resources towards achieving pedagogical change. However, enacting the required shift in teaching practice is complex, extending beyond teaching tools and strategies. Changes in classroom practices are necessary, yet they are the by-product of a more significant personal transformation.

To gain further insights into this leadership challenge, understanding the role of teaching strategies in successful pedagogical change is an important consideration.

The nature of change is disruptive; the process causes something to become different. When we talk of pedagogical change, what is the something that needs to become different? Meaning, what is the essential change that needs to occur within the teacher for meaningful pedagogical growth?

A typical response to this question is the classroom strategies displayed by teachers. There is a certain appeal to this answer because, through classroom observations, the modification in teaching methods is easily identifiable. An example of this could be when a teacher asks for help with a reoccurring problem they are having during their lessons. A respected colleague provides some advice about what to do. The teacher follows the guidance, and the issue disappears. Job done.

Unfortunately, the complexities of teaching cannot be reduced to strategies alone. True, this is a type of change, but it is not the something that needs to shift for meaningful pedagogical development. Observable variations in classroom practices are necessary, but they are far from sufficient. The strategy is just the tip of the iceberg; we need to go deeper to appreciate the scope and scale of the required shift.

The teacher may have learnt how to use a new method, but it is unclear if they understand why the strategy was effective. Shifting from copying a teaching technique to the intentional application of teaching methods requires in-depth pedagogical knowledge. This shift can only be realised if the teacher understands why they apply specific strategies in certain circumstances.

Thinking in this manner leads to intentionality - the purposeful selection of particular strategies. The need to comprehend the underlying reasons for success or failure leads to further questions such as when is the strategy most effective and how could this method be enhanced in the future.

The spirit of “just do it” isn’t enough; teaching is much more than mimicry. Teachers need to do more than adopt strategies; they need to adapt them to cater to the needs of their students.

A teacher's pedagogical understanding is the defining feature of their expertise; it is what distinguishes education from other disciplines. As educators, we should celebrate this difference as exploring and solving teaching and learning problems is a major contribution we make to society.

In terms of teacher development, when we narrow our perspective of change to strategies alone, we undervalue the significance of our profession by limiting and restricting our capacity for pedagogical excellence.

Successfully navigating the treacherous waters of pedagogical change is tricky. Sharing alternative teaching methods is essential, but shallow if we fail to comprehend why such strategies are effective.

Ultimately, the hope and challenge of pedagogical change is the cultivation of teaching excellence, fostering highly skilled teachers who trust their professional judgements. The aim is the creation of experts, not the development of teachers who are all tip and no iceberg.