6 essential strands

It is common nowadays to talk about the ‘repertoire’ of a good teacher, a metaphor taken from stage performance – though the original word simply meant ‘list’ or ‘inventory’. I’m not quite comfortable thinking of teachers as performers nor, to quote the cliche, as ‘sages on the stage’, and wonder if the metaphor of weaving might be more appropriate. A good teacher knows how to weave different ‘strands’ into a coherent whole.

beach-beach-beach-stonesAgain, there are many lists of strategies or skills, or techniques or tools, recommended to teachers, and I have my favourite ones, as most teachers do. But, however effective these may be, I don’t see them as strands that support each other.

After years of reflection, I have distilled the following as 6 essential strands that characterise good teaching – and also good learning. They are:

  • Inquiry-inspired
  • Dialogue-driven
  • Concept-connecting
  • Reflection-reliant
  • Reason-respecting
  • Virtue-valuing

Using more conventional adjectives, I would describe a good teacher as inquisitive, responsive, connective, reflective, reasonable, and idealistic – qualities that surely most people aspire to, but which one might hope teachers particularly would model.

They also, I argue, coincide with qualities that philosophers have always striven for, and this is why to become a more philosophical teacher is to become a better teacher – and vice-versa.

Philosophers in ancient Greece set a model of inquiry – the first strand – that has inspired the best learners and teachers ever since. Their interests were broad and deep. The threads of inquiry they thought of as ‘natural’ and ‘moral’ philosophy eventually became the natural and human sciences as we know them today.

But, as I explain in my 12-page article, Philosophical Teaching and Learning, there is still a vital role for philosophical inquiry in the teaching of these sciences, and indeed of any ‘subject’. Because of its focus on making sense – of words as well as the world – it helps students face the conceptual challenges inherent in any new area of study. It does this by encouraging public dialogue and private reflection, whilst emphasising the importance of being open to, and able to, reason.

The sixth and final strand in effect brings together all the other five strands, framing them as ‘intellectual’ virtues or strengths, whilst giving equal emphasis to the development of what used to be called ‘moral’ virtues, but which are probably better framed as ‘personal’ and ‘social’ virtues or strengths.

Quite how one weaves all these strands into one’s teaching is explained more fully in my courses and writings. These are not merely theoretical constructs, though. I set out practical steps of self-development and self-monitoring for both teachers and learners.

Finally, I would claim, these 6 strands represent important directions of educational thinking in the 21st century, referred to by different names, and championed by different individuals or institutions, but never brought together (* see footnote) in such a simple, coherent framework:

  • Inquiry skills / Essential Questions (inquiry-inspired)
  • Communication skills / Dialogic Teaching (dialogue-driven)
  • Deep learning / Understanding by Design (concept-connecting)
  • Metacognition / Making Thinking Visible (reflection-reliant)
  • Thinking skills / Critical Thinking Movement (reason-respecting)
  • Values or Character education / Habits of mind (virtue-valuing)

As part of their idealism, philosophical teachers will naturally assume that all learners have the ability to grow and develop in each of these strands. They probably do not need to subscribe formally to a ‘growth mindset’ agenda. In any case, the last of the strands, with its emphasis on developing good habits of mind and character, provides the vocabulary, as well as the rationale, for raising learners’ expectations of themselves.

  • I acknowledge that these 6 strands can be aligned closely with strands or emphases in the IB curriculum – which I regard as the finest in the world. I still believe that the framework I am offering is both simpler and more coherent than any other. It is simple because it is proposed as a pedagogy, not a curriculum. It is coherent because it reflects interconnected  purposes and processes that are justly called philosophical.

Copyright © 2017, Roger Sutcliffe, All rights reserved