“Classrooms are just too complicated for research to ever tell teachers what to do”

This is the provocative statement was made by Dylan Wiliams (DW) as he addressed an awards ceremony for teachers in Glasgow recently. (Available tes.com)

He suggests that teaching is at best a ‘partial profession’, it’s an unusual job, compared to other professions. As a comparison, medications prescribed by doctors are ‘prescriptive’ as the name suggests. Clinical research and trials can inform widespread used of a particular medication given certain conditions. A simplified explanation, I know, but the complexity of teaching is much less formulaic, each context is as unique as each learner in the class.

What is a professional?
businessdictionary.com describes a professional as a “Person formally certified by a professional body of belonging to a specific profession by virtue of having completed a required course of studies and/or practice. And whose competence can usually be measured against an established set of standards

Most of that is straight forward – formally certified, completed a required course of study – but measuring competence “against an established set of standards”, that is less straightforward. Perhaps ‘partial profession’ is actually more accurate. This is because, “the problems teachers need to solve are just much harder” (DW) He explains that the “kind of knowledge that expert teachers have is more like the knowledge of how to ride a bike” (DW).

Sometimes I read an article and the best way for me to grasp the ideas is to draw them. These ideas and the others raised in the transcript have shaped this visualisation:

He also suggests that the idea of applying growth mindsets and fixed mindsets to teacher transformation, and this could be worth further exploration, as Dylan Wiliams says, “A belief that you can get better as a teacher is the key to staying positive in the job”. And that helps everyone, especially the learners.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this idea of teaching as a ‘partial profession’. Or, perhaps you can suggest an article, idea or talk that could be visualised in this way.


2 thoughts on ““Classrooms are just too complicated for research to ever tell teachers what to do”

  1. Kia ora Anne, I have been following your posts for a few years and I always feel inspired by reading them. I agree that having a positive mindset is a part of learning. It has been an important part of my growth as a teacher. Every day I aim to instill this growth mindset in my students and hopefully they will see the challenges they face in the future as an opportunity to learn, adapt and grow.
    For me teaching is a profession, however the process of learning also happens outside of this formal learning. Just like doctors we have to practice and refine our skills and we also continually build on our knowledge to include new or other alternatives.

    Liked by 1 person

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