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Jan 20

Chris Smeaton

Connected Educator equals Informed Professional Judgment

There are times in our careers that we use the term professional judgment as a license to do whatever we believe is right! We’ve earned our degree! We’ve “practiced” our skills! We’ve been inducted into the profession! The very definition of a professional supports our “right” to trump any disagreement of practice. Quite honestly, a rigorous pre-service program and a Bachelor of Education should allow for some latitude in our ability to deploy professional judgment. However, the world has changed at an alarming pace and as educators we need to be continually seeking to heighten our own informed professional judgment.  Earlier this week I read Tom Whitby’s (@tomwhitby) post entitled, “ Confidence through Connectedness” His thoughts provoked my own reflection on how informed professional judgment is linked to both the art and science of teaching and overall confidence required.

When I began my career in the mid eighties, I was convinced that teaching was only an art. Although I “enjoyed” my university experience, I really didn’t see the direct connection between theory and practice. While some of my professors were highly engaging, others didn’t seem to have a good sense of the real world in the classroom anymore. Furthermore, I was a coach and a successful coach at that. And so, the art of teaching came very close to what I did coaching hockey or instructing at hockey schools.  My professional judgment was more based on the successes I had as a coach and how I was able to transferit  to the classroom.

Being nostalgic and looking back at my own experience in school, many of my favorite teachers were coaches. They weren’t necessarily athletic coaches, but they certainly employed sound coaching methods in their practice. I was a relatively strong student who, because of my sports upbringing was also fairly disciplined. Today, I would probably be considered as a compliant student because as an athlete back then, you just did what the coach told you. Now that style or art works well when your players or students are compliant and/or engaged, but what happens when they aren’t? Today, with our correct move towards inclusion and overarching goal of student success for all, we can no longer just “coach” the compliant or engaged.  

The art of teaching must be married to the science of teaching. There is considerable uniformity in the belief that students are very different today as compared to when most of us in the over 50 club started this profession. We can provide numerous reasons why or lay blame until we’re blue in the face but it doesn’t change this fact. Given this, educators must become more learned than ever before. The professional judgment we gained in our undergraduate degree is simply insufficient. The soft skills we employ as educators may be an art, but strong, effective and engaging pedagogy is a science. Educators today, now have the benefits of the latest brain research to inform practice. It changes our perspective from “he won’t do his work” to possibly, “he can’t do his work… in this way.” It pushes us away from the factory model of education and truly highlights the uniqueness of each child in our classrooms.

Secondly, the student of today requires far different teaching practices for high levels of engagement and learning. In order for students to develop their own creativity and innovative talents, our educators must demonstrate those same qualities in their classrooms. It is understandable that some educators shy away from those practices for a number of reasons. Often, the barrier of an accountability system that numerically ranks schools, teachers and students can be found to be at fault. When only test scores rather than true learning are measured, there is a disconnect. Additionally, many educators are being asked to engage in practices that initially are out of their comfort zone. It makes sense that until educators build some confidence in a different pedagogy, it is likely to remain on the “practice” court only. Informed professional judgment is defined through actions in the classroom. More than ever before, educators need to be innovative in their practice utilizing a skillful art and science to reflect informed professional judgment. And stakeholders and governments need to be patient and supportive by creating and/or maintaining environments to allow the development of these skills. 

Informed professional judgment is a non-negotiable for today’s educators. Educators need to stay informed not on a yearly basis but on a daily basis. Schools and school districts will never be able to offer the amount of learning opportunities required to keep our professionals up to date. That is the reason why educators must become connected within their school, their division and with the use of technology. Educators of today are unable to provide informed professional judgment on an ongoing basis without being connected personally or virtually. Connected educators build up their own confidence levels. Connected educators are supported by others who act as reference or sounding boards. Connected educators find ways to ensure that their professional judgment is always informed.

We know that the classroom is very different today than it was even ten years ago. We also know that education is one of the only saving graces for many of our children and for society as a whole. With that in mind, it is critical that leaders and teachers continually strive to provide their most informed professional judgment and in order to achieve, they must be connected!!!

9 comments

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  1. Ken Sampson

    Great post Chris. It is so necessary for educators to differentiate between a student’s unwillingness to work and his inability to do so. This is when really getting to know your students comes to light.

  2. AskteacherZ

    Wonderful post. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Totally agree with your assessments. Curious about your thoughts on educator pedagogy in the 21st century. You indicate an obstacle to pedagogy as being a teachers reluctance to leave their “comfort zone.” Do you find that teacher collaboration isn’t as prevelant as it once was or has it just taken on a different mode of operation (i.e. social media PD opportunities like twitter)?

    1. Chris Smeaton
      Chris Smeaton

      Thanks for your comments! We are asking teachers to teach differently today, far different from how they were taught in most cases. We are also asking teachers to ensure that all students are successful not just most or a few. In order to achieve this teachers must become even more creative and innovative in their practice. The system still embraces the status quo and it is difficult for teachers to leave that comfort zone. Teacher collaboration inside of the school must be accompanied by collaboration through social media to provide the supports required to set out of the comfort zone.

  3. Leonard P. Miller

    Great post! You have put to articulate words my reasons for returning to my basic educational preparation prior to returning to the classroom after being in administration for the last 12 years. I find that it is as though I learned nothing of value when last in school! So little is applicable

    1. Chris Smeaton
      Chris Smeaton

      Thanks for your comments. It is truly amazing how much classrooms have changed. Even the most experienced teacher faces a learning curve in today’s classroom. Leadership has also drastically changed as well and leaders must be doing the same level of learning to enhance practices in their schools/divisions.

  4. sdubeau

    This is an very interesting post. It made me reflect on a practice we have in our school board called District Review. As a result of this fairly intensive review of school practice, our staff has a better understanding of what is needed moving forward to engage and assess student and teacher learners. Thank you for the insights and encouragement.

    Your Jan. 22nd comment re leaders and learning is also very appropriate. Professionally, as a school leader in admin, I have to express huge appreciation to online educational communities for opportunities for support and learning such as in this blog because we are so often isolated from colleagues.

    1. Chris Smeaton
      Chris Smeaton

      Thank you for taking the time to make these comments. I believe it is so important to listen to one another, share with one another and learn from one another. Engagement as professionals is critical as we move forward in education.

  5. Gerry Varty

    Nice post, Chris… you correctly shine a light on not only the changing mission of our schools (to educate everyone, not just the ones who learn like we did), but to the importance of understanding the interwoven nature of the Art and Science of teaching.

    May I add a few thoughts? I believe that being connected is only one (facilitative) piece of the puzzle; it is important also to be reflective, to experiment purposefully and use data thoughtfully, to be humble enough to be open to help from others and brave enough to take risks. Being connected brings us new information, different conversations, and exposes us to relationships that highlight very different dynamics. The danger lies in how we filter information and select conversations from our anonymous, connected world; we can choose to listen only to that which reinforces our existing paradigms, or we can choose to venture into opposing currents, and test our ideas out in different circumstances, with those who hold contrary viewpoints.

    The successful educator realizes that teaching might well be the most complex of professions, one that rightfully will take a lifetime of deliberate practice to master, and one where the changes must come more from within than from without.

    Thanks for sharing your observations and reflections; as usual, they are the catalyst for new trains of thought, and as Frost said, that has made all the difference.

    1. Chris Smeaton
      Chris Smeaton

      Thanks Gerry for your comments! You are speaking to the converted here with your additions. Teaching is so complex that it can never be either/or, instead and/both. Too much of a good thing creates group think, not enough creates isolation. We have to be extremely focused in our profession and yet nimble too! It is why I continue to love what I do, no matter the struggles… it just energizes me!

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