It was posited to me recently that an internal professional development system for teachers designed to foster discussion about teaching and learning fits within the “teaching-as-intellectual-pursuit” model (“science” for short here), as opposed to the “teaching as art” model. To this person’s credit, this suggestion was more a musing than a statement of fact, but it got me thinking – both about whether teaching can be viewed as being solely in one or the other of those frameworks, and then, assuming that were true, where does discussion of teaching and learning fall relative to the two? I’ll save the dichotomous model question for later and assume here that it is, at least in part, valid. Assuming that is so, and assuming the synergy of said professional development model is agreed upon relative to the “teaching as science” model, the question remains: Is there a place for such activity in the “teaching as art” model? Should an educational organization catalyze discussion and sharing among its faculty as a way to help improve teaching and learning?
I will suggest the answer is a strong “yes”.
If teaching is art, then it comes down to the question of how artists hone their craft, and not only that, but how art itself progresses to more advanced and complex stages. Artists working in isolation, I would suggest, do not progress on average as fast or as far contrasted with artists working as members of communities of artists. Why is that so? Transfer of information. Artists share technique. They talk about it. They view others’ work and emulate what they like about it. They build on what has come before them, they partake of and contribute to advances in the technologies used by their art. If this were not so, art would not progress. The advent of perspective in European painting in the 13th and 14th centuries would not have evolved into what it is today – it would have to be re-created by each artist. And paint would still be the iron oxide, black manganese, and other mineral pigments used on cave walls by pre-modern-humans. And how do we account for art classes? And teaching schools?
Well, now you have my opinion on that. Now back to the dichotomous teacher model. If teaching is an art, it is one that can be improved through sharing within the artist community. However, as with the false dichotomy of the “skills vs. content” debate, this dichotomy is not so cut and dry. I do believe there is a good deal of artist in every teacher, and a good deal of the scientist. Every teacher in the world likely falls at a different place on that spectrum; however, the very best, I believe, share a healthy mix of both approaches, and no matter where they fall on the continuum, sharing of information between teachers on their craft is beneficial for continued improvement individually and as a learning organization.
P.S. We discussed faculty here, but if the concept holds, should it not be extended to all stakeholders in a learning community?