Against boldness in teaching

I just came across a wonderful short essay by Mary Kennedy entitled “Against Boldness“, which was published as part of a special issue of the Journal of Teacher Education devoted to “Bold Ideas for a New Era in Teacher Education, Teacher Preparation, and Teacher Practice”.  Kennedy argues that our constant search for new, ambitious and bold ideas is part of the problem:

Perhaps the gap between our ideals and the messy truth of  our  situation  leads  us  to  yearn  for  more  forceful responses, hence our interest in bold initiatives…

In fact, I argue that bold ideas are part of our problem, for by definition they are unrealistic, out of range, over the top. Ultimately, bold ideas fail because they don’t take real circumstances into account or because they expect too much from people. Eventually, each of us runs out of gas, gets tired and  disheartened.  Bold  ideas  require  too  much  change. People resist, and new initiatives fall apart.

She deconstructs four types of “boldness”, explaining why each ultimately disappoints.  I recommend reading the whole piece.

One of the reasons Kennedy’s essay resonates with me is that Josh Glazer and I wrote a similar piece — against ambitious teaching — for a special issue of the Israeli teacher journal Hed Hahinuch.  It was published in Hebrew, but was originally written in English.  Our argument can be summarized as follows:

1) Ambitious teaching requires a complex set of conditions, which in most cases are absent or highly difficult to align.

2) Within the current system, these conditions are largely beyond the control of individual teachers and even schools.

3) Setting highly ambitious goals without attending to the conditions necessary to achieve them has the unintended effects of harming the teachers called upon to achieve these goals and of fueling simplistic notions about how to improve teaching.

4) Enacting ambitious teaching on a large scale requires a carefully designed systemic change strategy that attends to teaching conditions, teacher learning and the improvement process.

You can download the full essay here.

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