More Thoughts on Partnership: Teacher/Student

I’ve just received some feedback on an abstract piece that is going into a local educational research conference. I talked about the issues with arbitrary allocation of deadlines outside of the framing of sound educational design and about how it fundamentally undermines any notion of partnership between teacher and student. The responses were very positive although I’m always wary when people staring using phrases like “should generate vigorous debate around expectations of academics” and “It may be controversial, but [probably] in a good way”. What interests me is how I got to the point of presenting something that might be considered heretical – I started by just looking at the data and, as I uncovered unexpected features, I started to ask ‘why’ and that’s how I got here.

When the data doesn’t fit your hypothesis, it’s time to look at your data collection, your analysis, your hypothesis and the body of evidence supporting your hypothesis. Fortunately, Bayes’ Theorem nicely sums it up for us: your belief in your hypothesis after you collect your evidence is proportional to how strongly your hypothesis was originally supported, modified by the chances of seeing what you did given the existing hypothesis. If your data cannot be supported under your hypothesis – something is wrong. We, of course, should never just ignore the evidence as it is in the exploration that we are truly scientists. Similarly, it is in the exploration of our learning and teaching, and thinking about and working on our relationship with our students, that I feel that we are truly teachers.

All your Bayes are belong to us. (Sorry.)

Once I accepted that I wasn’t in competition with my students and that my role was not to guard the world from them, but to prepare them for the world, my job got easier in many ways and infinitely more enjoyable. However, I am well aware that any decisions I make in terms of changing how I teach, what I teach or why I teach have to be based in sound evidence and not just any warm and fuzzy feelings about partnership. Partnership, of course, implies negotiation from both sides – if I want to turn out students who will be able to work without me, I have to teach them how and when to negotiate. When can we discuss terms and when do we just have to do things?

My concern with the phrase “everything is negotiable” is that it, to me, subsumes the notions that “everything is equivalent” and “every notion is of equal worth”, neither of which I hold to be true from a scientific or educational perspective. I believe that many things that we hold to be non-negotiable, for reasons of convenience, are actually negotiable but it’s an inaccurate slippery slope argument to assume that this means that we  must immediately then devolve to an “everything is acceptable” mode.

Once again we return to authenticity. There’s no point in someone saying “we value your feedback” if it never shows up in final documents or isn’t recorded. There’s no point in me talking about partnership if what I mean is that you are a partner to me but I am a boss to you – this asymmetry immediately reveals the lack of depth in my commitment. And, be in no doubt, a partnership is a commitment, whether it’s 1:1 or 1:360. It requires effort, maintenance, mutual respect, understanding and a commitment from both sides. For me, it makes my life easier because my students are less likely to frame me in a way that gets in the way of the teaching process and, more importantly, allows them to believe that their role is not just as passive receivers of what I deign to transmit. This, I hope, will allow them to continue their transition to self-regulation more easily and will make them less dependent on just trying to make me happy – because I want them to focus on their own learning and development, not what pleases me!

One of the best definitions of science for me is that it doesn’t just explain, it predicts. Post-hoc explanation, with no predictive power, has questionable value as there is no requirement for an evidentiary standard or framing ontology to give us logical consistency. Seeing the data that set me on this course made me realise that I could come up with many explanations but I needed a solid framework for the discussion, one that would give me enough to be able to construct the next set of analyses or experiments that would start to give me a ‘why’ and, therefore, a ‘what will happen next’ aspect.

 



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