I feel frustrated with a lot of the conversations I’m seeing about remote learning during a pandemic, on Twitter and at my school. It’s often “here are five great resources” or “have you tried this website?” or “the six keys to a great online lesson.” If I want to try a new technology tool or checklist for my lessons I’ve got plenty to choose from. But I find these conversations speed past core questions of what we’re trying to accomplish in remote learning. What are our goals? What are our responsibilities? Which students are succeeding, which students aren’t, and what can we do about that?
A great recent article by Grace Chen, Samantha Marshall, and Ilana Horn helped me to better understand these questions. When teachers talk about teaching, we often focus on pedagogical actions. Pedagogical actions are the surface-level observable behaviors in our classrooms our online lessons. How do we call on students? What do our handouts look like? What websites are we using? How will we give students feedback? How do we assess learning? These are important questions. But they’re also expressions of our beliefs, our values, and our contexts. It’s hard to communicate when so much is unsaid.
Horn encourages a focus instead on what she calls pedagogical responsibility. Pedagogical responsibility is who or what I feel beholden to as a teacher. What am I trying to accomplish? Why? My responsibilities are my starting point. The most helpful teachers I’ve learned from as I try to figure out this online teaching thing have begun by articulating their responsibilities and their ethical obligations in this challenging moment.
I’ve decided my core responsibility right now is connection. We are all disconnected from each other, and I want math class to be a chance for students to connect with me and with each other. I keep coming back to that responsibility in my planning as I figure out this online teaching thing. I care about other things — I want learning to feel meaningful for my students, and for students to enjoy class as much as possible. But I care most about connection, and I want to make decisions about what to do each day through that lens.
I’m not saying every conversation about teaching needs to start by stating our pedagogical responsibilities. I have plenty of practical concerns right now. My Google Classroom is an overhwelming and disorganized mess, and today I need to deal with that. My pedagogical responsibilities won’t be the first thing I think about. But I often see teachers talk past each other because they are starting from different places. We often jump right to the teacher actions in a situation. Articulating pedagogical responsibilities and reasoning is a way to bridge that divide and better understand each other. And articulating my own responsibilities helps me to stay grounded in what is most important in my teaching. Chen, Marshall, and Horn write in their article that pedagogical responsibility is often implicit. It’s always a factor in how teachers teach, but often in a way that goes unstated and unexamined. By making my responsibilities explicit, I hope to both make better decisions and to interrogate why I make certain decisions in the first place. Teaching today is an environment of uncertainty and experimentation. For me, pedagogical responsibility provides a grounding force to make better decisions under challenging condtiions.