I’ve spent a lot of time at math teaching conferences over the past few years. It’s left me a bit cynical about professional learning. Of all the sessions I’ve been to, only a handful have changed my practice. And many times I’ve been the person up front presenting. What have I been doing with all that time and energy?
Teachers need frameworks to work nimbly in the commonplace situation where students do not respond to activities as expected. For this reason, our learning goal was for novices to develop pedagogical judgment. Perennial puzzles of teaching – whom to call on, how much time to spend on a topic, whether to proceed with a lesson as written or attend to an unanticipated student misunderstanding – often have indeterminate answers and rely on teachers’ pedagogical judgment built on their situated knowledge of their particular teaching context. Pedagogical judgment is at the very heart of ambitious teaching practices.
[A] hallmark of sophisticated pedagogical judgment is ecological thinking about the classroom. That is, teachers accomplished in ambitious instruction reason about situations in ways that keep in mind the interconnectedness among things like classroom climate, teaching moves, student participation, mathematical activities, and student learning.Horn & Campbell, 155
Here’s a tension I’d love to explore. In professional learning spaces, presenters try to get some idea across to teachers. But teachers aren’t blank slates; we come in with beliefs about learning, knowledge of our students, and knowledge of our context. How can professional learning engage productively with the ideas that teachers bring with them?
I think of pedagogical judgment as a core part of what makes the teaching profession unique. Nothing anyone shares at a conference works everywhere. Teachers need to adapt ideas to their context and the practicalities of their classroom. If we see teachers and classrooms as interchangeable, we share ideas in ways that assume teachers can apply them regardless of context. But if we respect the knowledge that teachers bring to professional learning spaces and build learning from that knowledge, we recognize how critical it is that teachers apply sound judgment in bringing new practices into their classrooms.
Are there professional learning spaces that value pedagogical judgment? What do they look like?