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Looms and weavers: teaching and the creation of knowledge and wisdom

Dr Bruce Addison, Dean of Curriculum and Scholarship

I must admit that when I sat down to write this article many potential themes emerged. Slow learning was one. Trust another. Deconstructing the simplistic analysis associated with national and international benchmarking was tempting. These themes are important to me but this time I wanted to write on a topic that is fundamental to my daily work. To me the magically affective space existing between teacher, student and learning is something worthy to explore, recognise and celebrate. Educational theorist Max van Manen has done much work in this field. To him the relational space existing between teacher and student forms the essence of his concept of pedagogy. For van Manen a pedagogical relationship requires a teacher to possess:

…a sense of vocation, moral fibre, a loving and caring disposition, a sense of responsibility, intuition, a passion for knowledge, tactful sensitivity, humour, vitality and hope, maturity, an ability to be self-critical and interpretative intelligence (1991;256).

Some scholars refer to the above as pedagogical love (Hatt, 2005). Learning is a slow process. It needs relationship, trust and commitment for it to grow and develop into something meaningful and transformative. It is in such a space that rich, robust and genuine life-long learning emerges, a concept of learning so important to the continued development of our civil society.

In the midst of my musing the thoughts of one of my educational heroes, Parker Palmer, resonated deeply. His writing always nourishes me particularly when issues such as benchmarking and negative media commentary spike. After all, what we do year and year out in our classrooms transcends transient political comment and expediency. Palmer has written much about the affective space I alluded to earlier. He notes:

…good teaching is akin to weaving a fabric of connectedness between student, teacher and subject. The teacher is the loom on which the fabric is woven (2007; 11).

Some educational theorists would disagree passionately about his depiction of the teacher as ‘loom’. It sits very comfortably with me, as a ‘loom’ is a conduit of creative endeavour. After all, nothing can be more creative and sustaining than learning. If the teacher is the ‘loom’, who then are the weavers? Without doubt, it is a combination of the student, the learning process as well as the home. The creation of a fabric of teaching and learning is impossible without the creative teacher-student relationship. It requires a cultivation of the profound simpatico through which teachers and students ‘see, think and wonder’ (Ritchhart, Church & Morrison, 2011) in order to create knowledge. Knowledge acquisition is so very different from information retrieval or simplistic conclusion based on information bombardment. The former requires great skill and patience while the latter is transitory and disposable. In today’s world, knowledge and information are so often conflated – they should not be!

Accumulated knowledge and its journeyman wisdom, takes many years to acquire. So often, it starts with storytelling and the ability to decipher meaning from fable and metaphor. This happens in the home from early childhood and is hopefully explored at School with growing levels of nuance and sophistication. It requires time and skill for themes to connect and wonder to weave its magic. It takes patience and perseverance to foster an intelligent desire to discern in the face of misinformation and propaganda. Who would have thought that ‘post-truth’ would have been 2016’s word of the year? If there is such a thing as ‘post-truth’, let alone a word, the creation of knowledge and a populace capable of understanding reason from rhetoric could not be more important. If the teacher is the ‘loom’ facilitating such a creative endeavour, then what a privileged position we have as teachers.

It appears that the seemingly disparate themes I started with had a purpose. They helped me to discern something noble about our profession and the great hope for tomorrow – the knowledge base of our students. May the creative endeavour of thoughtful knowledge acquisition, founded on the powerfully affective space existing between teacher, student and subject, inform our concept of a broad-based liberal education for many years. Our planet and all living things deserve nothing less. A few years ago, I wrote a series of poems based on Parker Palmer’s writing. Below is one entitled: The Fabric of Teaching.

The Fabric of Teaching

 May the fabric
of our teaching
embrace every student
with warmth.

May its ‘cut’ be generous
and its ‘feel’ safe
in the
knowledge of
truth, care
and trust.

May it enwrap
young minds
with tenderness
and generosity,
enabling knowledge
to flourish
individually.

May its fibres comfort
and support,
filling our community
with a
truthful and sustaining
understanding.

May we who teach
entrust the spirit of
learning to
guide and support
us as we
nurture all those
in our care.

Written as a reflection based on The Fabric of Teacher in Parker Palmer ‘The Courage to Teach’.

References

Hatt, B (2006). Pedagogical Love in the Transactional Curriculum, Journal of Curriculum Studies, 37:6, 671-688.

Palmer, P. (2007). The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons.

Ritchhart, R. Church, M. Morrison, K. (2011). Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding and Independence for All Learners, San Francisco: Josey Bass.

van Manen, M. (1991). The Tact of Teaching: The Meaning of Pedagogical Thoughtfulness, London: Althouse Press.

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