How can a critical mindset help your practice?
18 October 2017 – Yvonne Monaghan & Dr Florence Ruby
Teachers and practitioners are faced all the time with new challenges and need to adapt constantly to fit the needs of their class or nurture group. Some of us might be quite resilient, adapting to new difficulties when they come along, learning new strategies to answer the needs of the pupils. Some of us might have a little more difficulty adjusting, finding it quite hard to develop the skills we might need to face these new challenge.
Today we want to share some thoughts around teacher practice, and more particularly about the benefits of keeping a critical mindset when teaching.
Keep an open mind… Sometimes we hope to have found all the answers and have all the knowledge to make us the perfect teacher (or the perfect researcher, or the perfect parent! etc.). But when a new difficulty comes along and challenges that belief, it’s hard to admit it! We might even perceive it as a failure… In these situations, it’s good to remember that we do not have all the answers, but that we can always learn!
If one way is not working, try another… As Albert Einstein put it, “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result”. Admitting that something is not working might be hard, but it’s an essential step that will trigger you to look for other options, and make progress!
Keep your goals in mind… Sometimes we might become so focused on the delivery of an intervention, putting a lot of efforts into making it right, that we lose sight of what we actually want to achieve. Is it really critical that you teach a child this particular way with this particular resource? Or is it more important that the child learns, whatever the method? Keep your goal in sight!
Nurture a passionate curiosity… Reflect on your practice regularly; make sure you know why you are doing things the way you do!“Is this giving me the outcomes I was looking for?”, “What can I do to make it work better?”... all these questions that can help you reflect on your approach and look for alternatives if needed.
Research the resources you are using… when you get introduced to a new tool or approach, do a little research before using it. Critically assess the evidence available about this tool, identify the impact you expect from the tool and make sure it is in line with what you are trying to achieve in your class or nurture group.
Context is key… Some tools may have great evidence to back them up, but may not be adapted to your needs, or your school situation, or even your teaching strengths! Use tools and resources that fit with your children and your teaching approach. Keep in mind your context before starting a new approach.
Remember complex problems don’t come with easy solutions… Sometimes we put a lot of hope in a resource, hoping that buying a new resource will automatically solve the problem we are trying to fix. But the challenges we are trying to solve are very complex, and there is no “quick fix” for them… Nurture (or any other intervention) may take time to have an impact, and teachers may need to put a lot of effort to be able to use a new approach effectively.
Finally, put self-judgment aside… Having a critical mindset about your practice is not about judging yourself or questioning your competences. Thinking that “I was a terrible teacher today” doesn’t bring solutions to the challenge. But “Today was hard, what can I do better next time?” is helping you consider the little steps you can make to keep growing as a practitioner, and become more experienced tomorrow!
We hope these ideas provide some food for thought for teachers and practitioners. Working with pupils can be very challenging at times… and we believe keeping a critical mindset about your practice will help you tackle positively new challenges. Having the passion to learn and to improve your practice will make a huge difference!