The Best Then, The Best Now

Yesterday, I posted a podcast I’d just discovered from my Making Thinking Visible feed on Facebook. In this podcast, Simon Brooks talks about working with Creating Cultures of Thinking, the most recent book from Ron Ritchhart, researcher at Harvard Project Zero. Just before the 8-minute mark, the host and Brooks discuss something I’ve encountered when facing change in schools: teachers feeling that somehow, in the face of new ideas, what they’ve been doing in their career until now is somehow being called “wrong.”

This is a reasonable feeling, and it’s easy to understand how that would make even the most curious teacher skeptical or resistant. But this is a notion worth exploring further. Has everything been “wrong” until now? Of course not. Teaching is such a dynamic practice that very few people, I think, have it entirely “wrong.” “Right” and “wrong” is a fall choice, for teaching is hardly a static practice; caring, sensitive, challenging teachers discover so many ways of having a positive impact on students.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t more effective practices, and teachers would be cheating themselves and their students if they thought they had nothing new to learn. I often use this comparison. If you were a surgeon in 1985 — say, the best there was — you would nevertheless continue to grow and learn in your practice; that’s just a given. Your patients would expect this of you (or they’d go elsewhere!) and you would expect this of yourself — particularly if you wanted to lead in your field. Or take cancer treatment:  no doubt, treatment now retains some of the practices that were current in 1975, but there are certainly far more precise treatments and procedures used to battle that awful disease. Medicine constantly evolves and we can measure those results.

Why is the teaching profession any different? It isn’t. Surely, veteran teachers have their own experience and habits that have made them successful, and the best of those practices should be retained and celebrated. But when one is open to new research, new frameworks, and more precise tools, a teacher will continue to be the best version of him or herself.

Trying something new doesn’t obviate past practice; it enlivens it.


About kcosta380

Kevin J. Costa is the Director of The Curiosity Shop at McDonogh School (Owings Mills, Maryland), the school's Community for Teaching & Learning. He is the founding director of the school’s Institute for Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies, an interdisciplinary program that explores the plays and history of Early Modern England through a scholar/practitioner approach. Kevin is also education director for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Baltimore, MD. He holds a PhD in English with a concentration in Shakespeare, Renaissance literature, and drama, and has taught at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Kevin has trained in classical theater at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, and he was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities award to study the teaching of Shakespeare at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, where he now serves as a teaching artist for the Library’s National Teacher Corps. Active on stage and as a director with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, he is also a proud member of the Shakespeare Theatre Association, an international organization of Shakespeare theater companies.
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