Teachers Learn to Improve Practice through Social Processes

Most of the knowledge and skills that teachers develop over time in their work is called tacit knowledge. This is the knowledge cultivated over time that becomes part of their professional thinking. It is the most valuable knowledge because it is practical and affects teachers work the most. This is the reason why we pair beginner teachers with experienced teachers – because we hope that there will be a transfer of the knowledge gained through experience from the seasoned teacher to the new one.

But, because tacit knowledge is so deeply embedded in the minds of teachers, it means that first, it is harder to transfer and second, if it is outdated, it is also MUCH harder to change!

So how can we support our teachers to share the most important professional knowledge they possess? This is a question with a dual purpose. First we want to support knowledge sharing of tacit knowledge to spread good practices. Second, we want to support knowledge sharing to change practices that have been shown to be ineffective. The most effective tool for knowledge sharing on this deep level – where it will have an effect in the classroom once that classroom door is shut – is social processes.

Knowledge sharing (and creation) can only happen when there is human interactions. These interactions make up the social processes that move individualistic thinking to a collection of beliefs and knowledge. The advantage of the collective is that there will be competing thoughts. These competing thoughts create a positive conflict of opinion that invites a professional conversation about WHY.

Why we use a particular practice?

Why we think a certain teaching and learning practice is the most effective?

Why it is not effective in certain situations?

Why it is effective in other situations?

This kind of conversation between teachers who are talking about their classroom practice makes teachers aware of their tacit knowledge. It brings it up to the surface in a way that can be shared with others and can be questioned. This is a good thing because if it is an effective practice, it will spread. If it is not an effective practice, then it can be modified.

Seems simple enough, so why doesn’t it just happen all the time?

Like any other group of professionals, teachers are busy doing their work. They are planning, teaching, assessing, evaluating, reporting, organizing, and I can go on. In addition to the fact that they are busy teaching, they are also not really accustomed to good models that promote positive social processes for professional learning. In other words, they have some bad experiences because the positive conflict of views can be personalized if it is addressed in an inappropriate way.

This means that if you want to reach a deep level of change with teachers, school leaders need to offer structure and support for this to happen. There are many models that promote social processes (e.g., professional learning communities, coaching, mentoring, apprenticeship, & online networks), but the truth is that we can all think of examples where social interactions have turned teachers off of an idea and off collaborating with others. So, the key to the structure is to make sure that the leadership invites teachers into a conversation about their own practice with their peers so that it matters to them and they feel respected. Respected in terms of their professional beliefs, practice, role, and time.

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