Pedagogy. While the word seems foreign and its meaning elusive and intimidating, pedagogy is an essential aspect of the way any teacher should approach their work. If you’re trying to reach your students without an overarching and coherent set of principles, you are essentially “winging it” every day as you face your students–and it probably really feels that way–for you and for them!
Pedagogy can be seen as the ideas that inform effective teaching in general (“best practices” and such), but I like to think of pedagogy as something considerably more personal. While many insights can be gained from studying established pedagogies and the pedagogies of others, I think that each teacher should be empowered and encouraged to develop a pedagogy–or even an array of pedagogies–of their own, based upon their unique experiences and their own strongly-held values as a teacher. And just like any life philosophy, a pedagogy should be subject to regular reflection and revision.
So what is pedagogy?
There are many definitions but I’ll focus here on my own. Pedagogy is one’s own personal philosophy of teaching. It is a set of theoretical principles or beliefs about how humans learn that will then inform and inspire the more practical, mundane aspects of the teacher’s tasks such as lesson plans, assignments, and assessments. The construction of these practical materials should be guided by the principles of one’s pedagogy. And, as new beliefs are drawn from practice, the theoretical principles may be updated or tweaked. Theory and practice emerge in tandem.
I adhere to a personal philosophy of teaching that I call a “pedagogy of performance.” If I had to sum it up in one, succinct, all-encompassing statement, it would be that I believe writing and dance (these are the disciplines I teach) are both instances of performance and therefore, the effective teaching of these makes use of the experience of performance. That’s it! That’s the whole thing summed up in one sentence.
Let’s start to break that down from top to bottom.
Now that I’ve given you the overarching philosophy, let’s take a look at the principles. These are the beliefs, assumptions, and ideas that, taken as fact, underlie all my work as a teacher. They are consistent with the overarching philosophy and provide guidance as I go about the more mundane, practical work. While I am adding principles all the time, here are some that I have developed and that remain strongly in my mind every day as a teacher:
We learn by practice. (I have to thank legendary choreographer Martha Graham for this principle. See her book, Blood Memory.)
To practice means to perform. (Also from Martha Graham!)
Performance is the crafting of an experience.
Performance is a doing, a lived experience enacted within the gaze of an audience when we open ourselves up to be changed by the interactions with that audience and by the experience in general.
Performance is a subjective and creative experience, unique to each individual, that makes use of enactive (doing), cognitive (thinking), and affective (feeling) processes.
Experience is more important than product or even process. (The “living through,” the “time spent,” the “changes incurred.”)
The teacher’s role is threefold:
- To foster each student’s performative impulse
- To help each student navigate performative affect (the transformations we go through as a result of the experience of performance)
- To facilitate effective performative encounters so that students gain experience with all aspects of performance.
Drawn from these principles, a stated set of values can assist the teacher in developing their priorities, offering creative inspiration, and provide a basis for resolving dilemmas. Values are abstract concepts that are held in high regard by the pedagogy and help to maintain focus and direction.
Here are some examples of mine:
The elements of experience: doing, thinking, feeling
Autonomy of the student and their work
Setting students in motion, on a path
Evolution over the long-term
Drawn from the principles and the stated values, specific techniques of teaching emerge of which the teacher can make regular use in their practices. Some examples of mine include:
Practice (in class, at home, shared or not, graded or not)
Sharing with others in class
Analyzing and dissecting the works of others
Assigning meta-commentary alongside formal work
Giving assignments that specify performer’s role, audience, and desired effects
Assessing work on the basis of subjective experience through the process rather than on a final product (This includes the development of rubrics that prioritize the values of the teacher. I will share my Project Performance Rubric in a future blog post.)
Effective and coherent pedagogies themselves require evolution and development over the long term in regular responses to lived experience. In this sense, the development of one’s pedagogy (or pedagogies) is also a creative and performative process that requires doing, thinking, and feeling within an experience (the “living through,” the “time spent,” the “changes incurred”). Therefore, the teacher is a creative performer growing and developing right alongside their students. In this way, there is no rehearsal or practice, just performance. It always matters.
Development and adoption of a pedagogy should not be seen as an additional burden or a workload to be feared, but rather as an empowering positive experience. Developing, making use of, and reflecting upon a personal pedagogy provides the teacher with several opportunities. One’s pedagogy serves as a source of creativity with which to develop new lessons, assignments, and examples. It can serve to help us resolve dilemmas about which we might not otherwise know where to turn. Pedagogy provides an anchor in potentially turbulent and disorienting times. Whenever you don’t know where to turn, how to start, or what the right thing to do is, you can turn to the principles and values of your pedagogy and the way forward will become clearer. And it provides opportunities to assess one’s effectiveness with one’s own particular values, offering each of us a clearer sense of what our teaching priorities should be.
Use of a clear pedagogy provides the teacher with access to vast resources—both internal and external—to enhance the teaching experience for both student and teacher alike. Even the very act of practicing the reflection and theorization required to develop a pedagogy is going to set you on the path to becoming a better teacher.