As professionals, teachers perform a variety of complex and contextualized activities on a daily, and lesson-by-lesson basis. From interpreting what different students are doing and feeling at each moment, to knowing how to explain, question, discuss, construct tasks, and give feedback – it’s not easy work (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005).
Teachers work in increasingly diverse environments, both multiculturally and in terms of student ability. They make effective use of information and communication technologies for teaching. And they’re also expected to engage more in planning within different frameworks while doing more to involve parents and the broader community in their schools (OECD, 2009).
What teachers do in the classroom has the single greatest effect on the quality of student learning – so teachers constantly adapt their practice as they respond to their students. Developing a powerful and effective professional practice is a career-long endeavor, which ideally, teachers build and strengthen in the company of their peers. Great teachers create a common ground of intellectual commitment. They stimulate active, not passive learning, and encourage students to be critical, creative thinkers (Higgs & McCarthy, 2005).
Whether it’s teachers in a classroom of students, or post-secondary faculty who are educating the teachers of tomorrow, essentially, all teaching is about learning (Higgs & McCarthy, 2005).
The processes of professional learning and student learning are very similar. Clearly, teachers bring a far richer set of knowledge and skills to the table, but the key processes through which both learn are identical:
- Engaging one’s prior conceptions about how the world works.
- Developing a deep foundation of factual knowledge understood within conceptual frameworks.
- Developing meta-cognitive, or skills of self-awareness, so learners are able to take control of their own learning.
Professional learning requires active cognitive, emotional and practical engagement from teachers. Just like their students, teachers won’t learn much from professional development that requires them to just sit and receive. Yet, these approaches underpin most professional development opportunities today (Timperley, 2011).
Addressing the gap between classroom practice, professional learning and educational research marked the work of educator Ernest Boyer. He used the term scholarship of teaching to validate teaching as a scholarly activity, not “as a routine function, tacked on, something almost anyone can do.” He argued excellent teaching is much more than artfully transmitting information to students – it’s about transforming and extending knowledge and is marked by the same habits of mind that characterize other scholarly work (Hutchings & Shulman, 1999). Teaching, he believed, should be taken more seriously as a profession, much like medicine or law.
Why should we treat teaching as a scholarship, and not just promote excellent teaching?
Teaching – good teaching – is serious intellectual work and it should be rewarded. Boyer also believed that when teaching was defined in terms of a scholarship, it both educates and entices future scholars, contributing to the profession as a whole. He developed four distinct, but interrelated dimensions of scholarship: Discovery, integration, application and teaching. (This chapter focuses on teaching and professional development, with Chapter 6 addressing what needs to happen at the university and school administrative level.)
What is the distinction between the scholarship of teaching and scholarly teaching?
Whether it’s at the university or the classroom level, all educators have the obligation to teach well and to foster important forms of student learning. A more scholarly approach to teaching entails practices of classroom assessment and evidence gathering informed not only by the latest ideas in the field, but by current ideas about teaching the field and the effectiveness of its impact on student learning. It invites peer collaboration and review. Scholarly teaching is what teachers should be engaged with on a daily basis – whether with students in a classroom or in the office- tutoring, lecturing, conducing discussions; all the roles teachers play in terms of pedagogy. The work as teachers should meet the highest scholarly standards of groundedness, of openness, of clarity and of complexity. But the scholarship of teaching requires that we step back and reflect systematically on the teaching we have done, recounting what we’ve done in a form that can be publicly reviewed and built upon by our peers. It is this difference that moves scholarly teaching to a scholarship of teaching (Higgs & McCarthy, 2005). In addition to teaching being made public, it must also be open to critique and evaluation and be in a form that others can build on:
A scholarship of teaching will entail a public account of some or all of the full act of teaching – vision, design, enactment, outcomes and analysis in a manner susceptible to critical review by the teacher’s professional peers and amenable to productive employment in future work by members of that same community. (Shulman, 1998)
Another attribute of the scholarship of teaching is it involves question asking, inquiry, and investigation, particularly around issues of student learning. The Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, for example, calls for investigations “not only into teacher practice, but the character and depth of student learning that results (or does not) from that practice.” (Hutchings & Shulman, 1999).
So to be clear, it is too simplistic to refer to the scholarship of teaching as merely excellent work by educators. It requires an ongoing conversation or process in which questions of student learning are systematically investigated – the conditions under which learning occurs, what it looks like, and how to deepen it. Teachers do this with the goal of not only improving their own classroom, but to advance their practice beyond it. The scholarship of teaching is the mechanism through which the profession of teaching itself advances, through which teaching can be something other than a seat-of-the pants operation, with teachers making it up as they go. So, the scholarship of teaching has the potential to serve all teachers and all students.