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The ‘Secret Business’ of Teaching

by Prawee Pariyawateekul | Sep 22, 2015

Kurt Mullane, Executive Director, Asia Education Foundation

Like all innovations, the AEF’s Australia-Asia BRIDGE School Partnerships program sails unchartered waters. Ambitious in scale, it currently partners 243 schools in Australia, Indonesia, China, Thailand, Malaysia, India and South Korea. Its blended model of face-to-face and technology driven collaboration separates it from other school partnering activities. 

When we established BRIDGE in 2008, we were confident it would deliver improved student intercultural understanding, global citizenship and language learning outcomes. Six years on we can tick that box. Unforeseen was the space BRIDGE would give more than 700 teachers to explore the ‘secret business’ of their profession. To have the ‘How do you?’ ‘What do you use for?’ ‘Have you tried?’ ‘I’ve got an idea for’, ‘I could use some help with’, ‘let’s try this together’ teacher talk so crucial and valued by the profession.

In 1987 Lee Shulman published ’Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform’. This paper altered discussion about teachers’ craft knowledge and practice. Previously the essential components of teaching practice were thought to be content knowledge and teaching methodology (e.g., classroom and student management, lesson planning and structure, assessment). What Shulman calls pedagogical content knowledge sits in between those two elements. ‘Comprehended ideas’, he says, ‘must be transformed in some manner if they are to be taught.’

This process of transformation takes place in the course of lesson preparation, how ideas are represented (e.g. analogies, metaphors and stories of shared life experiences), in the choice of the ‘right’ teaching methods and materials (ones that work), how adaptations are made for particular classes and to suit individuals within that class.  This transformative process is where the ‘secret business’ of teaching is done. It’s what makes teachers’ knowledge distinctive.

BRIDGE programs enable our teachers to exchange details about the engine rooms of their professional lives: a school in Kalimantan adopts a new way of organising individual progress in maths based on ideas exchanged with staff in Canberra; teachers at a remote Indonesian school lead a narrative art project celebrating the lore of their land’s original inhabitants and those of the north coast of NSW; students and teachers from suburban schools in Melbourne and Jakarta share ideas to respond to the tragedy of Lumpur Sidoarjo;  student e-zines are published to support language learning; a young teacher in Indonesia uses his tech savvy to connect with an experienced Australian teacher full of smart ideas.

BRIDGE reminds us that the simple act of giving teachers space to talk to each other about the content and conduct of their profession will likely transform their practice; that collegial dialogue is key to innovative teacher professional learning; and that sharing diversity in cultural, linguistic and lived experiences enriches the secret business of teaching.

Find out more about the AEF BRIDGE School Partnerships Program.



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