Tuesday, 25 November 2014

How past experience can get in the way of good teaching and learning.

This post has been inspired by Oliver Burkeman's recent column  ' Don't get caught in the monkey trap'.  In this column, Burkeman refers to the Einstellung effect, and how previous experience can lead us to being 'blind' to new and better ways of doing things.  Bilalic, McLeod and Gobet demonstrate how experts once they have found a way to proceed, may find this prevents a better option from being identified.  This process may lead to a wide-range of cognitive biases - both in experts and the less expert - such as confirmation bias whereby there is a tendency to ignore evidence which does not fit with current preconceptions.

So what are the implications of the Einstellung effect for teachers and those who lead educational institutions.  Well for me there would be appear to be several.
  • Experienced teaching professionals should constantly challenge themselves by acknowledging that previous experience does not always provide the best answer to any given situation.
  • Leaders within schools and colleges, who are likely to be some of the most experienced colleagues within a school and college, should lead by example and show the necessity for CPD which specifically challenge previously held assumptions and experiences.
  • Recruitment processes for new positions may overly value experienced candidates over less experience candidates.
  • The perceptions and viewpoints of less experienced members of staff are as valuable as more senior staffroom 'sages'.
  • Tasks or project groups should include a wide range of participants, with differing types of experiences.
  • Colleagues should constantly seek  to be placed in new, uncomfortable though 'safe' situations to allow for the development of a greater repertoire of teaching, learning and management  strategies.
And the implications for educational bloggers and tweeters?  Many of the posts/tweets within the blogosphere/twittersphere argue for experienced teaching professionals to be trusted to be able their exercise their judgment.  Unfortunately, the Einstellung effect would suggest that 'trusting' in experience may not necessarily bring about the best outcomes for pupils and learners.  However, and let's make this absolutely clear,  I'm not arguing to reduce levels of trust, but rather that an essential element of gaining, using and maintaining such trust, is to openly acknowledge the weaknesses of our expertise, and demonstrate how we are not only constantly challenging others, but just as importantly constantly challenging ourselves.

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