by Andy Vasily
Over the past several years, examining my own teaching practice has played a critical role in becoming a better educator. This constant pursuit of trying to improve upon my teaching is what ultimately led me down the path of starting up my own blog back in 2010. The act of publicly blogging about my own teaching practice has always forced me to think more deeply about the learning experiences that I have my students engage in. It has also helped me to sincerely reflect on every aspect of my own teaching and it is through this process that I have ultimately been able to learn about strengths and limitations in regards to my practice.
Although I feel in my heart that I am a passionate educator and endeavour to do my very best to deliver an enriched learning experience for my students, the question that I have come to grapple with over the past year is, “How do I know that my teaching practice and program in general are having a genuine impact on my students?.
In my pursuit of trying to answer this question, I have connected with many researchers in the area of Health and Physical Education from around the world. I feel that substantiating what I do with authentic evidence is the piece of the puzzle that has alluded me for so many years as an educator. There is a huge difference between me saying “I know my teaching is bringing about the results I desire” and “I feel as though what I am doing works and that my students are learning”. Up until now, I can only say that I feel that what I am doing is making a difference.
Social media has served to bring many practitioners and researchers together and it has been through this platform that I have been fortunate enough to connect with so many passionate educators. Not only can I share but also actively pursue connections with those who I feel will challenge me to continue to professionally grow within my role as an educator.
As good fortunate and some serendipity would have it, my family and I were able to cross paths with Dean Dudley and his family while vacationing in Phuket, Thailand this past summer. Since connecting with Dean on Twitter a couple of years ago, I had always been interested in his work and vision, so I was pleased to be able to meet him in person. It was during this time that Dean and I had a few opportunities to sit down and have some meaningful discussions related to current physical education and health teaching practice. From my practitioner point of view, I discussed some of the challenges that I faced in regards to my own teaching and Dean was able to talk me through important research in the area of physical education and health.
It was during one of these discussions that I opened up to Dean and shared my biggest struggle to date as a physical educator. I explained to Dean that I truly feel that the way I teach is having a definite impact on student learning in my PE program, but my ultimate concern is how do I really know this? Dean made me realize that unless I can substantiate what I do with reproducible science, I cannot actually say with any degree of certainty that what I do is making a difference to student learning. It was a tough pill to swallow, but an important learning moment for me. I have grown to understand that I now hold the missing piece of the puzzle in my hands, but need to figure out how best to make it fit.
Most educators are quite serious about what they do and put loads of time and energy into their teaching practice. At times I believe that there is a tendency for teachers (myself included) to slip into defensive mode a little too quickly when we feel as though our practice is being criticized or challenged by others. I must admit that as I started to read Dean’s first Nexus blog post, I did feel as though my feathers were being a bit ruffled, it irked me to think that my lack of understanding of what pedagogy is may in fact be a root cause to many of the problems that exist in education today.
However, in striving to be the best educator I can be, I must be open and willing to embrace the true change in thinking that is required if I am to become the teacher I want to be. This process is not about belittling teachers, it’s quite the opposite in fact. It’s about empowering teachers to better understand and evaluate their own practice and as Dean says truly examining our own pedagogy and what we hope to achieve with it. Finding the NEXUS of art and science in our own practice will allow for the strong creativity that we desire but at the same time requires that we be accepting of the scientific exploration needed to truly evaluate the effectiveness of our own teaching.