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Managing the Mess: Uncertainty & Teacher Thinking Robert Martinelle School of Education, Boston University SED CT 770,

Professor Tate December 17, 2012

Martinelle 2 INTRODUCTION However arduous the task of writing may be, my time as a doctoral student has provided me the opportunity to engage in what schooling seldom affords (Copland, 2003, p. 378), time to think. Given my natural propensity for metaphors as a pedagogical device, Im reminded of the story about the boiling frog. Supposedly, if a frog were to be submerged in water that is incrementally rising in temperature, the frog would allow itself to be boiled alive. Though modern biologists claimed to have debunked this myth (Gibbons, 2002), I remain fascinated by why the frog would seemingly accept its plight. Perhaps the creature, cognizant of the change in temperature, longs to escape but just as it considers doing so, the heat rises yet again. Either the frog is unaware of its imminent death or it is so conditioned to its ever-changing environment that is has little time to process what is going on. Dewey (1902/1964) might offer the latter as a conclusion: Familiarity breeds contempt, but it also breeds something like affectionWe get used to the chains we wear, and we miss them when removedbecause meaningless activities may get agreeable if long enough persisted in. (p. 355). My experiences as both a teacher and budding researcher would agree. A year and a half ago, I decided to take a year off from teaching. I figured the time afforded to think and focus on my studies would provide a type of clarity I was yearning forthat I would return the following year a better teacher and leader than I was before. Instead, I only returned wondering what exactly better was along with the consequences of opening this inquiry to discussion with my colleagues. I came back uncertain, far more critical of my practice and the underlying assumptions of my schools mission and organization than ever before. Nowhere was this better exemplified than on my first day back.

Martinelle 3 Every year, the staff at my school are assembled in front of our headmaster for an unveiling of the previous years MCAS scores. With each passing slide, applause rang out, as our students scores were on the rise. Fittingly, my headmaster offered numerous shout-outs to individual teachers for their performance. All around me were cheers and smiles. Yet I remained in my seat, quietly enraged while thinking, The teachers in this building are rarely, if ever, recognized for their work yet we applaud them for this. I was initially perplexed at my frustration. After all, this was nothing new, as our school year always began this way. However, that the object of my affection was now the focus of my disdain became clear upon reflection. As a teacher the past five years, I have been the frog, blissfully unaware of the dread that was growing around me. I accepted this because my bureaucratic surroundings denied me a deepened consciousness of my own situation (Freire, 1970, p. 85). Beyond the time spent actually teaching, the list of things I am routinely subjected to doing as a teacher in a school have little to do with teaching and learning. And so, time for reflection is limited to my twentyminute lunch break or my nightly ride home. On occasion, these reflections raise important questions about my practice, but the temperature usually rises before I can consider them in a meaningful way. This being the case, I am left wondering if any of the actions or decisions I make throughout the course of a day are preceded by any thought at all. It took a year away from the water to actually realize that it was boiling in the first place. That some would find my choice of the boiling frog metaphor a bit dramaticlikening my school to an oppressive, intellectually poisonous environmentI would argue the problem lies not in the metaphor itself but in its absence from my schools discourse. This absence does

not stem from a lack of staff willingness to engage in such dialogue. Quite the contrary, I have much more faith in them. Yet the practice of teaching remains complex, uncertain, and riddled

Martinelle 4 with dilemmas (Clark, 1988, p. 10). Were just simply not provided enough time to think and reflect on them. MANAGING THE MESS Originally, this paper was to be a work of pure objective summary and analysis. Having looked over my writing numerous times, my advisor has told me that I need stop thinking like a teacher and think more like a researcher. There are considerable merits to her plea, as Ive often struggled to set aside my own experiences when trying to make sense of others ideas. Furthermore, it has proved difficult reading research on teaching without considering how I could experiment with its findings. In many ways, I envy pure researchers, as their lens likely prevents them from wandering off into the world of practice as they wade through the literature. Complaints aside, it was of the utmost importance that I use this paper to familiarize myself with some of the research on teacher thinkingmore specifically how teachers think within their specific contexts, as my intentions are to research the possible commonalities that exist between the contextual thinking of expert history teachers. Heeding the advice of Wilson & Wineburg (1993) who cautioned that, teaching cannot be judged apart from the time and place in which it is situated (p. 756), I sought out Schons (1983) seminal work on professional knowledge, The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think In Action. Schons study documents a type of knowing and thinking that is problematic, the likes of which bring to mind the works of Freire (1970) and Cochran-Smith & Lytle (1999; 2009). His central idea of reflection-in-action is more about how professionals try to make sense of conflicting values and uncertainty than how one solves them. These reflective practitioners dont fix problems. They manage messes (Schon, 1983, p. 16). As a practitioner, I can strongly

Martinelle 5 identify with this notion. And so, I approach this paper as an attempt to manage a particular mess, one that has been a recurring theme throughout CT770. It is a mess I try to manage every day as a classroom teacher and also one highlighted in some of the research on teacher thinking (McAlpine, Weston, Berthiaume, & Fairbank-Roch, 2006; Clark, 1988)the conditions under which teachers reconcile the tension between theory and practice. In previous papers, Ive tried to clearly distinguish between reflection and objective analysis. I purposely make no such distinction here. By positing practitioners as researchers, Schon (1983) defiantly blurs the line between research and practice, modeling (perhaps unknowingly) the type of thinking he was trying to study in the first place. As a result, I instead offer this paper as somewhat of a small case study of how a practicing teacher reflects on action and tries to make sense of his uncertainties. The practitioners profiled by Schon were not bound by any false dichotomies, rendering much of their thinking more exploratory than conclusive. Thus, my intentions are similar here. I begin first with a discussion of Schons study, interweaving between analyses of his work, the reflections it provokes, and its relationship to imagination and vision in teaching as described by Hammerness (2006). This is followed by a discussion of research on teacher thinking, specifically highlighting its implications to teacher education. Finally, I conclude with an examination and reflection on the types of environments that hinder and facilitate reflection-in-action. TECHNICAL RATIONALITY As a public school teacher, I probably make over one hundred decisions on any given day in my classroom. Many of these decisions spring from situations I anticipate happening, others from more spontaneous dilemmas. Problematic to the reasoning and frequent uncertainty that underlies these decisions is their invisible nature. This reasoning is not observable nor do I take

Martinelle 6 or usually have the time to formally articulate it. In the event that one of my lessons goes smoothly, meaning my students were highly engaged and understood what I was trying to teach, traditional logic would infer this to be a result of some innate personal qualities. How I make sense of and reconcile the uncertain nature of classroom life could even be characterized as mysterious. Im reminded of how a former student teacher reflected on the difficulties she encountered upon assuming complete autonomy of my class. I think I struggled because you made it look too easy, she confided in me. Of course it never was easy. I was simply unable to explain how I went about my reasoning. Schon (1983) argues, We are usually unable to describe the knowing which our action reveals (p. 54). This dilemma of invisible knowledge lies at the heart of The Reflective Practitioner. According to Schon, there lies a difficulty in trying to describe and teach how people make sense of uncertaintywhen these processes seem mysterious in the light of the prevailing model of professional knowledge (p. 19). The model he is referring to is that of technical rationality, an epistemology that dates back to the early nineteenth century. Historically, Schon describes how such thinking derives from positivism and populates many of the applied sciences. In such hard sciences lay a hierarchical relationship between knowledge and application, whereby something could only be accepted as truth if it rests on empirical evidence (pp. 21, 35). Here, the worlds disagreements could be explained by reference to observable facts with the solving of problems resting solely on the application of basic science (p. 32). That technical rationality became implicit in universities during the twentieth century could be attributed to the successes of the Manhattan Project and Sputnik as both created a sense of urgency about the building of society based on science (p. 39). However, the strict application of this paradigm to education is problematic.

Martinelle 7 For example, technical rationality would infer that the reason my students immediately quiet down at the beginning of every lesson is because I simply stand at the front of the class and smile. While there is truth in such an inference as my cheerful disposition does have somewhat of a Pavlovian effect on my students, overlooked are the hours spent cultivating relationships that enabled that behavior to be effective. Surprisingly to my student teacher, this strategy proved ineffective when she tried it herself. She had to learn the hard away, that there is more to teaching than simply technique. The dilemma faced by my student teacher highlights some of the limits to technical rationalityspecifically, how it thrives on predictability, dichotomies, and unambiguous ends. It pays mind to the problem but often ignores the circumstances surrounding it. My student teachers allegiance to this epistemology created a conflict between theory and practice, one that she could not reconcile. In like fashion, my advisors insistence that I think more like a researcher is likely owed to this loyalty as well given her background in experimental and cognitive psychology. As, Cochran-Smith & Lytle (1999) describe, when there exists a marriage between technical rationality and teacher education: Teaching is understood as a process of applying received knowledge to a practical situation: Teachers implement, translate, use, adapt, and/or put into practice what they have learned of the knowledge basethey have insights and can make judgmentsbut are not regarded as knowledge generators or capable of theorizing classroom practice (p. 257) This of course runs counter to the phenomenon of practice. REFLECTION-IN-ACTION

Martinelle 8 Schon (1983) describes situations of practice as complex, uncertain, and unique (p. 14). A teacher understands this all too well. Such characteristics do not fit the model of technical rationality, for it usually fails to account for peculiarities (p. 39). In addition, because of how contextual practical situations are, there often lies a conflict between theory and practice. However, when a practitioner is confronted with this dilemma, they are faced with a choice. They can fall back on the positivist epistemology that created the dilemma in the first place or they can envision how this dilemma can be reconciled. When choosing the ladder, practitioners reflect-in-action. Schon describes reflection-in-action as an epistemology of practice implicit in the artistic, intuitive processes which some practitioners do bring to situations of uncertainty, instability, uniqueness, and value conflict (p. 49). Embedded within reflection-in-action is the idea that practitioners theorize their practice, positioning them as researchers in a practical context (p. 64). Understandably, reflection-in-action could be viewed as antithetical to technical rationality, as both rigor and relevance seem mutually exclusive. However, such thinking would be misguided. It is better viewed as something complementary to technical rationality or as a paradigm that is actually trying to reconcile the two. Reflective practitioners are not bound by dualistic portrayals of thinking and doing or subservient to established theories (p. 67). Rather, they should be viewed as contextual problem framers or artistic theorizers. To reflect-in-action is to hold scientific knowledge as neither dogmatic nor futile. There is room for grayness. CONTEXT, IMAGINATION, & VISION One of the hallmarks of the professional is the ability to take a convergent knowledge base and convert it into professional services tailored to the unique requirements of the system (p. 45)

Martinelle 9 From what Schon describes here, it would appear that reflection-in-action requires both imagination and considerable knowledge of the practitioners context. This is clearer when applying this to the work of a teacher. For a classroom teacher to pedagogically transform content so that students can understand depends very much on the depth of their content knowledge but more importantly on empathy, a largely imaginative act. By empathy, I mean it not in its most simplistic form, the act of getting inside ones head. Lee (2005) correctly defines empathy as entertaining ideas very different from our own (p. 47). For a teacher, this means imagining how certain knowledge might mesh with the experiences of their students. Here, a teacher finds commonalities amongst two seemingly dichotomous notions by imagining its possibility. From this supposed dilemma, the teacher, or practitioner, then constructs a new theory of the unique case and conducts an experiment (Schon, 1983, p. 67). But a willingness to experiment hinges largely on ones knowledge of the unique requirements Schon speaks of. I speak of the importance of context here and its relation to vision in teaching. Hammerness (2006) describes vision as set of vivid and concrete images of practice (p. 1). Reaching beyond the purely philosophical, ones vision of teaching is more personal and gives meaning to their work (p. 3). Interestingly enough, reflection, as Alexandersson (1994) and Schon (1983) define it, is an attempt to grasp the essential meaning of something. The creation of any definitive model of how context, vision, and reflection-in-action interact with one another is likely to bear little fruit. What encompasses each of them are a set of peculiarities, all of which when considered together make it nearly impossible to determine what precedes or follows the other. And yet this lack of any definitive account is strangely conclusive at the same time. Through a particular lens, vision in teaching and reflecting-in-action, both imaginative acts, seem synonymous with one another, as both are attempts to reconcile the ambiguities

Martinelle 10 created by technical rationality. In the absence of any imagination at all, contextual factors are a hindrance to reflection, especially when ones contextual knowledge is limited. However, when a practitioner combines imagination with extensive contextual knowledge, it gives way to vision. Thus, vision in teaching, to be conscious of what is possible (Hammerness, 2006, p. 2), hinges on the imaginative experimentation embedded within reflective practice and vice versa. Ladson-Billings (1994/2009) dream-keepers and Grant & Gradwells (2010) ambitious teachers are excellent examples of practitioners reflecting-in-action. Both studies examined teachers that were able to problematize supposedly irreconcilable contradictions. In the Dream-Keepers (1994/2009), urban school teachers reimagined the problems of AfricanAmerican students into their promises, successfully teaching students looked upon as incapable of learning. Likewise, in Teaching History With Big Ideas: Cases of Ambitious Teachers (2010), a group of New York state history teachers taught history for meaning and understanding amidst a high-stakes testing climate that encouraged rote memorization. However, that their contextual knowledge was considerably high played a considerable role in encouraging their vision and reflection-in-action. In the case of Grant & Gradwells (2010) study, this meant teachers understanding how inquiry-based curriculum could actually lessen student anxiety over high-stakes tests. In addition, this knowledge extended to understanding how to navigate the bureaucracies that discouraged them (p. 175). In summation, to reflect-in-action is to take advantage of context so that new theories can be generated. It means neither relying on nor discarding established theories but attempting to see how they might merge with practical situations. In many ways, research on teacher thinking, the systematic documentation of the cognitive processes teachers undergo amidst these attempts has arisen from the dilemma of adapting theory to practice. However, while such research stands to position teachers as

Martinelle 11 knowledge generators and improve teacher education curriculum, its findings must be treated with prudence. RESEARCH ON TEACHER THINKING Clark (1988) is correct to argue against overly prescriptive use of teacher thinking research findings. To do so would be a slight to contextual factors and antithetical to the epistemologies from which teacher thinking research derives. He does however assert that it bears usefulness for the researchers application to their own practice as teacher educators (p. 5). For example, teacher thinking research can help reverse the apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975/2002) for novice teachers, not by prescribing how teacher educators should teach but by raising questions for teacher educators (Clark, 1988, p. 7). Among these questionshow can field observations be structured to make teacher thinking more visible? Last spring, as a teaching fellow for an introductory course to the education field, I encouraged students on their field visits to ask their cooperating teachers questions about some of their actions or decisions that seem rather obvious. Of note, many of them spoke to me during lunch about how many of the reasons underlying the actions of their cooperating teachers were surprising, not because of what the teachers claimed to know but because of the uncertainty they projected. Clark writes: Teachers are subject to the full range of insights and errors in human judgmentjust as all humans are when faced with complex, fast-paced, consequential, and occasionally emotion-laden social judgments and action situations (p. 5) It is possible that this instance served as a reminder to the students of teachings emphasis on making sense of such errors as opposed to knowing all of the answers (p. 10).

Martinelle 12 In like fashion, teacher thinking research in planning could be of service to teacher educators. Understanding teacher planning is akin to understanding how teachers transform and interpret knowledge for their students (p. 8). In many ways it can come close to capturing the imagination I alluded to earlier. I was unable to (or unaware that I should) articulate this imagination and its accompanied uncertainty to my own student teacher a few years ago. As a result, she greatly underestimated the cognitive demands of teaching, rendering her vision in teaching somewhat impaired during those tumultuous months. Because my lack of communication failed to reflect the intrinsic uncertainty of teaching she spent the rest of the year, unable to deal with teachings grayness (p. 10). To summarize, the value of research on teacher thinking lies not in the definitive but initial preparation of teachers and teacher educators. Like any curriculum, its findings should be used as a means to a much greater end in this case, the perpetuation and acceptance of teachings inherently problematic nature. CONCLUSION In the few years leading up to Schons (1983) study, a group of researchers at M.I.T. led an in-service professional development for teachers (p. 66). When the teachers were asked to reflect in action and explore their own intuitive thinking about apparently simple tasks, the most important discovery they came upon was the acceptance of confusion (p. 67). They began to think differently about teaching and learning. Though not intended as professional development by researchers, informants of teacher thinking research have also reported that, given how action oriented the job is, describing their thinking forces them to stop and think (Clark, 1988, p. 9). At times, I do envy teachers such as these. Twice this year, I have had visitors in my classroom. Not once have I been questioned. Not once have I been given any

Martinelle 13 feedback. Not once have I been asked to think, positioning me as the frog, back in the water once again. Perhaps the school I envision practicing in is one in which the staff could be afforded the opportunity to notice and question when the temperature of the water is beginning to rise. Schon (1983) fittingly concludes the The Reflective Practitioner with a description of such a place. In this school, supervisors inquire into teachers understandings with the meaning of good teaching a matter of constant institutional concern (p. 335). Naturally, such thinking would stand to disrupt the predictabililty of a bureacratic organization, endangering the stable system of rules and procedures that keep complete autonomy in the hands of observers (p. 328). Because of this, it is understandable that many teachers would be reluctant to reflect-in-action. The tension that accompanies it makes for a difficult, even disobedient task by pushing against the theory of knowledge which underlies a school (p. 334). Even more alarming, to reflect-inaction is to relinquish ones claim to truth. It leaves a mess. I however am grateful for this mess and the opportunity to manage it. I may not be in a school that encourages reflective practice but the opportunity to think and write over the past few years of school has afforded me the time to rework my epistemological stance. I shudder to think of where my ideologies would lie had I not returned to graduate school or hit pause for an entire yearthe things I would merely be gazing upon, overlooking, and disregarding. That being said, management, like reflection, is ongoing and in no way definitive. Throughout the rest of my career, the temperature of the water is sure to rise, ever so subtly as it does every year. It is just with continued hope that I am able to jump out from time to time before the water boils.

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References
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Martinelle 15 Ladson-Billings, G. (1994/2009). The dream-keepers: successful teachers of african american children (2nd Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Lee, P. J. (2005). Putting principles into practice: understanding history. In A. T. Committee on How People Learn, M. S. Donovan, & J. D. Bransford (Eds.), How students learn: history in the classroom (pp. 31-74). Washington D.C.: The National Academic Press. Lortie, D. (1975/2002). Schoolteacher: a sociological study (2nd Edition ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. McAlpine, L., Weston, C., Berthiaume, D., & Fairbank-Roch, G. (2006). How do teachers explain their thinking when planning and teaching? Higher Education , 51 (1), 125-155. Schon, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books. Wineburg, S. S., & Wilson, S. M. (1993). Wrinkles in time and place: using performance assessments to understand the knowledge of history teachers. American Educational Research Journal , 30 (4), 729-769.