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Knowledge and Vision in Teaching


Mary M. Kennedy
Journal of Teacher Education 2006; 57; 205
DOI: 10.1177/0022487105285639

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Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 57, No. 3, May/June 2006 10.1177/0022487105285639

KNOWLEDGE AND VISION IN TEACHING

Mary M. Kennedy
Michigan State University

The author challenges the role of knowledge in teaching by pointing out the variety of issues and con-
cerns teachers must simultaneously address. Teachers use two strategies to manage their multidi-
mensional space: They develop integrated habits and rules of thumb for handling situations as they
arise, and they plan their lessons by envisioning them unfolding as a drama might. It is entirely un-
clear where or how knowledge enhances teachers’ visions, but it is very clear that visions depend on a
strong sense of purpose, direction, and momentum. Most teacher educators try to foster visions in
their students, but their interest in vision creates two problems. First, it places them in conflict with
their university brethren who expect to see them promulgating knowledge. Second, the particular vi-
sion they embrace is too narrowly progressive; it ignores many concerns that teachers try to juggle in
their practice and many societal ideals for education as well.

Keywords: accreditation; educational reform; program standards/evaluation; teachers’ knowledge


and beliefs

Let us begin by reminding ourselves of a few ba- think about the trade-off between maintaining
sic truths about teaching. One is that teaching is lesson momentum and sustaining student
a multifaceted activity. By that I mean that willingness to participate.
teachers routinely do more than one thing at a These six areas of concern are not always
time. I do not mean merely coordinating multi- present in every classroom thought, but none of
ple things, such as materials, time, and stu- them is ever abandoned either; any given unit,
dents, but actually thinking simultaneously lesson, learning activity, or brief interaction
about different things. In fact, I recently interro- with a student is designed to maximize, as
gated teachers about their practices and found much as possible, all six areas of concern. That
that their practices reflect their concerns about is, all instructional practices include, whether
six different things: (a) covering desirable con- tacitly or explicitly, ways to increase student
tent, (b) fostering student learning, (c) increas- willingness to participate, ways to foster learn-
ing students’ willingness to participate, (d) ing, ways to foster community norms, and so
maintaining lesson momentum, (e) creating a forth. Moreover, teachers who develop sustain-
civil classroom community, and (f) attending to able teaching practices develop integrated, rou-
their own cognitive and emotional needs (Ken- tinized approaches that simultaneously address
nedy, 2004, 2005). At any given moment, one of all of these areas of concern in a way that the
these six areas of concern needs more attention teacher can tolerate. By sustainable I mean prac-
tices that can be managed within a normal
than the others. If two students begin to quarrel,
workweek, without unreasonable time commit-
the teacher suddenly focuses on how to rein-
ments, and that are not so taxing that the teacher
state norms of courtesy and civility. If one stu-
is exhausted and depleted after 1 or 2 years.
dent asks an imponderable, the teacher must
Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 57, No. 3, May/June 2006 205-211
DOI: 10.1177/0022487105285639
© 2006 by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

205
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Now here is the rub. Most of the advice teach- the six areas of concern I mentioned above. But
ers get from others does not address all these just as the six areas of concern to teachers must
things. People who call themselves experts and be integrated into a coherent practice, so must
who promote particular approaches to teaching these numerous competing ideals.
are generally addressing only one or two of These two truths about teaching lead to a
these six areas of concern. For instance, a new realization that there is an infinite number of
approach to classroom management might possible ways of balancing among the six areas
address concerns about community norms but of concern to teachers and the myriad compet-
fail to address concerns about covering impor- ing societal ideals. Each teacher’s practice rep-
tant content or fostering student learning. A resents a unique solution to this complex of con-
new inquiry approach to science teaching may cerns and aims. The best solutions maximize the
address concerns about content and student benefits and minimize the drawbacks, but even
learning but fail to address concerns about les- the best solutions are necessarily fraught with
son momentum or the teachers’ own cognitive drawbacks. And the reason we continue to dis-
and emotional needs. I suspect that when teach- agree about what constitutes “best practice” is
ers try a new pedagogy or a new curriculum that we all envision different ways of solving
model and then announce that it “didn’t work,” these simultaneous classroom equations.
what they probably mean is that they could not The third important point about teaching is
find a way to address all of their concerns that teachers must generate many such multidi-
within the framework of that model. What mensional solutions in the moment, as events
“works” for teachers is an approach that unfold. These discrete in-the-moment decisions
acknowledges all six areas of concern in a way are often imperfect: Each considers only those
that maximizes success and minimizes prob- things that the teacher happens to be aware of at
lems in each area. the moment, and each is vulnerable to second
There is a second basic truth about teaching, thoughts later on. It is neither feasible nor desir-
and it has to do with the ideals society holds for able for teachers, midstream, to weigh each act
teaching. Society holds many lofty aims for edu- for all its implications.
cation in general and for teaching in particular, Now let us put these three truths of teaching
but these aims are inconsistent with one into a single sentence. Teaching is an endeavor
another. There is a tension between the societal that requires simultaneous consideration of six
desire to accommodate individual needs and different areas of concern, that strives toward
the societal desire to treat all students equally. ideals that are inherently contradictory, and that
There is a tension between the desire to follow happens in real time where the merits of alter-
students’ interests and the desire to ensure that native courses of action must be weighed in the
required content is covered. There are tensions moment. This is the nature of teaching.
between the desire to provide students with Teachers do two things to gain control of their
basic skills and the desire to enable them to work. First, they devise a collection of ready-
engage in abstract reasoning, between the made responses to events that reduce the need
desire to develop children as ethical and socially for extensive thought about each event as it
responsible human beings and the desire to unfolds. They develop habits, rules of thumb,
endow them with the skills they need to find and repertoires of responses, tools that are
employment. essential to reduce the cognitive burden of
These societal ideals are also embraced by teaching. These tools enable teachers to develop
most teachers so that their personal goals for sustainable practices, practices that are auto-
their teaching are numerous and contradictory, mated enough that they can be sustained with-
just as society’s goals are. As a result, any teach- out excessive cognitive or emotional burden.
ing decision is necessarily a compromise among The second thing teachers do is envision their
numerous desirable approaches and desirable lessons before they enact them. People who
ends. This is a separate issue from the issue of have studied teacher planning have noted that

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planning is not a linear process that moves from modate, and respond to the contingencies of
instructional objectives to instructional strate- classroom life.
gies but rather, a process of envisioning in The teaching practices we see, then, derive in
which teachers “see” what will happen, where part from teachers’ visions of the sequences of
students will sit, what displays will be exam- events that will lead students through a curricu-
ined, what questions will be asked, and so forth. lar unit to some new knowledge, and they also
Each unit, each lesson, each activity, is like a derive in part from the collection of habits, rules
play with different characters playing different of thumb, and repertoires of responses that
roles, with a problem at the beginning and a teachers have developed. Each teacher’s play
denouement at the end. Because teachers envi- represents her or his solution to the complex
sion their instruction in real time, they are able array of concerns and competing ideals that
to see how all of their areas of concern will be confront the teacher. And each automates as
addressed—what content will be studied, how many practices as possible simply to reduce the
classroom norms will be enacted, where stu- cognitive burden of the task.
dents will sit, what will motivate students to Now, at last, we come to the question of
participate, how momentum will be main- knowledge. Observers of teaching persist in
tained, and so forth. Teachers envision the believing that some solutions, some classroom
entire play and all of its acts. plays, are superior to others, and they desire to
Although I use the term vision to describe improve the solutions that teachers have
teachers’ plans, I do not mean this in the reli- devised. If it is true that some solutions are
gious, idealist, or head-in-the-clouds sense of better than others, we face the question, What
accounts for these differences? The differences
the term but rather, to mean that teachers have a
we actually see lie in the habits, repertoires, and
feet-on-the-ground sense of purpose and direc-
the rules of thumb teachers depend on. The dif-
tion and of actions that get there from here. They
ferences we suspect are responsible for what we
are plans—not plans that are developed in a log-
see are the plays teachers envision for each unit
ical or rational way but scenarios that are envi-
and lesson. To some extent, observed differ-
sioned. Teachers may derive their visions from
ences in practices are accidents of history—the
their ideals, but the visions themselves are not
coincidence of events that provoked responses
idealistic imaginings; instead, they are detailed that eventually became part of teachers’ reper-
plays with scenes, episodes, and characters all toires. And to some extent, these differences in
organized to lead to a particular conclusion. The practice have also developed in response to dif-
plays that teachers envision are the teachers’ ferent sequences of events that teachers imag-
solution to the problem of balancing among six ined would lead students through the curricu-
different areas of concern and the problem of lum to some desirable outcome. If teachers
balancing among multiple and competing edu- design their classroom plays to accommodate
cational goals. The plays form a path through multiple areas of concern and to balance among
the thickets of ideas and ideals that fight for multiple and competing societal goals, and if
their attention. These plays also help them each play represents a unique solution to these
adapt to circumstances as they arise, just as numerous concerns and ideals, then what
mental maps can help drivers plan a detour. If causes some teachers to develop scripts that we
drivers know their eventual destination, and think are better than other scripts? Is it
know the roads in the area, they can change knowledge? Or is it their sense of purpose?
their route when they encounter a roadblock More important, how can teacher educators
and still eventually reach their destination. If facilitate the development of practices that (a)
teachers know the denouement to their play, optimize the numerous concerns and ideals that
they too can alter the script as they go and still teachers must accommodate and (b) are sus-
eventually reach that resolution. The plays that tainable? Should they provide specific bodies of
teachers envision help them anticipate, accom- knowledge?

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WHAT COLLEGE PROVIDES TEACHERS in society. These arguments occur both within
universities and outside of them, and they have
If my portrait of teaching practice is very
been “resolved” numerous times during the
close to reality, then arguments about relevant
past century by national commissions and other
knowledge are difficult to make, for no particu-
learned bodies. These are arguments about the
lar bits of knowledge can necessarily help teach-
ers simultaneously think about all of their areas knowledge teachers need.
of concern and balance among competing soci- The second type of argument occurs only
etal ideals and plot out a route that will move a within education programs. These arguments
group of students toward a particular educa- are not about the relative importance of one
tional destination. Indeed, I have suggested that body of knowledge as opposed to others but
the tool that helps teachers manage all of this is instead, are about how to help young adults
the ability to envision classroom events unfold- learn to think differently about teaching and
ing and the ability to revise certain scenes to fur- develop a vision that will lead to a sustainable
ther accommodate one or another of their con- practice.
cerns. Moreover, these visions are not static, like These two types of arguments differ not only
an image of a landscape, but instead dynamic, in their topics but also in their terms of refer-
like a play, with a set of acts and scenes that lead ence. When people engage in the first argument,
to a particular conclusion. Nor is this an idealis- about how much curricular space should be
tic vision in the sense that we use the term allocated to academic disciplines and how
visionary but instead, a concrete, operational much to education per se, the terms of reference
plan. This is a vision with purpose, direction, have to do with the value of different bodies of
and momentum. knowledge. People argue about which knowl-
It is certainly possible that knowledge can edge is more valuable, which knowledge is
nurture such a sense of purpose, but how that more relevant, and which knowledge is more
influence happens is not clear at all. For useful. When people engage in the second argu-
instance, many people argue that a benefit of a ment, about how to organize the education pro-
liberal education is that it creates a person who gram itself, they rarely address the merits of any
is more open minded, more thoughtful, more particular body of knowledge. Instead, they
judicious, or has some other qualities of intellect refer to the processes by which young adults
or character. If such transformations occur, they grow and develop into teachers, to how pro-
do not derive from any particular pieces of spective teachers think about teaching and how
knowledge or any specific combination of teacher educators can best alter their beliefs.
pieces but rather, from the individual’s The arguments that occur within education pro-
response to the entire corpus. This may be why grams rarely refer to the knowledge needed for
arguments about the “best knowledge for teaching and more often refer to the process of
teaching” never get resolved. Let us examine learning to teach and to how teachers are formed
these arguments more carefully. or transformed.
Arguments about the knowledge we should In fact, much of this second argument is
provide to teachers come in two varieties. First about how to alter the naive assumptions and
there are arguments about the proportion of the ill-formed images of teaching that reside in col-
college curriculum that should be devoted to lege students who are themselves not yet com-
the academic disciplines as opposed to the topic pletely formed adults. That teacher educators
of education itself. Some advocates believe think and argue in these terms may be one of the
teachers need to know more about the subjects reasons outsiders are dubious about the value
they will teach, others believe they need to of teacher education, for they do not hear many
obtain a repertoire of routines and practices that references to things they consider to be knowl-
they can carry into the classroom and use, and edge. At the same time, such thinking may be
still others believe teachers need knowledge of appropriate if the practice of teaching is any-
the educational process and the role of schools thing like the description I introduced above.

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But the notion that education can explicitly teacher education community as a whole and
influence teachers’ visions of their own practice they roughly characterize what we might call
raises numerous problems. One is that we can- the TE collective vision of teaching practice. I see
not easily separate (a) helping students develop four problems with this collective vision:
a more complete and productive vision of teach- 1. The TE collective vision is incomplete. One problem
ing from (b) proselytizing, a process that is with the TE collective vision is that it does not ad-
unbecoming in a university. Another problem is dress all six areas of concern to teachers. The prac-
that the goal of fostering purpose and vision tices that teachers find to be sustainable are those
does not address the dominant question that that address all six of their areas of concern. Sustain-
able practices solve the problem of how norms of ci-
occurs outside of teacher education concerning
vility will be introduced and enforced, what content
the relative merits of knowledge about educa- will be taught, how teachers will foster student
tion and knowledge about academic disci- learning, how lesson momentum will be main-
plines. Advocates for the inclusion of education tained, how teachers will foster student willingness
courses in the college curriculum argue for the to participate, and how the teachers’ own personal
value of the knowledge that is provided, not for intellectual and emotional needs will be met. The
TE collective vision is incomplete because it does
the vision that is provided. not address all of teachers’ concerns. It attends
Yet a third problem is that we have little evi- mostly to concerns about classroom norms and stu-
dence that we can successfully give students a dent willingness to participate, and somewhat to
productive vision for teaching. Even those who how to foster student learning, but pays much less
argue that a liberal education can transform attention to the problems of lesson momentum,
content coverage, and the teachers’ own personal
young adults often define that education as
needs.
including massive transmissions of knowledge 2. The TE collective vision lacks a repertoire of habits and
rather than a collection of developmental expe- rules of thumb. Sustainable practices depend on not
riences. Indeed, we have no evidence that we only a strong vision of how various parts of the play
have ever succeeded in giving teachers the kind will lead to the right denouement but also a reper-
of curriculum-embedded, purposeful vision toire of habits, techniques, and rules of thumb for
responding to events as they unfold. For instance,
they need to sustain a practice. It is this last because students are all novices in the subjects they
problem that I turn to now: the vision we offer. are studying, they are likely to make comments that
So teacher educators live in an ambiguous move the conversation away from its envisioned di-
place. They are surrounded by audiences who rection. Each time such an apparent digression oc-
demand to know what knowledge they offer to curs, the teacher must decide how to reconcile this
remark with the direction of the group as a whole. If
teachers, but they are themselves more inter-
the teacher dismisses the student, such a reaction
ested in their students’ vision and sense of pur- may reduce the student’s willingness to participate.
pose than in their own knowledge base. When If the teacher responds to the digression, she or he
they are not accountable to outside audiences, may lose the attention and interest of others and,
their conversation turns unashamedly away hence, lose lesson momentum. Sustainable teaching
from knowledge to questions of vision. practices include rules of thumb and repertoires
that help teachers quickly and reflexively respond
to such events without becoming befuddled and
TEACHER EDUCATORS’ COLLECTIVE VISION overwhelmed by them. These reflexive responses
are the very heart of sustainable teaching practice,
Teacher educators are famous (or notorious) and no teacher can create the kind of social and in-
for the progressive vision of teaching that they tellectual community that teacher educators envi-
espouse. They embrace terms such as learning sion unless she or he knows how to respond to di-
lemmas like this. Yet teacher educators tend to
community, coconstruction, inquiry, and social jus-
provide only the vision and not the repertoires or
tice. They do not all share the exact same vision, rules of thumb needed to respond to such events.
of course. There are numerous variations on 3. The TE collective vision ignores the press of competing
these themes and occasionally some sharp dis- ideals. Recall that one of the basic truths about teach-
agreements among teacher educators about the ing is that it is beset with multiple and conflicting
meanings and significance of these terms. But ideals; conflicts between, for instance, responding
to individual difference and treating all children
the terms capture the general framework of the

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equally or following student interests versus ensur- THE DILEMMA WE FACE
ing that particular content is covered. Instead of ac-
knowledging the reality of multiple and conflicting As teacher educators, then, we are on the
ideals, the TE collective vision embraces one side of horns of a dilemma. We know that teaching
each dilemma. In so doing, it competes with other depends on two important things: a repertoire
ideals, often with ideals that are valued by members
of strategies and rules of thumb for responding
of society at large. Teacher educators’ insistence on
particular ideals at the expense of others has
to unanticipated events and an ability to envi-
spawned reading wars, math wars, and history sion how a series of acts and scenes can lead to
wars as members of society who disagree with the satisfying denouements. The repertoire of hab-
TE collective vision seek to recapture the hearts and its and rules of thumb help teachers move effi-
minds of teachers. Instead of helping teachers de- ciently through their lessons without having to
velop an integrated, sustainable practice that ac-
think about every move along the way, and they
knowledges multiple and conflicting ideals, the TE
collective vision asks teachers to limit their help them quickly find appropriate responses to
attention to a narrow spectrum of social ideals unexpected contingencies. The ability to envi-
rather than acknowledging the full range. sion enables teachers to simultaneously accom-
4. The TE collective vision is static rather than dynamic. Fi- modate all of their areas of concern because they
nally, the TE collective vision is static. Teacher edu- can revise different scenes as they rehearse the
cators’ visions are more like images than stories;
they are more like scenes that have a certain look
overall play in their minds, seeking scenarios
and feel than like sequences of events leading to that better accommodate all their concerns. We
conclusions. The TE collective vision is not tied to also know that the teacher candidates who enter
any particular learning outcome. It is a vision of a our programs do not have either a repertoire of
social and intellectual community disconnected practices and rules of thumb or a capacity for
from any particular content, story lines, sequences
envisioning and rehearsing multifaceted class-
of events, or conclusions. In contrast, specific things
happen in teachers’ visions: ideas are introduced, room events and that in fact, they often hold
questions are asked, students do things, there are naive and incomplete images of teaching. We
disturbances, and puzzles are resolved. Teachers’ know, for instance, that their visions of them-
visions are situated in the particulars of curricular selves as teachers are insufficient. Finally, we
units and geared toward the purposes of those doubt that knowledge alone can alter these
units. The TE collective vision lacks any specific
naive beliefs and that knowledge alone can
curricular purpose.
transform young adults into teachers with the
These four problems with the TE collective capacity to envision lessons unfolding into
vision reduce the likely impact of teacher educa- learning.
tion. By failing to provide teachers with any We face two major problems. The first is an
rules of thumb, or any repertoire of specific external problem: We reside within institutions
strategies for responding to classroom events, it that are designed largely for the transmission of
leaves teachers unprepared. By ignoring the knowledge and are not well suited to other
complex mix of ideals that society as a whole strategies of development. Our institutional
embraces, it limits their ability to respond to ide- hosts and our public audiences expect us to pro-
als that society as a whole cares about. By offer- vide our candidates with knowledge. When we
ing a static rather than a dynamic vision and by focus on beliefs they suspect us of proselytizing.
failing to address all six of teachers’ areas of con- These expectations and suspicions reduce our
cern, it gives teachers incomplete guidance. We professional status.
cannot expect young adults to enter teaching Our second problem is internal. We are ham-
with a vision that is static, incomplete, and unat- pered by our own vision of teaching. The TE col-
tached to any curricular purpose and that fails lective vision is incomplete in that it fails to
to acknowledge the range of competing values address all of the areas of concern to teachers. It
and ideals expressed by communities who hire is blind to competing ideals embraced by soci-
our graduates. We cannot expect our graduates ety as a whole and so does not prepare teachers
to implement our vision in these circumstances. to accommodate these contradictory expecta-

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© 2006 American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.
tions. It lacks a repertoire of habits, rituals, and Cuban, L. (1984). How teachers taught: Constancy and change
rules of thumb that would help teachers to actu- in American classrooms, 1890-1980. White Plains, NY:
Longman.
ally move coherently through their lessons. Cusick, P. A. (1983). The egalitarian ideal and the American
And it is a static vision rather than a dynamic high school: Studies of three schools. New York: Longman.
vision. The TE collective vision includes images Doyle, W. (1986). Content representation in teachers’ defi-
of learning communities, with children happily nitions of academic work. Journal of Curriculum Studies,
coconstructing knowledge, but they are still 18(4), 365-379.
Huberman, M. (1983). Recipes for busy kitchens. Knowl-
images—photographs unrelated to any particu-
edge: Creation, diffusion, utilization, 4(4), 478-510.
lar curricular purpose. It does not help teachers Jackson, P. W. (1968). Life in classrooms. New York: Holt,
who must envision specific sequences of events Rinehart & Winston.
that start with a problem, move through an Labaree, D. F. (2000). On the nature of teaching and teacher
examination, and ultimately lead to a satisfying education: Difficult practices that look easy. Journal of
conclusion. Because of these failures in the TE Teacher Education, 51(3), 228-233.
Labaree, D. F. (2004). The trouble with ed schools. New
collective vision, teacher education often fails to Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
give teachers the tools they need to develop a Lortie, D. C. (1973). Observations on teaching as work. In
sustainable practice and may in addition R. M. W. Travers (Ed.), Second handbook of research on
actually hinder them from developing these teaching (pp. 474-497). Chicago: Rand McNally.
tools on their own. Metz, M. (1993). Teachers’ ultimate dependence on their
students. In J. Little & M. McLaughlin (Eds.), Teachers’
work: Individuals, colleagues and context (pp. 104-136).
REFERENCES New York: Teachers College Press.
Waller, W. (1961). The sociology of teaching. New York: Rus-
Kennedy, M. M. (2004, April 7). Reform ideals and teach- sell and Russell. (Original work published 1932)
ers’ practical intentions. Education Policy Analysis
Archives, 12(13). Retrieved from http://epaa.asu.edu/
epaa/v12n13
Mary M. Kennedy’s scholarship focuses on the rela-
Kennedy, M. M. (2005). Inside teaching: How classroom life tionship between knowledge and teaching practice, the
undermines reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univer- nature of knowledge used in teaching practice, and how
sity Press. research knowledge and policy initiatives can improve
practice. She has published three books addressing the rela-
tionship between knowledge and teaching and has won
ADDITIONAL INFLUENCES five awards for her work, most recently the prestigious
Cohen, D. K. (1988). Plus ça change. In P. Jackson (Ed.), Margaret B. Lindsey award for outstanding research in
Contribution to educational change: Perspectives on research teacher education.
in practice issues (pp. 27-84). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

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