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Dispositions and development

I’m back from the NZCER curriculum conference in Wellington on Friday, where we did a lot of thinking and talking about what’s next—in the new curriculum, in teaching and learning, in 21C education. I was thinking, of course, about all of these in relation to this blog space and the questions we have about 21C education. Then layer Ally’s musing about service, Rachel and Josie being back from AERA where they spoke and listened about service learning, and the whole idea of dispositions. Throw in Chris’s idea that all 21C teachers need to be learners themselves (how did I miss this important idea?! that’s why we’re thinking together…) and suddenly I’m bewildered about what, in fact, a disposition is in the first place and how we increase the stores of teachers who somehow have these mystical things.

Chris wanted to know things about those of us writing here, wanted to know something about who we were and what made us tick. Well, I’m a developmentalist–I think about the changes in adult sensemaking over the course of their lives. I think about how to create contexts that welcome adults in their current sensemaking and also enable them to reach beyond their current thinking if they’d like to. I care about how these contexts make new things possible for people –in their thinking and in their practice.

So the thing is, what is the connection between development, context, and disposition? Suddenly I’ve fallen into a red hot panic that this thing that we’re trying to study—“21C teacher dispositions”—isn’t a THING at all. Have we checked to see what our particular vision is of what a disposition is? Is a disposition something that an individual is born with? Is it something that an individual develops? Or is it something that is an interaction, not held by an individual per say but reflected by individuals?

I’m thinking here about Richard in our study (all the names we’ll use are pseudonyms, although those in the study reading this might want to contribute in some way, and might recognise themselves). Richard was one of the most 21C teachers I’ve ever met. He had each of the ways of think-ing and be-ing that I wrote about in my last blog, AND he was made up of all the curiosity and love of learning which Chris reminded us to value. He sat in a room with us, and he talked about education and his context, telling us about his pathway to education (multiple subject area expert, picked his content because of the process of teaching that was most interesting to him), his goals for the kids (all process-based—no particular content goals), and his orientation to the world (to learn learn learn—and to push his ideas up against very different ideas to learn from them). But therein is the issue. Richard was in a context—with colleagues who valued him and learned from and with him, students who followed his lead, parents and community members who let him be the kind of wacky guy he was—that enabled the full expression of these ideas. He was part of an on-going group of teachers who had conversations to push ideas around. This group, decades old, had changing membership and purpose, with the constant force the conversation people had together over time.

So does Richard have particular personality traits that enabled this way of being in the world? He was open and curious and passionate. Did he have the perspective of being developmentally sophisticated (more on development on another day)? Or did he have a context that allowed him to be in the world in this way? Or do these three things create each other? And where do we intervene in the system to help more teachers become as alive and passionate as Richard, as filled with not only 21C ways of looking at the world but also 21C ways of INHABITING the world? Do we create contexts—using schools and the new curriculum and technology and other pieces—that allow teachers to BE different? Do we look for teachers who have these sorts of traits in the first place? Do we seek to develop these dispositions (and how do we do that)?

At the Curriculum Conference, when we were talking in tables about all the things that get in our way of enacting these 21C ideas—timetabling, NCEA, needs for teachers to cover classes, money, etc.—I had this serious vision that there were some relatively simple answers just out of view. I think these answers will require us to change everything we think about, but once we’ve made that change, a future vision will slot into place relatively quickly. I can nearly see it out of the corner of my eye. But what about Richard? What about you, Chris? Can you see it? Can others? And is it a thing to be discovered, or is it a thing to be developed, or is it a thing to be co-created? All of these? None of these?

“Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.” (Albert Szent-Gydorgyi)

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  1. Magdalene
    | #1

    yesterday, i met my very first real life 21st century teacher (: it was really refreshing. he was responsive and curious, he cared about his students and their learning, he reflected on what he did and encouraged his students to do the same, he thought of different things he could do to engage his students, it wasn’t about just getting through the curriculum, he wanted to do better. i wanted to be a student in his class. i don’t think that you need to be born with those thinking and being dispositions, i think they can developed, provided the teacher/learner is ready and willing.

  2. Pat Hargreaves
    | #2

    Just as a throw away comment, Why not try undoing the knots altogether when the north wind blows….

    There is an analogy here – Often times it seems many educators are always looking to add to their knowledge, adding more and more knots to their repetoire (and to their workload), rather than seeking a complete alternative. The idea of un-learning may be just as important for 21c thinking as is learning.

    Erica McWilliams has an interesting keynote paper that sheds a little light on this – In particular some ‘deadly sins’ of educators.

    I’d recommend a look at this work
    McWilliam, E. (2005). Unlearning pedagogy. Journal of Learning Design, 1(1), 1-
    11 Retrieved 22 March 2009 from

    If that doesn’t work, a google search will find it easy using the title.
    Enjoy the swing.

  3. Maurice
    | #3

    responding to Rachel’s initial comment at the beginning
    Hi Rachel :-)

    Davies et al, 2006: “we are always caught up in the specific reiterative practices through which intelligibility is made available to us and through which we make ourselves intelligible. Our vulnerability to those discourses and reiterative practices and their sheer reiterative nature means we cannot always analyse, critique and successfully deconstruct, as it appears, a new set of discourses and practices.”

    This seems to me to be part of the challenge of shifting-thinking. At this stage, we still lack critical mass of 21st-C teachers to be the “committed sardines” that change the direction of the school, and we also do not yet have the vocabulary or research methodologies appropriate to making that new direction intelligible. Therefore, as teachers, we continue to swim in the same general direction as usual, (or not as the case may be!), though slightly troubled by the new currents we are encountering.

    PS: I think the idea of the buttons is worth trying …

  4. | #4

    Hi Maurice, thanks for weighing in on the ratings issue. It’s great getting feedback as it lets us know there are people out there! We initially thought the ratings might prompt more people to respond and/or encourage more feedback on the site. However, it was hardly being used – and we were concerned after Chris’s comment that it might actually discourage people from writing or commenting. Since we are in a fledgling phase of shiftingthinking and want people to feel comfortable contributing their views, it seems to us that it’s best to leave the ratings feature disabled for now (but although it’s gone, your comment has at least opened up an opportunity for further discussion, thanks!). Perhaps we should think about various kinds of response features that might be worth incorporating. Maybe something like an “I like this” button, as seen on Facebook? Or a “this made me think” button, or a “this left me confused” or “this inspired me” button, or…..?

  5. Maurice
    | #5

    Dispositions. Predispositions. Positions.

    What do I understand by this?

    Is there an ‘I’ or simply an ‘i’ within a discourse?

    Where is the cross-cultural thinking in thIs?

    Do I have an essentIal self that influences others’ thinking? Or is that self *concept* simply an expression of the dominant discourses like the machine in the video that is ‘us’ing us? … and do I imply, by saying inFLuEnceS, that the S E L F is a backwards-compatible notion?

    mmm, room to reflect. Positions. DISpositions. What should I posit?

    how will i/we make sense of all this thInking based around the I and the fact that *my/our* words are searchable whereas *my/our* images are not and yet there is the wolframalpha computational knowledge engine processing knowledge through mathematical algorithms and redefining it and regurgitating it and without understanding that we can use it just as we can use and respond to the words, phrases, blogs that people write and the cartoons that they draw even though without knowing them we have a less-than-clear notion of the contexts or discourses that frame them and the learning-merging space that they create with us where the learning is in the dialogue

    So i sIt here lImIted by the text conventions and the discourses of language and power that they represent and i wonder about other readers and what sense they mIght make of these thoughts and whether the essential i that was essentIal to 20th Century Western thInkIng needs to be less domInant for the 21st.
    PS: I found I couldn’t respond using Safari and had to use Firefox

  6. Maurice
    | #6

    I’m disappointed that the rating system has gone – unilaterally, rather than through consensus – rather than either being the subject of further discussion. I found it useful as a quick opportunity for reflection. What the writers felt when they reflected on the ratings is another matter altogether. Whether ‘my’ rating is in accordance with the majority or not is something else that makes me reflect – because going along with the crowd is part of a set of discourses.

  7. admin
    | #7

    Hi Christopher.

    Thank you for your feedback on the rating system.

    The rating system is about comments being rated by the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, something you often see in social type web sites. However, your comment does highlight the fact that it is almost meaningless to have this feature on the site. Coupled with the lack of usage, and some consultation with other members, I have decided to remove the feature.

    We are open to trying things out here, and in doing so, it is important for us to let go of things that do not stick to the wall. I also think this is a demonstation on how the community can not only post their ideas, but can shape this web site too.

    Anyway, I give you 5 stars for your feedback, which means please give us more constuctive feedback when we need it.


  8. | #8

    I’m not sure I feel encouraged by the notion that my comments on here are going to be rated.. by what? for what? against what criteria? what should I do if I get a poor rating? Do I stop writing in that case?

  9. | #9

    What an incredibly dense constellation of ideas!

    My brain is spinning just trying to encompass this entry. I love that feeling – no criticism intended, as often from such a panoply of ideas I find the momentum to do some new and exciting thing. fantastic. Like tonight one of the allied staff and I started to learn to Tango. We both reckon we are going to be awesome!

    Because I have a tendency to need to deal with things one at a time, I thought I’d pick one thread from your journal entry. Dispositions. I like the term. I like the fact that it hasn’t yet been colonised by one sector of society and coloured by the association. It’s not a pshycological term. It’s not a developmental term. It’s not an educational or political term. Brilliant. We can claim it for ourselves!

    I like the notion of a ‘disposition’ also because to me it feels like it allows the acknowledgement of everything about a person that got them to this moment where they noticed a trend and could identify a consistency in themselves. It could be the result of genetics, education, developmental good fortune, life experience, sympathy with others. There are other things like this, perhaps sexuality is an example, where trying to determine its origin is largely a lot less important than putting energy into making the most of what it offers now that we know about it.

    A single facet of the ‘disposition’ of a 21st Century figure in education that interests me is their capacity to see, develop, and engage in the relationships between things. The notion of ‘relationships’ seems to be such an exciting line of enquiry. It can be applied to a person’s disposition in so many ways. From their ability to create and maintain positive human relationships, to their ability to see the relationships between multifarious factors in a student’s life/learning experience, to their capacity to draw relationships between disparate texts and facts and knowledge, through their capacity to forge relationships with others of like and differing minds and into their relationship with themselves, and how they are able to sustain and support and critically reflect on themselves – it seems to me that fluency with all manner of relationships is an important aspect of the disposition of a 21st Century educationalist.

    I think my suffix to this is that if we are looking into the dispositions of the people we wish to develop to become the effective educationalists of the future, I think we must fundamentally look at how we can support their development as whole people… as one thing does seem sure, a 21st Century teacher will bring every part of themselves to the learning experience.

  10. Ally
    | #10

    Over the weekend I have been enjoying Kieran Egan’s new book “The future of education: Reimagining our schools from the ground up.” One of the points he makes is that it is essential to learn something in depth and that the imagination can only work with what we really know, not just what we vaguely remember or have only a superficial understanding of. This brought me to wonder more about the critical role of creativity in preparing students for an unknown future and the role of deep knowledge. Then I started thinking again about some of the participants in our research project. Certainly I was struck by the depth of both Claire’s and Alice’s subject knowledge and how easily they could tell really interesting stories relating to their areas of expertise. I didn’t know physics could be so engaging (or important to every day life!) Was this deep knowledge something that seems important in C21st teachers generally or is my current interest in the work of Kieran Egan and others in the Imaginative Education Research group just influencing what I see?
    You might like to take a look at this website if you haven’t already. http://ierg.net/

    K. Egan. (2008). The future of education: Reimagining our schools from the ground up. New Haven: Yale University Press.

  11. | #11

    Hi Rachel,
    I’m thinking about what’s possible on a day where the northerly gale blew through the knots I tied on my porch swing not once but twice! Keeping that swing from coming through my lounge window is what strikes me as impossible for ordinary humans today (or at least this ordinary human). But still, I have to find a way to keep the thing from wildly swinging around, or it will come crashing through the window.

    There’s a metaphor in this for me, because whether or not the needs of 21C education are beyond ordinary humans today, we still have to meet them because the world is moving around so fast. Me sitting around and wishing that the easier knots I know how to tie would work doesn’t do very much for the problem. From my perspective, we need to find a way to expand what “ordinary humans” are capable of doing–and in fact that’s just what education is meant to do in the first place, so it all seems in scope to me! I guess it all depends on whether you think education is about holding to the status quo (and keeping us fairly good at doing that which we were fairly good at before) or moving into some new space (and getting good at things we’ve maybe never even known about before). As someone who believes fundamentally in the hope of development, I think we can grow–teachers and students and community members and all–to reach the new places that will keep us all safe and skilled and able to handle the surprises that blow in with gale force.
    Let’s keep playing with these ideas!
    ps Since you’ve evolved three halves to your brain, I think you’re going in exactly the right evolutionary direction!!

  12. | #12

    Hi Jennifer, I’m reminded of a blog I saw not long ago in which someone claimed that what is being expected of “21st century teachers” is actually “beyond the grasp of most ordinary humans”, or some words to that effect. A provocative claim… I go around in circles in my head trying to decide what I think. Half of me wonders if it is true, while the other half of me scolds the first half for taking such a limiting view of the potential of “most ordinary humans”! Meanwhile a third half of me :) says, hmmm, wait a minute, what is an *ordinary human* anyway… does such a thing exist?

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