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Dispositions and development

May 12th, 2009

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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