I have recently been reading Doug Lemov’s various works on teaching teachers. The books and videos will be familiar to many and, although some of the Americanisms jar on my British sensibilities, I nevertheless find the books a persuasive and cohesive whole. What you have in Lemov’s work is a clearly-defined style of teaching.
The problem, of course, is that to teach a teacher in the ‘Lemov School’ requires a considerable time investment. There are lots of strategies to learn and, above all, they need a great deal of practice. You couldn’t introduce someone to the ‘Lemov School’ in an afternoon professional studies session: I reckon it would take at least a year of constant practice and feedback to get to a stage where you are teaching well in that style.
And this is probably true of many teaching styles. The ‘Heathcote School’, making wide use of inquiry and role-play, cannot be learnt in a single training session: I suspect it requires lots and lots of practice to get to a point where you are doing it well.
Yet, in the real world, teachers do not focus on mastering a particular teaching style. Instead they regularly get large numbers of strategies thrown at them, some of which are contradictory or mutually exclusive, and they end up building up their own style from scratch. This is one reason why passing judgements on a teacher’s ability is so personal: it is an attack not just on how well a teacher is teaching in a particular style, but also on the very style that the teacher has created for him- or herself.
A further problem of the current status quo is that is makes it quite difficult for teachers to talk to one another about pedagogy: the purpose and meaning of any given teaching strategy will depend enormously on the wider style in which it is embedded. Teacher instruction is a central component of both the ‘Lemov’ and ‘Heathcote’ schools, yet it would be difficult indeed for teachers teaching in those two styles to meaningfully compare notes on teacher instruction. Indeed, this is part of the reason why doing empirical studies into the effectiveness of different teaching approaches is so difficult.
All of this leads me to the position where I think that, pedagogically, it is better to focus on learning a particular teaching style, and learning to do it well. This does not mean being unaware of other styles, but rather making a conscious choice to focus on developing the one that you find most attractive.
Such a line of argument does however have implications for both initial teacher education and later professional development. For one, it would require training institutions to be upfront about what ‘style’ they focus on in their training. As a new teacher you would need to take some time to look at the different styles on offer and to make some choices about which would most appeal to you. Schools would need to make a decision about whether they wanted to employ teachers who follow the same style, or whether they want to have diversity.
I suspect that this suggestion will be highly unpopular, not least because the romantic vision of the creative teacher forging his or her own practice is enticing and pervasive, and any sniff of standardisation, common practices or coherency brings about cries of teachers as robots, machines and drones.
Yet it might be the case that what we gain from having a clearer sense of different teaching styles might outweigh what we lose.