Most professional development courses, especially in India, tend to concentrate on the technical aspects of the work. This type of training has reduced the professional to a (lower level) worker who works within a predefined frame with little competence or courage to examine the work critically even when the experience or conscience demands it. At the higher level, professional training is focused on the management aspects. Though the management has more freedom to decide the frame, it can only do so from a technical or a profitability perspective. The lip service that is paid to the links between society and business during the training, translates into nothing more than a public relations exercise and image building in the field.
Professional teacher development has followed this path with even more disastrous consequences. Teachers trained in this mode tend to ‘close’ minds rather than ‘open’ them, that is, to school minds rather than enlighten or educate them. As this realization gradually dawned, some of the progressive teacher educators were prompted to think of ways to address this lacuna. Accordingly, the scope of professional teacher development has been enlarged to include much more than training in the technical aspects and this change is captured in the renaming of teacher training as professional teacher development.
Reflective Teaching & Learning by Sue Dymoke and Jennifer Harrison, published by Sage, South Asia Edition, belongs to this attempt to raise the level of teacher professional development to mean more than training in the technical aspects of being a teacher. The approach used for this is that of reflective practice.
Reflective Teaching & Learning (RTL) begins with a comprehensive introduction to reflective practice. The authors explain how reflective practice is critical for effective teaching. It can also become an indispensable tool for teacher professional development. From the initial stages, reflective practice encourages independent thinking and is a critical initiation into the different aspects and issues of teaching and learning. Throughout the book the attempt is to extend and challenge the beginning teacher to think independently and critically.
The first chapter begins with a detailed explanation of the concept of reflective practice and goes on to spell out the skills and attributes that are essential for becoming a reflective practitioner. It takes one through the technical to the practical aspects and finally to the critical aspect – which has generally been neglected – of teacher development.
Each subsequent chapter is a comprehensive introduction and initiation into the different core professional issues like learning theories, the teaching-learning context, classroom management, assessments, the social and political aspects of education and finally pastoral care. It covers most of the areas that a beginning teacher needs, and each topic is dealt with in sufficient detail and provides follow-up activities and example materials through its companion website.
Chapter Two acquaints the beginning teacher with the different theories of learning and the implications of those learning theories for classroom teaching. Chapter Three gives an understanding of how learning can be structured and how to make the learning environment more inclusive within a classroom. It also gives an idea of the manner/way in which policy shapes curriculum content and teaching. Chapter Four emphasizes the importance of classroom management and explains the dynamic nature of a class environment. Chapter Five initiates the beginning teacher into the mystery and technicality of assessments. Chapter Six on Education as a Social and Political Process gives the larger picture that would prepare the beginning teacher to examine his/her own values and perspectives and to critically engage with issues of inclusion, diversity, and citizenship. The historical perspective of policy changes is the grounding for engaging with policy instead of blindly adopting the recommendations made. Chapter Seven focuses on the nature and aspects of pastoral care and deepens one’s understanding of the links between personal, social, physical health, and learning. RTL thus provides the wherewithal to become a complete teacher and as such will be an indispensible reading for beginning teachers.
RTL, though written for the beginning teacher, can serve as a useful resource for any practicing teacher who wants to improve his/her teaching and/or become a reflective practitioner. RTL contains useful suggestions that would interest mentors who wish to use reflective practice for teacher development.
Unlike many of the recent teacher professional development books that neglect theory, RTL makes every attempt to explain the theoretical underpinnings of different practices and issues. This is consistent with the approach of going beyond the technical know-how to an understanding of the underlying reasons of what one is doing. RTL also introduces one to the latest academic research that grid the new approaches to teaching-learning. Companion website follow-up activities and materials provide the beginning teacher with many practical resources that will be invaluable in those early days of classroom teaching. RTL serves as an up-to-date reference for the latest trend in education in each aspect of teaching from its emphasis on inclusion, to the policy of ECM, to cognitive and social constructivism. This is something that will make the book very useful and appreciated by postgraduate beginning teachers.
However, there is one major drawback of this otherwise excellent book. Throughout the book all the references are to the standards, the curriculum and the policy documents of the UK, which makes it irrelevant to the South Asian countries for which it has been published. The references to Ofsted standards, Warnock Report, Education (Schools) Act 1992 and GTCE make no sense for the teachers in India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, or Bangladesh. While one realizes that bringing out a South Asian Edition is merely a commercial arrangement for sales in a different region, one wonders whether it is really out of place to expect a contextualization of the references to policy and the curriculum framework. While it is not possible to rewrite the book, it is perhaps required that such references be contextualized, especially where such references are crucial to the content.
Sometimes just being in the right place at the right time is enough for success. This factor is certainly in place for Reflective Teaching & Learning edited by Sue Dymoke and Jennifer Harrison. As the attention in educational circles is shifting from curriculum issues to teacher professional development, this book by Sage South Asia Edition could not have come out at a more opportune time.
And at Rs 350/- the book is a steal for an up-to-date initiation and guide to issues in teaching especially through a reflective practitioner’s perspective.
The reviewer is with Centre for Learning, Hyderabad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.