9/365 We Must Blend Theory and Practice


A movement is afoot in some parts of the country to prepare future classroom teachers without regard to those educational thinkers who have come before. In order to build the schools we need, that regard is paramount. Only through the blending of theory and practice can we move toward teachers who are both thoughtfully reflective about their practice as well as adept at developing new practices based on their students’ needs. Graduate education programs that focus primarily on practice and turn a blind eye to the study of pedagogical theory cite the needs of beginning teachers to enter their classrooms with tools to help their students learn. Yes, this is important.

What, though, when the novice teacher has tried each of the 49 techniques offered in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion and finds himself in need of a fiftieth? It is possible this teacher will begin to look more deeply at the 49 practices in his repertoire and then begin to suss out the underlying theories of learning guiding those practices. This should not be left to chance.

The study of great and deep thinkers like Dewey, Piaget, Papert, Lampert, Sizer, Lawrence-Lightfoot, and Dweck alongside the learning of a collection of beginning practices will prepare beginning novice teachers to enter the classroom feeling prepared as well as prepare them to think critically about their own practice when the tools with which they left their graduate programs are found lacking. These teachers who might otherwise feel they are discovering the practice of teaching and learning in a vacuum would do well to carry with them reminders that wise minds have spent their careers thinking and writing on those very dilemmas facing teachers in modern classroom.

Such a reminder would do well to help with the psychological health of teachers, but a reason stands for such historical understanding that is greater still than letting teachers know they are not going it alone when they enter their classrooms. Understanding the theories of learning, the theorists who developed them, and then working to synthesize that knowledge into a coherent personal philosophy and teaching practice asks teachers to be more thoughtful about their practice, to make choices through critical analysis of evidence, and to back their practice in reasoned arguments. In short, they will engage in the type of thinking we would hope they seek to elicit from their students.

By asking how children learn, how others have suggested children learn, and how teaching might assist in that learning, teachers are driven to train their minds to think critically and putting a premium on the asking of questions and the seeking of answers. This is different than a practice built around the largely unthinking deployment of a set of pre-packaged “tools” delivered absent any question of why they are being deployed.

Teaching is complex; so do not take this to be an argument that teachers well-versed in the study of the history of learning theory and various pedagogies would be able to enter a classroom, develop a curriculum, and implement that curriculum such that all students in the class are enthralled, enlightened, and driven to answer questions. Quite the opposite. This is an argument that teachers should learn the pedagogy of those who have come before concurrently with their learning of those practices thought to be most basic and effective in the hands of beginning teachers.

With such an approach, novice teachers will feel prepared to take on their first days and weeks of teaching and be prepared to meet the critical challenges guaranteed to arise later in their careers. What’s more, it is likely that the critical thinking required to blend pedagogy and practice in whatever context a teacher finds himself will lead to an inquiry-driven practice. While such inquiry within teachers does not assure that those teachers will include such inquiry and critical thought in their classrooms, it does make such an overflow more likely than the plug ‘n’ chug method of practice without theory.

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