Which is more important- the Why or the What?

When it comes to professional development, which is more important- the Why or the What?

Time is so limited, so in an effort to be efficient, most “professional development” opportunities focus on the what.  Over and over, you will hear teachers say,  “Just tell me what to do and I will do it.”  I completely understand this sentiment, but lately I’ve been wondering if this is really what’s best for us in the long run.

Sure, in the short term, it seems most appropriate.  We only have 30 minutes to attend this training- so  just explain what teaching strategy we should use, and then send us on our way.  But does this really help us become better teachers?

Without understanding the why behind the what, the teaching strategy becomes simply a task to be completed. Teachers are not robots to be programmed with tasks to carry out (although I must admit, it does feel that way sometimes).  While we may not realize it at the time, as we are juggling a myriad of responsibilities, understanding the why is what truly makes us better teachers.

We are fortunate to be teaching in such exciting times!  New research on learning theory and cognitive development is emerging much more rapidly than ever before. And with it comes more effective teaching strategies- strategies that align with the latest and greatest research findings.

But I don’t think it will do us much good to focus solely on these new teaching strategies without considering the research behind them.  By understanding the rationale behind the strategy, I am empowered to use this information to develop learning opportunities specifically for my students and their individual needs. I become a more knowledgeable educator overall.

By understanding the Why, I am refining my pedagogical knowledge, allowing me to more effectively:

  • Implement teaching strategies to their fullest intent
  • Adjust instruction to achieve the intended results
  • Create ongoing purposeful learning experiences for my students without being told exactly what to do
  • Persevere when the going gets tough
  • Pursue the ultimate goal- helping each of my students reach his or her fullest potential

In a way, it goes back to the proverbial man needing fish- do we give him a fish, or do we teach him to fish?  It’s easiest to give him a fish, but is this really in his best interest?

Habits of Mind and Habits of Practice

The habits of practice we use most often stem from our habits of mind.  Attempting to change the habits of practice without changing the habits of mind is futile.

We need to change our habits of mind to have a lasting effect on our habits of practice.
What do you think?  Has understanding the why behind the what made you a better teacher?


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