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What Every Professor Needs to Know About Pedagogy

What Every Professor Needs to Know About Pedagogy

by Dani Babb
September 28, 2016

"Pedagogy needs to be explored through the thinking and practice of those educators who look to accompany learners; care for and about them; and bring learning into life. Teaching is just one aspect of their practice." Our starting point here is with the nature of education. Unfortunately, it is easy to confuse education with schooling. Many think of places like schools or colleges when seeing or hearing the word. They might also look to particular jobs like teacher or tutor. The problem with this is that while looking to help people learn, the way a lot of teachers work isn’t necessarily something we can properly call education. 1

Education Week reported on June 19, 2002 that the Secretary of Education had questioned the importance of teachers learning pedagogy:

Many schools of education have continued business as usual, focusing heavily on pedagogy, how to be a teacher, when the evidence cries out that what future teachers need most is a deeper understanding of the subject they'll be teaching, of how to monitor student progress, and how to help students who are falling behind," Mr. Paige told hundreds of state, school district, and higher education officials gathered here for a Department of Education conference on teacher-quality evaluation.

The implications of this statement are chilling, especially since a lack of attention to pedagogy (how teachers orchestrate classroom learning) explains why many children bog down in schools or drop out entirely. A lack of devotion to pedagogy also explains why new technologies have failed to realize their potential in many classrooms across the land.

The Secretary incorrectly defines pedagogy as "how to be a teacher." In other statements he has dismissed the "art" of teaching and argued for a scientific approach.

Roget's defines pedagogy as "The act, process, or art of imparting knowledge and skill."

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines pedagogy as "The art or profession of teaching." 1

For many concerned with education, it is also a matter of grace and wholeness, wherein we engage fully with the gifts we have been given. As Pestalozzi constantly affirmed, education is rooted in human nature; it is a matter of head, hand and heart. We find identity, meaning, and purpose in life ‘through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace’.

To educate is, in short, to set out to create and sustain informed, hopeful and respectful environments where learning can flourish. It is concerned not just with knowing about things, but also with changing ourselves and the world we live in. As such education is a deeply practical activity – something that we can do for ourselves (what we could call self-education), and with others. This is a process carried out by parents and those who care, friends and colleagues, and specialist educators.

It is to the emergence of the last of these in ancient Greece that we will now turn as they have become so much a part of the way we think about, and get confused by, the nature of pedagogy. 1 The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards defines pedagogy as follows: Content pedagogy refers to the pedagogical (teaching) skills teachers use to impart the specialized knowledge/content of their subject area(s). Effective teachers display a wide range of skills and abilities that lead to creating a learning environment where all students feel comfortable and are sure that they can succeed both academically and personally. This complex combination of skills and abilities is integrated in the professional teaching standards that also include essential knowledge, dispositions, and commitments that allow educators to practice at a high level.2

It is because we failed to fund professional development and pretty much ignored pedagogy that many schools have suffered from the screensaver's disease and found little return on their technology investments.3

Educators and researchers at The Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence (CREDE) have examined the processes of teaching. The research focus of this federally funded research and development program has been the improvement in the quality of education for all students, particularly for those at risk for educational failure due to language or cultural barriers, race, geographic location, or poverty. CREDE findings, the culmination of thirty years of research, are conclusive and compelling. They speak to the importance of pedagogy in general and in particular to the pivotal role of the teacher. These findings also underscore the importance of the instructional structure. Solid teaching practices are important for all children, but they are essential if vulnerable learners are to achieve positive learning outcomes. By focusing on pedagogical practices that work with the most challenging and vulnerable students, it is possible to identify the critical elements of teaching that results in successful for all children.4

“Having an expertise in reading, writing, math or science is necessary, but the ability to transfer that knowledge into another person is what makes an excellent instructor stand out. What good is it if a teacher has all the facts, but cannot communicate them in a way that others can comprehend?"5


  1. http://infed.org/mobi/what-is-pedagogy/
  2. http://www.nbpts.org/
  3. http://www.fno.org/sept03/pedagogy.html
  4. http://www.forumonpublicpolicy.com/archivespring07/entz.pdf
  5. http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/20-fundamentals-what-everyteacher-should-know-about-learning/

This article is written by Paul Sisler, a graduate student at Fort Hays State University.