Using the Goldilocks Principle to understand teachers

Goldilocks tried the first bowl of porridge and found it too hard bland. She tried the second bowl and found it too salty. When Goldilocks tried the third she found it just right.

Having recently been talking with teachers about the new Junior Certificate curriculum I’ve heard the following quite a lot; “I don’t mind the change [to the curriculum], but some of the changes and the underlying educational theories are way out there.”

This makes me wonder.

Is the gap between educational theory/research and teacher practice really that large?

Well it turns out that the answer depends both on the teacher and the branch of educational theory. I’ve met teachers that have grasped and honed particular theories of teaching, learning and assessment. These teachers use these theories consistently because they work effectively and reliably within their classes, and the culture of their school. As a result their practice has strengthened. Some theories are useful to them and other are not. They know who they are and what they stand for as a teacher.

These teachers are firmer in their educational practice.

Other teachers are more changeable and malleable, constantly seeking new ideas and inspiration to improve. Educational theories and research are a resource to broaden their practice and mix up the lessons. Their practice and educational theory are closely linked and new theories inspire changes. In other words, they have a softer view of their teaching practice.

So which is right!?

The simple answer is neither.

The firmer group are not too bland. The flexible group are not too salty. Instead both groups are found in the vast middle range. They have understood the Goldilocks Principle, that extremes don’t work in practice, and that operating between the extremes is more effective.

They have found the bowl of porridge that is just right for them.

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