Teaching in Mind

Helping Teachers Mindfully Transform Education

New!

The Teaching in Mind website has been refocused on how the unconscious beliefs and values of teachers influence the education of our children. Since the 2nd edition of Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education was published in 2010, the lives of teachers and students have undergone major changes. To this end, our goal is to publish an updated edition of Teaching in Mind by the end of 2017. Meanwhile, the key ideas about the effects of teacher beliefs can still be found here. New articles on the topic will be added as they are completed.

Other Articles

Articles about learning and assessment, historic foundations of education, current issues in education, and transforming education that previously appeared on this site can now be found at our sister site, Learning in Mind.

Email Updates

Want to be notified when the latest articles and/or information is added?

Sign up for Email Updates

Share This Page

Teaching in Mind

Introduction

"You may feel like a voice in the wilderness, but it is your voice we are waiting to hear. Yours is the crucial vote. You are the determining factor.
We reach Critical Mass when we reach you—
and you choose to reach others…"
~ Neale Donald Walsch1

I

n the wealth of rhetoric on school improvement and educational reform, one critical factor is consistently ignored. Other than references to "quality," there is a pervasive lack of attention to teachers in educational planning. Frequently, teachers are perceived as constants, much like the books, desks, and other inanimate objects in the educational environment. More attention is paid to the attractive design and packaging of knowledge than to the one factor that may well be the most influential variable in the educational equation—the teacher! Peter Temes, president of the Great Books Foundation, reminds us,

"Once the classroom door closes, once the lesson begins, once the student steps toward the teacher asking for help, it is all up to the teacher, not the school. Good schools help; great schools help more; but great teachers are the far more precious commodity."2

Recent studies reaffirm that "the most important factor that affects student learning is quality teaching."3 Theorists have attempted to define and describe the characteristics of "quality teaching," focusing largely on academic training and observable behaviors. Yet the unconscious ways in which teachers perceive the world—create their mental models of reality—are highly individualistic. And it is these perceptions that drive a teacher's behaviors. Identifying what makes one teacher effective is helpful, but that teacher's behavior cannot be directly given or transferred to others. For this reason, no two classrooms are, or can be, the same.

Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education digs deeply into those individual differences. It probes the realms of subjective experience—the beliefs, values, presuppositions, metaphors, and meanings that shape your personal world. Teaching in Mind is much more than a book for teachers. It is a book about teachers—a book for and about you.

Hundreds of books offer answers to questions teachers have asked since the beginning of organized education. What should we teach? How should we teach? How should we organize knowledge? How should we assess learning? Theorists imply that, if only teachers would behave in the prescribed manner, the educational process would miraculously improve. Yet, despite this wealth of available answers, education remains plagued with problems. Why?

Individual teachers neither understand nor implement the answers in the same way. The ways in which those answers fit into teachers' existing realities vary tremendously, resulting in widely differing behaviors. What does it mean to teach, to learn, to understand? Does it mean the same to others? And if not, what are the implications?

The time has come to ask new questions. Teaching in Mind begins with questions rather than answers. What can educators gain by focusing on what teachers already do and why they do it rather than on answers about how everyone should teach? Why does one teacher wait patiently as students think about a question while another pops in with the answer if one is not quickly forthcoming? Why is one teacher able to maintain discipline with no overt effort while another constantly reprimands students with little lasting effect? What sets Dead Poet's Society's John Keating or Jaime Escalante of Stand and Deliver apart from their peers?

What can be gained by asking those questions? As you'll discover, your answers to these questions are the ones that really count. When you discover and understand the unique ways in which you represent teaching and learning in your own inner reality, you have the opportunity to make reasoned choices. You can accept things as they are or change the only thing that is within your power to directly change—yourself!

Organization

T

he first two chapters explain why it is so important for teachers to consciously reclaim the power they have always had, as well as the importance of self-reflection in understanding how their beliefs and values influence their perceptions and behaviors.

Chapter 3 provides an introduction to the role that an individual's beliefs, values, and the meanings they attach to words influence their worldview, as well as how that worldview plays out in the way the classroom.

Chapters 4 and 5 explore the metaphors teachers use to describe their work. Why is one teacher's classroom a zoo while another's is a beehive? What does that mean for students? What metaphors do you use and why is that important?

Chapters 6 through 8 analyze some common beliefs held by teachers, and explain how those beliefs shape decision-making and behavior. These chapters contain many processes to help readers better understand how their beliefs shape their world.

In Chapter 9, the reader is encouraged to create a mental image of an ideal teaching environment and compare it to their present experience. Why are they different? How can teachers inhabit their ideal classroom?

Chapters 10 through 13 examine the so-called conventional wisdom of education—beliefs about the purposes of education, knowledge, understanding, learning, teaching, curriculum, and standards. Are these beliefs valid? If not, what can be done?

Chapter 14 is a call to action—a call for teachers to begin making a difference in the world through choice rather than habit.

Appendix A contains a Self-Inventory designed to help teachers explore their own present beliefs, values, and metaphors.

Appendix B contains a discussion of NCATE's movement toward measuring what they call teacher dispositions. The case for and against such measurements, and several models of assessment are presented.

Note: When describing individual behaviors, I have alternated gender references. No relationship between gender and behavior is implied nor should be inferred.


T

eachers have always had the power to determine the tone and direction of a school, to create exemplary worlds within the classroom, and to scuttle reform movements that failed to fit their mental models. For too long, those actions have taken place without conscious thought or choice. It's time for teachers to recognize and accept their responsibility in shaping education, to begin mindfully applying stress where the system is dysfunctional, and to take their rightful place as wise and compassionate experts and decision makers. I invite you to my paradigm playground. Have fun!


References

  1. Walsch, N. D. in Hartmann, T. (1998) The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight. Northfield, VT: Mythical Books, 296.
  2. Temes, P. (2001, April 4). The End of School Reform. Education Week, 36.
  3. Tell, P. (2000, April 20). Fostering High Performance and Respectability. ASCD Infobrief.

Share This Page


New!

The Teaching in Mind website has been refocused on how the unconscious beliefs and values of teachers influence the education of our children. Since the 2nd edition of Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education was published in 2010, the lives of teachers and students have undergone major changes. To this end, our goal is to publish an updated edition of Teaching in Mind by the end of 2017. Meanwhile, the key ideas about the effects of teacher beliefs can still be found here. New articles on the topic will be added as they are completed.


Other Articles

Articles about learning and assessment, historic foundations of education, current issues in education, and transforming education that previously appeared on this site can now be found at our sister site, Learning in Mind.

Email Updates

Want to be notified when the latest articles and/or information is added?

Sign up for Email Updates