‘Best practice’ is a very common phrase in education and also one that doesn’t really make sense. Here are just a few of the problems with this concept:
- ‘Best practice’? Says who?
- ‘Best practice’? Do you mean there is no alternative that might sometimes, occasionally be better?
- Does ‘best practice’ mean that every teacher should be doing it? If so, does it just become normal practice? (ie. Is it ‘best practice’ to stop at a red traffic light?)
- ‘Best practice’ can encourage complacency. In an evolving field like education, if we rest on our ‘best practice’ laurels, how will we know when the practice has become obsolete?
- If we just keep doing the same ‘best practice’ we risk devaluing innovation. Why would I try something new or different in my classroom if there is a known ‘best’ way to do things. ‘Best-practice’ is an enemy of creativity.
- Just because a practice works for one teacher or one school, doesn’t mean it will work for others. The only feature shared by every single school is: uniqueness.
Whilst we should stop using the term ‘best practice’ (try ‘effective practice’ instead), it certainly does not mean we should be ignoring excellence demonstrated by our peers or examples of successful methodologies. Of course, we need to be constantly seeking to learn from others and to refine our practice. But we need to do so through a critical lens and with a view to innovation and adaptation rather than laziness or compliance.
The purpose of closed-circuit television systems (CCTV) is for cameras to record information and send it to one specific location. CCTV is a secure, private system that is the opposite of broadcasting – in which the signal is openly transmitted and anyone can tune in.
You know those rare days, where everything goes right and you are at the top of your game. I had one of those days in 2010. My mother had come to visit the school I was teaching in and, on that day, I was teaching my favourite Year 12 Psychology class. I had done extra preparation for the lesson – I wanted it to go well – and the students were absolutely engaged throughout the lesson and swept-up in the content on ‘evolutionary theories of relationships’. At the end of the lesson, my students left the classroom buzzing and, although I was glad it went well and so happy that my mum had seen me at my best, I kind of wished that I had recorded the lesson. It really was one of my best ever lessons. But no one will ever know. And no other teacher will ever be able to learn from it. (They also won’t be able to learn from all the lessons that didn’t work so well.)
That’s because traditional classroom teaching is closed-circuit.
We are starting to get better, as a profession, at designing more open-circuits. Regular lesson observations, peer-mentoring and ‘walk-throughs’, for example, are commonplace in good schools these days. And some of the most innovative schools are creating safe, transparent, active forums and ‘open-source’ databases; not only encouraging the sharing of best practice, but building it into the heart of the teaching infrastructure.
If we can get it right, this broadcasting of ‘what works’ is a way for us to galvanise our collective resources. It may just be the spark that we need to help ignite an evolution in pedagogy.