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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Teachers' practical judgement : acting in the face of uncertainty Tait, Joyce


The current educational context in British Columbia is characterized by standardsbased curriculum mandates that are narrowing teaching and learning practices, and auditoriented policies that are causing ‘accountamania’ amongst educators. This study is based on the belief that such directives not only restrict conceptions of teaching and learning, but by attempting to impose certainty in an inherently uncertain endeavour like teaching, they disregard the critical role of teacher deliberations and judgment. The purpose of this research study was to illustrate and examine the highly complex deliberative processes in which teachers engage. More specifically, the study sought to understand the considerations that teachers take into account when teaching, and, how teachers conceive of their deliberative processes. Drawing on the Aristotelian notion of “phronesis,” a key assumption was that there is a relationship between teachers’ overt actions and their tacit deliberations, and that both are key to children’s learning. This study involved three case studies of teachers engaging in conversations about their practical judgments as they observed video-recordings of their teaching. When deliberating on their actions, participants prioritized: student connections, individual student accommodations, time constraints, lesson momentum, valuing students, and instructional pacing. These particulars were all considered to be in the best interest of the students but they frequently presented dilemmas for the teachers (i.e. meaningful student connections vs. curricular time constraints; and individual accommodations vs. class momentum). The participants understood their deliberative processes to involve managing the resultant tensions by drawing on their practical judgement, which was largely based on their experience. In phronetic terms, their “practical judgment” allows them to determine what is significant in classroom situations and gives them intimate knowledge of the particulars so they can reason correctly and act appropriately (purposively and responsively). Given that the participants understood their practical judgment to be integral to their practice, the study outlines some possible implications for teacher education programs, professional development and educational policies. The study concludes with a call for stakeholders to actively work towards cultivating a culture of trust, which would not only be beneficial for the current educational context, but future challenges of education in an increasingly uncertain world.

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