Item ID : 4308

Korthagen, F.A.J. (2004). In search of the essence of a good teacher: Towards a more holistic approach in teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education 20, 77-97.

Item ID : 4308

This paper treats the following two questions as the foundation of teacher education: “1. What are the essential qualities of a good teacher? 2. How can we help people to become good teachers?” (p. 78). The paper attempts to present a model from which to offer a broad answer to these questions; one that will treat teachers holistically addressing both professional identity and the level of mission and not only the level of competence. The level of mission is associated with spiritualty.

Korthagen refrains from a definitive description of “the good teacher” for his or her nature will differ depending on context. His intention is, “to offer a framework for any serious discussion of such a norm” (p.78). The model proposed is offered according to Korthagen, against insufficient discussion of “the good teacher” and against an often heard call for reflective teachers, yet little reference to, “what are important contents for reflection?” (p. 78) such that will help teachers improve. In addition, given the influence of psychology on the pedagogy of teacher education, it is important to inform the discourse through recent developments in transpersonal and positive psychology.

Korthagen views current attempts to describe “the good teacher” based on lists of comeptencies as inappropriate. These are repeating the competencies-based approach of the middle of the 20th century that resulted in a fragmentation of the conception of the good teacher. Around the 1970s a contrasting model was developed. Namely, the Humanistic Based Teacher Education (HBTE) that gave more attention to the person of the teacher (Combs et al, 1974, Joyce, 1975, Shapiro, 1998). In this model a central role was reserved for personal growth following the humanistic psychology of Maslow and Rogers. “As Joyce (1975, p. 132) maintains, the viewpoint of HBTE cannot be reconciled with the laying down of standardized teaching competencies” (p. 79). Korthagen suggests that the argument between the competence-based approach and the humanistic one runs to this day despite the former’s gaining primacy. Policy makers tend to favour a competence based approach whereas researchers tend to emphasize the personal approach (e.g, enthusiasm, love for children)(Tickle, 1999). Korthagen proposes that the dichotomy between these two approaches is too narrow. In order to advance the discussion he relies on an adaptation of Bateson’s model (Dilts,1990). The model depicts the person as a layered onion. Each layer allows for a possible way for understanding teacher’s actions, a possible rendition of the good teacher, and a possible path for teacher development and change. The assumption underlying the model is that the inner layers can influence the outer ones manifesting eventually in behavior and vice versa – the environment can forge the inner layers.

The model unfolds as follows from the outer layer to the inner, and focus on the two most inner layer, that according to Korthagen are neglected in the discourse:

1.  The outermost layer is environment. This is the only observable level. It is manifest through the second level.

2.  Behavior – It is here in which most student teachers dwell in their attempt to understand and manage the classroom.

3.  Competencies (including integrated bodies of knowledge, skills, and attitudes).Competencies constitute potential behaviors but not the behaviour itself.

4.  Belief – teachers’ beliefs are to a great extent shaped by their own education (Feiman-Nemser, 1983). While their teacher education program may present them with new sets of beliefs, in most cases, old beliefs prevail (Wubbels, 1992). Beliefs drive our behavior and they come into play in many cases based on Gestalts that are viewed as, “cohesive wholes of earlier experiences, role models, needs, values, feelings, images, and routines, which are – often unconsciously – evoked by concrete situations (Korthagen & Lagerwerf, 1996)” (p. 81). A shift toward the next layer emerged as an interest in beliefs about education has changed towards belief about oneself.

5.  Identity – this level corresponds with the humanistic based approach in which it was common to ask “who am I?”, “what kind of teacher do I want to be?” etc. Such questions are fundamental to developing a professional identity. “McLean (1999, p. 55) concludes that after decades in which ‘the person’ was largely absent from the theory on how best to educate teachers, we are now witnessing a surge of interest in the question of how beginning teachers think about themselves and how they undergo the substantial personal transformations they pass through as they become teachers” (p. 82). The importance of identity to teaching has been noted by many. As Tusin (1999) states, “behavior is a function of self-concept,which makes self-concept an essential aspect of teaching and learning to teach” (p. 27). Hamachek (1999) says that, “the more that teachers know about themselves—the private curriculum within—the more their personal decisions are apt to be about how to pave the way for better teaching (p. 209)” (p. 83). The authors define professional identity based on Beijaard (1995): “Who or what someone is, the various meanings people can attach to themselves, or the meanings attributed by others”. This is related to Gecas’s (1985) statement that identity “gives structure and content to the self-concept, and anchors the self to social systems (p. 739)” (p. 83). However, Korthagen argues, the literature is replete with conceptual problems: a) concetpions of various selves: a true self, actual self, social self, ideal self, essential self, b) confusion as to the differences between self-image, self-concept, self-conception, self-experience, self-appreciation, c) confustion between self-development, self-actualization, self-realization. d) complexity of distinctions between self/ego and self/personality.

There are also questions as to the differentiation of identity and professional identity as well while, “it is interesting to speculate on how far apart the two could lie.” (p. 83). He adds that, “most researchers in this area agree that excessive inconsistencies between one’s personal and professional identities would in the long run give rise to friction within the individual teacher (see e.g. Nias, 1989, p. 42).” (p. 83). According to Bullough (1997): “Teacher identity—what beginning teachers believe about teaching and learning and self-as-teacher—is of vital concern to teacher education; it is the basis for meaning making and decision making. Teacher education must begin, then, by exploring the teaching self (p. 21).”

While elaborating on the theme of identity, and self-concept, Korthagen proposes that self-concept is extrememly resistant to change. There’s great difficulty in convincing a teacher that views himself negatively that he has perfomed greatly and vice versa. Bullough and Baughman (1997) show that, “identity change is a difficult and sometimes painful process, and often there seems to be little change at all in how teachers view themselves.” (p. 85).

6.  Mission – this sixth and final level was refered to as the “spirituality level” by Dilts (1990), the “transpersonal level” (Scotton, Chinen, & Battista, 1996), and the “level of interconnectedness” (Mike Bourcier, not cited). Here Korthagen refers to it as “mission” in order to refrain from new agic contexts. Here lays the level of calling, and the context within which the teachers’ work is nested as it is infused with his own way of conceiving of its meaning. It answers to “what it is deep inside us that moves us to do what we do.” (p. 85). “Where the identity level is concerned with the personal singularity of the individual, the spirituality level is about “the experience of being part of meaningful wholes and in harmony with superindividual units such as family, social group, culture and cosmic order” (Boucouvalas, 1988). In short, it is about giving meaning to one’s own existence. The central question at this level is ‘why do I exist?’, in other words, what is at the root of my personal inspiration?” (p. 85). The answer to this might be religious or secular.

Korthagen turns to show the links between the level of mission and the development of positive psychology, as it is itself linked to transpersonal psychology. Positive psychology’s stressing of strengths and virtues rather than difficiencies, and its inclusion of spirituality and transcendence as part of these virtues (Peterson & Seligman, 2000), is important to the matter. According to the Peterson & Seligman when people connect to their strength they have a sense of “their real me” and they experience a rapid learning curve. Ofman (2000) referred to these strengths as “core qualities”. He distinguished between core qualities that come from the inside and competencies that are acquired from the outside.

In light of the model described Korthagen suggests that the question “who is the good teacher” becomes more complex, and lists of competencies fail to meet this complexity. The ideal state is one of congruence at all levels described by Shaw (1975, p. 445): “Such authenticity has no equivalent; it is the development and expression of one’s Self through direct, personal experience and creation of one’s language and meanings over time.” This level of congruence is not necessarily reached. The premise Korthagen works with is that there are discrepancies between inner and outer levels of the self as they meet with the environment.

The model provides insight as to how we can teach teachers to become good teachers, for it focuses attention on the possible contents of reflection relevant to each layer (p. 87). Models of reflection focus alot on process and not on content (Pope & Dennicollo, 2001, p. 63) as this one does. Korthagen demonstrates how the model provides 6 different perspective through which to examing a teacher’s response to a real teacher-student situation. Discussing some of the options applied toward improving teachers Korthangen states, “it may be important to focus on the

level at which the person has a concern, but it is also helpful to extend the attention to include other levels, while keeping different types of intervention in mind. In short, the model of levels of change can help educators to provide tailor made support to their students.” (p. 90). Given that many teachers choose the profession due to a sense of calling (Hansen, 1995) there is much room to explore the level of mission that is not explored sufficiently at all.

Korthagen describes three programs he had implemented in which identity and mission were the core subject. He implemented a host of reflective practices toward this end. He then ties the problem of burnout to teachers losing connection with this level as Edelwich and Brodsky (1980) proposed. “for many teachers finding answers to the question ‘What’s the sense of it all?’ is not a luxury, but a necessity if they are to continue to put their hearts and souls into their work (Palmer, 1998).” (p. 92).

Korthagen summarizes in claiming that the model seeks to bridge the gap between professional work and personal belief. As Tickle (1999, p. 123) wrote, “In policy and

practice the identification and development of personal qualities, at the interface between aspects of one’s personal virtues and one’s professional life, between personhood and teacherhood, if you will, has had scant attention”. Tickle mentions compassion, love, empathy and other as critically required and adds “the teacher as a person is the core by which education itself takes place” (p. 136). Korthagen ends by claiming that the paper stressed the inner levels of identity and mission mostly because they are so neglected. Teacher education should focus on all levels and view competency as a holistic concept. We should constantly bear in mind however that inner calling is crucial as Nelson Mandela’s 1994 inaugural address suggests: “If we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

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