7 Journey 7 Understanding teacher purposes and agendas

Issue 114, page 29
November 2013
Ian Mitchell Pedagogical Purposes Group, Monash University

The group that has generated this framework of journeys is called the sharing pedagogical purposes group as it was this aspect of sharing hitherto secret teachers business with students that led to its founding. It is quite common for a teacher to share a short term agenda with the class, for example explaining the purpose of one isolated task.  It is harder to establish a long term agenda - where do I want all this good learning to go?  What is my destination?  What do I want to see happening in our classroom?

In one sense most students build (often tacit) understandings of how their teacher(s) like to operate. Ms Smith likes us to ask good questions but Mr Jones does not. However the SPP group has carried this a great deal further, inviting their students to share their thinking, reasons for particular tasks and teacher behaviours such as delayed judgement as well as both short and longer term agenda. This has enabled them to take students further than they could before - the students come to see a richer range of purposes that go well beyond just doing set tasks.

Clearly this journey builds on the promotion and use of GLBs (Journey 1), knowledge of procedures (Journey 2) and a shared language learning (Journey 3) that enables regular reflection Journey (4) that makes the teacher purposes and long term agendas regularly visible. This journey is also helped by the building of collaboration and trusts (Journey 5 -  this lies not only between students but with students and teachers - a trust in the teacher and a relationship where purposes and agendas are shared. 

 There is interdependence between Journeys 6 and 7 with shifts in perceptions of roles being important in building understandings of the teache s long term agendas.


Some Ideas


7.1  Build students perceptions that you have a learning agenda as well as a content agenda

The notion of multiple journeys of change is built on the premise that skilled teachers develop and enact a year-long learning agenda or curriculum that runs in parallel with their content curricula. The journeys could be said to be describing the components of this learning curriculum. The way you discuss what is going on can build students perceptions that, in addition to (say) supporting particular GLBs, you do have a coherent plan and set of goals for how the classroom will develop and operate.

7.2 Be as explicit as possible about the sorts of learning behaviours you value, enthusiasm can be important here

There is clear overlap here with Journey 1, but as you elaborate the reasons why you value specific GLBs, you are getting into sharing long term agendas. Practice precedes understanding here for thestudents; generally they need to have experienced and used a GLB before they can understand why it is valuable. In the first year of PEEL we made the mistake of talking to the students about good learning before they had experienced it - they could not make meaning for what we were saying, nor see why more active and independent learning could be useful.

7.3  Students  understandings of what you value are likely to develop faster than their understandings (and acceptance) of the reasons why


This flows from 7.2 - practice precedes understanding.


7.4  Share your pedagogical reasoning, both about your planning, your monitoring of how the lesson is going and your reflections about how you think it went


By pedagogical reasoning we mean the thinking you engaged in as you decided how to approach the content of the day as well as how you are reacting to how the lesson is going. This can include your

goals/agendas for the lesson (and the fact that there may be layers of agendas), your reasons for selecting a particular procedure, your reasons for other aspects of lesson design such as the order of activities

or teacher behaviours such as delaying judgement.

Tanya Whiteside sometimes tells her students during a lesson  Wait a minute, I m just thinking about what we ll  do next and they sit and wait. She says things might change and she explains why they have changed.


7.5  A key aspect of sharing pedagogical purposes is sharing the notion that you have big ideas and that these drove important aspects of the lesson design (this is also part of Journey 8)

With hindsight, a different aspect of sharing secret teachers business was reported by Rosemary Dusting - Are they thinking what I am thinking? (PEEL SEEDS 52) where she reported asking her class what they thought were the important things they had just learnt and was concerned that they did not mention what she thought she had stressed as the key ideas, but focussed on a more mundane list of exercises - i.e. they had NOT seen the ideas behind these as being important. Building the understanding that you always have big ideas builds on, but is not the same as drawing attention to a particular big idea related to the lesson at hand.

7.6 Discuss with students how teachers approach assessment and what they look for.


This is another aspect of unpacking secret teachers business. - being more explicit about why particular tasks were set and therefore what is being looked for.


7.7  You may need to tough it out and stick to your guns in an occasional critical incident to get students to see that you really mean what you say

 For example, some students resisted trying to work something out for themselves, expecting that eventually the teacher would give in and tell them, she did not succumb and they not only worked it out, but made a significant step forward in seeing why it was better for them to do so.

 7.8 Sharing pedagogical problems (things that you anticipate students will have difficulty with) is one aspect of sharing pedagogical purposes

If you are unsure about how something will go, sharing this can help debriefing, may give a later opportunity for praise (if it did go well) and keep students in the picture if you decide to change during the lesson. Sharing pedagogical problems can also include sharing: -challenges that you faced in planning the lesson.

 7.9 The group looked at specific ways that they talked about their pedagogical purposes; these are a mix of comments and questions




That was a good learning behavior because ...


This [describes] is an aspect of how I am hoping you will develop as learners


This is one of my big ideas for this unit


The challenges I faced in designing this lesson/unit were .......

A mistake I made was .....

I am not sure how this will go so I do not have a fixed plan

I have [2 or 3..] layers of agendas for this lesson/activity

The reason why I selected this teaching procedure was ......




Well I think we did/did not achieve what I was hoping because .........

Why do you think I am keen to see that sort of learning behavior?




Why did we do this - which big idea(s) was/were involved?







Why do you think I selected this teaching procedure?

Why do you think I designed the lesson in this way?

Why do you think I [displayed this teaching behavior]

How well do you think this lesson achieved what I was hoping for?


Relevance to later journeys

As discussed in 7.5, teacher purposes include building key skills and understandings of key ideas. Understanding that the teacher has this type of purpose thus is important for Journey 8 - that such linking should be a part of every lesson. Children are more able to actively monitor (Journey 9) when they understand the expectations of them and why the teacher regards it as important. 

Children are empowered to make their own decisions and work independently on learning tasks (Journey 10) when they understand why they are doing something and understanding the teacher s agendas helps their understanding of purpose.