Education Opinion

Making Our Teaching Visible: Tide Pools and Teacher Expertise

By Megan M. Allen — September 07, 2016 2 min read
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Tide pools. They are stunningly beautiful and incredibly mysterious. I don’t think I fully appreciated them until I moved from Florida to New England. As a west coast Gulf of Mexico girl, I’d watch the tide roll in and out within a span of 10-20 feet, leaving a few puddles behind in the white sand. In the New England Atlantic, it is a much more dramatic performance.

Within one tidal change and in less than an hour, a bridge a 100 meters long can be exposed, connecting a remote island to the shore. Football field sized swaths of land emerge from the ocean depths, and one can walk on the crustacean covered areas that were not-so-long-ago covered by salty water. And when you walk and explore, its seems as if a world has been opened up in front of you. Millions of sea creatures skitter around, newly exposed to the wind and sky. Hermit crabs creep. Fish flop in the shallows. Birds flock in, ready to feast on the newly exposed buffet. And with one move of a rock, another tiny microcosm emerges, complete with starfish, sea cucumbers, and mollusks.

All of this lay hidden under the murky gray blanket of the ocean. What looked like an expanse of nothingness hid a glorious and detailed world.

What an amazing metaphor for teaching.

Have you ever watched an expert teacher? They move through a classroom and guide student learning in a way that seems almost effortless. Seamless. It looks like there is nothing to it, right? It seems to come natural.

But in reality, when you peel back the layers, there is a whole complex world underneath. Every single move is purposeful and has a multitude of thoughts and decisions behind it. Hidden. But there, beneath the surface.

Under what seems like an effortless lesson lays an intricate performance. Under each word, movement, question, task, and response are thousands of prior interactions, many professional conversations with expert colleagues, and hours of learning. Each instructional move is composed of hundreds of micro-decisions. Knowledge of students, content knowledge, pedagogy, content pedagogy, knowledge of community, knowledge of culture, analysis of situation, possible missteps and misunderstandings, reflection, and an ever-growing bag of strategies...the toolkit of an expert teacher is vast. But because of the skill of expert teachers, this knowledge is hidden underneath the surface.

So each time you see a teacher in the classroom in what seems like a seamless performace, remember that underneath lies the immense complexity of teaching and learning. Like the ocean with a world beneath her surface, so much is hidden. But there to be exposed with the tide. You just have to look.

Photo taken of the Lookout, Brooklin, Maine

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