Jack Whitehead

JACK WHITEHEAD:  Well, those ideas came on reading Michelle Fuco’s work.  And (interruption) Well, the—the truth of power and the power of truth have been really important in my own research and uh ideas on those two terms came from Michelle Fuco’s work. And the central idea was if you think about the truth of power, it’s not about truth itself, it’s about the procedures that are used to decide what counts as truth in a particular context. So just as Galileo had discovered something about the earth and the sun, with the knowledge of the day was that the earth was the center of the universe. The Catholic Church decided that this could not be counted as truth and he was shown the instruments of torture as if they were to be used. And he recanted. And that’s an idea about the truth of power.  Well, the power of truth is what Galileo actually discovered. And gradually, although it took some 350 years for the church to say that they were mistaken, that truth of Galileo’s then became understood because he fought the battle on behalf of truth.  OK?

Well, if you look at how many education systems work at the moment, they seem not to support the disadvantaged in any way, which you could say was equitable. Uh, in my own country, we’ve had many years of a right winged conservative government. We’ve now had two years of a labor government. And gradually there is a move in policy to support uh the more disadvantaged people in our schooling system in our society. Now, where you could have a political policy which actually was being sustained by the truth of power and you had one of the most diabolical regimes in Germany under Hitler where the truth of power in relation to what was education actually led to the extermination of people. It’s that kind of seriousness. So if you want an equitable education system, then really you should actually support the power of truth against the truth of power. 

A living contradiction is something I found very, again, powerful in my research when I started to think about what actually motivates me to try and improve something. And it’s the idea that at a particular moment you can actually see yourself, usually on videotape when you recognize that something you really believe in and as fundamental to how you see yourself is actually been denied in your own practice. And it isn’t about hypocrisy, it is simply that you really don’t understand until you see yourself holding together to what you believe are mutually exclusive opposites like the values of freedom and actually you’re acting in a way that is denying someone’s freedom. And that’s what I was meaning by a living contradiction is the idea that you can hold together these mutually exclusive opposite values in your experience.

Yes, the living contradiction for me um, very powerfully in 1971 when I was teaching science and I believed that I’d managed to get inquired learning um in my classroom where I thought I’d managed to get the pupils asking the questions and I was making a serious response to their inquiries. (sirens in background) When I saw the tape, I could actually see that I was actually giving them the questions. And I’d had this experience time and time again with teachers that I’ve been working with and videotaping. By something we believe we’ve established and is in line with our values, when you see the videotapes, you can see clearly that you are structuring your classroom the way that sometimes denies the beliefs that you have about what you’re doing and this then moves you to try and improve it.

Yes, the idea of the living contradiction, which is really important in trying to improve the quality of learning in classroom with the pupils for me, was when I believed I had established inquiry learning in my classroom in 1971.  And I’d been given one of the first video cameras to experiment in—in London schools. And I could see when I saw the tape of myself in the classroom that what I believed I had established, I hadn’t established because the children was to ask the questions, initially the questions were coming from me.  And I felt that I got the structure of the classroom organized in such a way that the questions were coming from them.  And to see this very starkly on the videotape created this tension in me of being a living contradiction and it moved me to try to improve my practice so that it would be more in line with my values.

Well, as a site for professional growth, the experience of oneself is a living contradiction motivates you, in my experience, your imagination to explore possibilities for improvement. And you can create a number of different alternative ways in which you might improve your practice. And as you’re engaged in the practice every day, you choose something to act on that you believe will improve matters. And as you’re acting, you’re making judgments all the time about whether this is improving the quality of learning with the pupils and not, you can often gather data in a more formal way to make those judgments. And then you can try to describe and explain the improvements in a way that actually leads to these educational theories of your own professional learning and development.

Well for me my own living educational theory and uh those of the students that I supervise, the teacher researchers who work with me, they’re essentially descriptions and explanations of our own professional learning. As we ask research and answer questions of the kind, “How do I improve my practice?  How do I help you to improve your learning?” Those kinds of questions, “How do I live my values more fully in my practice?”  And where living educational theories differ from more formal linguistic theories is that the individual is creating their own explanation for what they’re doing grounded in their values and not offered in the form of abstract generalities that most theories are actually presented in.

For met he connection between the creation of living theories and the more public, uh formal, and disciplined theories of education is that you integrate insights from those theories in the creation and criticism of your own living theory. So, for example, if you’re working within a structure and that structure within policy terms doesn’t appear to be working in the direction of supporting your values, it’s wise to develop an understanding of the sociology of education so that you can grasp what is happening to you in terms of the social structures.

Yes, I think again with psychological theory, if you say, “How can you integrate insights from psychology within your own educational theory,” uh in my own terms I’ve benefited enormously, although, I would disagree with some of the assumptions of Piershay and cognitive stage theory.  I’ve benefited enormously from insights about formal um and the concrete stages of operations and changing my language so that it would accord and be consistent with what the children could understand.

Well, my own development as a teacher um began I can remember as a student just going into my first classroom. And when you go in you’ve really no idea about how you’re going to do, but I found myself asking very quickly, “How do I do this better?”  And when I started teaching uh in the east end of London, which was quite a difficult area, um I found every day that I was asking that question, “How can I do this better next time?” in the sense of curriculum, for example, um was designed for children of a great rabidity then the ones that I was teaching. So I had to redesign almost all the curriculum materials in relation to my science teaching so that they related more closely to what the children could actually learn. 

Well, I was a science teacher and I was very influenced by the work of Jerome Brunner and also Piershay who explained how you could take uh very sophisticated scientific concepts but by building up scaffolding in uh relation, for example, a complex concept like acceleration, though, often you try to teach the children acceleration, not really grasping it. Actually, they’ve got to get an idea about velocity before they can actually get acceleration.  They’ve got to get distance and time as concepts before they can get velocity and acceleration.  So the idea of trying to build up from the experience of the pupils in relations to those fundamental building blocks as you develop the complex concepts is an illustration of how I would actually do that in my teaching.

Well, action research for me um is both a way of improving my practice and also gives me the opportunity to create my own theory. So it’s not simply a method, it is actually a process in which you can create your own living theory. But you can do it in a systematic way, but again not in a way that it’s constraining in sense of a method. But one of the ways in which I found uh it’s very useful initially for teachers to uh embrace is the idea that every day they’re going through action/reflection cycles where they’re being concerned about something they want to improve, then imagining what to do about it and creating an actual plan, the acting and gathering data on which to make a judgment about their effectiveness. They’re actually making those judgments and actually modifying what they do, how they plan, how they evaluate in the light of those initial evaluations. And that systematic form of action/reflection cycle is what for me has helped to carry my own inquiry forward. But that’s not sufficient on its own without the description and explanation which the individual teachers produce for their own professional learning and then test out in a public forum so that they can be held accountable to their own values but also within a public and often democratic process of evaluation. Now that essentially is how I understand action research.

Evidence depends very much on the nature of the values that you’re using to explain your learning and practice.  So in the most difficult areas, uh you would say that for example, I found that the spiritual qualities, which moved people to act, they are very difficult to actually gather data on. When you talk about the aesthetic and the ethical qualities, again these are difficult—not as difficult as the spiritual. When you talk about the action/reflection cycles, it become relatively easy to see whether someone is adopting that form of inquiry in terms of improving their practice.  But for me one of the difficult areas of values, for example, if you talk about freedom, you understand and explicate the meaning of freedom and the course of its emergence in your own practice. So you have to show through your practice what the value of freedom is for you over time in action and you point to it. So what we call ostensive definition in terms of those practices that you’re engaged in. And that’s—if you act in terms of evidence, as I say you look at the different values that the people are using to explain their practice and you’ve got to work out what are the different kinds of evidence which backup the claims that are being made.

It’s something that um for me is linked to a process that people feel secure in. Now the idea of being systematic without having a system imposed on you is really crucial to my own understanding of action enquiry where you try to balance the creativity of individuals with a capacity to consciously structure something. So the great difficulty is to say, “Well, you can actual move in a systematic way.”  And what people find is because they’ve often had an education, which tells them about theory in a very different way, they find it initially quite worrying to move away from a traditional view of theory, to the idea that they themselves can create their own. And one of the ways I found makes is easier is if they can see from their own lives on a daily basis like that action/reflection cycle which everybody seems to recognize is a way in which they try to work on problems. That seems to liberate them from the constraints of feeling they’ve got to have these external, objective form of theory which is imposed upon them. So that’s why I think it’s very important, but not in a way which is constraining. This is really crucial. It’s a really good question because it’s—it’s a vital one in the action research process. Not to allow the method to damage the creativity that each individual has got to create their own living theory.

Well again, that—that impact of reporting on your practice is linked to something which I may be mistaken about but I believe fervently that professional educators around the world will enhance the quality of what they’re doing also the way in which they are valued within their societies if we develop a publicly validated professional knowledge base for professional educators. And it’s from that ground that I’ve been stressing the importance of producing the accounts.  And you can be accountable both to yourself in relation to your own values as a professional educator, but also to the communities of professional educators around the world where you will submit your accounts of what you’re doing so that you can actually be helped to strengthen them in relation to a multiplicity of perspectives that can come from different context.

Again, the personal in portfolios um it’s sometimes quite difficult as an area because some of the uh journaling that is done in the construction of a portfolio is highly personal and of a kind that is not meant for any public consumption at all. So that in one sense there is an element of portfolio which is meant for personal growth, which is confidential through our areas of one’s own personal life and thought that you do not actually hold up for public consumption. Now, that area is often the most important in terms of one’s own professional life as well, so there are elements of the personal portfolios that you would say, “This is not—was not intended for public consumption.”  And yet it’s quite difficult sometimes to give an authentic account of your professional life without including some of those elements of one’s own personal life, in particular in the areas of values that you actually feel a vital in terms of the professional life. So you do have those two quite difficult questions to ask yourself. “What am I willing to bring in to the professional domain from the personal?” which is not actually written with that purpose in mind.  And that is always a delicate personal decision where prudence is often a judgment you have to make for yourself. But there’s always a tension there.  

An example of action research from my own experience um and you must remember that I’ve been doing this work from 1973 um and I usually break it up when I’m asked that kind of question into uh four basic ideas that have emerge in the course of my own action research. And I was committed to trying to reconstruct what counted as educational theory in the universities when I moved from schools to universities. That was one of my purposes in moving because the university sector that I’ve been studying in said to me as a professional educator that educational theory was made up of philosophy, psychology, sociology, and history off education. So when I came to Berth, my own action research was focused upon my inquiries, asking questions, and researching “How do I improve my practice?”  And over the 27 years that I’ve been involved in that, I think that I’ve helped to move what counts as educational theory through my action research into living forms by integrating I as a living contradiction within claims to know what I’m doing. And that was a very big move forward because living contradictions have been excluded by philosophers like Calpopper from what counted as theory. So that is one of the things that I was determined to be my action research. But I also believe that with the other people that I’ve been supervising who remain in contact with the children in the schools, because their questions are focused on “How can I help you to improve your learning?” Just as mine now with my students in the university—my students, are related to that question. So I’ve got many examples on the Web of the teacher researchers that I’m supervising asking the questions directly of the children, “How do I help you to improve your learning?  But my own research has been focused on creating essentially—it—this is a political engagement, is to create a space in the academy to ensure the teacher’s knowledge—the knowledge of professional educators is legitimated as valid within the academy. And that’s been my focus for my action research.

I can now talk about it with some equanimity because in December finally I was awarded my own PhD for my own action research having 20 years ago having had two PhD’s rejected. And—and still I’m not permitted to question the competence of my examiners. So when we talked earlier about the truth of power that statement that the university made under no circumstances can you question competence of your examiners, that still actually remains with me as part of the political process of which I am a part.  So the whole struggle to create a space in terms of legitimating the teacher researchers accounts of their own practice can be seen within that context.

When I think of my—myself doing because when I talk about action research I always feel that um I ought to be able to show you where I’m doing this myself. So if you have a look at the action research accounts on the Web site, first of all you will find that women are represented equally and now there are more PhD’s by my women students then there are by the men. And that was because I really believed early on that women’s voices were not actually coming through in terms of the um—what was being legitimated in the academy. Now you’ll find that in relation to language as a color that my students in terms of my three black students that I’m supervising, we’re extending the languages of color which are now coming in to the academy for legitimation. So when you ask about diversity, um both cultural and also—some groups which have been disadvantaged in the past—I’m trying to show how within my own practice, you’ll find me putting energy into supporting those groups, in terms of getting their voices heard in the academy.  When you have a look at what they’re doing with their students, you will find that if you go on the Web page there are articles by Mora Laidlow looking at how in relation to the black students that she’s actually teaching in Bathe, that she became conscious of her own racism and actually worked on that over a period of 18 months to see if she could actually overcome it. So that—that’s how we’re working in terms of action research to take these issues of disadvantage and diversity. We’re not—and we have such a lot of work to do in the areas of disadvantage. But that’s what we’re doing.

I think this is the area where uh I—I personally have been the least successful and I think it is because the difficulty of moving structures and I think they are political decisions about resourcing especially in terms of disadvantaged groups and being able to place resources to assist them is that to get those changes, you do need collective action.  To get collective action, you need to engage in a participatory form of action research, which depends upon people agreeing this is the kind of action that they wish to take collectively to live out their values of equity. Now, that for me is the most difficult impressing problem that I’m faced with at the moment in my own work and research how to support the creation of those participatory forms of action research, which will have an influence structurally on disadvantage within the education system.

 When you’re thinking about advocacy in—in relation to teacher research and disadvantage, I think that you’ll find on the Web site um in the value section papers on disadvantage in relation to classroom in Bathe where teachers are showing what they feel is needed to support children who are actually disadvantaged and showing themselves working systematically but with tremendous commitment and enthusiasm over time to provide appropriate educational opportunities for those pupils. And in the sense of advocacy, where I think is working most powerfully is where the teachers are showing over time the nature of the values of care, love and compassion, but also with a real passion for rigor in learning with the students in terms of their accounts of what they’re doing and those affecting other people around the world. They are actually acknowledging and downloading those papers and in sense of advocacy, this is probably the most effective form of advocacy that we have. But again, we’re still weak on the collective response. These are still individual teachers within their classrooms showing what they’re doing with disadvantaged pupils. We have yet to move it in an effective way into the wider political structures, to change policy to provide more resourcing.

There are—there are a range of uh difficult questions and things that the teachers initially um find worrying. Uh, one is they’ve often been brung up in their own education to have a view of knowledge which is totally outside themselves. So the idea that they can be the creators of their own professional knowledge base is often a difficult one. They also are not useful uh writing accounts they don’t see that anybody will find what their doing of value. And it takes a little time for the excitement to grow when they see that their accounts, their values, and what they’re trying to do actually brings other people alive in a really vital way and it does take time to get that um willingness to share the accounts of practice. The—the other things come, like the data collection. Like the willingness to talk about what really matters to them. I find those are relatively easy processes. But just to get that understanding of how important it for them to show that they’re creating their own knowledge base as professional educators.  And part of this is going public of their learning and practice. I think everybody finds that initially um, yes, um difficult.  And the way in which, I think we overcome it is by showing the examples uh from other teacher’s work to show how this can be done. Not as a template, but as a range of possibilities that they actually might feel excited about using. 

Well, the question about reflective practice is one that the new journal of reflective practice um actually has embraced so your idea that the—in what defines a reflective practice. What actually gives us a sense—this is actually quite superficial, of deep reflection?  And do think that journal of reflective practice has got a number of articles in which are really powerful. Now for myself because they put one of my own papers in there to begin and there are responses there to that paper is that I should show as a professional educator that the reflections that I’m doing about my practice and my influence, should be assumed by my student’s voice so that I would hope to be able to show in the sense of my deeper reflections about my influence that my students are freely engaging with ideas that we have discussed or I’ve brought in from other sources, but they’re not simply regurgitating those as—as if their own creativity has not been engaged in seeing the significance of the meanings for the creation of their own meanings. And this is one of the areas that I try to answer in a paper that’s come out in a new journal of curriculum studies to try to show how my—the voices of my students actually contain evidence of my influence. But I could never claim to have educated my students. I can claim that I’ve had some influence, which is educative, but I insist on their right to educate themselves. That is fundamental to me in this sense of reflective practice, especially when I’m engaged in reflecting upon my educative relationships.  Can I just go on just for a moment? I think this is so important in relation to self-study of teacher education practices because we get often so many self-studies, which do not make the connection with teacher education practices, the self-studies of self-studies. And what I always insist on in terms of self study of teacher education practices is that at some point I need to show my educative influence with my students and to show how I’m trying to improve the quality of their learning in relation to my own self study.

Yes, the exciting work of getting students uh to do their own action research and—is linked around Bathe with the—with the work of Mora Laidlow and if you go into the actionresearch.net homepage, you’ll find in the values section and also the living theory section examples of where the pupils are engaging together in their own action research projects as they try to help each other to improve the quality of the learning.  And some of the most exciting work is coming out o what Mora talked about, about living standards of judgment.  The idea that the children can understand just as the teacher researchers can the—their own standards of judgment that they’re using to understand their own learning are themselves living and developmental and they can be shared with others in a way that the other can then help you to move your inquiry forward.   And if you extend tat into my own research where as—when I say direct result, I’m not meaning in that sense about deterministic or cause of sense, I’m meaning that my own creativity is engages with my students when terms of their PhD’s or research degrees where they’ve got to demonstrate originality of mind and critical judgment. Every one of them has taken significant—my own ideas forward as I’ve been asking “How can I improve my practice.”  So Ben Cunningham’s thesis where he was interested in “How can I know my spirituality as I create my own living theory,” Ben was really influential in heightening my own sensitivity to the importance of spiritual values in my educative relationship, even though we come from totally different backgrounds in terms of spirituality.  Mora brought in the voices of the students very powerfully and showed me how the living stem is a judgment (clears throat) with themselves developmental and changing. So where I had an idea, for example, that all I had to do was to show you the meaning of freedom emerging over time in my practice, Mora helped me to understand the very meaning that I was giving to freedoms. It structured my life; it was changing the developmental in the process and every student very powerful in relation to making esthetically engaged and appreciative responses to the stories of others, a very significant move for me forward in my own learning. So my students have actually taught me, every one of them, something central to their own thesis, which I’ve integrated within my own learning and my own active research.  

When we talk about political activism in relation to action research, I know that my own political activism has changed over the years. So where you would have uh 15 years ago, 20 years ago uh I would be a labor counselor on Bathe City counselor. I would the representative of the city on the university council. Um, two years ago I finished a three-year stint of the president of the local branch of the Association of University Teachers. Now that was a kind of traditional political action that I’ve engaged in throughout most of my adult life. What I’m finding now is that the sense of political activism has changed and that I’m now moving much more to building a sense of the values that I think we can bring into community in the relation to the action research processes that I’m talking about. So I view what I’m doing here at the moment as a political act in the sense of trying to help to communicate processes of living and working that will bring more fully into the world, the values of care, love, compassion, inquiry that I hold very close to my own productive life.  So I see what I’m doing here and trying to show what other teacher researchers have been doing around the world gathering together as communities of professional educators as a political act.

The issue of diversity um is both—it’s both a painful one but it’s also a fascinating one. So the uh self study of Teacher Education Practices Group at ARA last year, uh one of my students, Paul Murray, who was a mixed race educator at one of our local colleges agreed to come to see that if he could extend the languages of color in terms of a self-study group.  Now when you look at the paper that we’re giving tomorrow, you will see that again Paul has educated me in terms of making problematic my own whiteness. I’d never even though of this as problematic. Now in the course of supervising Paul’s research program, what he’s opened up for me is an understanding of the importance of what we’re coming—and it’s a very difficult area of this because it brings in something which is contentious or quite difficult which is to do with the rot ticking life. The idea of a zest and exuberance for life which I believe that when we talk about diversity and including voices of diversity, we’re going to have to break with our own traditional taken for granted views of ourselves, in my case, my whiteness, and open up for inclusion the languages of color that Paul Murray has actually been exploring and when you do that in terms of your own, for example, supervision, I found that that sense of –and it’s a difficult area and I don’t know the language properly. This is one of the things about action research, trying to find the appropriate language, which doesn’t put people off.  But there is a zest and exuberance for life, life affirming relationships in the face of death that you are actually willing to assent to life with that exuberances there seems to me to open up the enjoyment and excitement for creativity which I think is so important to taking both action research but more importantly the values that we hold more fully into the world. So that is a soap box issue but I’m very careful about it after the moment because it can be damaging because I haven’t quite got the right language in which to express it and it’s open to misinterpretation.

The only—the only thing I would add is I think the importance of the new technologies and in particular, the Internet uh to communicate. And I think what you’re doing here would the visual images and the multimedia work, especially with the Brigham Young um video cases with Cal Harris is really innovative and incredibly creative and it’s—it’s that area that I think we’ve got to make real advances in, in terms of communication.