Its a phrase that has become popular in education, “Best Practices”. Heard in staff meetings. Found in session descriptions at conferences. Used as justification for change in how teachers teach. Using the phrase “best practice” implies that other practices are inferior. Are they? Shouldn’t teaching practices be dictated by what is best for our students? How can someone articulate what is best for a classroom without ever meeting the students? Finally who is the authority labeling it best? A teacher, researcher or business person who has never taught a class?
Surely there are different ways to teach in a classroom. This diversity is needed. Our teachers come from a variety of different backgrounds and experiences similar to our students. When education labels something as a “best practice” districts often feel that ALL teachers have to follow this practice. The practice can be made a look for in teachers evaluations. Is this right? Teachers should not be evaluated poorly for not following a practice. Teachers often try the “best practice” and find it does not work for how they teach or their students. Educators need to have multiple paths to delivering their lessons, can’t be limited to what is currently labeled “best”. Administrators need to take the time to discuss teaching methods teachers to find out why they choose the practice that was observed.
The other danger in the “best” practice label comes in a mindset created by the term. Teachers can say they used the “best” practice, even if it doesn’t work. Teachers who use the advertised “best” practices will feel they are superior to those that are not using these prescribed practices. They will ask: Are the students to blame if I tried the “best” way and they failed? Surely not. Educators need to know that there are many paths for success. Professional Development needs to not just focus on what works but to focus on where, when and why a practice works.
It is time to leave the term “best” practice and adopt a better term for education. Practices can be labeled “good” or “next” practices.
But maybe by using the term “my” practice works best. Teachers can own their practice and label it theirs. Don’t we all take the best of what we see in the profession and make it our own anyway?