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PARTLY DIGITAL (ONLY FOR INVITEES) : PhD Defence Gerbert Sipman | Enhancing teacher pedagogical tact through intuition: A design study

Enhancing teacher pedagogical tact through intuition: A design study

Due to the COVID-19 crisis the PhD defence of Gerbert Sipman will take place partly online.

The PhD defence can be followed by a live stream.

Gerbert Sipman is a PhD student in the research group ELAN Teacher Development (ELAN). His supervisors are prof.dr. S.E. McKenney from the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences (BMS) and prof.dr. R. Martens from the Open University of the Netherlands.

Pedagogical tact is a crucial quality of teachers, because teaching is not a matter of following recipes or rules, since situations in classes can only be partially predicted and controlled. Pedagogical tact concerns the ability to considerately and appropriately handle complex classroom situations in split seconds and is frequently related to intuition; while reasoning takes effort and is slow, intuition processes information quickly and effortlessly. However, the role of intuition in teachers' pedagogical tact is indistinct, and as a result knowledge on how to enhance teachers' pedagogical tact through intuition is even more limited. The literature describes local and non-local forms of intuition, which, respectively, build on and extend beyond prior knowledge/experiences. Most approaches for enhancing intuition seem to focus on local intuition, such as screening automated actions or recognizing and countering confirmation bias. Some approaches seem to focus on nonlocal intuition through meditative exercises. In a systemic-phenomenological approach, in addition to meditative exercises, embodied exercises are used, in which information that is invisibly present in social systems is explored through direct experience. Besides, systemic theory can help to understand the behavior of individuals, groups, and organizations, which can enhance local forms of intuition. While the approaches for enhancing these forms of intuition potentially complement each other, research is needed to develop and test such complementary approaches, particularly in relation to teachers' pedagogical tact. In literature evidence can be found that enhancing intuition can have positive effects on teachers' pedagogical tact. For instance, intuition can support in-the-moment problem solving, decision making, and creativity. Besides, intuition can promote effective communication, smooth social interactions, and positive relationships. Scholars hypothesize that (enhancing) intuition can have positive effects on classroom practice, but empirical studies in this area are lacking.  

This study focused on investigating the role of intuition in teacher pedagogical tact with the aim of enhancing pedagogical tact through intuition, which is being referred to as intuitive pedagogical tact. In response to the issues described above, three research objectives (RO) were formulated:

-       RO1: to better understand the role of intuition in teacher pedagogical tact

-       RO2: to develop ways to enhance intuition for teacher pedagogical tact

-       RO3: to ascertain the effects of enhancing intuition on teacher pedagogical tact

Research design

Given the research objectives educational design research was conducted (McKenney & Reeves, 2012, 2019) in the context of primary, secondary, and higher education in the Netherlands. A mixed methods approach was used, although the nature of the research was primarily qualitative. The research consisted of four sub-studies (A, B, C, and D). The project started in sub-study A with an analysis to better understand the current and desired situations. Subsequently, in sub-studies B and C, a professional development program (PDP) aiming to enhance teacher pedagogical tact through intuition was developed, examined, and refined in an iterative process based on formative evaluation. Thereafter, in sub-study D, the effects of the final version of the PDP were investigated in a summative evaluation. Sub-studies A, B, and C contributed to the conceptualization of the role of intuition in teacher pedagogical tact (RO1). In sub-studies B and C ways to enhance intuition for teacher pedagogical tact were developed (RO2). Sub-studies B, C, and particularly sub-study D examined the effects hereof on classroom practice (RO3). 

Results

Sub-study A aimed to explore how educators give meaning to the role of intuition in relation to teachers' pedagogical tact. Qualitative data were collected in ten focus group discussions with stakeholders in primary education (n = 56). After a member-check, the reports per focus group discussion were compared to each other, through which themes were distilled from the data. Despite that different conceptual interpretations of intuition seemed to have been used, the (increasing) importance of intuitive qualities for dealing with the complexity of classroom situations was confirmed. The stakeholders indicated that there is a lack of interventions for developing teachers' intuitive abilities and that this should be prioritized. This sub-study provided a clear signal that this area needs attention, both conceptually and pragmatically.

Sub-study B examined teacher awareness of intuitions in relation to the effects hereof on classroom practice. Through intake questionnaires and reflection logs, qualitative data were collected in two groups of teachers in primary education (n = 17), who participated in a PDP aiming to enhance teachers’ awareness of intuitions through meditative and embodied exercises. Conceptually, teacher awareness of intuitions appeared to consist of three stages: preparing for, sensing, and considering intuitive signals. Pragmatically, due to meditative and embodied exercises the participants perceived a heightened awareness of intuitions. According to the participants, this heightened awareness of intuitions had positive effects on individual pupils, groups of pupils, and on the teachers themselves. These findings provided input for the development of a PDP that focused on enhancing teacher intuitive pedagogical tact.

Sub-study C aimed to explore ways for enhancing teacher pedagogical tact through intuition. In eight groups, a total of 64 pre-service and in-service teachers from primary, secondary, and higher education participated in a PDP aiming to enhance teacher intuitive pedagogical tact. Qualitative data were collected in two phases through reflection logs and group discussions. Phase 1 focused on how PDP practices instigate certain essential learning processes during the sessions, while phase 2 investigated the effects of the essential learning processes after the sessions. Meditative exercises combined with embodied exercises seemed to increase both teachers' awareness of intuitions and their individual awareness (personal well-being, professional self, and understanding of pupils). According to the participants, this had a positive impact on how they dealt with the complexity of classroom situations, which in turn had positive effects on the classroom. This sub-study offered practical recommendations for enhancing teacher pedagogical tact through intuition.

Sub-study D examined both the presence and nature of the effects of the PDP aiming to enhance teacher pedagogical tact through intuition that was developed in sub-studies B and C. In eight groups, pre-service and in-service teachers in primary, secondary, and higher education (n = 61) participated voluntarily in the PDP. After the program, they completed the Intuitive Pedagogical Tact Questionnaire. In addition, 12 PDP participants joined dyadic interviews with a colleague who might be able to describe participant’s development due to the PDP. The data suggested that the PDP particularly enhanced the stages ‘balanced awareness’ and ‘information processing’, which had a positive impact on teachers' immediate pedagogical actions and the classroom outcomes. This sub-study showed that it is promising to support teachers in enhancing their pedagogical tact through intuition.

Conclusions

In relation to RQ1, understanding the role of intuition in teacher pedagogical tact, the findings of this study suggest that teacher intuitive pedagogical tact consists of four phases: balanced awareness, information processing, immediate pedagogical actions, and classroom outcomes. The first two phases relate to teachers’ awareness of intuitions, and the other two phases relate to impact in the classroom. Balanced awareness seems to consist of being-in-the-moment to become aware of rational, affective, and intuitive signals. During information processing, these signals must be distinguished from each other in order to attend to emergent insights. It is important at this stage to withhold judgments, to regulate emotions, and to take the perspective of the pupil(s). The immediate pedagogical actions that result from teachers’ awareness of intuitions can be timely/appropriate, confident, effortless, and/or creative. These actions can have a positive effect on relationships with and the autonomy of pupils, lead to classrooms running more smoothly and a decrease of problem behavior, and also more attention for harmony in the classroom.

Regarding RQ2 developing ways to enhance intuition for teacher pedagogical tact was central. This study led to one condition and two practices that are essential for enhancing awareness of intuitions in relation to teachers' pedagogical tact. The exercises start from a systemic-phenomenological approach. A systemic perspective can lead to new perspectives on and more respect for the behavior of the pupil(s) and the teachers themselves, while the phenomenological aspect supports awareness of (intuitive) signals, For these exercises a safe learning environment appeared to be required. Reflecting on personal behavior patterns was experienced as emotional, and relatively many participants seemed to experience a paradigm shift by becoming aware of (especially non-local) intuitions. Meditative exercises can support participants’ intuitive perception by being-in-the-moment and feeling relaxed. They also help participants prepare for the embodied exercises, in which they practiced the other elements of the phases balanced awareness and information processing. The mediative and embodied exercises, combined with systemic theory, stimulated awareness of both local and non-local intuition. 

RQ3 focused on ascertaining the effects of enhancing intuition on teacher pedagogical tact in relation to the stages of teacher intuitive pedagogical tact: balanced awareness, information processing, immediate pedagogical actions, and classroom outcomes. Regarding balanced awareness, most effects were experienced on becoming (more) aware of intuitive, and also affective signals through being-in-the-moment. To a lesser extent, participants became more aware of rational signals. In relation to information processing, the program seems to have had the most effect on being nonjudgmental and taking the perspective of the pupil(s), but the program also seems to have had positive effects on distinguishing signals, regulating emotions, and following emerging insights. In terms of immediate pedagogical actions, most growth was experienced on timely/appropriate and confident actions, but also on effortless and creative actions. Regarding the classroom outcomes, the study shows the most positive development on teachers' attention to harmony in the classroom, but also on interactions between the teacher and pupils as well as among students. Although to a lesser extent, positive growth was reported on attending to pupils’ autonomy.

This study provides better understanding of the role of intuition in teachers' pedagogical tact, and offers ways to enhance teachers' intuitive pedagogical tact. Although further research in this area is needed, this study shows that supporting teachers in developing their intuitive pedagogical tact is possible and also promising.