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Words and Practice

Ontology is an important word. Ontology is the science or study of a thing's

essential nature or character. We all have ontological beliefs about who we are and how we relate to the world around us. Have you ever heard someone say that I could never be a teacher because I do not have patience? That's an ontological belief; the person is effectively saying that I, as a person, fundamentally lack the quality of patience. It's the same as when someone declares, I am not a creative person. Decisions are made,  beliefs are fixed, and people live their lives within those boundaries.

But why does it matter?

We can't bring anything into our practice as educators that we don't first believe is true about who we are, and we will build our practice around what we believe to be true of the children and spaces we navigate. Most issues with practice arise not from a lack of knowledge or desire but rather from not connecting our practice to how we view ourselves as people and educators.

Reflective practice and insight are not the same things. Reflective practice will help you understand the external factors that influence the success or failure of an activity. Insight tells you how those factors relate to your essential characteristics as an educator and the shared character of your team and centre. There is discomfort in applying insight to our practice. We may need to challenge assumptions regarding aspects of our practice or the practice of the centre and learning communities we navigate. And if we are the only person on that journey, we may struggle to gather the momentum we need to affect change, a frustration I think we've all felt at some point.

What's the solution?

While this might not be the fastest method, we can start by building a vocabulary,

connecting words with practice. For example, most educators know and apply various pedagogies throughout their careers. However, pedagogies are only as effective as the theoretical framework underpinning their practice models. Every pedagogy starts with an ontological belief regarding the nature of the child and the role that educators play in a child's development. Implementing a pedagogy without understanding the ontology is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle without a reference image; sure, you can do it, but it's tougher than it needs to be. It also makes it harder to know if crucial pieces are missing until it is too late.

We're not trying to become experts in theoretical frameworks. However, we need a way to identify the points of connection and disconnection between ideas, words, and practice. For example, let's say that a given pedagogy encourages high levels of non-directed, creative activities, which expose children to a range of artistic and imaginative experiences. Suppose you believe you're a non-artistic, non-imaginative and non-creative person who thrives in structured, well-programmed learning communities. In that case, you will likely struggle to understand why a new or expanded approach is needed if much of the structure and historical programming suddenly vanishes. If you don't know where your resistance to change comes from or the rationale behind making changes, you'll have a more challenging time assembling the ontological and practice-themed jigsaw we mentioned earlier.

Recognising the ontological gap between how we view ourselves and the critical elements within a given pedagogy improves our conversations about them. Insight may not enhance your comfort levels, but it will let you define where your discomfort lies. All practice comes from somewhere, all pedagogies have ontologies, and all educators believe things about themselves and their practice. And it's the words, those beautiful, challenging and strange words, that allow us to assemble all those pieces into what is hopefully an equally beautiful educational journey for our learning communities.

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Apr 17

A thought provoking piece this week that has me reflecting on some of my ontological beliefs.

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