Alexander Technique Teacher Education - An Integrated View of Professional Competence
Parts one and two of the paper as appeared in Direction: A Journal on the Alexander Technique.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
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PART ONE (This part of the paper appeared in Direction: A Journal on the Alexander Technique, 2002, Vol. 2, No. 10. pp. 20-23)
As an AT teacher educator, my interest in this subject stems from speculating on the possibility of accreditation of AT teacher training courses under the Australian government’s National Training Framework (NTF). Underpinned by a competency-based approach, the intention of this framework is to simplify the way training is regulated, define who is responsible for it and describe how high standards of quality can be guaranteed. It also allows for private providers such as AT training courses to request through regional authorities that their courses and qualifications be nationally recognised. This, in turn, would allow their students access to student visas and study grants, as well as pathways to higher qualifications and degrees.
Of course, it’s possible that AUSTAT and the wider profession could decide that any benefits derived from adoption of the framework would be outweighed by the financial, administrative and political costs of dismantling and redesigning the familiar teacher training structures. As well, the rules that govern AUSTAT’s rights to membership of the international group of Affiliated Societies (AS) would need to be taken into account. Deviation from these rules—for example, changing from a time-based structure to CBT—could jeopardise its AS affiliation. There might also be political costs associated with restrictions on the independence and creativity of individual teacher educators.
Whether or not AT teacher educators agree with the premises underpinning CBT, the concept of competency is not so strange. At some point all certifed AT teachers were deemed “competent” by a training course director whose criteria were probably aligned with the STAT list of five beginning teacher competencies:
an understanding of Alexander’s [terminology]
The AS agreement, moreover, endorses a program formularised by STAT that includes a minimum attendance time before qualification of 1600 hours spread evenly over three years. This time-based rule on teacher training is quite prescriptive, allowing very little room for such things as natural ability, prior learning, experience or accelerated skill acquisition. Many AT teachers are still quite attached to this model, even though I understand it was instigated to satisfy British Home Office visa rules so that overseas students could train in London with one of Alexander’s successors.
I remember my astonishment at being told this by a well-known teacher educator at an unofficial STAT meeting in London in 1994—that a bureaucratic edict, not necessarily a requirement of Alexander himself, had begun a pedagogic principle most of our profession has been subscribing to for at least forty years. I can only wonder how many other of our ideological certainties, which would also have been simply the preferences of the dominant stakeholders of the time, have been uncritically accepted in our work over the years and since become habits. And yet while some present day policy makers have begun questioning the residency rule and suggesting alternative ideas, it does seem strange to hear of proposals for part-time courses that insist on the same number of hours being spread over more than three years, as though the figure 1600 had some particular educational significance.
AT teacher educators keen on the persistence of a three year program may be able to make a convincing case for it based on the importance of group interaction and the personal development that it allows. As well, given that most training courses operate on the basis that senior students practise their teaching skills by working with the juniors, who in turn use the opportunity to reflect on the process, other evidence could be gathered to support the value of time-based programs for skill formation. Supporters of fixed term programs might also argue that some sorts of prior learning and pre-existing formal qualifications may even hinder a trainee’s progress if these things have led to fixity of thinking, reduced bodily freedom or the need to spend extra time unlearning them.
These claims may be true, but apart from Alexander’s brother, A.R. Alexander, and perhaps a small group of his contemporaries, very few students have had the experience of beginning a training course wondering if they might be competent enough to be certified in fewer than three years. Such a possibility would significantly colour a trainee’s attitude to learning.
In May 1998 STATNews supplied a supplementary “Operational Review”, prepared by consultant Alex Scott, which summarises the responses to a recent questionnaire it sent to STAT teacher members asking for their opinions on various matters, ranging from administration and advertising to ethics and professional standards. In the matter of training and accreditation Scott recommends that proper academic standards be applied, and links forged with a university or “training validator” to produce a recognised qualification. Reflecting the growing awareness by rank-and-file STAT members of the lack of consistent competency standards for the AT profession, particularly at beginning teacher level, Scott also states:
There appears to be a reluctance to countenance change and considerable unhappiness amongst [trainees] as to the overall efficacy of their training courses in terms of equipping them to be teachers… Although the Technique is an art, a craft that is difficult to assess other than by a period of continuous assessment by an experienced teacher, some greater degree of conformity between courses is clearly essential… Dialogue with universities, both with regard to academic courses and proper scientific research, should be strongly encouraged.
DEVELOPMENT OF STANDARDS
Just how many stakeholders in AT teacher education will support the philosophical underpinnings of CBT may depend on how they conceptualise it from within their own local political and cultural education systems. In some countries, where CBT may still emphasise precise, atomistic descriptions of “outcomes” and assessment criteria, AT practitioners would probably, and rightly, think of it as contrary to the principles of the AT itself. However, I would say the integrated or “broader” view of competency-based learning is consistent with the AT in that they both belong to the humanistic, interpretive educational paradigm. As Chappell, Gonczi and Hager say, this view of CBT:
[D]oes not confuse performance with competence, and argues that a large
variety of attributes which underpins performance must be addressed
in any competency analysis… It emphasises human agency and social
interrelations in competency descriptions. It regards competence as
developmental and elaborative rather than static and minimalist. It
places great importance on groups of practitioners coming together and
through a process of debate and dialogue, developing competency descriptions
of practice… It views descriptions of competence as being open
to renegotiation and change…
Notwithstanding that Alexander and Dewey were friends for 36 years, and that Alexander’s influence on Dewey is increasingly acknowledged, I suggest that a holistic perspective that includes the integrated approaches of Gonczi et al and other writers, along with the “Key Competencies” approach to learning and assessment, would be contextually appropriate for future research and development into AT teacher education.
I am hypothesising here that we will eventually generate an holistic, competency-based model of AT teacher training in which a teaching certificate would be granted after appropriate assessment, regardless of the length of time spent formally at a training school. This of course would mean more than 1600 hours attendance when necessary. Evidence of prior learning would be an integral part of the system, so that, for example, a trainee’s earlier private lessons, anatomy classes or school teaching experience could be taken into account. There may even be a case to be made for stages of qualification, beginning with a probationary accreditation, followed by full registration after a period of continuing education, supervision by a mentor and further assessment.
Of course, after so many years of using the more easily managed, quantifiable fixed term system, our stakeholders in AT teacher education may find that the changes in pedagogic and administrative habits required to adapt to the qualitative approach to CBT will be considerable. In the next instalment of this paper I will discuss the concomittant question of assessment of competence, not only of beginning AT teachers but also of their educators.
PART TWO (This part of the paper appeared in Direction: A Journal on the Alexander Technique, 2002, Vol.3, No. 1, pp. 33-36)
In the previous issue of Direction I introduced the idea that future Alexander Technique (AT) teacher education policies might benefit from taking into account the contemporary educational theories of competency based training (CBT). In the second installment of this paper I will look at the parallel question of competency assessment, not only of beginning AT teachers but also of their educators.
ASSESSMENT OF AT TEACHER COMPETENCIES
In 1992, STAT established an “independent panel of moderators” to oversee and report back on training standards and trainee competence at the schools within its jurisdiction. These moderators are senior teachers and/or faculty members of training programs but, although their recommendations are taken into account, they have no authority to pass or fail the students or regulate the schools they assess. As I understand it, their terms of reference for student appraisal are the following five technical skills, mentioned in the first of this paper (refer Direction Vol. 2, No. 10)
an understanding of Alexander’s terminology;
At this point I would like to highlight what is generally regarded as an important higher-level competency for teachers and their educators, namely reflectivity.
While the expression “reflection” is not often found in the lexicon of AT teachers, it seems to me that if AT teacher trainees are learning anything at all they should be learning to think reflectively. Unlike other models of professionalism built solely around technical expertise, Schön’s model of “reflection-in-action” has become recognised by educational researchers as central to professional practice, and deserves the study of AT teacher educators.
Reflection-in-action refers to the process of responding to an unexpected or inconsistent phenomenon by reflecting on and rethinking one’s initial understanding of it, constructing a new description of it and testing that intuitive theory in an action experiment. A reflective practitioner becomes a researcher into his or her own practice, a self-educator constantly learning, not just applying time-worn procedures to seemingly repetitive problems. Schön points out that clients may also need to be educated to this way of thinking, particularly if they are used to unquestioning deference to their practitioners. This is the context for reflective contracts between practitioner and client which call for: competences which may be strange to [the practitioner]. Whereas he [sic] is ordinarily expected to play the role of expert, he is now expected from time to time to reveal his uncertainties. Whereas he is ordinarily expected to keep his expertise private and mysterious, he is now expected to reflect publicly on his knowledge-in-practice, and to make himself confrontable by his clients.
For adult educators, Brookfield highlights the importance of another dimension to reflection, “critical reflection”, which links in with the learning of democratic habits by both teachers and students. More than coming to a clearer understanding of our actions and identities by freeing ourselves of distorted ways of reasoning and acting, both personally and professionally, to reflect critically is:
[T]o understand how considerations of power undergird, frame, and distort
educational processes and interactions [and] to question assumptions
and practices that seem to make our teaching lives easier but actually
work against our best long-term interests.”
Hunt also points out some consequences for the faculty members who are teaching “reflective practice”. As they practise it themselves they may also have to confront and articulate issues about their own responsibility and accountability. And even though they may be unqualified as counsellors, they may be called upon by their reflective students to give therapeutic advice. Or the student might challenge the structure of the learning environment and even leave it. Moving between roles of confessor and assessor also puts added pressure on a teacher’s relationships to learners. Based on their experience with these problems, Hunt and her associates have developed an academic practice model that aims to keep reflection within appropriate boundaries, in their case the cognitive domain. AT teacher educators might take heed of this advice and teach reflective practice only to the extent that they can manage its consequences with integrity.
In the next section I will explore briefly some issues regarding the competencies and accreditation of AT teacher educators, in particular the training course directors.
COMPETENCIES OF AT TEACHER EDUCATORS
The US Society of Teachers of the AT (AmSAT) has by-laws that are more demanding than the AS minimum and which specify that an applicant for director status should have accumulated a minimum number of “credit units” through post-graduate attendance at AT-based events such as workshops, conferences and annual meetings. Beth Stein also describes in detail the attributes and skills, personal qualities and other competencies the Training Course Approval Committee would prefer training course directors (and presumably all other AT teacher educators) to possess. The following six “expressions of ability” areas correspond to higher level competency units, each of which has a set of elements too lengthy to list here:
If we want our work to expand and be fully recognised as a teaching profession by governments and communities worldwide we must nurture within it a culture of inquiry and self-reflection. Indeed, compared with the time and effort put into studying the physiological, and perhaps psychological, attributes of the AT, scarcely any academically viable research has ever been undertaken into at teacher education. Those who are keen to enhance our professional standing need to sponsor debate and research into the development of consistent and holistic professional competency standards and assessment policies that accurately reflect not only Alexander’s principles but also current educational theories, particularly Competency-Based Training.
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