March 13th, 2008

Authenticity in Teaching


I am busily preparing for my online interview with adult educator Patricia Cranton. (See for information about this March 25 Magna Online Seminar.) We’re going to be talking about transformative learning, but I’m trying to make sure that I’m conversant with all of her current research interests. She is into so many interesting areas! This morning I’m reading some of her work on teacher authenticity.

She and her co-author write that when faculty look for teaching advice, they consult the how-to literature, be that a generic resource or something based in their discipline. “These resources serve faculty well, but they have one common flaw: They most often provide principles, guidelines, strategies, and best practices without taking into consideration individual teacher’s personalities, preferences, values, and ways of being in the world—the ways in which they are authentic. The assumption underlying this approach is that what works well for one teacher in one context works well in general for all teachers in all contexts.” (pp. 5-6)

Cranton believes that teachers become authentic when they question what is right for them and develop their own unique style. This enables them to be genuine when they teach and that authenticity allows them to connect with students in ways that are meaningful and motivational.
Interesting. I do think that we downplay the whole adaptation process—the way teachers take good teaching ideas, strategies, techniques and make them their own—make them so that they work for that teacher, that content and those students. I also think innovations are more likely to fail when teachers approach change with the Nike “just do it” attitude. And finally, I wonder how many of us could describe the process we use to make a good idea work for us. Most of us do that pretty intuitively, right? But what if somebody else wanted to learn how to do it or what if you wanted to know how to do it better?

Reference: Cranton, P., and Carusetta, E. (2004). Perspectives on authenticity in teaching. Adult Education Quarterly, 55 (1), 5-22.

–Maryellen Weimer