Dynamic Pedagogy

There are a number of different ways to describe the types of teaching and learning strategies that are associated with what’s commonly called “21st Century learning”.  Some examples would include the actual term “21st Century learning” (OECD, 2008), as well as “the New Pedagogy” (Fullan, 2013), and “future-oriented learning” (Bolstad, Gilbert et al, 2012).  While these three terms (and the associated references) don’t necessarily refer to exactly the same pedagogical philosophy or strategies, the language shares a common theme of “modern” or “new”.   My observation is that while some of these strategies may include the use of recent technological advances, many have been in place for a long time.

In fact, it begs the question “is this all new?”.  The answer lies in part in these words from John Dewey: https://youtu.be/6MlHSgC_SnU

Therefore, I have been looking for a word that describes pedagogical practice that encompasses the types of strategies described in the references above, that acknowledges the long history behind some of these strategies and doesn’t imply that they are brand new or that technology is their sole focus.

The term that I prefer is “dynamic” pedagogy.  The Oxford dictionary defines “dynamic” as “(of a process or system) characterized by constant change, activity, or progress”.  The word is often used in contrast to “static” or unchanging.  Therefore, dynamic pedagogical practices are those that constantly change and shift in response to the needs of learners and to new research discoveries.  However, changes shouldn’t be for the sake of change – they need to be in response to something that, upon critical examination, demands movement. 

What might be considered dynamic pedagogy?  I like a couple of broad explanations.  From a research perspective, Hattie (2009) suggests that “teacher as activator” role using strategies such as reciprocal teaching, feedback, metacognition, and teacher-student self-verbalization” are proven strategies that make a difference (more so than “teacher as facilitator”).  Fullan (2013) extends Hattie’s description to “teacher as change agent or activator, and student as proactive partner in learning”.

There are several reasons why we should reconsider the name and portrayal of these “new” pedagogical strategies.  First of all is the “been there, done that” mindset of baby boomers still in the system.    As one of the few left in that group, I find myself having to consider “new” pedagogies critically and deeply to identify differences from earlier pedagogical and curricular innovations as each wave has crashed on the shore: 1940’s progressive education, 1970’s “open classroom”, the Year 2000, and now 21st Century learning.  But rather than looking at these as waves crashing and subsiding, leaving nothing but a shifting pattern in the sand, we need a new metaphor to bring us baby boomers on side.  We need something that captures the notion that each iteration of innovative reform was, in its time, the RIGHT thing, not just a fad.  We’re just refining and getting better at it.  No baby getting thrown out with the bath water.  Perhaps we need to think of creative educational reform as a spiral of innovation that goes up and is hopefully proportional to the attention given to research that supports it.  Oh yeah – it should also nod (not bow down) to the advances in technological tools that can make it much better.

Some things haven’t changed.  The big ideas of how students learn to do research haven’t changed –collect data from credible sources, analyse the data, and create a summary of the data and the analysis.  This is not different.  However, technology DOES revolutionize the mechanics of how it’s done and does create new issues such as the volume and breadth of data, the speed and access to information, and the efficiency and ease of presenting data in a variety of media.  It’s just that students learning the research process itself isn’t new.

Likewise, creativity and critical thinking aren’t new.  Nor is social emotional learning – at least not for Kindergarten teachers.  Likewise, generations of arts education teachers have taught students how to think creatively and collaboratively (especially those in settings where the arts are integrated with other subjects).  These teachers have done it for decades and the rest of us are just catching up!  Is it 21st Century?  No, it’s been longer than that.  Is it based on technology? Generally not, although technology can sometimes (often?) make certain types of educational activity much easier.

Let’s encourage and support educators to embrace (and continue to embrace) dynamic pedagogies that, while not new, do reflect what’s best for our learners.

[this article was originally posted on the BCSSA Blog]


Bolstad, R., Gilbert, J., Mcdowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012). Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching — a New Zealand perspective Report to the Ministry of Education.

Fullan, M. (2013). Commentary The New Pedagogy: Students and Teachers as Learning Partners. LEARNing Landscapes6(2), 23–29. Retrieved from http://www.michaelfullan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Commentary-Learning-Landscapes-New-Pedagogy.pdf

OECD. (2008). OECD/CERI International Conference “Learning in the 21st Century: Research, Innovation and Policy.” 21St Century Learning: Research, Innovation and Policy Directions From Recent Oecd Analyses, 13.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Learning and the Brain: The Science of Imagination Poster

For those of you that I met in Florida at the Learning and the Brain conference, here is a copy of the poster that I presented on Aesthetic Experiences: AE poster

For a more detailed explanation of the framework for aesthetic education at the centre of the poster, please see this short paper: A Framework for Arts Education – Churchley

It was nice talking to you in Orlando and I hope to continue the conversation.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Silent embodiment of sound: the conductor’s leadership dance

Embodiment is a term that is often associated with a deity taking on human form, not as a shell or mask, but as an incarnation – a metaphysical being projected into our world in a living, breathing, version that is fully human but is still fully god. Embodiment is also a term used in dance as a way to describe the dancer’s transformation into a human kinetic projection of music, culture, or other abstractions imagined by the dancer/choreographer. This embodiment goes far beyond mimesis or representation – every breath, thought, and movement of the dancer is the abstraction.

Conducting is a form of dance that is self-choreographed, although it uses a relatively standard set of conventions and movements. The purpose of this particular dance is leadership of the musical ensemble. However, the sense of embodiment is just as vital as it is in dance. The conductor’s role is to lead the musicians to create music – music that is audiated in the conductor’s mind, embodied in his/her dance, and realised as sound by the musicians. A successful performance is one where these three phases are symbiotically connected in a seamless dialogue.

Conducting is the silent embodiment of the conductor’s music in a dialogue with the sounding embodiment of the musicians’ music.  The musicians’ response to the conducting dance is certainly mimetic, but it also is self-expression.  This makes the performance a co-creation between the conductor and the other musicians in the ensemble. Key to conducting and to leadership is not only the conductor’s ability to embody his/her audiation (vision), but also his/her relationship with the organization – both as individuals and as “sections” that will determine the type and quality of the dialogue.

In leadership, we speak of vision – however, this is a term that refers to the sense of sight as perceived or imagined by the mind. Audiation is an analogous term that refers to the sense of sound as perceived/imagined by the mind. Both can exist entirely within the mind – vision can exist in darkness, audiation can exist in silence. Leaders can have an audiation for their organization just as they may have a vision.   Therefore, there is a powerful lesson and metaphor about leadership in learning about the conductor’s embodiment of his/her audiation in dialogue with the musicians’ embodiment of their responsive audiation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Importance of Arts Education – a speech for NorKam

The Importance of Arts Education

John Churchley, EdD

Keynote address given at the NorKam Secondary Principals’ List Reception, Sept 19, 2013


I wrote this speech assuming that you are the brightest students in this school, and likely in the district, so you can handle complicated and scary words.  Actually, all you need to understand my talk today is one complicated scary word.  That word is “aesthetic”.  When you hear that word, you might think either of some philosophic discussion in an art history class, or getting your nails and makeup done in a beauty salon.  Both of these uses of the word “aesthetic” are correct, of course, but aesthetic is much broader than those specific definitions.

Aesthetic is the word we use to describe something special that’s related to the arts.  Something unique that is kind of like a feeling – maybe like how you feel in a sad movie, or a funny one, or the cold chill down the back of your neck when you see an amazing performance, or maybe just the thoughts you have when you see a painting and think “….cool”.  Aesthetic is the word to describe an experience with the arts – a special experience that is like nothing else.

I’ve been trying to figure out these experiences most of my life.  Why do we have them?  How can we seek them out and make them for others, so that they are consistently good or great or even mind-blowing experiences?  These questions have intrigued me so much I became a music teacher, and I even did a couple of university degrees to try to answer these questions.  What I’d like to tell you today is a little of what I have figured out…so far.

First of all, aesthetic experiences are not just highbrow discussions at opening receptions in fancy art galleries.  They can be, but they can also happen anywhere and everywhere, all day, every day.  In the morning when you get up, you might see a sunrise that is simply beautiful.  Then you open your closet and make your first aesthetic choice of the day.  What clothes should you wear?  What colour, what style “feels” right today, what goes with what, what statement do you want to make (or avoid making) with your clothes.  Then you head to school with your headphones on, choosing music that might create a feeling that matches your mood, or improves your mood, or impresses your friends, or just sounds cool. Later on, you take a picture with your phone to post on Facebook or Tumblr or Instagram.  Is it a good picture?  Well-framed, looks cool?  Is it funny?  Dramatic?  The better the aesthetic kick you get out of that photo will determine the number of hits it gets online. Think about it: the most viral YouTube clips are those that give viewers an aesthetic experience.  Whether you know if or not, these are aesthetic choices and aesthetic experiences that go with the choices and they happen every day.

The potential for aesthetic experiences is not just your clothing choices – it is everywhere.  If you look around you now, at home, anywhere you go, you will see things.  Natural things like sunrises, and mountains and parks – all of which can create an aesthetic experience from their beauty.  You’ll also see things made by people – cars, buildings, houses, pens, shovels, cell phones, and plastic forks.  All of these things were designed by people that wanted to make something useful, but also to create an aesthetic experience.  Think of cars and car ads – colour and design are important, and who wants to drive an ugly car?   Of course, these are not always particularly deep aesthetic experiences – such as with the plastic forks, but in the end, the designers still wanted you to be attracted by it – either so you would enjoy it or so you would buy it (or both).

All of these are aesthetic experiences that are part of everyday life.  There are also special occasions, like grad, weddings, festivals, and even honours nights, where aesthetic experiences are a very important component for success. What music to pick, what clothes to wear, what should the table centre-pieces look like, what are the best colours for the flowers, what world-renowned guest speaker should we invite that will inspire our group?  If you know more about aesthetic experiences – how you react to them and how to create them, you’re going to make aesthetic choices that are more satisfying and more successful.

The idea that I’m getting to is that arts education is aesthetic education.  In other words, the whole purpose of learning the arts – dance, drama, film, literature, music, and visual art, is to learn about how to have and to create deeper, more satisfying aesthetic experiences. That is what it is all about.

“So What?”

“Why are aesthetic experiences and the arts so important?  I know what I like and that’s enough.”  I have two responses to these sentiments.  Firstly, if aesthetic experiences are SO pervasive in our lives as I’ve suggested, and they are what makes being human so unique, don’t we owe it to ourselves to know more about them?  If they make us feel good enough to spend millions of dollars on arts experiences – movies, music, books, concerts, shows, and even clothes – doesn’t it make sense to learn how to enjoy them even more?

The second response is one word – transformation.  Aesthetic experiences have the potential to be hugely powerful – so powerful that they can change people.  We call this transformation.  Now, I’m not talking about some magical transformation like Harry Potter could conjure up, or like the Transformers could do by pushing a button.  I’m talking about the kinds of transformation that change the way things appear and the way you look at them.  For example, in high school, I was involved in a play called I Never Saw another Butterfly which was about a Jewish girl in a concentration camp in the Second World War.  I knew about the Holocaust from Social Studies class and we’d even read the Diary of Anne Frank in English class, but that play moved me to the point and where I thought and felt differently about racism, discrimination, and the horrors of war.  That play chilled me to the bone and permanently changed my perspective on these things when I was 16 years old and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Over the years, I’ve seen or been in lots of concerts.  At the most aesthetically inspiring ones, I’ve often seen people – students, parents, teachers, and audience members from all walks of life with tears in their eyes or cheering wildly.  All of them had experienced transformation – they left the theatre feeling something different (and powerful) than they did when they entered.

Transformation doesn’t have to be that heavy and serious though.  It can be fun or even superficial.  To this day I can’t hear the Barber of Seville opera overture without thinking of the Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd cartoon that used that music, and I can’t hear the “Can Can” music by Offenbach without singing the Speedy Muffler radio jingle.  Were these significant transformations?  No.  Have they stuck with me for 20 or 30 years? Yes!…so maybe they are significant.  Because they did transform me – after 20 years I still remember that Speedy Muffler does shock absorbers too.  I can’t remember my wife’s birthday but I can remember that because of a song?  That’s transformation.

Have you been transformed by an experience with the arts?  If you think about it, I suspect you will find you have.  The goal of the arts IS to transform you, and to do so at different levels – sometimes heavy and serious, sometimes light and frivolous.

Therefore, assuming that the arts have the power to transform you, arts education does two things for you:

  1. It helps you know how and where to find deeper and more powerful aesthetic experiences that will transform you.  The more you know about the arts, the more aesthetic experiences you’ll find – especially from a greater variety of cultures and from different historical times.
  2. It gives you the knowledge and skills to transform others through the art that you create.

Therefore, at the end of the day, my question is this:  Are you happy simply going through life with whatever bland or mundane experiences happen to find you?  Is listening to the Speedy Muffler radio ad enough to make your life rich and satisfying?  Or do you really want to feel something: something that’s powerful enough to change you forever; something that makes you uniquely human and connects you with humans across cultures and across the centuries?

The only way you’re going to feel and experience and create at a deeper and more satisfying level is to learn more about one or more of the arts.  You don’t need to become a professional artist.  But you owe it to yourself to experience the arts in the best, the deepest, the most satisfying way that you can.  It will make your life rich whatever you do as a career.

When you enter the workforce, it’s also likely that while you won’t necessarily be a full-time artist, you will make aesthetic choices and will try to create powerful aesthetic experiences that transform people.  You might be doing advertising for a muffler shop or doing a PowerPoint for a big corporation, but learning about the arts, design, and aesthetic experiences is important for any job.

I can’t speak to you on the arts and aesthetic experiences without trying to create one for you myself.  I thought about writing a song, or doing some creative dance while reciting a monologue and simultaneously painting a mural, but I decided that would generate a laugh at best. Instead, I relied upon creative inspiration. I heard a conductor – Gustavo Dudamel interviewed on the radio last week speaking about an orchestral music education program for children – both wealthy and poor in Venezuela.  He said the most important part of the program was access to beauty for all children.  In my talk, I haven’t mentioned beauty, but really, it is a word that simply describes an aesthetic experience.  Dudamel’s idea about the access to beauty – or the access to aesthetic experiences – inspired me to write a poem:  access to beauty.

Leave a comment

Filed under Aesthetic Experiences