The Living Standards of Practice and Judgement of Professional Educators.

Jack Whitehead, Department of Education, University of Bath. England, BA27AY

A paper produced whilst a visiting professor at Brock University, Ontario

June 2000


I'm curious about the validity of two assumptions which have been at the heart of my life in education.

My first assumption is that the creation and testing of educational theory is a worth-while activity in the fundamental sense that it is an activity which helps to give meaning and purpose to one's life in a process of learning. This is the reason why educational theory evokes so much passion in me. Like Kilpatrick (1951) I see educational theory as a form of dialogue which has profound implications for the future of humanity. It is a form of dialogue within which I am creating meaning and purpose for myself. What angers me about educational theories, my own included, is when I think that they are mistaken. Mistakes in educational theory are mistakes in the ways individuals explain the creation of their own form of life. Such mistakes have cost humanity dearly in lost opportunities to enhance our human capacities for material and spiritual well-being.

My second asssumption is that the standards of practice we use to recognise both our mistakes and good practices are the values we use to give meaning and purpose to our lives in education. These values are embodied in our educative relations with our students. I am thinking of values as the human goals for the sake of which we live and work. As we study our own learning as teachers and make claims to know our educative influences with our students we use standards of judgement. We use these standards to test the validity our knowledge-claims.

Professional Bodies such as the Ontario College of Teachers in Ontario and the Teacher Training Agency in England, have published lists of statements on 'The Standards Of Practice Of The Teaching Profession' (OCT, 1999). The educational theory which underpins such lists, is that it is possible to communicate the meanings of the standards of practice through statements alone. By focusing on some of the living standards of practice of professional educators I think that I can show this view to be mistaken.

My case rests on my claim that the living standards of practice I associate with a life-affirming energy, with spiritual practices and with loving care, in educative relations, cannot be communicated through statements alone. I hope that my reasons for making this claim become clear as I use visual records for communicating the meanings of some of the values and standards of practice and judgement of professional educators.


Living Standards of Practice and Judgement

I will begin with my experience of the living standards of practice and judgement in my own educative relationships. I want to start by showing you my educative relationships from within which my standards of practice can be clarified and understood as they emerge through these relationships. I want to be clear about two senses in which I am using educative relationships.

In the first, personal sense, I am meaning my own personal relationships in which I am learning something worth while.

In the second, professional sense, I am meaning my educative relationships with students of education, where I have accepted a professional responsibility to help the students with their learning. Sometimes, as in my self-studies of my educative relationships with my students, the two educative relationships are intimately connected. I am learning as I teach. I am also an educator. In my view, I can claim to have educated myself. I cannot claim to have educated anyone else. I can however, claim to have influenced the education of others. The crucial difference is that the creativity and value-base of the learner is essentially involved in their own learning of a kind which I can recognise as 'educational'.

So, I want to be clear that I cannot claim to have educated anyone other than myself. All I can do is to claim to have influenced the education of others.

This brings me to a crucial difference between:

  1. the living standards of practice and judgement to which I hold myself accountable, as I create my own form of life through my learning, and
  2. the living standards of practice and judgement to which I hold myself accountable in my educative relationships as I claim to know my educative influence with others.

In the first set of standards I am directly responsible for giving a form to my life through my own learning. In the second set others are directly responsible for giving a form to their own lives. I can only know my own influence through my understanding of the living standards of practice and judgement used by others to give a form to their own lives, through their learning with me. As I will show below, I am just beginning to explore the implications, of women's ways of knowing, for my own learning as I embracing the ideas of both living and relational standards of practice and judgement.

The teaching, educative and research contexts of my enquiry

In my educative relationships with the masters' students on the Brock/Grand Erie partnership programme I am researching my own practice as I ask questions of the kind, 'How do I help you to improve your learning?' and 'How do I improve my practice?'. I tutored this programme between 13 May - 17 June 2000 and the following clips were taken at a session on the 3rd June. I was focusing the classes attention on the following statements by Alan Schoenfeld (1999) in his Presidential Address to AERA 1999.


"Now let me turn to the relevant intellectual issues. The study of teaching offers wonderful opportunities for both fundamental and applied research. Teaching is a knowledge-based activity; it is highly interactive and contingent on dynamically changing circumstances; and it calls for rapid decision making in the service of multiple and changing goals. On the theoretical side of the coin, to be able to describe and provide detailed theoretical models of such activity, explaining how and why teachers do what they do amidst the complexity of the classroom is to make significant strides in understanding human thought and action. This hardly tells the whole story - for example, a theory of teaching-in-context does not address the major theoretical issue of how teachers learn from their teaching - but it sets the stage for such work." (Schoenfeld, p. 13, 1999)

My aim was to encourage the development of the idea that there are major contributions to be made to educational knowledge through explaining how we, as teachers, learn from our teaching. I want to encourage the perception that we teacher-researchers are knowledge-creators in the sense of theorising how we learn from our teaching and how we create and test our own living theories in the descriptions and explanations we offer for our own learning in inquiries of the kind, 'How do I help you to improve your learning?'

(McNiff, Lomax & Whitehead, 1996)

I now want to focus on how I am working to answer this question in relation to one of the group, Cheryl Black. Cheryl's inquiry is focused on developing her understanding of her educational values and practices in the process of transition from 19 years teaching music in secondary schools to becoming a vice-principal in a primary school from September 2000. To help with the development of her understanding she has video-taped her classes. To help Cheryl and I develop our understandings of the living standards of practice and judgement of professional educators I have viewed the video and taken a number of digital images to see if I can use these to move towards a shared language for understanding her living standards of practice and judgement.

In both our cultures there is an explicit concern, embodied in legislation, with child abuse. In the UK this has resulted in rules and guidelines issued to teachers about touching pupils. This concern with abuse may be making many educators anxious about the appropriate ways of communicating their own life affirming energy with their pupils. I want to see if I can find an appropriate language, with Cheryl, and other members of the masters cohort, for describing and explaining our educative relationships in ways which communicate our passionate commitment to the values of education without violating the integrity and sense of identity of our students and colleagues.

Here is how I expressed my own understandings elsewhere (Whitehead, 2000a):

A major shift in my thinking concerns a relationship between an idea I used from Martin Buber’s work on educative relations. I identify with his idea of the I-You relation in education within which the other feels addressed as a whole person. Buber says that ‘Trust, trust in the world, because this person exists. This is the most inward achievement of the relation in education.’ . When I write about the idea of the I-You relation, I am meaning that I embody this idea as a value which influences what I do and how I am with my students. I experience and think of this embodied value as a spiritual value.

Since our last meeting (2 years earlier) I have found myself transforming this spiritual valuing of I-You relationships, through my experience of a life-affirming energy which I think also characterises my educative relationships. George Bataille’s (1987) work has helped me to articulate the quality of this energy in terms of an ‘erotic’ energy. Before you begin to fantasise about the many meanings of ‘erotic’ let me say immediately that Bataille writes about a life-affirming energy which he associates with a non-genital form of sexuality. He relates his view of eroticism to his statement that he has subordinated all else to the search for a viewpoint that can hold the unity of the human spirit. I am finding the idea of an erotico-spiritual energy helpful in explaining my own educational development and my educative influence with others. I am hoping that you will help me to test the validity of this idea in my explanations of my own learning which involve multi-media representations (Whitehead, 2000b).

One of the ways I am developing my understanding of the nature of the living standards of practice of professional educators is to move between the meanings embodied in educative relationships, visual records of the relationships, and the meanings in my language. To help to develop this understanding I will focus on the meanings in Cheryl's educative relationships at the beginning and end of one of her music lessons.

At the beginning of the class, before the formal lesson has started, a pupil notices that Cheryl has some chalk marks on her Jacket. The six photographs below were taken from a digital video of the lesson and show the moments around an episode of some 30 seconds duration. The meanings I want to focus on are concerned with the ease with which the pupil feels that she can rub the chalk dust from the teacher, the ease of the teacher's response and in pictures 5 and 6 the looks and relationship which carry for me the life-affirming energy which I am associating with an erotico-spiritual, living standard of practice and judgement in the life a professional educator.

1 2 3

4 5 6

I now want to focus on the end of the class, when the formal lesson has finished. The antecedents for this is that the teacher remembers that the pupil had tried to engage with her earlier in the day but she had explained that she was too busy at the moment to talk. At the end of the lesson she calls to her student to ask what it was that he wanted to show her. He comes over to the teacher and shows her a photograph of his girlfriend. The sequence of photographs show the ease and pleasure each is finding in the exchange and photographs two and four carry for me, the same erotico-spiritual quality of engagement as the relationships did at the beginning of the lesson.

1 2

3 4

In communicating the nature of such living standards of practice and judgement together with the meanings of other values which carry passion, I am suggesting that visual records are needed which enable the meanings carried through our words, to be related directly, through ostensive definition, to the meanings which are embodied in our practices and educative relationships.

As I write this I am wondering if I should approach the meanings of such living standards of practice from a more explicitly gendered perspective. My awareness of the importance of gendered perspectives has been growing since teaching a course on Special Issues of Educational Leadership to an all women's group at Bishop's University in July 1999. In particular I am indebted to Judy McBride (1999) for showing me the importance of caring and visualisation in educative relationships. My colleague, Sarah Fletcher has helped me to develop these insights on the value of visualisation (Child and Fletcher, 2000) from within a view of the multiplicity of self (Fletcher and Whitehead 1999). Working with Jacqui Delong, a Superintendent of Schools in the Grand Erie District Board of Ontario, (Delong, 1997) has taught me the value of developing a gendered perspective in relation to educational leadership and influence. You will see her influence below, together with that of my colleague Judi Marshall, as I integrate ideas from women's ways of connected knowing, relational leadership and organizational learning, within my standards of practice (Delong, 2000).

Having shared my insights above, from Buber (1947) and Bataille (1987), in the development of my own erotico-spiritual standards I am wondering if Carol Gilligan is correct in advocating the recognition of gendered perspectives. Are different perspectives with different standards of judgement reflected in two different moral ideologies, with separation justified by an ethic of rights while attachment is supported by an ethic of care? (Gilligan, p. 164, 1982).

Gilligan traced the development of a morality which combined care and responsibility which she saw as dominated by women as opposed to a morality of rights more commonly practised by men:

But approached from different perspectives, this dilemma generates the recognition of opposite truths. These different perspectives are reflected in two different moral ideologies, since separation is justified by an ethic of rights while attachment is supported by an ethic of care. (p. 164)……. She says that women perceive and construe social reality differently from men and that these differences centre around experiences of attachment and separation.. (p. 171)…. The concept of identity expands to include the experience of interconnection. The moral domain is similarly enlarged by the inclusion of responsibility and care in relationships. And the underlying epistemology corresponding shifts from the Greek ideal of knowledge as correspondence between mind and form to the Biblical conception of knowing as a process of human relationship. (Gilligan, p. 173, 1982)

I am wondering if I should be learning about the living standards of practice of professional educators in more connected or relational ways of seeing, doing and understanding within my organizational contexts. I am moving to this commitment, partially because of a desire to extend the influence of my ideas on living educational theories and living stardards of practice and judgement. I want to extend their influence in enhancing the capacities of organisations to support the values of education. The work of Judi Marshall, my colleague in the CARPP programmes at Bath and a professor of organizational learning, is helping me to see the importance of organizational learning in testing the validity of my ideas in a range of different professional and organizational contexts.

" Of particular concern in this study is how to appreciate the interplay of individual and organizational factors. Much research on women managers focuses on the individual, both in generating explanations of their situation and in proposing potential remedies (Gutek, 1993). But often women cope individually with conflictuapects of their environment that they are managing on others' or the organization's behalf (Sheppard, 1989; Marshall, 1993b). Because of the individual story form of the data in this study we may lose sight of the organizational, structural and political backcloths against which the women's stories are set. Organizations are, nonetheless, implicitly at issue." (Marshall, p. 18, 1995).

This move into organizational learning and more connected ways of knowing may require a more explicit embrace of the feelings associated with connecting knowing:

Connected knowing involves feeling, because it is rooted in relationship; but it also involves thought (p.121) (it is) a position in which women view all knowledge as contextual, experience themselves as creators of knowledge and value both subjective and objective strategies for knowing. (Belenky, p.15, 1985)

I think I have lived as if composing a life involves an openness to possibilities and the capacity to put them together in a way that is structurally sound (Bateson, 1989, p. 63, Whitehead, 2000b). Yet in my work I did not ask as Bateson did:

But what if we were to recognize the capacity for distraction, the divided will, as representing a higher wisdom.? Perhaps Kierkegaard was wrong when he said that 'purity is to will one thing'. Perhaps the issue is not a fixed knowledge of the good, the single focus that millenia of monotheism have made us idealize, but a kind of attention that is open, not focused on a single point. Instead of concentration on a transcendent ideal, sustained attention to diversity and interdependence may offer a different clarity of vision, one that is sensitive to ecological complexity, to the multiple rather than the singular. Perhaps we can discern in women honoring multiple commitments a new level of productivity and new possibilities of learning. (Bateson, p. 166, 1989)

In the process of working towards the legitimation of the living theories and standards of judgement of practitioner researchers in the Academy I think I focused on this aim with a singleness of purpose which did not recognize the capacity for distraction, the divided will, as representing a higher wisdom. As my purpose changes from the process of legitimation to the process of extending influence my intuition tells me I need to change. I am following my intuition as it tells me that the extension of this influence will require more connected ways of knowing and the development of a capacity for relationship influence and perhaps leadership.

In their work Out of Women's Experience: Creating Relational Leadership, Regan & Brooks say:

Although we know that relational leaders exist (we think of ourselves as such), to our knowledge, no one, including ourselves, has examined leadership through this lens. That is a project for the future, which will require the efforts of scholars familiar with the classical and emerging literature on leadership, as well as reflective practitioners of both genders who have consciously integrated masculinist and feminist attributes of leadership in practice.(Regan & Brooks, p. 93, 1995)

In seeking to extend the influence of living educational theories and their standards of practice and judgement I feel more comfortable with the idea of relational influence, rather than leadership. It is my intention to study how I might develop living and relational standards of practice and judgement in my connected knowing, my organizational learning and my relational influence. I am thinking of my learning as I seek to test the validity of extending the influence of living educational theories and their living standards of practice and judgement in a range of professional and social contexts. Before I integrate my erotico-spiritual standards of practice and judgement more fully in my inquiry I wish to check with the teacher-researchers on the master's programme at Brock, to see if there are perhaps more appropriate standards to which I should hold myself accountable. I am thinking particularly of the value of loving care. The closest I can get in prose to my value of loving care has been expressed by Noddings as care:

"The cared-for is essential to the relation. What the cared-for contributes to the relation is a responsiveness that completes the caring. This responsiveness need not take the form of gratitude or even of direct acknowledgement. Rather, the cared-for shows either in direct response to the one-caring or in spontaneous delight and happy growth before her eyes that the caring has been received. The caring is completed when the cared-for receives the care. He may respond by free, vigorous, and happy immersion in his own projects (toward which the one-caring has directed her own energy also), and the one-caring, seeing this, knows that the relation has been completed in the cared-for." (Noddings, p. 181, 1984)

This paper complements the paper (Whitehead, 2000a) which includes an on-line reference to a video-clip of Geoff Suderman-Gladwell as he responds in the masters class on the 13th May 2000. Geoff articulates a standard of practice and judgement which I claim to be living in my own educative relationship with the group at that moment. Like Geoff, I am seeking to help students to take responsibility for defining their own standards of practice and judgement to which they hold themselves and their learning accountable.

Two other video-clips are from Cheryl Black's classroom. These can be seen at:

Start of Cheryl's Lesson


End of Cheryl's Lesson

I have taken the still photographs above, of Cheryl's relationships with her pupils, from these clips, to highlight my understanding of the expression, definition and communication of an erotico-spiritual standard of practice in the educative relationship of professional educators. A standard of practice which when expressed in Cheryl Black's relationship with her pupils, also fulfils my living value of loving care.

I offer this account for social validation in the hope that you will respond and help to take forward my understandings of the values used by professional educators to constitute their standards of practice. I am hoping also, that you will let me know if the idea that you can create your own living educational theories in inquiries of the kind, 'How can I help you to improve your leaning?' has been useful to you. I am thinking of its use in helping you to live more fully your own educational values in the process of helping your students to improve the quality of their learning. I do hope the paper moves you to respond.


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Bateson, M.C. (1989) Composing a Life, London; Penguin.

Belenky, M.F., Clinchy, B.M., Goldberger, N.R., Tarule, J.M. (1986) Women'as Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. New York; HarperCollins.

Buber, M. (1947) Between Man and Man. London: Fontana

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McNiff, J., Lomax, P. & Whitehead, J. (1996) You and Your Action Research Project, London; Routledge.

Noddings, N. (1984) Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics & Moral Education, Berkeley; University of California Press.

OCT (1999) Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession. Toronto: Ontario College of Teachers.

Regan, H.B. & Brooks, G.W. (1995) Out of Women's Experience: Creating Relational Leadership. London; Sage.

Schoenfeld, A. (1999) Looking Toward the 21st Century: Challenges of Educational Theory and Practice, Educational Researcher, 28, pp. 4-14.

Whitehead, J. (2000a) Legitimising living standards of practice and judgement: How do I know that I have influenced you for good? Paper prepared for presentation to the Third International Conference of the Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices, Special Interest Group of AERA, Hersmonceaux Castle, England, 23-27 July, 2000.

Whitehead, J. (2000b) How do I improve my practice? Creating and legitimating an epistemology of practice. Reflective Practice. 1, 91-104.