A quality of knowing.


If we are really serious about assuring quality in education, it seems to me that our greatest efforts must be focused on ensuring what I have come to to call a “quality of knowing.” This means that we draw on data that is far broader and more encompassing than test results and benchmarks, although of course we must make use of those if they have valuable insight to give us.

We must make sure that the “knowing” is achieved by drawing on the input of those who are the greatest experts in the child; that is, the child themself and the adults who care for the child.

It would appear that primary education is often better at tapping into this expertise than secondary and this needs to be resolved; it is not good enough to say that adolescents are less willing to engage (as they aren’t, given the right strategies) or that parents and carers have a reduced rôle to play during adolescence (as they actually have an equal or greater rôle).

We also need to ensure that teacher judgment does not involve any sort of negative pre-judging, prejudice or unconscious bias that may prevent us from seeing the true potential in each child. As humans we make judgements; it is instinctive and part of our primitive brain functioning to do so. But we as teachers are not primitive. We are professional and well-educated and we need to understand the power of human nature and be able to mitigate against it. A pause and a breath before we make a judgement about a pupil because we “know the reputation of THAT family”. A pause and a breath before we make a judgement about a pupil because of the way she behaved yesterday. A pause and a breath before we accept without filter a judgement that a colleague has made about a “difficult” child or class. 

That is not to say that we ignore what has gone before. If a child has behaved in an unregulated way the previous day, we need to be alert to this and know it, without expecting or pre-judging that it will happen again but being aware that it could.

Risk management is all about acting to mitigate against harmful or risky situations when there is likelihood that they could occur; it is based on facts, evidence and knowledge of context, rather than over-dramatic speculation or wild supposition. Accurate data about what has happened and why is a crucial part of risk management.

Part of knowing a child well is knowing when they have been unable to self-regulate, working out what has caused the behaviour and helping the child to manage the distress behind the behaviour. If we know a child well, we will be able to see behaviour for what it is, without resorting to labels such as “naughty”, “dangerous” or even “criminal” to describe the behaviour or even the child.

Knowing each child and young person within our care, resisting labels and using history to inform positively rather than label negatively; these must at the heart of what do in schools. This way, we will get the true measure of each child and be able to walk beside them as they develop their sense of self, their potential and their individuality.

Gert Biesta quoted from:

Biesta, G. (2008) Good education in an age of measurement: on the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education. Published online: 2 December 2008 © Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

One thought on “A quality of knowing.

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