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Developing a living theory of theopraxis: how do I improve my practice as a professional educator in RE?

Developing a living theory of theopraxis: how do I improve my practice as a professional educator in RE?

by Maria James -
Number of replies: 2
I am not sure you will be able to read this paper-but hope you will. Meanwhile I am very pleased to be  part of this interesting forum. Thankyou, Maria
In reply to Maria James

Re: Developing a living theory of theopraxis: how do I improve my practice as a professional educator in RE?

by Moira Laidlaw -

Hello Maria. I will first respond with some general comments, then some specific points, then with ideas about the paper's technical presentation. Finally, I will make a conclusion with recommendations. 

I have also written some comments for consideration on the paper itself, which I append here.

General Comments: I am truly delighted to be given a chance to respond to this paper, Maria, which I honestly found intriguing from beginning to end. The ideas that you outline at the beginning about your own faith and how you see yourself as a teacher in the milieu, which often is unhelpful or even downright unsympathetic to the values that you are attempting to live – all of this is fascinating. At the age of 54 I was christened and then confirmed a few weeks ago, feeling a need to follow my sense of what was right for me after much havering. I therefore have some understanding about your own quest to lead a life that has meaning for you and for others, and which complies with certain ethical and moral, spiritual and logical tenets that help to shape the life that you have chosen. And I applaud its appearance at a time when ethical issues and social responsibilities have never been so acute.

I love the way you write. I wholeheartedly support your ideas about how you can make the educative relationship one that truly helps others. And the movement from didactic to a more relational stance is something I really think you write about well. I wonder if the work of Alan Rayner would help you with these ideas, in terms of expressing and contextualising them more thoroughly. You can find his work on inclusionality, which impinges, I believe, on what you’re writing about, at: I think you would also find Jack Whitehead’s work on relational ways of being interesting. Have a look at:

I am, however, concerned about the lack of supportive evidence for your claims in the paper, and it’s that which really hampers my enthusiasm. I want this paper to be published. I think it could be an important contribution to the fields of action research enquiry, RE teaching, and the development of values which contribute to what it means to lead a good life. However, without this supporting evidence I cannot say it is ready yet for publication.

Specific Points:

p.3. I really concur heartily with your conclusions about education not being able to be neutral. I cannot imagine any educator trying to maintain that position. Education has to mean something, has to contribute to personal and social growth and enablement – I believe – and whatever function education is seen as having, it needs also to promote a responsible freedom amongst the people on the â€receiving end’. It would be nigh impossible as well for an action researcher to maintain a values-neutral stance, because that belongs entirely to another paradigm.

p.4. You write: I do not wish to compartmentalise different aspects of my life or prioritise one over the other; this, for me, would be tantamount to schism. I wonder if that doesn’t contradict what you’ve already said about not being neutral. Isn’t the compartmentalisation of aspects of our lives necessary at times in order to enable other aspects to come to the fore as they are needed? I wonder if you need to rephrase that, or explain how it isn’t a contradiction of what you’ve already said.

p.4 You write:

This stance, however, can be problematic, for a key challenge for me becomes how to keep the integrity of a Christian practice alive when the dominant contextualising secular ideology often assumes religion as a private affair and where others can be suspicious of a Christian proclaiming that they are aiming to exercise educational influence. This situation has arisen, I believe, mainly because so many have misused such influence to teach in confessional ways, ways that leave little place or time for reflection or independent knowledge generation and respect for the other. (My underlining – ML)

I do like this. You express yourself cogently and with heart, which is an absolute delight to read. I do wonder whether, in an academic paper, however, you can get away with the underlined above. It is a claim and although I agree with the sentiments expressed it needs to be given credence with some sort of example. It’s too theoretical and abstract and in an academic paper all claims must be vindicated.

p.6. communicates this well… â€well’ is a strange word, communicating very little. It’s rather like the word â€nice’ or â€good’. Only the writer really knows what it means, but it isn’t something that helps the reader. If you were a reader of this paper, what would you want to know about what qualities you see this example helping us to understand? I applaud your use of unconventional examples, because these make us think, but your language has to be a precision-tool (which is really is most of the time), and not something that leaves us with an unfinished sculpture. I want to see the fine detail.

p.7. I find myself very moved by your paper, Maria. The way in which you write pulls me along on a journey I feel I’ve travelled a little too, and when you write about ontological dissonance I am sure I know what you’re meaning. This is exciting writing, and something that needs a wider audience, I believe. I have a feeling it will speak to teachers and practitioners who work from a basis of love, as so many people do. They may not use that word because it has become tainted (through no fault of its own, I would suggest), but I think it would resonate to a lot of people.

p.7. You write: I â€ruled’ from the â€front’ and was capable of becoming irritated by those who hindered my flow of expertise. I would appreciate an example of this. Again it’s an uncorroborated claim, isn’t it?

p.7 You write: Recently I spoke with some vibrant and gifted newly qualified teachers who told me stories of how they â€went off piste’ and deliberately changed schemed material to suit their classes; but their stories were generally admitted behind cupped hands, in hushed tones, as if it were something mischievous and unorthodox. Why such guilt? I feel I need a little more detail here. What was the context? How did this fit into what you were doing? And something I am not quite understanding, is the comment about guilt. I think some readers who don’t come from a Christian perspective or background, may find it difficult to grasp the significance of this, and how this is related to power, as you comment slightly later on.

p.7 Again you write: One teacher recently admitted that the children were â€falling off their seats with boredom’, as she continued to present some often non-relational and prescribed material that she knew in her heart was neither stimulating nor meeting her children’s needs. Again, this needs unpacking for me. I need to understand again the significance you are drawing from this example.

p.8. You write: I would claim that this is also my stance when considering my educational knowledge and its transformation into living theory, open to modification and growth. Dandy! But where’s the evidence of this? You are not presenting us with a chronology, or a narrative that fills out the details between claims and thus it is going to be difficult for me/the reader to work out whether your claims are justified. We need to see the narrative behind the conclusions and summaries.

p.8 These days I seek to be the type of teacher who reconstructs her work in order to empower and encourage others, seeing them as autonomous learners, able to engage critically in their own thinking. Again, where is the evidence for this, either from a narrative that’s come before and makes this conclusion viable, or from examples from your teaching that give us something to go on? Making claims of these dimensions is not tenable in an academic paper, as you will know from your doctoral studies. Help us to understand you and your work better.

p.8/9 You write: Linking their metaphors with educational theory that either challenges or confirms their choice, they begin, importantly, to theorise their own practice in order to improve it. You say they begin… Who are they precisely? Do ALL of them do this? Are they differentiated at all in their responses? And where is the evidence for any of this? You need to give us precise examples, perhaps a case-study to illustrate your insights. It’s not that I don’t believe you – I really do – but I need to see it, and also I need to see a greater rigour in your research method-descriptions. It isn’t enough to tell us about a process, you have to show it.

p.9. I have observed that, as novice teachers develop their understandings, and their initial metaphors change, it can be revelatory to consider how and why this happens as it does. Some have provided metaphor in evaluating my practice. I again need some proof of this. At the moment you are showing only your point of view and triangulation, as you will know, is an important aspect of research-validity.

p.11. I do like the extracts you’ve given us, but I’m wondering whether there are earlier ones that show any dissatisfaction from them, or journal entries you made yourself that show a different insight at the beginning. At the moment there is no comparison, or sense of a journey travelled, and little triangulation of material.

p.11. I then had to work hard to regain even a working relationship with her and others around her. And again, I want to know how and what and where and when. It’s a lovely example you give that you upset someone and then afterwards apologised for it. More details like this give your paper the life that you want your practice to have. Without the details, it’s not only unrigorous, it’s disappointing, when it promises so much and the paper itself is so well written and fascinating in its subject-matter.

p.11. The Caravaggio painting is one of my all-time favourites. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck tingle. It’s the hand reaching out of the canvas that really gets me. It’s so real, so archetypal, it makes other paintings of the time seem insipid. It’s like reading Marlowe’s plays after having seeped oneself in Shakespeare!

p.12 When you write: Similarly, my practice is not about evangelisation but I do invite others to consider why such spiritual encounter is so vital to so many. I hope that I communicate this through who I am I am moved to ask whether you can tell us a little more about this. What do you mean by evangelicism? And could you tease out a little more what you infer from the spiritual encounters, in terms of their significance and meaning?

p.12 You write: Perhaps this comment from a colleague shows how I am improving in this aspect of my practice. I am not sure a single comment can show improvement, because improvement is only perceptible over time. One comment at one time shows how you were then, not before or after, and in an academic research paper about claims to improvement this doesn’t stand up, I’m afraid.

p.13. You write in your conclusion: Within this paper I have attempted to paint, albeit a very inadequate one, a picture of a relational pedagogy through which I am trying to communicate the educational nature of such practice. First, I’d like to ask why you would present a very inadequate picture of a relational pedagogy. I am not carping here, but such a comment doesn’t get you off the hook of not providing sufficient evidence (to my mind) for your claims to have improved something. I don’t see that at all, I’m afraid. Secondly, I want to see this educational nature of such practice, and I can’t and I find that frustrating, because I believe it’s absolutely in your grasp to do so. Your writing, your scholarship, all suggest to me a complete ability to render an academic paper that will stand up to critique, but it’s not there yet, in my opinion.

Technical Details These are similar to the comments that I wrote for Julie’s paper yesterday.

Your paper is powerfully written in terms of language and expression and readily comprehensible. Indeed, in places your language and passion come through very strongly and are a distinct plus for me, because I feel that you care so vividly about your work, and you relate that powerfully to your belief-system.

However, it seems that little attention has been paid to the House style, which is a necessary part of the submission of a paper. You must refer very closely to the guidelines at: because without careful adherence to this standard your paper cannot be accepted. I know it may seem that I am highlighting this unnecessarily, but I have two reasons for this:

  • I know what it takes as a copy-editor to get a paper fit for publication in terms of the technical aspects. It’s very difficult, very grinding work, but it should be done to the best of the ability of the writer before submission.
  • It is an issue of professionalism. A journal is only as good as the papers it publishes. If we accept a standard of â€anything goes’ then this is unprofessional. And it isn’t only appearance. Consistent referencing (yours needs considerable work) aids full comprehension. This journal aims to reach people whose first language is not English. Providing consistency adds to comprehensibility. I hope you will do the job of presenting your paper to the specified guidelines. Without it, I cannot recommend this paper for publication.

Conclusion: I want to support you in this paper, but you will need to provide supporting evidence for your claims. You will also need to bring it within EJOLTS' House style in terms of layout, quotations, referencing and so on, but I see this as wholly feasible and hope you will commit yourself to presenting this paper for inclusion in the next issue of EJOLTS.

Recommendation: Accept with modification.

I am keen to see this paper published, and am happy to support you in any work that needs to be done on the paper.

Best wishes,

Moira Laidlaw, 30th June, 2009.

In reply to Maria James

Re: Developing a living theory of theopraxis: how do I improve my practice as a professional educator in RE?

by Swaroop Rawal -

Developing a living theory of theopraxis: how do I improve my practice as a professional educator in Religious Education?

Maria James

ACCEPT - Publish as it stands;

Maria’s paper makes a commendable effort in addressing the critical issue of teaching Religious Education and faith-based practice. Making Religious Education effective and at the same time interesting is an aspect that is more often than not overlooked. The importance of making RE interesting is often underestimated. The challenge as I see it is to demonstrate clearly whether RE can be taught or not. Whether there is a translation of what is learnt in the class to real life outside. Another issue is whether the understanding gained from the research can used by educators and is not dependent on the passion and commitment of an individual personality.

The reason for selecting action research as the method of choice is well stated, and draws out the personal quest of the practitioner-researcher’s attempt to improve and build upon her own personal skills, both as an educator and as an individual.

However, I have some reservations with regards to the image of a senior lecturer as one standing on the higher ground, distinctly divorced from the â€swampy lowlands’ of everyday practices (Schön, 1991). Even though she is a senior lecturer Maria is still an educator. I believe the distinction Schon made was for researchers who are not from â€field’ and were â€purely’ researchers.

I think the â€read thread’ is easy to follow. I was initially a bit sceptical about the links and the visuals. However, the image - and made me change my mind. Maria has made very skilful and endearing choices in the images as they express something which is beyond the capacity of words. I do believe that Maria should not be even slightly apologetic concerning the previous link …when she writes â€Perhaps the message that the image communicates is somewhat hackneyed’.. the image is not hackneyed; on the contrary it is strong and effective.

On the other hand I was a bit disappointed with - Having said that, I also stress it is a personal choice and I think this comment can be ignored.

â€How do I evaluate my educational influences in learning?’ is an interesting read and is written well. It is dynamic making it an excellent piece of reflexivity. In that section, Maria pulls forward the core concepts and the insight the research has given her so far and makes the reader progress with her.

Teaching RE has an inherent problem of being â€value-laden’. In the hands of an incompetent teacher it can be dogmatic. Maria is attempting to find answers to all this and more as a part of her Ph.D study. I wish her the best on her journey ahead to develop deeper insights and share a valuable and honest way of teaching RE.