The Dance

Last week, our ECI831 class listened to a presentation by Stephen Downes that explored the changing role of the teacher.  He argued that these many roles would eventually be divvied up among educators who are experts at only one role.  To me this seemed too much like an assembly line business model of education that denies the fact that teaching is an art, rather than an acquired skill.  Certainly, teachers are continually honing their skills and working to improve education; yet it is not necessarily something that can be explicitly taught. There are many people who have acquired specific skill sets and know a lot about a particular concept or idea.  This does not always mean that they are good teachers.  Anyone who has sat through a 100 level university lecture can attest to this.  Although many profs are passionate about their subject area, they are not necessarily passionate about how students learn their subject matter.  An expert teacher focuses on teaching the whole child; this takes the whole teacher.  As educators, we are able to balance these many different roles and sort out which role needs to be given attention at any given time.  Teaching takes heart, body, and soul: these cannot be divided.  For more around this idea, I would direct you to the article, “Teacher as Rain Dancer” by Simon Hole (1998). In this article, the author explores the idea of how tension is created in the classroom when trying account for the needs of the student, the needs of the class, and the needs of the teacher.  He uses the metaphor of “teacher as rain dancer”.  Just as a rain dancer does not know when the steps are perfect and it will rain, a teacher does not know what steps will create perfection in teaching.


Hole, Simon. (1998).  Teacher as Rain Dancer.  Harvard Educational Review 68: 413 –421.



Filed under Teaching and pedagogy

6 responses to “The Dance

  1. I agree with you!

    I remember in my university days having professors that were insanely smart and loved their subject but could not “teach” us what we needed to know! I also had a guy in my secrtion that was brilliant…while the rest of us were doing mini-lessons on middle years topics he was teaching us about nuclear physics. Except, at the end of his lessons, we were left with more questions than answers. I would love to know if he is actually teaching these days!

    Teaching others to do things is not easy. It takes a special person! That person has to have many roles or identities to fall back on because teaching is a skill and it is a passion. Without the right balance it is difficult to pass on what is needed.

  2. I am still having a really hard time with thinking I need to be specialized. I thought differentiation was the key? Meeting everyone’s needs?

  3. Thanks for sharing this article. I hadn’t read it, but will as I find the metaphor very interesting.

    And I think you are correct on sounding like an assembly line process, although I believe Stephen would think differently about the process (perhaps this wasn’t as well as articulated as it could have been). Thanks for the pushback, and i appreciate you not just defining a critique, but providing an alternate perspective via the article you shared.

  4. A dance. How perfectly beautiful. I taught all my daughters how to dance in my kitchen. At first the steps were clumsy and awkward but after awhile they became fluent, poetic and not to mention fun! What a great metaphor. The great part is everyone is together anticipating what the right steps may be, and, as a result, everyone has the opportunity to participate in the process. As we do our part in the choreograph of steps in line with the instructor, it is entirely possible to see a dance created which wasn’t in existence before!?

    Dance on….

  5. Simon Hole

    Hi. I just stumbled across your bog entry that references my artice, “Teacher as Rain Dancer.” I’m retired now, and looking for new dances to take me to new places. I miss the classroom: the kids, the colleagues, the daily challenge to find the right steps.

    And, by the way, It’s Simon, not Simone. I’m male.

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