David Berliner's Teacher Story - "A Hug For Jennifer"

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David Berliner, one of this country's preeminent education scholars, tells the story of a teacher named Jennifer, whose classroom he visited many years ago. "I like visiting classrooms," Berliner says, "in part because they are so difficult to understand. It is an enormous intellectual challenge to make sense of teachers and students with curriculum materials in a classroom setting...[Observing teachers] is a bit like trying to study what comes out the end of a funnel–without much confidence that you know all about what went into the funnel. It’s hard to figure out the ingredients—the stuff that makes a classroom hum or fail."  

The day Berliner observed Jennifer, he became frustrated with her treatment of a student, but he ended up giving her a hug after realizing he had jumped to the wrong conclusions. After speaking with Jennifer, he said, "I learned a lesson about the importance of understanding the intentions, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of the persons you intend to study...A lack of understanding, or a misunderstanding of another person’s intentions, can lead a social scientist to make dangerously flawed inferences about that person’s behavior."

Important lessons for anyone (e.g., policy makers, coaches, administrators, parents) who want to understand what goes on in classrooms and the choices teachers make to help their students learn.  

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