The Promotion of Practical Wisdom in Teaching through Critical Reflection During Initial Teacher Education

Activity: Talk or presentationAcademic conference


16 Sep 201918 Sep 2019


Colleges, School and Institutes


Paul Watts - Presenter

Conference Presentation

Drawing on insights provided through research into Character and the Professional Development of Pre- and In-Service Teachers, this paper argues that teacher education should seek to consciously address the moral and ethical responsibilities of teachers within initial teacher education (ITE). More specifically, it argues that teacher education bears a responsibility to promote the development of “practical wisdom” and that this could be facilitated through critical reflection on moral and ethical aspects of practice.

Education is not only concerned with the inculcation of knowledge, but with the personal, social and emotional development of young people. In being entrusted this responsibility, fundamental demands are placed on the character of the teacher who is required to navigate moral and ethical dilemmas in their daily practice and is in a constant process of judgement and arbitration. By their nature, the moral and ethical dilemmas teachers face are not clear-cut. Furthermore, there is no clear guidance on what constitutes “right” action for teachers due to the often conflicting demands of personal values, the perceived best interests of students, school codes of conduct and the standards that teachers must adhere to.

It is widely believed that how teachers arrive at reasoned ethical decisions and interact with others in morally responsible ways relies on a form of “practical wisdom” which relates to Aristotle’s concept of phronesis. Practical wisdom in this sense embodies the ability to not only perceive what is ethically salient in a situation, but to be able to weigh competing demands, to deliberate and to integrate these into an acceptable course of action (Darnell et al., 2019). While practical wisdom is thought to be gained mostly through experience, it is possible to train others in how to think about dilemmas (Kristjánsson, 2015). In this regard, ITE has the potential to influence pre-service teachers’ practice through exploring how to think about dilemmas they are likely to face. Within the teacher education literature, it has been suggested that a focus on practical wisdom in ITE, facilitated through critical reflection, would help to better prepare pre-service teachers to fulfil their wider role as educators.

Critical reflection can guide teachers to explore how different responses affect the moral and ethical outcomes of any given situation, thereby helping them to consider the ethical implications of their work. However, it is argued that the instrumental approach of many ITE providers focuses predominantly on competencies and embodies a narrow interpretation of critical reflection which is generally reduced to evaluating pedagogical techniques and outcomes. This paper suggests that a critical question facing ITE providers is whether to prioritise instrumental aspects, or whether to also engage in approaches which attend seriously to moral and ethical dimensions of teaching. It makes practical recommendations for how critical reflection in its full sense can be integrated within ITE programmes and concludes by discussing the need for research in teacher education to evaluate the effectiveness of different approaches.
16 Sep 201918 Sep 2019

External organisation (University or other Higher Education Institute)

NameUniversity of Malta