High-wire teachers

When we think of a high-wire artist, we see a man walking along a wire 400 meters above the ground. We never think of a daring and unconventional teacher. These high-wire teachers however are not so much concerned by the appearance of their classrooms or how fancy or digital they look. Their main concern is to mobilize all the resources at hand to achieve their goal.  In words of Claude Lévi-Strauss they are “bricoleurs”, and the rules of their game “are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand”.

Huberman developed his vision [Huberman: the model of the independent artisan in teachers’ professional relations in: J.W. Little & M W. McLaughlin (Eds) Teachers’ Work : individuals, colleagues, and contexts (New York, Teachers College Press) 1993] of a teacher “who is always busy, creating or repairing learning activities of different kinds with a distinctive style or signature”.

Joan Talbert and Milbrey McLaughlin developed his analogy between teaching, artisanship and jazz improvisation in their analysis of the artisan model of teaching. Bricolage in this context is no longer a “second best solution” but is central to creative thinking. In the words of Seymour Papert, “bricolage is a way to learn and solve problems by trying, testing, playing around”.

Teachers are used to “working at a height above the ground” and look like high wire artists walking a tightrope in their attempt to catch their students’ attention. They set up their scaffolds in the classrooms for an academic year, just the time they are given to fix or improve education.


Scaffolding is not only another word for teaching. It is also a way of teaching, Psychologist and social constructivist, Lev Vygotsky, refers to  scaffolding as  designing activities that support the students as they are led through the “zone of proximal development” (ZPD).  A learner can finalize the acquisition of a given skill through interaction with a teacher or a skilled peer.

What is the role of technology for the high-wire teacher?

We will argue that thehigh-wire teacher stimulates creativity in the classroom in a much more powerful and sustainable way than through the use of technology alone. Our high-wire teacher knows  the importance of teacher-student relationships, confirmed by John Hattie to explain student achievement. Classroom discussion, reciprocal teaching, jigsaw method, feedback intervention are some of the techniques and tools with the highest probability of success while online and digital tools have among the lowest.

Jim Groom, in his evocation of The Glass Bees, reminds us that “teaching and learning are not done by technology, but rather people thinking and working together”.

“Thinking and working together” with the help of technology in the classroom remains a true question of balance for our high-wire teacher walking along a tight rope 400 meters above the ground.

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