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Intuition: The Bridge Between the Art and Science of Teaching

Some scholars contend that teaching is an art--that there is an ineffable quality to instruction that can't be quantified. Great teachers have that "it" factor; students are inspired; learning happens as a result of passion plus osmosis.

Some scholars contend that teaching is a science--there are multiple layers (lesson design, unit design, pedagogy, theory, curriculum) that, when combined with precision and care, create standout learning experiences that provide clear learning and data to support it.

Some scholars contend that teaching is both an art and a science--that while there are theoretical constructs that underscore one's teaching practice, a teacher's way of being (their passions, interests, love of learning and craft) carries students even further.

The bridge between the two: intuition.

Intuition in teaching serves as an intersection between the "felt sense" of one's teaching practice and the habits of experience. After one has taught long enough, s/he is able to naturally call upon skills in a given moment--skills that are immediately responsive to the needs in the classroom.

The challenge, however, is creating space and time to build intuition.

Most beginning classroom teachers are  hungry for strategies: lesson strategies; differentiation strategies; culturally responsive strategies; strategies for working with parents; classroom management strategies. Those in their first several years are building their toolkits so that one day, these practices are inherent in one's teaching repertoire. It takes a long time, and yet, when a teacher becomes more habituated to the workflow of teaching, it is exciting to feel that shift from survival to experience.

I would advocate that as teachers cultivate their repertoire of skills and strategies, they simultaneously tap into their intuition--the inner knowing of what's right in the moment, the link between the science and the art of this profession.

So how might one build intuition in teaching? And what does that even mean?

Teachers have such busy lives, and the chatter throughout a school day can cloud people's time to think, to get quiet, to process, to reflect. And building that space each day for quiet, to build pauses in between moments in a classroom, to practice self care are all methods of cultivating intuition.

Mindfulness is becoming more integrated in schools, and the practice of being mindful is allowing teachers and students to get a moment of quiet and focus before beginning the school day. Mindfulness is an excellent place to build intuition as well. When we dedicate time to close our eyes, to turn inward, to pay attention to our breath, the sensations in our body, the emotions that arise and fall, the thoughts that come and go like cars on a train--and we do so with compassion and without judgment--we are building space to know ourselves. We are creating room for intuition to develop. And what a gift to give to ourselves so early in the routines of the school year.

We need to give ourselves more opportunities to let silence in so that we can listen to what is actually happening for us. When we take a five-minute walk outside, when we close our classroom doors for a few minutes of quiet, when we pause and reflect on what each moment calls for, we are honoring ourselves, our voices, and in effect, we are creating space to be our best, most responsive selves for our students.

I am curious to know about your own practices of building intuition. What are the ways you invite quiet and spaciousness into your daily routine? How do you listen to the voice of inner knowing, so that you can bridge the specific skills of classroom practice with the artist within?

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