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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

Phronesis - an essential form of wisdom in the early years

I often see how teachers have an understanding of situations and a knowing of how to proceed that can be hard to define where this wisdom comes from... its not directly from books, but from an intrinsic understanding of their profession.

for example:

"- it is tricky. and I have to say, a lot of it does just come from experience. In the example I gave above about the boy who did not respond to his name being called, I just "knew", from that very first day, that I was looking at "something". I didn't have any idea what at that point of course. and it very well could have been a child that was just recovering from a major ear infection with hearing loss and discomfort. but it was "something" and no checklist would have given me the answer. "

"I just "knew""

This "knowing" does not always come from textbooks, it cannot be taught in the same way as knowledge - and yet it is a form of knowledge.

Luckily the ancient Greeks came up with a word for it "Phronesis" - it sort of means something like common sense, but that really is not a good enough explanation - it is more like practical wisdom - the ability to figure out what to do in any given moment while also knowing what is worth doing - you are wise about your intentions, wise about your ends, and at the same time you have a clear understanding of the means that you need to actually get there.

In the teaching world this means that the teacher is able to apply personal practical knowledge, taking into account the context of the present situation - and then will be re-applied to the teacher's knowledge-base to expand on. Its the knowledge gained by practical experience... practical experience that is reflected on.

If we are to build on our phronesis maybe then we need to be continuously reflecting - unpacking our experiences to learn from them...

some questions to help unpack our experience as teachers include...

  • can I identify my learning goals (ends)?

  • what are the intentions of my instructional choices?

  • what are the means (resources) available to support the teaching/learning - do I understand how they can be used?

  • am I able to make decisions about what is "worth doing" at my setting? (the why of what you are doing, why this and not something else)?

  • Do I understand the intricacies of the children's lives? The context being an important part of how to proceed. (remember it can be important when working as a team that these questions are also asked together, as well as an individual, so that you can gain better understanding of your role within the team)

  • am I spending time reflecting and connecting these questions and answers?

I am by no means any kind of expert in how the word phronesis is interpreted - this is just my attempt at understanding how I apply phronesis to my work. To my understanding of what I do. As I feel that my past experiences have given me knowledge, and an understanding of how that knowledge can be used and received - and enable me to understand the present and make better choices about how I can support the children I work with. The difference between a teacher having experience and a teacher being phronetic is how the teacher reflects on the experiences, learns from them, applies this to his/her current work situation - of "just knowing" when " no checklist would have given the answer". It is not simply empathy, but requires a measure of it to "just know".

If this is something that has got you interested as an idea then why not read more in depth about it here and here

As I transfer this post from my original blog to this, my website, I see very much how this connects to my idea about Original Learning. That learning does not just happen through books and academia - as this practical wisdom shows... knowledge is acquired through experiences (including play) and the connecting of these experiences with each other and knowledge gained in other circumstances (reading, listening etc).

I feel that phronesis is an important word for early year educators and practitioners - as it indicates that we must take the time to reflect on our work - our actions, and interactions. To listen to the child, to the room, to the play, to reactions - and to connect this to our understanding of the world. A practical wisdom we can then apply to our work as both educators and parents.

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