I spent most of my teaching career teaching at least one subject daily that I delivered to two different classes: The same lesson, repeated back-to-back. Many times the second class got the better deal. I tweaked, I edited, I improved what I did, and sometimes I even tried something completely different. But sometimes, things went awry. Sometimes, what worked perfectly in my first class simply floundered in my second class.
The fact is that teaching is very individualized and context driven. What works for one child or one set of students, may not work for another child or another set of students.
Looking at (today’s) definition in Wikipedia:
Best practice is an idea that asserts that there is a technique, method, process, activity, incentive or reward that is more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method, process, etc. The idea is that with proper processes, checks, and testing, a desired outcome can be delivered with fewer problems and unforeseen complications. Best practices can also be defined as the most efficient (least amount of effort) and effective (best results) way of accomplishing a task, based on repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time for large numbers of people.
I don’t think there is ‘best practice’ in education. There are ‘processes’ that we should have in place, but these are still not ‘best practice’. For instance, it is desirable to have teachers do formative assessment rather than just summative assessment… BUT is there a ‘best’ way to do formative assessment? Does this self-reflective process work the same way for all students? Can you take any one assessment and apply it to different lessons or contexts or classes or students? No.
Teaching is a practice. We practice teaching. We have an obligation to do our best, but that will ultimately change as we… practice. If we want to apply ‘best practice’ to teaching, then we need to look at ourselves as role model learners. We need to be relentless learners striving to be our best. We need to be self-reflective, we need to seek advice from our mentors and teachers, we need to engage in learning conversations, and we need to share our enthusiasm for both teaching and learning. We need to ‘practice teaching’ to the best of our ability.
What we don’t need is a bunch of processes labeled as ‘best practice’ to limit us from seeking something that is yet more effective. Best practice is still just practice.