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Using Observation as a Reflective Practice for Developing Educators’ Axiology

Teacher Researcher

Imagine trying to understand what "education" really means and how to practice it as an educator. To do this properly, clear rules or standards become essential. Without them, we risk merely accepting widespread ideas about education without critical reflection. But why have rules or standards? Education encompasses various goals and purposes, each needing a roadmap for achievement. But why are these goals set? As an educator trying to answer this question to better understand their practice, you can approach this using a few different philosophies.

Ontology poses the question: What is real and what exists in the realm of education? It prompts us to grasp the nature of things and their interconnection within the learning landscape. Epistemology asks, “how do we know what we know?”. It invites us to discern truths and interpret the world around us. Axiology studies values and beliefs, exploring what we are about and why.

Picture yourself as a chef, serving a meal—the educator fulfilling a purpose. Epistemology is deciding what dishes you can make based on your skills and available ingredients. Axiology is choosing the flavors and tastes that match your preferences and values. And ontology is knowing what you want your meal to be like and how it fits with your overall vision.

In my experience as an educator, I've noticed that the dish wanting to be served and the ingredients and how to cook them are usually given to me by the school or program I work for. These programs usually have a clear mission or vision statement outlining their focus areas and provide curriculum and resources for educators to use. I often wonder how to add my own flavor to the dish to make it meaningful to me and make sure the program’s flavor profile complements mine. I think it's important for educators to highlight what they care about and understand why their program prioritizes certain aspects. As Biesta (2015) aptly puts it, "The reason why it is important to highlight the axiology of education is precisely because it provides us with criteria for judging what we want education to work for" (p. 18).

So, how do we navigate this process? I suggest using observation skills like practices of science to investigate your axiology and use your findings as a foundation for claims and explanations. Observation, as Bang et al. (2018) note, yields empirical knowledge influenced by culture and social practices. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) also underscore the importance of observation in both Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts. This systematic observation facilitates data gathering, pattern detection, and evidence-based explanations, enriching students’ understanding of nature's structure and function (Osborne et al. 2017)

Here's a reflective procedure I propose, though not exhaustive, tailored to what I value, with room for individual exploration:

  1. Observe and make note of the following.
    1. Who are you?
      1. Where/when/how do you feel comfortable?
      2. What are your physical, mental, and emotional capabilities?
      3. What do you like or dislike?
    2. What are your values?
      1. Why do you feel comfortable in certain contexts?
      2. How do you prioritize growing your skill sets?
      3. Why do you enjoy your passions and hobbies? Why do you have preferences?
  2. Form statements to track patterns in values.
    1. Do they change based on who you are around or what you are doing?
    2. What do you continue to come back to or think about?
  3. Use patterns and statements to add flavor to the dish!
    1. AxiologyExample: (context: school wants students to work on communication at an overnight environmental school program and the overnight program provides journals with predetermined activity sheets in it) “We are making our own nature journals. Islandwood has journals, but when I’m out here I like experiencing nature like a naturalist. A naturalist is someone who makes lots of observations and connections about the things they experience outside. So, our journals are going to be our nature journal where we write down our naturalist thoughts.”

This reflective process fosters self-awareness and acknowledges individual values and preferences, laying a strong foundation for effective teaching practices. I believe that when educators infuse their lessons with what they genuinely enjoy and openly share their reasoning, students are more likely to catch that excitement and be eager to dive in. And it doesn’t stop there! By identifying your own axiology and understanding the axiology of your program or students, then you can work towards aligning them or at least using them as prompts for constructive dialogue to bridge differences. This approach not only enriches the educational journey but also fosters a collaborative and inclusive learning environment where everyone's unique perspectives are celebrated.

Referenced

Bang, M., Marin, A., Medin, D. (2018). If indigenous peoples stand with the sciences, will scientists stand with us? Journal of American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 147(2), 148-159. doi:10.1162/DAED_a_00498

Biesta, G. (2015). On the two cultures of educational research, and how we might move ahead: Reconsidering the ontology, axiology and praxeology of education. European Educational Research Journal, 14(1), 11-22. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474904114565162

Osborne, J., & Quinn, H. (2017). Chapter 2: The framework, the NGSS, and the practices of science. In Helping Students Make Sense of the World Using Next Generation Science and Engineering Practices. National Science Teachers Association Press. 23-32.

Imagine trying to understand what "education" really means and how to practice it as an educator. To do this properly, clear rules or standards become essential. Without them, we risk merely accepting widespread ideas about education without critical reflection. But why have rules or standards? Education encompasses various goals and purposes, each needing a roadmap for achievement. But why are these goals set? As an educator trying to answer this question to better understand their practice, you can approach this using a few different philosophies.

Ontology poses the question: What is real and what exists in the realm of education? It prompts us to grasp the nature of things and their interconnection within the learning landscape. Epistemology asks, “how do we know what we know?”. It invites us to discern truths and interpret the world around us. Axiology studies values and beliefs, exploring what we are about and why.

Picture yourself as a chef, serving a meal—the educator fulfilling a purpose. Epistemology is deciding what dishes you can make based on your skills and available ingredients. Axiology is choosing the flavors and tastes that match your preferences and values. And ontology is knowing what you want your meal to be like and how it fits with your overall vision.

In my experience as an educator, I've noticed that the dish wanting to be served and the ingredients and how to cook them are usually given to me by the school or program I work for. These programs usually have a clear mission or vision statement outlining their focus areas and provide curriculum and resources for educators to use. I often wonder how to add my own flavor to the dish to make it meaningful to me and make sure the program’s flavor profile complements mine. I think it's important for educators to highlight what they care about and understand why their program prioritizes certain aspects. As Biesta (2015) aptly puts it, "The reason why it is important to highlight the axiology of education is precisely because it provides us with criteria for judging what we want education to work for" (p. 18).

So, how do we navigate this process? I suggest using observation skills like practices of science to investigate your axiology and use your findings as a foundation for claims and explanations. Observation, as Bang et al. (2018) note, yields empirical knowledge influenced by culture and social practices. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) also underscore the importance of observation in both Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts. This systematic observation facilitates data gathering, pattern detection, and evidence-based explanations, enriching students’ understanding of nature's structure and function (Osborne et al. 2017)

Here's a reflective procedure I propose, though not exhaustive, tailored to what I value, with room for individual exploration:

  1. Observe and make note of the following.
    1. Who are you?
      1. Where/when/how do you feel comfortable?
      2. What are your physical, mental, and emotional capabilities?
      3. What do you like or dislike?
    2. What are your values?
      1. Why do you feel comfortable in certain contexts?
      2. How do you prioritize growing your skill sets?
      3. Why do you enjoy your passions and hobbies? Why do you have preferences?
  2. Form statements to track patterns in values.
    1. Do they change based on who you are around or what you are doing?
    2. What do you continue to come back to or think about?
  3. Use patterns and statements to add flavor to the dish!
    1. AxiologyExample: (context: school wants students to work on communication at an overnight environmental school program and the overnight program provides journals with predetermined activity sheets in it) “We are making our own nature journals. Islandwood has journals, but when I’m out here I like experiencing nature like a naturalist. A naturalist is someone who makes lots of observations and connections about the things they experience outside. So, our journals are going to be our nature journal where we write down our naturalist thoughts.”

This reflective process fosters self-awareness and acknowledges individual values and preferences, laying a strong foundation for effective teaching practices. I believe that when educators infuse their lessons with what they genuinely enjoy and openly share their reasoning, students are more likely to catch that excitement and be eager to dive in. And it doesn’t stop there! By identifying your own axiology and understanding the axiology of your program or students, then you can work towards aligning them or at least using them as prompts for constructive dialogue to bridge differences. This approach not only enriches the educational journey but also fosters a collaborative and inclusive learning environment where everyone's unique perspectives are celebrated.

Referenced

Bang, M., Marin, A., Medin, D. (2018). If indigenous peoples stand with the sciences, will scientists stand with us? Journal of American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 147(2), 148-159. doi:10.1162/DAED_a_00498

Biesta, G. (2015). On the two cultures of educational research, and how we might move ahead: Reconsidering the ontology, axiology and praxeology of education. European Educational Research Journal, 14(1), 11-22. https://doi.org/10.1177/1474904114565162

Osborne, J., & Quinn, H. (2017). Chapter 2: The framework, the NGSS, and the practices of science. In Helping Students Make Sense of the World Using Next Generation Science and Engineering Practices. National Science Teachers Association Press. 23-32.

About the Author
Patti Connors

Patti Connors is an informal environmental educator in the Puget Sound region with a special interest in indigenous pedagogy, family participation in education, and human development in early childhood education.