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What is it to 'practice'?


The Adult Learning Hub is so pleased to feature Dominic Thompson in this week's blog. Dominic is a Higher Education Manager and a Teaching and Learning Coach at the Havant and South Downs College, Portsmouth, England. He also works at the University of Portsmouth teaching on the Masters in Education Programme. A key driver for Dom is developing a culture of research in further education (FE) practitioners. In this article, he shares with our readers what it actually means to 'practice' in adult education.

When we think of practice, most think of the concept of getting better or improving at a given skill, activity or hobby. You might practice taking a penalty kick, practice flying a kite or practice a presentation for an interview. This, arguably, creates the view that the practitioner is not very good at the skill or activity in question. However, it is worth remembering what GP stands for... (General Practitioner) and we all would not consider a doctor as practicing in the same way as a young girl practicing taking a penalty kick!

Working as an Further Education Lecturer for some time, I have come across the word practice many times and it is clear that the concept of practice itself underpins this whole discussion; whether it be in 'sharing good practice' (Galloway, 2020) or in 'Joint Practice Development'. JPD is defined as 'learning new ways of working through mutual engagement that opens up and shares practices with others' (Fielding et al, 2005) and is arguably a more effective way of improving practice.

Several years ago, a colleague and I were tasked with improving the quality and engagement with CPD at our college. We all know that CPD can sometimes be costly, hard to access (due to time pressures) and not always that effective in improving the skill sought to be developed. Therefore, the application of JPD led to, in this case, the creation of the teachers' takeaway (www.teacherstakeaway.co.uk) which is an online platform that showcases instances of good practice where short videos have been designed, filmed and shared by teachers for teachers. By adopting the JPD process staff felt a part of the project, enhancing their 'professional capital' through collaboration with practitioners from a variety of organisations (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2015) and consequently have a positive impact on their practice...

There is that word again... And I believe it needs further exploring...

Practice, according to Sennett (2008) is something that beds in, something where imitation is not enough, where 'slow craft' (p.295) enables reflection and imagination. When looking at the Teacher's Takeaway and considering the previous comments of Hargreaves (2012) it can be seen that adopting a new practice in the classroom is not in itself a solution and, if we see teaching as a craft, then mastering the craft can typically involve 'about ten thousand hours of experience' (Sennett, 2008. p20). With this experience teachers can, as craftworkers, see things that are not working in some educational settings and therefore look for alternative ways of working which Marchand (2016) identifies as the 'social politics' of craftwork.

More recently, the same colleague and I have been running a funded Education and Training Foundation (ETF) project called The Practice Development Groups. So very close to Joint Practice Development... (which, I believe must have been intentional). This project, which is run nationally (but project managed by us) in the South East Region, applies the Action Learning Set Methodology (Revans, 1982) where practitioners get together to discuss problems not puzzles. 

Where puzzles have a given solution (e.g. a jigsaw puzzle), problems are setting specific and therefore vary considerably and the "craft" is adapting, reflecting and improving in each setting where at all possible. Marchand (2016) goes on to say that solving problems of various kinds is at the heart of craft work which, as identified earlier, is what teachers do on a daily basis. The ETF project itself is ongoing but you can see evidence of the progress and some videos of the phase 1 dissemination event here.

When working with adults, either as staff members, or other practicing professionals, the concept remains the same; we are all honing our skills, attempting to solve problems on a daily basis and even once the notional "ten thousand hours" of experience is completed... practice continues.


  • Fielding, M., Bragg, S., Craig, J., Cunningham, I., Eraut, M., Gillinson, S., Horne, M., Robinson, C., & Thorp, J. (2005). Factors Influencing the Transfer of Good Practice. London: Department for Education and Skills.
  • Galloway, D. (2020). Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An Exploration into the Realities of Sharing 'Good Practice' and Developing the Craft of Teaching Through an Online Video Platform. In Practice-Focused Research in Further Adult and Vocational Education (pp. 171-186). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.
  • Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2015). Professional capital: Transforming teaching in every school. Teachers College Press.
  • Marchand, T.H.J. (2016) Craftwork as Problem Solving. Ashgate, Farnham.
  • Revans, R. W. (1982). What is action learning?. Journal of management development.
  • Sennett, R. (2009). The Craftsman. London: Penguin.

Thank you to Dominic for your insightful contributions this week! The Adult Learning Hub looks forward to continuing to collaborate together. If you'd like to learn more about Teachers' Takeaway, you can visit www.teacherstakeaway.co.uk. Get in touch with Dom here on LinkedIn, or email him directly if you'd like to connect.

Do you have a voice in the world of adult learning, like Dom? We'd love to hear from you and feature your insights in our weekly blog. Click to learn more.

The Adult Learning Hub is an app-based membership community, bringing together passionate adult educators and practitioners in academic settings, community contexts and corporate environments. Our purpose is to develop a more informed and flexible approach that meets the needs of diverse learners; to build on skills that allow us to remove barriers and facilitate meaningful learning, and proactively address workplace challenges as part of a supportive group of fellow educators, so that we can confidently navigate our rapidly evolving world of work and increase our impact for the learners we serve. 

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