In his 1985 presidential address to the American Educational Research Association, Lee Shulman proposed a new domain of teacher knowledge which has since become a cornerstone of research and practice in teacher education: pedagogical content knowledge.
Pedagogical content knowledge–known lovingly in the teacher education community as PCK–has to do with the “teachability” of a particular subject matter or content. As an educator, it’s not enough to just know your content well. But rather it’s essential that you know how to effectively represent that content to others. Shulman explains,
Within the category of pedagogical content knowledge I include . . . the most useful forms of representation of those ideas, the most powerful analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, and demonstrations–in a word, the ways of representing and formulating the subject that make it comprehensible to others.
In other words, you not only need to know what you’re talking about, but you need to know how to talk about it. He then adds:
Pedagogical content knowledge also includes an understanding of what makes the learning of specific topics easy or difficult: the conceptions and preconceptions that students of different ages and backgrounds bring with them to the learning of those most frequently taught topics and lessons. If those preconceptions are misconceptions . . . teachers need knowledge of the strategies most likely to be fruitful in reorganizing the understanding of learners, because those learners are unlikely to appear before them as blank slates.
This idea of a learner–a person–as a blank slate is an important one. If all students were just empty shells and blank slates, teaching would be the simplest of tasks imaginable. Open up those empty little shell heads and dump in the knowledge. But there is no such thing as the empty shell student. Students come to the classroom with a whole host of prior knowledge, thoughts, feelings, ideas, and experiences–many of which are at odds with what you’d actually like them to learn.
The same is true in animal welfare. The menagerie of stakeholders involved in animal welfare is immense. Owners, trainers, shelter workers, rescuers, law enforcement officers, legislators, community members, volunteers, advocacy groups, and the list goes on. And each one of those stakeholders comes to the table with her own knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and experiences related to animals. So crafting effective educational messages designed for each of those individuals becomes critical if you hope to effect some kind of change.
On that note, here are three exceptional examples of pedagogical content knowledge in action in the field of animal welfare:
Lili is an incredible artist who, in addition to creating custom pet portraits and donating part of the profits to rescue groups, has branched out into professional behavior and training illustrations through collaborations with professional behaviorists, as well as a variety of non-profit groups.
Her ability to take complex behavioral concepts such as operant and classical conditioning and translate them into fun, user-friendly, accessible representations of those concepts is truly phenomenal. And the fact that she makes these illustrations available via free download on her site is just that much more indicative of the incredible educator that she is.
Two of her texts–Teaching Fido to Learn To Earn and How to Greet a Dog–were created in collaboration with Dr. Sophia Yin, and are two of the most valuable texts that any dog owner or handler . . . or parent . . .or anybody can own. One of my all-time favorites is her If We Can Teach Wild Animals Poster, which magically illustrates the overwhelming consensus throughout the professional behavior community that “if you can train a whale to pee in a cup, you can train your dog without punishment.”
Recently, Kim gave an on-air presentation discussing how to address breed discriminatory legislation as part of a webinar through Pit Bulletin News Legal Network. Although there is an accompanying Powerpoint presentation available along with the interview, the audio of Kim’s on-air presentation itself–click here to listen–is what is most essential to highlight here.
The radio presentation is about 45 minutes long and is, from my perspective, one of the most valuable resources available to anyone interested in addressing breed discriminatory legislation and advocating for dogs and their owners. While the discussion itself is ripe with juicy facts, details and recommendations for taking action in your community, Kim’s presentation of that information is a shining example of pedagogical content knowledge in animal advocacy.
Kim not only provides the listener with essential information about advocating for safe communities and dogs, but she approaches the discussion armed with a thorough understanding of who her “students” are, what some of their most deeply held personal beliefs about dog advocacy are, and how to best represent her ideas for those individuals to maximize learning, and ultimately effect change. You can find more advocacy tips and resources from Kim on her website: BeyondBreed.com.
One of my favorite pieces from her presentation was her focus on helping advocates (counterintuitively) understand it is neither true nor helpful to say that breed discriminatory legislation is a huge problem all over the country. Again, this presentation is a must-listen.
Best Friends has been serving as a leader and indispensable resource in the animal welfare community for decades. And this last fall during the build-up to the their annual No More Homeless Pets Conference, they unveiled their new website, complete with the ultimate animal welfare infographic shown below.
“Homeless pets” is a complex problem. A BIG complex problem. And sadly, the size and complexity of that problem is exactly why so few people really understand it, and even fewer commit to addressing it. The fact that we are euthanizing nearly 4 million adoptable animals every year in American shelters is a public problem that affects all of us–pet-owning or not–in an infinite number of ways. And helping the larger public understand this intensely complex problem is essential for solving it.
Pets don’t only end up in shelters because of irresponsible owners. The pets in shelters are not there because something is wrong with them. And we’re not just euthanizing pets who do have something wrong with them. We’re euthanizing pets–perfectly healthy, happy, well-behaved ones–because we’re producing them faster than we’re finding permanent homes for them, and we’re failing to do everything we can to keep them in their original homes in the first place.
Best Friends is constantly striving to produce the best representations of complex problems for a variety of learners, and then tackling solutions to those problems through sustained teaching and learning opportunities.
And on that note, I’ll end with one of my favorite teaching tools from Best Friends Animal Society: The “Fix at Four” campaign tackling the problem of unwanted pets and the need for spay/neuter.