Those Who Can, Do…

TPACK is one of the first frameworks that really caught my attention when I began the MET program.  Before starting my grad studies, I had already incorporated a lot of technology into my classroom, and Mishra & Koehler’s 2006 framework became a touchstone for me as I evaluated what I had done before and has helped guide how I choose to integrate technology into my practice now.  One of the interesting things about this module’s readings was going back to Schulman’s 1986 work on PCK.  It was, of course, referenced in the TPACK material I had read, but I had never gone to the primary source myself.  Looking back, I think I viewed Schulman’s work as irrelevant…or at least that Mishra & Koehler had appropriated the useful information and brought Schulman’s framework into the 21st century.  While not wholly inaccurate, I found that Schulman’s Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching (1986) had a lot to offer both in the historical context of the model on which European universities were founded and operated (still operate?) and in the information that Mishra & Koehler chose not to expand upon in their work.  For example, Schulman’s (1986) ideas about Curriculum Knowledge as a third sphere of teacher competence was a revelation to me.  I find it both a frustration and a delight that I can be so surprised by new insights on a topic that I have spent much of my academic and all of my professional life considering!  Frustrating, because I would like to think that I consider each important factor in my decision making as a teacher, and I am reminded again and again that there is an ever-growing body of knowledge and research on how people learn.  Delightful, because not only is my job ever-changing with every child I teach, but also there are brilliant minds digging deeper all the time to uncover ways of improving teacher practice and student learning.

An example of PCK that came to mind actually brought me back to my coaching days.  There’s a saying, “Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, teach”.  I remember the first time I heard this as a child, I took it as a slight to teachers.  Later, when I was coaching high level basketball, I realized there was something deeper in the statement, and now I see how it relates to PCK.  I was a good basketball player…I was able to play for a university varsity team.  But I was no star at that level…I was relegated to the bench most games and practice was my time to contribute.  After I finished playing, I began coaching and quickly found I was much better at it than I was as a player.  In fact, as I met and observed other coaches, I noticed that the coaches who were star players at the university level were often not particularly strong at coaching.  Why would this be?  They obviously had the content knowledge…in fact, they had demonstrated that they were the masters of the content as players.  However, their mastery of the content actually hindered them from being great coaches…it came so easy to them when they were learning it themselves, that they never needed to dissect, reflect, and break down their content in order to understand it.  Players like me – ones who had climbed relatively high up the ‘content ladder’, but who had needed to take a more pedagogical approach to acquiring content – have an advantage as coaches.  We understand the feeling learners have when they are not ‘getting it’.  We have been there before and thought critically about how all the moving parts fit together, how it can be explained, and different approaches one could take.  In short, good coaches not only know about the skills of their sport, but also they have some sense of the pedagogical skills needed to help a player gain those skills.  To take it further, Schulman’s (1986) idea of Curriculum Knowledge (the knowledge of all programs and materials designed for instructing a subject at some specific level)  is analogous to a coach’s ability to strategize and prepare for:

1) Team planning – choosing what to spend the most practice time on, what systems to put in place, how to leverage the skills and abilities of the players.

2) Other teams – choosing matchups, planning ways to exploit team strengths against opponents weaknesses.

3) In-game strategy – using personnel effectively, adapting and changing game plans on the fly, calling plays.

When I hear people using the “those who can, do…those who can’t, teach” saying now, I often wonder how others are interpreting it.  Do they understand the power and importance of how content is presented?  That understanding how to teach content goes way beyond personal mastery of the content?  Usually,  though, they just add the obligatory joke, “…and those who can’t teach, teach PE”.  Should I mention to them I also teach PE?



Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. The Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4 -14.

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