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April 2022 - Year 24 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

The Owl Factor: Reframing your Teaching Philosophy, reviewed by the author

André Hedlund has been an English as a Foreign Language teacher for 17 years. He holds a BA in International Relations, and an MSc in Psychology of Education from the University of Bristol, England, as a Chevening Scholar. André has worked as a National Geographic Learning academic consultant, teacher trainer, and materials reviewer and he has been the president of Partners of the Americas Goiás, an ONG committed to transforming people’s lives through connections. André has also worked as a Michigan Certificates Examiner. Currently, he is a board member of BRAZ-TESOL’s Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) Special Interest Group (SIG), a freelance consultant, a teacher trainer, and speaker. He’s also a guest lecturer on language, cognition, and bilingualism at the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná (PUCPR). He blogs at and he’s the creator of Learning Cosmos, a conceptual framework based on the Science of Learning


Why I wrote the book

This book quietly came to life way back in October 2015. In fact, I never thought it would become a book. I was invited to deliver a commercial presentation about a new book series published by National Geographic Learning at the local TESOL event. I just wanted to avoid the obvious and create a different experience for my participants. That’s how the first draft of the KNOW-SHOW-GROW approach was created.

After that, it only took me seven years to get here. This seven-year journey, however, introduced me to a new world. Before 2015, I had possibly attended two or three conferences about English teaching. From that event on, I can safely say that I’ve attended ten times more events than that modest number, and that I’ve met unique individuals who certainly contributed to this endeavor.

I wrote The Owl Factor: Reframing your Teaching Philosophy for those educators I met along the way and the many others who struggle every day to make ends meet. It’s my tribute to them. I want this book to shed some light on the essence of the teaching/learning process and what we can do to help. I don’t assume this book will give the readers many answers. Instead, I hope it helps anyone curious enough to read it to ask many questions and reflect on the purpose of education, its necessary steps and agents involved, and what part we play in it.


Basic Information about the book


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The Owl Factor is a 200+ page book inspired by the lessons we can find in Ancient philosophy, storytelling, and science. It drinks from the wisdom in the dialogues witnessed by Socrates’ disciples, facts told by historians and architects, and the fables of the legendary Greek fabulist known as Aesop.

It is centered around the notion of resources and the idea that the teaching/learning process can be divided into three elemental stages:

“The idea behind this approach is that in an educational setting or learning context of any kind, we exchange ideas about what we KNOW through resources that allow us to SHOW this knowledge so that people can learn something and then GROW in some way. In short:

  1. KNOW is about the previous knowledge or information any of the parts (teacher and students) involved in education hold.
  2. SHOW is how you make new information (content) or old (previous knowledge) available for others to see, hear or feel, and consequently learn.
  3. GROW is what happens once the exchanged information is assimilated, which leads to some sort of impact or transformation on both parts.”

The book is divided into a Prologue, which explores how this approach was refined, four Apologues, which retell the fable of owls, three main parts, which refer to KNOW, SHOW, and GROW, and an Epilogue, which attempt to summarize it all and raise more questions.


Owls symbolize wisdom and fables about them offer us dilemmas that can be translated into important lessons about education. My fascination for these birds will certainly show throughout the book.


An excerpt from the book

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’

Benjamin Franklin

In any teaching/learning environment, the most fundamental premise is the exchange of knowledge about a certain topic. Like in the previous fable, when the owl decides no longer to give the birds advice and becomes apathetic and sorry for how unreasonable they had been, there can be no exchange and thus, no learning. Naturally, you might be thinking that we don’t need anyone else in order to learn. We can be self-taught. Indeed. We can learn things on our own through experience and reflection. We can also learn things from books or videos, not necessarily from the people right in front of us. But let’s talk about this later. Let’s discuss how people learn from one another.

First, the agents involved in this teaching/learning experience, the teachers and the students, bring to the table knowledge that isn’t always exchanged: the knowledge of who they are (self-knowledge), the knowledge of what they like, and the knowledge of what they believe works for them when they study. That means that until that first encounter, the very first day of class, both teacher and student are somewhat in the dark. What each one knows is still a mystery to one another, even though they certainly share some knowledge on elementary things like what time the class starts, which classroom they should go to, what the syllabus will cover, the name of the teacher, and other similar, administrative matters.

Everybody knows something about different things but there are certain assumptions we can make at this point:

  1. The teachers KNOW more about the subject than the students do.
  2. The teachers KNOW more about themselves than the students do.
  3. The students KNOW more about themselves than the teacher does.



At the beginning of the lesson, we have what I like to call the non-ideal state that is depicted above. Not knowing what each other knows means that the teachers’ knowledge and the students’ knowledge are isolated circles. There are no significant overlaps at this point because no one really knows, beyond speculation, what knowledge will be exchanged. The non-ideal state is a state of opportunity and expectation. It can be both terrifying, particularly when someone is afraid of exposure or has been traumatized in similar educational contexts, and incredible when people get along well and truly engage in exchange. 

I call it non-ideal because it’s common sense for many teachers that students should ideally have some prior knowledge of the subject they’re about to teach. While this may be true, and we’ll certainly discuss it throughout the book, at this point, before knowledge is externalized, we can’t assume we know anything about the prior knowledge on the student’s part. Students may have lots of prior knowledge of the subject, some, or very little. Even if they do have lots or some prior knowledge, the teachers might not be in a position to verify that knowledge just yet.

The non-ideal state, however, is a key moment in the teaching/learning process. It precedes the very first acts of teaching and the moment where teachers will be able to share their knowledge of the content. Competent teachers will have studied their respective content and possess the appropriate qualifications. This knowledge is essential if the teaching/learning process is to take place. However, merely having access to this knowledge does not suffice. Teachers need to be able to teach it as well. After all, not everyone who knows anything should be considered a teacher. We must then discuss how teachers have acquired this teaching knowledge. Most teachers I’ve met throughout my career follow a three-level process to gain knowledge of teaching:

1.         Intuition

2.         Rationality

3.         Experimentation

These levels are based on how humans have evolved and what has been more predominant throughout human history. Early civilizations created legislation according to their beliefs of what should be expected from members of society and based on their intuition, which gave birth to myths. Mythology has been a predominant force since the beginnings of humanity. The issue with mythology and intuition is that they fail to follow logic and are only occasionally – by chance – close to objective reality. Naturally, there’s a common thread based on some aspect of daily life. However, I suppose we can safely say that Hercules or Perseus didn’t slay three-headed monsters or have superhuman strength. Myths are also hard to question as people become quite attached to them. Remember what happened to our friend Socrates when he challenged the Greek gods?

Then came rationality and critical thinking. I’m not saying humans were completely irrational before. Since our brains haven’t changed in relevant ways for hundreds of thousands of years, it’s safe to assume that we’ve been using critical thinking for a long time. But it may not have been prevalent at the societal level. More advanced societies, still in Ancient Times, though, particularly in China, India, and Greece started to create a body of knowledge based on logical thinking. That meant reflecting on absolute truths, which were god-given, and questioning these truths through rational thinking. Thinkers applied the Socratic method and sought to attain a more refined truth supported by reasoning. This gave birth to philosophy. One problem with philosophy, though, is that it can be based on false premises or rationalizations, or what we might call fallacies.

Finally, we created science. Science is based on the scientific method and, whenever possible, on empiricism. That means that it favors practical experimentation and direct observation of processes and outcomes. It also relies on mathematical models and equations and, most importantly, is open to scrutiny by other members of society. The scientific community has helped humankind accomplish never-before-seen progress. However, science cannot explain everything, and not everything can be tested or measured – at least not yet.


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Tagged  Publications 
  • The Owl Factor: Reframing your Teaching Philosophy, reviewed by the author
    André Hedlund, Brazil