Skillful Teaching – Core Assumptions

March 27, 2016

In an earlier post, I introduced you to Brookfield’s book The Skillful Teacher.  In Chapter 2, he states four assumptions of skillful teaching.

  1. Skillful teaching is whatever helps students learn.

We can’t walk into every teaching situation, use the same teaching techniques/tools over and over, and expect to be successful.  By having a wide variety of approaches at our disposal, we can adjust and adapt our style based on the diverse needs of our group.  Not everything we try is going to work, but by giving ourselves permission to attempt new methods and to, on occasion, fail, we are able to be more creative.   I’m not going to be able to reach everyone, but I need to be okay with that…

  1. Skillful teachers adopt a critically reflective stance toward their practice.

Reflecting critically is an investigative process in which we research teaching choices we’ve made and the assumptions upon which they’re based to establish whether or not they are having the intended effect.  Brookfield (2015) says this works best when we check these through “…four complimentary lenses – the lenses of students’ eyes, colleagues’ perceptions, literature, and our own autobiography”.  When we fail to take time to reflect and collect data from a variety of sources to see if we’re on the right track, our uniformed assumptions can distance us from our students and make our teaching stale as year-old croutons.  Part of what makes us engaging as instructors is our ability to adapt and change.  Osborne (1945) said, “Unless you do something beyond what you’ve already mastered, you will never grow.”

  1. Teachers need a constant awareness of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving teachers’ actions.

In the absence of information, we’re not teaching, we’re guessing.   (Ever play pin the tail on the donkey?)  Brookfield recommends a tool he uses called a Critical Incident Questionnaire to elicit anonymous feedback from his students.  Asking for feedback is important to help us understand what is going on in our classrooms, but as he points out later, the information is only as useful as what you do with it.  Do nothing or become defensive and it’s less detrimental to you not to ask for the feedback at all. Sobering.

  1. College students of any age should be treated as adults.

In hindsight, there were many a moment in my late teens and early 20’s where I behaved very little like an adult, but I also remember being keenly aware of when those in authority who treated me as less than a grown up.  If we don’t show respect toward our students, is it reasonable to expect they will be respectful toward us?


Brookfield, S.D. (2015).  The Skillful Teacher.  San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Osborne, R.E., (1945 March 15), Forbes, Thoughts on the business of life, Quote Page 46, Column 1, Forbes Inc.


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