The Core Assumptions of Skillful Teaching – Chapter 2

Posted by: Nesha Milicevic


In chapter two of “The Skillful Teacher On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom”, author Stephen D. Brookfield explains that he holds four core assumptions about skillful teaching (Brookfield, 2015):

  1. Skillful teaching is whatever helps students learn;
  2. Skillful teachers adopt a critically reflective stance toward their practice;
  3. The most important knowledge that skillful teachers need to do good work is a constant awareness of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving teacher’s actions;
  4. College students of any age should be treated as adults.

On the first assumption, we have to realize that not all Students learn the same way and at the same pace. I teach at an International College, and my Students come from all over the world. It is our responsibility as educators to customize our techniques based on each and every Student. This is why I like using Dynamic assessment; it acknowledges diversity among Students, which means that cultural and social-political differences, gender and language differences and learning styles and ability differences are taken into account. I have had numerous situations where lectures worked great for one class, and then would not work at all for another.

The second assumption is about us Instructors constantly evaluating ourselves, in order to make sure we are doing the right thing and the message is getting across to the Students. This is where feedback is critical, and should be a constant process. I learned throughout these readings that we really need to adopt the role of a mentor: we as Instructors try to get the Students more involved in a variety of things, such as: having them construct a test; or work together to solve problems; have them teach a class concept; develop a project that will contribute something concrete to the community; place learners in a real world situation to observe their ability to perform the skill as part of the multiple demands of other tasks; have learners design tasks that can demonstrate what they believe they have learned.

The third assumption is also one where feedback is critical. We need to make sure That the classroom is geared towards the Students, rather than the Instructor taking a leadership role. The Instructor is there to provide guidance and make sure that all Student questions are answered, and the curriculum is covered. The expectation from the Students is to provide the Instructor with honest feedback, however, this does not always happen. We have to understand that the communication happening between the Instructor and the Students is key to their success, and the primary focus of feedback is to actively help Students move towards success.

The fourth assumption is talking about treating Students as adults. I agree with this, however, we need to realize that adults have fragile egos and an adult does not like to be evaluated. They easily get defensive, upset and at times angry and put up barriers. Adults are often measured up to standardized benchmarks. Not all the feedback we receive as adults is useful, but sometimes if we just take a step back and see what the person is telling us it may actually make sense. They need to understand that teachers are there to help them improve, and that it is not a personal attack but rather a gesture of help and support. Treating Students as adults bring responsibilities and expectations, but also helps the prepare for the real world. A new perspective gained from Brookfield is that students “often feel in limbo, sensing that adulthood means leaving old ideas, capacities, and conceptions of self behind as they learn new knowledge, skills and perspectives” (Brookfield, 2015).

Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Wiley.



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