The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom
By Stephen D. Brookfield
Book review by Elizabeth Richardson Viti
Brookfield's book, in which he gives down-to-earth advice to the new as well as the experienced teacher, has become a classic in the field. The author draws on decades of professional experience, research on teaching and learning, and insights garnered from the numerous workshops he has conducted. Most important, it provides a guide on how to thrive on the unpredictability and diversity of classroom life. Indeed, Brookfield says that there "are no seven habits of effective teaching, no five rules for pedagogic success . . . teaching is frequently a gloriously messy pursuit in which shock, contradiction, and risk are endemic." Consequently, he addresses everything from the core assumptions of skillful teaching to dealing with the politics of teaching and, finally, surviving emotionally. In this last chapter, Brookfield notes that if the purpose of teaching is, as the book argues, to help students learn, then the teacher must understand how students are experiencing their learning and respond appropriately. Any thought about her own survival would be selfish. But as Brookfield points out—and to the relief of all those who teach—nothing could be further from the truth! Unless the teacher addresses the many emotions she might experience over the course of a semester, she runs the risk of falling victim to frustration, disappointment or even self-loathing. Any teacher overwhelmed by emotion is of no use to her students. Brookfield suggests three ways to help ensure emotional survival: (1) develop a working philosophy for teaching, (2) form a support network of peers, and (3) remember the maxims of skillful teaching. Exceedingly useful, they are: (1) Expect ambiguity; (2) Understand that perfection is an illusion; (3) Ground your teaching in how your students are learning; (4) Be wary of standardized models and approaches; (5) Reflect regularly on your own learning; (6) Take your instincts seriously; (7) Create diversity; (8) Don't be afraid to take risks; (9) Remember that learning is emotional; (10) Acknowledge your personality; (11) Don't evaluate yourself only by students' satisfaction; (12) Remember the importance of both support and challenge; (13) Recognize and accept your power; (14) View yourself as a helper of learning; and (15) Don't trust what you've just read. In short, The Skillful Teacher is a terrific survival manual that can restore confidence, effectiveness and energy to the critical practice of teaching.
Available in the JCCTL library.