Brookfield Chapter 2: Core Assumptions of Skillful Teaching (3260)


In his book, “The Skillful Teacher” Stephen Brookfield (2015) discusses four core assumptions he views as the foundation of skillful teaching:

  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 skilful teachers need to do good work is a constant awareness of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving teachers’ actions
  4. College students of any age should be treated as adults

The first assumption requires the instructor to take the responsibility to be aware of what strategies are needed with each class in order to help students learn.  That means taking the time to really get to know your students, their experience, past learning situations and their learning style preference.  As a result, no two classes are taught the same and a skillful teacher is the one that recognizes and responds to the need to adjust teaching/learning strategies to accommodate the learners.

The next assumption is the one that is really hitting home for me; the art of critical reflection. Brookfield mentions four lenses that we should use to check the accuracy of our teaching actions and beliefs which include:  the student, colleagues’ perceptions, literature, and our own personal history.  Applying these four lenses to the process of critical reflection will help improve the choices we make in how to best present teaching that meets the variety of learning needs within the class.  Critical reflection therefore, ensures informed decisions about our actions are made.

The third assumption involves having insight into what students are thinking and feeling in our class.  This requires the instructor to make students feel safe by establishing a positive learning environment where students are valued, privacy is respected, timely response is provided, positive role modelling is observed, and there is evidence of a genuine interest in the success of each participant.  Once students feel safe and know that the instructor can be trusted, the opportunity for honest feedback can occur.

Finally the fourth assumption is that we should teach all college students as adults.  All students want to be treated with respect regardless of age, background, or experience.  Brookfield shared that one of the most important things that convinces students of respectful treatment is “the teacher attempting to discover, and address seriously, students’ concerns and difficulties.” (p.24)   I believe that respect is the key to creating a positive learning environment and is the true foundation for skillful teaching to occur.


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


About bevstanwood

I am a student of VCC's Provincial Instructor Diploma Program. I began the program in July 2015 and am currently working on course content that requires posting my assignments, journal entries and resources on a personal blog site.
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