Reflections on Experiencing Teaching – 1st Chapter in The Skillful Teacher

Some really great quotes from this chapter in The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom:

“The truth is teaching is a gloriously messy pursuit in which shock, contradiction, and risk are endemic” (p. 1)

“Our lives as teachers often boil down to our best attempts to muddle through the complex contexts and configurations that our classrooms represent” (p. 1)

“…teaching is riddled with irresolvable dilemmas and complex uncertainties”  (p. 2)

I like how Brookfield is just very upfront with the realities of teaching and “muddling” through otherwise highly complex and unpredictable situations. I have often found myself in situations where I’ve had to “muddle through” – A student stabs another student in the back with a pencil (this is in Grade 1), I lose complete control of the class because students are restless and bored, I’m playing a video to students and out pops a terrible swear word that has been unexpectedly dubbed over the original in the YouTube video. Those are just a few of the examples where I’ve had to muddle through, improvise, change course suddenly and throw out my otherwise perfectly planned lesson.

‘Growing into the Truth of Teaching’

I also appreciate Brookfield’s honesty and in stating some of the truths he has come to in his teaching career. Here are the ones that stood out to me:

“I will never be able to initiate activities that keep all students engaged all the time” (p. 9)

“Making full disclosure of my expectations and agendas is necessary if I am to establish an authentic presence in the classroom” (p. 9)

“I always have power in the classroom” and can’t make it so that students don’t notice me in the room (p. 9)

That kind of gut level honesty is highly appreciated and makes me reflect more deeply on my own convictions in teaching. It also helps me to know where my role starts and ends, and where the student is responsible for their own learning. After all, I cannot force learning onto a student. They must decide whether they want to learn or not. But I can also not be completely self negating and show no confidence in my teaching skills, or disregard the power and authority I hold as a teacher in the classroom.

Liberating Structures

Bumbershoot+wksp+seriesIn reading through Chapter 1, I find that I disagree with Brookfield on one point. He gives an example on pages 4-5 of how he was confronted by a silent classroom where none of the students wanted to speak, despite several successive questions asked by the teacher to the whole classroom. He then goes into a long speech about how no one was obliged to speak and that he wasn’t presuming failure on their part if they didn’t respond. It was a nice speech and I do agree that it probably alleviated some students’ minds to actually want to speak but. However, I think he could have solved this in a much easier, less dramatic way by simply using a “Liberating Structures” technique such as 1-2-4-All. In this simple group configuration activity, the instructor gets students to spend 1 minute thinking about the question, then 2 minutes talking in pairs with another person, then get into groups of 4 to come up with the best response worthy of sharing with the class, then in the final “all” stage, the teacher calls on all groups to share their discussions with the whole class. If Brookfield would have deployed this simple structure for promoting discussion, he would have avoided all the blank stares and the subsequent dramatic speech he had to make, which in the end amounted to simply more “teacher talk time” or TTT.


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

Lipmanowicz, H., & McCandless, K. (2013). The surprising power of liberating structures. New York: Liberating Structures Press.

Teacher Talking Time. British Council. Available at:


Taking the Teaching Perspectives Inventory – reflections

I just tried the Teaching Perspectives Inventory, created by professors from UBC’s Faculty of Education. It’s an interesting tool to “collect your thoughts and summarize your ideas about teaching” (TPI Website). The TPI is supposed to help teachers understand their views on the “5 Perspectives” on Teaching:

  1. Transmission – “substantial commitment to the content or subject matter”
  2. Apprenticeship – “teachers are highly skilled practitioners of what they teach”
  3. Developmental – “planned and conducted from the learner’s point of view”
  4. Nurturing – “long-term, hard, persistent effort to achieve comes from the heart, not the head”
  5. Social Reform – teaching that “seeks to change society in substantive ways”

(Quotes from TPI Website – The “Five Perspectives”)

I took the TPI and found it quite easy and short to complete. Here are my results:

Teaching Perspectives Inventory

The context for my “teaching” was more of an instructional design/advisory role in a Career Development co-curricular course. The two nearly dominant teaching perspectives for me were “Apprenticeship” and “Nurturing”. Without going into much more in-depth detail about an exact interpretation of the results (the interpretation page was quite confusing to decipher), I would have to say “off the bat” that it makes sense that Apprenticeship is a dominant perspective, based on what I can reflect on as my beliefs in teaching.


I like to “do” things rather than talk about them or “transmit” them to an audience and just have them listen. I’d rather do something, show the student, and have them go on and do it while I watch. It’s much more “hands-on” experiential type of learning. Experiential learning is an ancient approach to learning, with even Aristotle saying “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them” – (Experiential Learning in Wikipedia). I like the idea of showing students how to do something, monitoring whether it’s too hard or too easy for them (TPI refers to it as the “zone of development”), and then having them work more independently once they have some mastery of the subject or skill.


I show up as having a “35” in nurturing with an even stronger belief (13 as opposed to 12 in Apprenticeship), so there must be something going on here. I do believe in “promoting a climate of caring and trust” and helping them set “challenging but achievable goals” (TPI Website – The “Five Perspectives”). So this idea of nurturing is focused on caring for the student, having compassion on them but not giving up on principles, goals and learning objectives. It seems that the “Nurturing” perspective is most closely aligned with the concept of the teacher as facilitator or “guide by the side”. That is something I fervently believe in as well.


My third,slightly less dominant perspective is “Developmental” and admittedly I don’t do this very well so I’m surprised it is third on the list. The idea of helping students move from more simple to complex thinking, developing “increasingly complex and sophisticated cognitive structures for comprehending content” (TPI Website – The “Five Perspectives”) is quite frankly a daunting task. I can certainly say that I hold these principles as ideals of good teaching, but can’t think immediately of a really good experience where I succeed in actually getting students to move from simpler to more complex thinking. Striving for that would involve a lot of eliciting of critical thinking skills from the students, which is certainly something very needed in the higher education field especially when it comes to student career development.

Other perspectives

Beyond that I see that “Transmission” is much lower and “Social Reform” is a recessive perspective. In my position and influence I simply don’t have the leverage, means or mandate to instil social reform in students. It’s more about empowering individuals to be the best they can, not trying to change society. But I guess you could argue that if you empower enough individuals to pursue their passions, grow in their critical thinking skills and really gain the hands-on experience they need, they you would in the end change society.


Balancing Credibility and Authenticity in the Classroom

In this video by Stephen Brookfield, he explains the importance of balancing credibility and authenticity in teaching in a Higher Ed context. He gives examples how teachers can establish credibility and authenticity, and discusses how they can strike a balance between these two using the Critical Incident Questionnaire as a tool to check how they are doing in the classroom.


One example he gives of perceived credibility of the teacher by students is the ability for the teacher to answer questions on the fly. If an instructor is able to open up the classroom to any random question on their subject expertise, and be able to answer that question in some satisfactory  way, they gain credibility in the eyes of their students. e says:

“The way students judge we know what we’re doing and that we know our stuff is if we can if we can respond to questions in the moment. It seems that responding to one unanticipated question in a good way demonstrates your knowledge and ability. That seems to really enhance your credibility more in fact than anything else.” – 1:48 in video

Another example he gives is for teachers to explain why they do what they do. Talking out loud about why teachers do what they do, building a rationale for why they are doing a particular thing, also serves to enhance credibility.


Brookfield mentions the importance of full disclosure as a source of authenticity. Instructors must make full disclosure to students of exactly what it is they are assessing in the students, why they are assessing them, for what purpose and with what criteria. Students need to know your agenda, bottom line.

Responsiveness to students is also very important – the ability for an instructor to respond to challenges and difficulties students are facing in the class as they grapple with the course material. Responsiveness “focuses on demonstrating clearly to students that you want to know any concerns and problems they are having with their learning so you can help them deal with them” (Brookfield 2015, p. 51).

Autobiographical disclosure is the last example he gives on authenticity in this video. In his book he refers to it as “disclosing personhood”, the “perception students have that their teachers are flesh-and-blood human beings” (p. 52). There is a right time and a right amount of autobiographical disclosure to do. Too much and it becomes inappropriate and off-topic, but too little and the instructor appears wooden and cold.

 Striking a Balance

Brookfield concludes by talking about how to strike a balance as an instructor between credibility and authenticity. He says none of us can find that perfect balance. It’s the “nature of the pedagogic beast” that you can’t get everything perfectly balanced ever (video, 4:28).  However, what helps Brookfield the most in his own teaching is constantly using a Critical Incident Questionnaire to gauge the appropriate balance he is giving to both credibility and authenticity. The CIQ will reveal how students are feeling about his teaching, and he can make adjustments appropriately based on their feedback.


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

Brookfield’s The Skillful Teacher – Reflections on Researching Student Learning

I am so glad I discovered Brookfield’s “The Skillful Teacher focuses on what students value in teachers”, thanks to the Provincial Instructor Diploma program I course I am taking, 3260 Professional Practice. I was finally got my hands on the 2015 edition. I find his stated purpose for writing the book extremely helpful:

“The essence of skillful teaching lies in the teacher constantly researching how her students are experiencing learning and then making pedagogic decisions informed by the insights she gains from students’ responses” (2015, p. ix)

I’d like to break down that quote in my own context:

Researching how students are experiencing learning

My biggest question in this regard is to what extent instructors are able to do this practically on a day to day basis. Brookfield recommends doing a weekly “Critical Incident Questionnaire” (p. 34) where he asks students to describe when they were engaged, distanced, affirmed, confused or surprised during the course of his lessons. I have not heard of that strategy being implemented before, but it could be very easily done anonymously, online, and even with mobile devices at the end of class using Google Forms.

My concern is not the practically of doing research into student learning experiences, but whether instructors have that curiosity from the get go at all. Do they really have that on their agenda at the beginning of term to monitor how students are doing with the learning? This is especially crucial for 1st year undergraduate Non-commerce students coming to, say, an introductory class on accounting, and having no background in business or accounting whatsoever. Monitoring their learning experiences early on in the term would avoid pitfalls later on when instructors start finding out the majority of students are struggling with the content.

Having in place a standard, efficient and quick means of getting a pulse on the class such as the digital or paper CIQ would be helpful to implement across the faculty, or at least make available to instructors as an option to enhance their awareness of student learning. As part of course design, I plan on raising this issue with instructors at opportune times to help them think of how to better track student learning experiences.

Making informed pedagogic decisions

The concept of making informed pedagogical decisions midway in a course based on student learning experiences happening in real time is a new one to me. I hear more often that instructors are “capitulating” to student demands and either extend a deadline, make an assignment slightly easier, or reduce the deliverables on a group project. But those decisions are often not necessarily “informed pedagogic” decisions based on taking a true snapshot of student learning experiences in the course. There are of course some that do, but part of the problem is the unwieldiness of the surveying technology we have, and the reluctance of instructors to go through the effort of collecting that data, whether in paper or digital form.

This is why data visualization and quick feedback loops tied into learning analytics is so important. If instructors were to have a digital, online, always live and real time data visualization interface to monitor student learning experiences – both of online activity and classroom experience via survey results — they would have a much better pulse on student learning without the time consuming effort to collate, analyze and interpret results of questionnaires manually. Even if the instructor spent a few seconds glancing over a very clear, concise and accurate data visualization chart of student learning (how many students found a particular topic confusing, how many requested more clarity on a certain issue for example), that in itself could foster a rich discussion or a slight but effective turn in the direction of the course that could better assist the students in their learning.


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

Critical Incident Questionnaire Resources from Stephen Brookfield’s Website: 

  1. The Classroom Critical Incident Questionnaire

  2. Understanding Classroom Dynamics: The Critical Incident Questionnaire

  3. The Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ): From Research to Practice and Back Again   By Jeffrey Keefer, Adult Education Research Conference Proceedings, 2009

PIDP3260 – Professional Practice Intro Post

I work as a Learning Eco-systems Support and Solutions Manager at Sauder School of Business at UBC. It’s a bit of a mouthful of a job title but what I do on a daily basis is help instructors, professors and staff make the best decisions possible on which types of learning technology to use in order to enhance the overall student experience and ultimately improve student learning.

I’m taking the Provincial Instructor Diploma Program because initially I needed to brush up on the latest approaches, research and best practices in adult learning, especially since I had moved from k-12 education into Higher Education a few years back.

I am especially looking forward to the Professional Practice course since it will give me an opportunity to reflect on my work both as a manager and as an adult educator (training instructors on tech use). It also affords the possibility of my own reflection on the professional practice of instructors in higher ed and how to encourage reflective practice in a university context. So I am hoping to take away not only skills that I can use in my own career, but also to help other instructors enhance their own careers and improve their instructional skills.

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