Addressing the Three Core Assumptions


Stephen D. Brookfield, in his book The Skillful Teacher on Technique, Trust and Responsiveness in the Classroom (2006) states that skillful teaching is grounded in three core assumptions (p. 17), which are:
  1. Skillful teaching is whatever helps the student learn.
  2. Skillful teachers adopt a critically reflective stance toward their practice.
  3. The most important knowledge skillful teachers need to do good work is a constant awareness of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving teachers actions. 
For the purposes of this refection, I will discuss each of these assumptions from the lens the learning experience. Jose Bowen, in his book Teaching Naked (2006) states “we like to think of students as our product rather than our customers,” (p. 217) and that we need to become more focused on designing learning experiences (p. 246). This idea had become a driving force in the curriculum design projects I take part in, and the teacher training sessions I deliver.


When reading these assumptions, I could not agree more. It is essential that teachers start thinking about the student experience because without students, teachers are unemployed. The education world is having to evolve to keep up with the demands of students who can chose where to study, what to study, and who they want to study with. If we look at the ESL world in particular, teachers are the central in delivering the product (English) to the customer (student). Teachers, in my experience do not think of themselves in this way, and thus, are unaware of the assumptions listed above. They fail to realize how important skillful teaching is to the success and growth of the industry. There are challenges in fostering change, but the potential of improvement should be worth the efforts.


In connection with the first assumption, we approach teaching a new class with our own collections of biases, intuitions, hunches and habits that frame our initial activities. This can lead to us acting out of habit rather than doing what the students need (Brookfield, p. 18). We need to ensure that we are adapting to our students’ needs, and not just teaching what has become comfortable for us. A few examples of this are first, in the school I work for, there are teachers who have not changed levels, books, or classrooms in years. Without change, how can teachers grow into skillful teachers? In Teaching Naked, it is stated that teachers “give lectures even though we know that they are not effective means of transmitting learning” (Bowen, p. X). Just because it works and the students like you does not mean that we cannot improve both ourselves and the learning experience, which is central in addressing all three assumptions.

Considering the second assumption, critical reflection can be as simple as questioning yourself by asking first, why have I only seen and tried to approach the classroom through my own lens and should I not be looking at my course and lesson design with the student experience in mind. Second, why do I look at my textbook every morning and ask what am I going do to today? Should I not be asking what are my students going to learn and what are they going to do to show me they have learned it? This is important because there are aspects of teaching I frequently hear colleagues talking about and struggling with. It is quite possible that the struggle will continue is spite of our efforts because we have approached this situation from only the teacher’s point of view. Essentially, all three assumptions relate to the choices we make in the classroom. Brookfield states that without constant awareness, the choices we make as teachers risk being haphazard, and closer to guess work that to informed judgments (p. 28). A haphazard classroom full of lessons made up of guesswork are not going to keep seats full.


As this reflection is based on designing a meaningful learning experience for students by addressing the 3 core assumptions of skillful teaching. I realize that the form of assessment teachers select is fundamental in designing meaningful learning experiences. An example of this is a menu of learning activities suggested as a student engagement technique by Elizabeth Barkley in her handbook for college faculty (2010, p.47). By continuously adapting assessment in the classroom, student learning will be evaluated on what matters to them and to teachers in conjunction. As Bowen states, “we know that learning matters, we have a mountain of research on how to improve it. It’s time we had the courage to start putting it at the center of our mission.” (p. 245).

Asking instructors to change how they deliver material is most important in improving the student experience, but from my experience as a program coordinator it can be quite challenging. If institutions help teachers by using some of the points mentioned by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) like showing teachers how they can make a difference, making them feel important, and bring out their best selves, teachers will find the strength they need to make change. Teachers can hold themselves to a standard and impose rules on themselves that they would never force on their students. Namely, that risks should never be taken. As the saying goes, if there is no risk, there is no reward.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San                     Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bowen, J.A. (2012). Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. (2006). The Skillful Teacher on technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom          (2nd ed.). San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

What Students Want from Teachers (November 2008). Education Leadership. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Volume 66 (3), pp. 48-51. Retrieved from Students-             Want-from-Teachers.aspx


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