I love The Skillful Teacher by Jon Saphier et. al. so much it is difficult for me to be articulate. When asked why I love this book I sound like a 12 year-old talking about Justin Beber. This is my desert island teaching book (but then why would you read a book on teaching if you were stranded on a desert island without students, you ask . . . good question, I say, but I would STILL take The Skillful Teacher with me – it is THAT good). Aside from the thousands of teaching tips and tricks (which the book calls “moves and tools”) one of the most powerful aspects I learned from The Skillful Teacher is a framework for thinking about the discipline of teaching.
I have worked with a number of organizations that have attempted to spell out exactly what makes up good teaching through various rubrics. I am not a rubric hater, however the structure of a rubric places all of the various competencies (lesson planning and classroom management for example) on an equal level when the truth is a charismatic teacher who never, ever writes lesson plans can look pretty darn good on the surface. Management must be mastered to some degree before lesson planning can be effective. It was upon seeing the image below that I finally was able to visualize teaching.
I LOVE how this pyramid begins with a foundation of teacher beliefs. The Skillful Teacher describes 7 key beliefs teachers must have in order to be successful. Below are some of my favorites as quoted from The Skillful Teacher:
- “You can get smart” Children’s learning is primarily determined by their effective effort and use of appropriate strategies. “Intelligence ” is not a fixed inborn limit on learning capacity. All children have the raw material to do rigorous academic material at high standards.
- Learning varies with the degree to which learners’ needs for inclusion, influence, competence, and confidence are met.
- The knowledge bases of a professional teacher are many, diverse and complex; and skillful teaching requires systematic and continual study of these knowledge bases.
- The total environment of a school has a powerful effect on students’ learning.
- Racism exerts a downward force on the achievement of students of color that must be met with active antiracist teaching.
In my experience, the more I deeply believe the above statements the more effective I am as a teacher. Without these essential beliefs I might be able to teach some kids sometimes on somedays but I will be far from reaching all of my students. Least I plummet further into pseudo-religious babble about the skillful teacher, I’m going to recommend to check out the The Skillful Teacher website and then check out a copy from your local library or have your school buy a copy for you.