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: