The skillful educator

School visible thinking experience G4 walk 007

To be a teacher who truly has an effect on students you must know learning. To know how to teach is not sufficient, instead you must become skilled and dexterous at noticing learning. And this is learning without predetermined boundaries. Contexts yes, boundaries no. For when we establish too narrowly the boundaries of learning we instantly rule out learning that is new and different.

To know learning, you must know life. An adult who “lives to work” will struggle here as a direct result of inevitably becoming rather narrow minded. An adult who is aware, who is regularly challenged and exposed by new situations, an adult with knowledge beyond her own area of expertise is much more likely to be able to see learning of different types.

This type of person sees and makes connections that enrich life in their classroom. Most of these connections are spontaneous and not planned for. This type of person responds to students in a way that makes the student feel that they are part of a wider world, not a classroom bubble. Connections are frequently made with media, knowledge, literature, ideas, people, businesses, organizations and aspects of society that lie within and beyond the walls of the school.

When this culture of connections exists in your classroom, learning can take many forms… sometimes being so “disguised” that it looks unlike learning in any traditional sense. Learning lies in the background and provides forward momentum for students regardless of what it is they are doing.

If you were to walk in to the classroom of a teacher like this, you would see them:

  • Creating contexts in which students are engaged and energized.
  • Differentiating – in a sophisticated sense – so that students are pursuing their own inquiries or working on their own projects.
  • Getting out of the habit of playing “guess whats in my head”. Sharing ideas and making connections with and for students as and when they are needed has a profound effect on the directions students can take.
  • “Noticing and naming” the learning that is taking place in order to validate what students are doing and help them plot their way forward, navigating their way through their curriculum.
  • Establishing a meaningful reflective process that creates a culture of intrinsic motivation for students.
  • Taking steps to set classrooms up as “learning studios” that are dynamic spaces that change according to what students are doing.
  • Skillfully and intelligently documenting learning using different forms of media.
  • Empowering students by deliberately creating a “culture of permission” in which students feel that they can give things a go and that their teacher is able to work with them to make things happen.

Do you know any teachers like this? I do. And all too often they are in the minority. How do we change that?


  1. kathmurdoch

    Thank you Sam – this is a stunning post and very timely for me and some of the conversations I having been having with teachers. There is no doubt in my mind that our students benefit from the work we do, inquiring into OURSELVES as people, from ‘noticing and naming’ our own learning, our own growth – and of committing ourselves to a continuous state of ‘becoming’ which means bringing a reflective disposition to all we do – in and beyond the classroom. Thank you for your wise words, I will definitely be sharing them with others.

  2. sherrattsam

    Thanks Kath. With so much depending on teacher personality – even before skill – I am becoming increasingly interested in who teachers really are, what makes them tick, what they bring to the classroom. Teaching is a human endeavour… so who are these humans? Are certain types of people more suited to certain types of teaching? Which types of teaching are we trying to encourage… so which types of people should we have in our schools?

    Interesting stuff! But, it seems somewhat taboo to talk of teacher personalities… as if they they don’t, or shouldn’t matter. Personally, I reckon its time to start talking more about our personalities.

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