Staying Sane: 16 Maxims of Skillful Teaching (3260)

Well for this post, I first had to learn what a maxim was…

a short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct.

I wanted to reflect on Brookfield (2015) Chapter 20 as I am coming to a close on my time in the PIDP program. I felt this chapter summarized both the book and my time in 3260 well. The following is a high level breakdown of the 16 maxims reviewed in chapter 20 how I see them.

Maxim #1: Attend your emotional survival.

Brookfield talks about taking care of your emotional needs, to be in shape to help students learn. This maxim is an important statement in most professions. Working in healthcare I have learned the importance of this and supporting the idea… you are no good to anyone if you are not at your best. I have also found this to be true when in a leadership role, people are looking to you… are you distracted or are you ready and fresh.

Maxim #2: Expect Ambiguity

Being prepared for the unknown. I have taken great comfort in knowing that no matter how organized or planned out my lesson is, things can and will go wrong. Acknowledging this fact before hand allows for a better response when you need to depart from the learning activity for the benefit of the class, group or individual.

Maxim #3: Perfection is an Illusion

We all have this picture in our mind as to who we will be as educators, that picture is a trap that we can get lost in. Recognizing that perfection is an illusion is a healthy way of saying learning is messy if it works great, if not I will learn from it… this fits very well with Maxim #2.

Maxim #4: Ground Your Teaching in How Your Students Are Learning

Brookfield is talking about discovering how and how your students are learning. This too is about being adaptable to how you are delivering your lesson and changing it to suit the needs of the students rather than have them conform to how you teach. This can be achieved through anonymous feedback reflection and discussion with the class.

Maxim #5: Be Wary of Standardized Models and Approaches

If I have learned anything during time in this course it has been that what works for one does not work for everyone or what worked one day may not work the next for the same person… this is where the idea of stealing shamelessly comes into effect… borrow from different models make a new recipe and evaluate for success.

Maxim #6: Regularly Learn Something New and Difficult

Brookfield is talking about leaning into your own areas of discomfort to remember what it feels like to be in a position of conscience incompetence, he suggests taking something outside of your comfort zone or an area in which you are not already competent… thinking about what things you needed or the instructor did to make you feel more comfortable. This is also good practice in being a life-long learner.

Maxim #7: Take Your instincts Seriously

Much like Maxim 5, what is being imparted here is that just because a teaching book tells you how something should be approached or that a process will likely yield the result, this is not always the case. Each educator and student is different, every situation we face may share similarities they are not the same and you may need to use your judgment or toss an approach out and try something new… trust your gut.

Maxim #8:Create Diversity

In this Maxim Brookfield suggests following a simple rule of ensuring every class has a minimum at least 3 different learning modalities to ensure you are offering something to the various different learning preferences (styles) Now this being said, see above for Maxim 7 and 5… mix it up 🙂

Maxim #9: Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks

A dash of spontaneity never hurt anyone right? in reading about this maxim, I think back to avoid that illusion of perfectionism, embrace the ambiguity and be messy in an effort to reach your students, this again may be outside your comfort zone… what a great chance to learn… I am a firm believer that we are in the best position to learn when we are taking risks… it means we are doing something new! the only way to see if something works is to do it!

Maxim #10:Remember That Learning Is Emotional

Ain’t that the truth… for students transitioning from sub-conscious incompetence to conscious incompetence can be a scary place… there is also socio-political and past experiences at play here… some have found the pedagogical system none to kind to self-confidence! keep this in mind!

Maxim #11:Acknowledge your Personality 

This maxim is dealing with the concept of authenticity… Brookfield states this simply… if you feel uncomfortable behaving in a certain way, don’t. Be you… be a professional version of you, but be you… you do not need to be the classes source of humour or the authoritarian… be flexible and contribute to both of these areas if it feels right… being you is important; students can smell an unauthentic person a mile away, teaching is about trust.

Maxim #12: Don’t Evaluate Yourself Only by Student Satisfaction

I really like what Brookfield said in this maxim; you need to remember that relevance and utility of learning is often not appreciated until after it has happened and you are long gone. While it is important to invite student feedback, there is going to be times where the feedback is a poor connection or representation of what actually happened… it is important to consider the feedback, but only through review and reflection will we truly be able to evaluate the meaning behind it may be.

Maxim #13: Remember the Importance of Both Support and Challenge

To me this maxim is speaking about the balance needed between criticism and support. If a student only ever hears affirmation for their process or product it can very much stunt growth… in the same regard it is important that we don’t just pile on feedback of a crushing nature… it is that careful balance of pushing for more or deeper meaning while supporting the student through that process… see maxim 10!

Maxim #14: Recognize and Accept Your Power

Again I really feel that this maxim is speaking to the understanding that as the teacher you set the tone. Your presence is felt, your absence is felt, in both conversation and engagement… we need to remember to take a page from Uncle Ben (Spiderman’s Uncle) With great power, comes great responsibility. See Maxim 10! See Maxim 13!

Maxim #15: View Yourself as a Helper of Learning 

I like the idea of being the helper… it takes some of the pressure… as teachers we have a responsibility to facilitate learning through creating the syllabus, the learning itself is a journey and as a helper we get to be a guide… to help frame, but we are not ultimately responsible as it is a shared adventure and we as teachers have a role to play as much as the student. We are not the enforcers of learning.

Maxim #16: Don’t Trust What You Just Read

What a wonderful way to cap off the book The Skillful Teacher… it also reinforces maxim #7. Brookfield is encouraging us to reflect on our practice, not take his word as gospel. This book is a culmination of his experiences and what he see’s as best practice… He is also reinforcing that the learning process is messy and to learn from making mistakes…

In terms of life-long learning, I believe as a professional we need to be held accountable to a standard of engaging in learning, be that in a particular academic field or even non-academic learning… I also believe that we have a responsibility as educators to engage in the practice of life-long learning as a way of modeling for those who learn from us, formally or even informally. The Skillful Teacher and this course on Professional Practice have really hit home the importance of life-long learning as a part of professional practice and accountability in holding the title of Teacher.

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3260 Blog by Bryce Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.



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