April 6th, 2010

The Truly Heroic


I was reading something yesterday that referenced Stephen Brookfield’s The Skillful Teacher. The first edition was published 1990, a second in 2006. The book is a classic.

A lot of books in my teaching library are now old; I’ve been collecting them for many years now. But I’m discovering there’s a timelessness to a lot of material on teaching—so much research has a really short shelf life but an instructional insight, or an approach (new if you haven’t tried it) can be just what you need. Its value is not compromised by the fact that somebody recommended it 25 years ago.

Part of what gives Brookfield’s work that timelessness is the power of his writing. I could cover my bulletin board with his quotes. Savor this one: “Forget Robert Donat or Peter O’Toole in Goodbye Mr. Chips, Sidney Poitier in To Sir with Love, Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver, Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, Jon Voight in Conrack, Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland’s Opus, Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds, or Kevin Kline in The Emperor’s Club. These are excellent fictional portrayals of powerful individuals whose personal authenticity and pedagogic brilliance illuminate the mediocrity surrounding them. But they are bad role models (at least for me). Teaching is not about charismatically charged individuals using the sheer force of their characters and personalities to wreak lifelong transformations in students’ lives. It’s about finding ways to promote the day-to-day, incremental gains that students make as they try to understand ideas, grasp concepts, assimilate knowledge and develop new skills. All the small things you do to make this happen for students represent the real story of teaching. Helping learning is what makes you truly heroic.” (p. 278)

Reference: Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.