Being a Skillful Teacher

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What does being a skillful teacher mean to you? Is it the same as or similar to being a powerful teacher? Are there any expectations inherent in unravelling any difference between these two perceptions?

Stephen Brookfield, a scholar in adult education, is someone I look up to because his focus is on helping adults learn how to critically think about internalized ideologies.  He believes that we teach to change the world and that being a sincere and reflective educator can be complex but that we need to be aware of those complexities in order to learn and empower our students (Brookfield, 2015). I have always enjoyed learning about his perspective and determining how I can use it in my teaching techniques.

“Skillful teaching is the teaching that is contextually informed” (Brookfield, 2015, p. 20). We teach what we assume students should be learning in their particular situations, and sometimes this requires veering away from a syllabus and taking hold of alternate methods to help students learn what is required for their field (Brookfield, 2015).

As teachers, we have to be reflective of what we do. We have to stop and think about how what we have taught has helped students critically think or how it has not helped them so that we can alter our methods to help them even more (Brookfield, 2015). We are required to be as transparent as we can, keeping in mind that something we assume as being clear may not be so to students. We also have to think about how we can communicate what we are trying to teach our students. Along with this, we have to be honest teachers in that we do what we say we will do so as to be credible with our learners (Brookfield, 2015). I see myself fitting in this category of teachers I tell my ESL students that I was an ESL learner myself and that I have had terrible times learning English due to feelings of anxiety and stress. Most of the time, this relaxes them because it helps them see that they, too, can learn English with enough practice and effort.

A powerful teacher does not necessarily mean a bad teacher, but it depends on how you look at it. “You can’t look at education or teaching without examining power” (Brookfield, 2013, p. 3). As teachers, we do an awful lot to make sure all goes well not only in how we teach but making sure our students understand what we teach, building confidence, and teaching our students to become empowered among other things (Brookfield, 2013). Oftentimes, we, as people, view power in a negative light, assuming that we have no choices, and sometimes we don’t, but other times, we definitely do. We all, as learners, need to understand and “claim” empowerment for ourselves and this takes time to learn (Brookfield, 2013, p. 11) because “a lack of awareness of power sabotages the effectiveness of techniques” (Brookfield, 2013, p. 23). I believe that the difference between being an overpowering and uncompromising teacher and being an authentic teacher is “staying true to the values you believe and espouse” (p. 13) so that your students can do the same not only for you and their careers but for themselves (Brookfield, 2013).

As Brookfield (2013) suggests, when the differences between a skillful teacher and a powerful teacher are not understood – as they may not automatically be – it is our responsibility to conduct research to define the two so that we can gain a clear understanding of them and use powerful techniques to show the power of our expertise and not our dominance.


Brookfield, S. (2013). Powerful techniques for teaching adults. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Martina Finnegan, being a former ESL learner from Bosnia, truly enjoys teaching ESL students! She has been teaching at Niagara College for 9 years and when she isn't in the classroom, she enjoys spending time with her family, going for walks, watching movies, and reading a good book!


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