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What makes a master teacher? Questions, not answers


Master TeachingWe know a “master teacher” when we see one, but putting a finger on that elusive, "special something” is tricky business. There are innumerable books, blogs and articles designed to distill mastery teaching down to a set of discreet behaviors; if only we adopt them, they seem to suggest, we’ll find the key to unlock our hidden Je ne sais quoi.

Robyn Renee Jackson’s book Never Work Harder than Your Students deviates from this common mantra. For her, “What separates master teachers from the rest of us is that they know how to think about teaching.” They have “the Master Teacher Mindset,” and a toolbox of research-based strategies. Okay, so what’s the “Master Teacher Mindset” then?

Adopting the Master Teacher Mindset means that:

  • You know that asking the right questions is more important than having the right answers. “Good questions reveal what information is relevant, when information is sufficient, and how that information should be used appropriately.”
  • You spend your time “refining [your] inquiry skills,” as well as “collecting strategies and skills.” Teachers who have mastered the art of inquiry know how to ask students questions that stimulate thinking, motivate them and challenge them to take ownership over their own learning experience.
  • You do not rush to find solutions to problems. Instead, you spend time reflecting on the problem, resist placing blame, and maintain a willingness to “own your own contributions to the problem.”
  • You stop trying to teach like everyone else and instead tailor your approach to the needs of your students.
  • You put away the stacks of papers that need to be graded and take time to reflect on your teaching because you know that it meaningful reflection is necessary to expose “unwarranted or harmful assumptions” and “fallacies in [your] thinking.”
  • You are an expert in your subject area—not simply because you have a “hodgepodge of largely disconnected facts,” but because you have a system. You’re also able to “organize [your] teaching knowledge into meaningful patterns…and develop a set of key instructional principles.”  This system will be the bedrock of your philosophy.

Here are the seven principals of Master Teaching Jackson leads us through in her book:

  • Master teachers start where their students are
  • Master teachings know where their students are going
  • Master teachers expect to get their students to their goal
  • Master teachers support their students along the way
  • Master teachers use feedback to help them and their students improve
  • Master teachers focus on quality rather than quantity
  • Master teachers never work harder than their students

If you’d like to read more of Jackson’s work before committing to an entire book, check out some of her blogs here



I agree. I think that many teachers feel the pressure to put on dog and pony shows with standards and objectives as decorations. Also, I have noticed a boat load of paper work that drains a lot of time.
Posted @ Friday, March 01, 2013 3:05 PM by Mr. Grant
Well put, Mr. Grant. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Posted @ Monday, March 04, 2013 8:14 AM by The MAT Team
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