The Skilled Teacher 7th ed.

Saphier, Jon, Haley-Speca, Mary Ann, & Gower, Robert.  (2018). The Skillful Teacher (7th ed). Acton, MA: Research for Better Teaching.

Why I like this book.

Over the years I have always gone to the work of Jon Saphier for guidance and research on what are the best possible strategies to engage learners.  With his colleagues at RBT, Mary Ann Haley-Speca and Robert Gower, they have consistently produced research-based, ethical educational practices.  This seventh edition updates current practices supported by research by people with extreme integrity.  It has been and is my go-to resource for help focusing on what the best ideas are while working through the blizzard of marketing.

As always, italics signals direct quotes.

Sommers’ Summaries

This book starts with a short assessment of the federal initiatives from NCLB through the current ESSA.  As true with most, there are positives and negatives.  Nothing has been nor will ever be the “Silver Bullet” we keep searching for.  But a focus on high-expertise teaching in all its range and complexity has been the missing link in all the reform efforts of the last 50 years.  Early in the book the authors list ten particularly important Jobs of Teaching.  I would use these as a framework for interviewing potential teachers.  This will be important for assessing strengths and challenges and can serve as future learning guides for teachers to reach all students.

Be advised of the Chapter Quick Guides at the end of each chapter for summary information.  This helps to keep the content easily accessible. In addition, there are references to the website for activities and videos that demonstrate concepts.  These are another benefit of this book. In addition, a library of over a hundred video clips that illustrate the skills described in the book is available at This resource which will be constantly updated is a very valuable companion to the text, and access is free.

Over the years I have used the ‘Foundation of Essential Beliefs’ on page 11 as an overall framework for teaching and learning.  Identifying specific actions for management, instructional strategies, motivation, and curriculum are important to expand the repertoire for the ongoing diversity in our classrooms and the diversity of skill level in the teaching pool. The essential beliefs of chapter three will be critical in hiring and in providing learning guides for teachers to model and teach to our students.

I am impressed with the addition of chapter four addressing cultural proficiency.  Including this section is paramount in supporting our students now and in the future.  This area will continue to expand in order to invite, engage, and sustain student learning. Kudos to the authors for addressing this issue.

In section two, management is the topic. So many theorist and publishers start with content and curriculum assessment.  Saphier know that if the culture isn’t positive, learning is diminished.  Managing classrooms in a positive manner increases emotional safety.  They suggest twenty-four attention moves to reduce anxiety and promote positive interactions.  Again, adding to repertoire gives more flexibility to the teacher to respond rather than relying on power, which is the last resort.

One of the outcomes of managing students and space well is spending more time on learning.  Our goal is the reduce time on managing and increasing time on learning. The practical strategies in part two provide multiple ways to manage effectively and efficiently.

Moving on to part three which deals with instructional strategies. Knowing the ‘models of teaching’ provides a variety of ways to engage students in learning and to teach particular thinking skills.   The more models a teacher can use, the more students can be actively engaged in learning.  The summary on page 311 gives eight models.  Each model supports a different kind of learning. The eight are as follows:

  1. Advanced Organizer – increase information processing
  2. Concept Attainment – develop concepts from attributes
  3. Inductive Thinking – develop inductive mental processes
  4. Inquiry Training – develop question asking, problem-solving, hypothesis testing
  5. Awareness Training – know your own and others experiences
  6. Synectics – creativity and creative problem solving
  7. Nondirective Teaching – build individual efficacy by self-discovery
  8. Group Investigation – develop skills for participating in democratic and social processes

Motivation is the linchpin of student learning.”  Part four focus on motivation. Defining respect is foundational in restorative justice work and learning circles.  This activity can be used to give explicit examples one can see in classrooms and school environments which promote a positive learning culture. Page 401 provides an activity to help students define respect.  The same process can be used with staff to identify respect between professionals.

The activities on the RBT website can produce positive behavior to help schools be ‘learningful’ rather than focusing only on power relationships. I have found the literature increasing in the mentioning of mistakes.  Moreover, using mistakes as a learning opportunity creates a good strategy of feedback.  We can change the “F” or F-word to mean FEEDBACK. If the result is not what you want, adjust, and try something else.

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Ken Blanchard.  Feedback is also one of the important mechanisms K. Anders Ericsson identifies in his book Peak (2016), and his research on Peak Performance.  The rollout here of the “how-tos’” of feedback is comprehensive.

On page 420 the authors write about five beliefs that underlie Risk-Taking. These are very helpful to learners (students) who are trying to acquire knowledge and skills.

In leadership, we sometimes assess school climate.  We should be assessing that on a yearly basis.  (Bill’s belief).  The authors have outlined a ‘Classroom Climate Survey’ on page 439.  Want to build a positive classroom environment and use It?  Learn from this chapter.   Bring students into the process.

At the top of the organizational pyramid (page 11) is the curriculum. I have found the matrix on page 445 can be used individually, and even more importantly, for teacher teams as a guide to facilitate common outcomes.  The matrix can be used as a conversational guide to gain consensus on knowledge, skills, and applications of curriculum and assessments.

Another nice graphic to help structure planning is the embedded circles on page 489.  It is called Means to Ends and contains questions that guide the planning from Coverage, Activities, Involvement, Mastery Objectives to Thinking Skill Objectives. This is a powerful planning model that can increase specificity and facilitate efficiency in planning effective lessons. It can also help observers analyze the kind of planning that has gone into a lesson.

Chapter twenty on Differentiated Instruction is becoming more valuable as our student population becomes more diverse as a result of our changing demographics and SES levels. Obviously, our special needs population can benefit from this section, and I believe all students can benefit from the expansion of the repertoire it offers.

The Skillful Teacher has been my foundational resource over the years when I want solid research developed by the people of integrity.  I strongly suggest buying this new edition, use this new edition, and share the learning with as many other professionals as possible.