“Teaching is frequently a gloriously messy pursuit in which shock, contradiction and risk are endemic”


Brookfield is of the opinion that there are no habits of effective teaching, no standardized indictors, and no rules for teacher success in the classroom (Brookfield p. 1). “Teaching is frequently a gloriously messy pursuit in which shock, contradiction and risks are endemic” (Brookfield p. 1). Teachers often do their “best to muddle through the complex contexts and configuration that our classrooms represent” (Brookfield p. 1).

Muddling through occurs in the learning environment when there are “no clear guidelines to help with unexpected contingencies” (Brookfield p. 2). According to Brookfield this can “be done well or badly. When done well, it involves the application of informed practical reasoning” (Brookfield p. 6). Practical reasoning involves “three interrelated skills of scanning, appraisal, and action” (Brookfield p.6). Scanning is determining what the “central features of the situation, to diagnosis the big picture. During the appraisal phase we call on our interpretive resources to help us understand the situation correctly. And the action phase involves sorting through the interpretations we have gathered by judging the accuracy and validity of the assumptions and interpretations gathered and take action” (Brookfield p. 6 -7).


I chose to reflect and research this quotation as I can relate to muddling through in the learning environment. I identify with this quotation by reflecting on a prior experience. I was informed at the last minute to go in and substitute for a course that I had never instructed before. There was no time to prepare and I was expected to use another faculty members
power points. There was no prepared lesson plan, lecture notes or class activities for the session. It was an awful feeling walking into a classroom being unprepared. Being that it was part of the nursing program I had some knowledge of the material/concepts, but was certainly not prepared and felt uncomfortable for the whole class. In this situation I muddled my way through by using essential questions to provoke discussion. This allowed me to scan and appraise the situation and take action as required. At the time I was not aware that I was using the practical reasoning process. I was muddling through to try and make the best of the situation for the best outcomes of the learners

Teaching is unpredictable, no matter how well trained, skilled or prepared the instructor is. All teachers at times in their practice will find themselves muddling through a classroom situation. This may be due to the learners learning styles, a dilemma, a culturally diverse classroom, or an unforeseen circumstance in the learning environment.

In completing five modules of the Provincial Instructors Diploma Program I have gained a lot of knowledge on adult education. But I want to learn more about how to be more effective in dealing with “unexpected contingencies” (Brookfield p. 2) in the classroom environment.


The insights that I have gained from researching this quotation is how to effectively use the three interrelated skills of practical reasoning when I find myself muddling through a situation. During the scanning phase I will look for patterns that I have been seen before and determine what needs the most attention now. In the appraisal phase I will use previous experiences, guidelines, professional development and my intuition to “attend to the instinctive analyses and responses that immediately suggest themselves as relevant” (Brookfield p. 7). In the action phase “I will judge the accuracy and validity of the assumptions and interpretations that I have gathered” (Brookfield p. 7). This involves past experiences, using judgement to connect it to the current situation, and professional protocols. Then I will take action on what makes the most sense.

I understand that no matter how experienced, skilled or prepared an Instructor is, there is always a possibility that you may find yourself in a situation of “gloriously messy pursuit in which shock, contradiction and risk are endemic” (Brookfield p. 1). And as “we muddle through different teaching contexts we usually draw on insights and intuitions born of experience” (Brookfield p. 2).

Adult educators must have “constant awareness of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving teacher’s actions” (Brookfield, p. 17). In order to check the learner’s learning and how they are perceiving my instructional strategies I must use Critical Incident Questionnaires in the learning environment.


Since researching and reflecting on this quotation I will be more cognizant of the process of practical reasoning and engage in this process in the learning environment more frequently.I will implement more Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ) in the sessions that I facilitate to assess the learner’s learning and how they are perceiving my instructional strategy. I need to ensure that I am responsive to the learners. Responsiveness “is the teacher’s constant attempt to show that she wants to know how and what students are learning, what inhibitors and enhancers to learning are present in her teaching, and what concerns students have about the course” (Brookfield p. 71).

I must be reflective in my practice. “Reflective practice, practitioners engage in a continuous cycle of self-observation and self-evaluation in order to understand their own actions and the reactions they prompt in themselves and in learners (Surgenor).


Brookfield, Stephen, D., Teaching: A Complex and Passionate Experience, Retrieved from the World Wide Web, on February 24, 2014, http://educationmonitor.net/Teaching%3A+A+Complex+and+Passionate+Experience-149.html?page=1

Brookfield, Stephen, D., (2006), The Skillful Teacher On Technique, Trust, And Responsiveness In The Classroom

Brookfield, Stephen, Working Skillfully With the Emotional Rhythms Of College Learning, Retrieved from the World Wide Web, http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CD8QFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.stephenbrookfield.com%2FDr._Stephen_D._Brookfield%2FWorkshop_Materials_files%2FThe_Emotional_Rhythms_of_College_Learning.pptx&ei=amMPU4bmK4OEogTqyYKIDg&usg=AFQjCNFTUXiuDFTv4dshV9EVwHM1r0c6PA

Surgenor, Paul, (2011), Tutor, Demonstrator & Coordinator Development at UCD, Reflective Practice, Retrieved from the World Wide Web, http://www.ucd.ie/t4cms/Reflective%20Practice.pdf

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