Another dot in the blogosphere?

Sizing up mastery

Posted on: July 24, 2021

If you wanted a definition of “masterful”, a quick search on online dictionaries would provide a sample.

Being masterful can be quite difficult to tie down if you consider the breadth of skills and work. When a simple definition won’t do, some resort to the you-know-it-when-you-see-it approach.

Video source

I think most people would say that the artist’s work above is masterful. If you are not an artist, you cannot say exactly why, but you know the work is masterful by what you can see. That said, a masterful person does not have to be a skilled artist or a glamorous performer.

Over 20 years ago, I interacted with a sales representative in a outdoor gear store in New Zealand. I wanted to buy a good pair of hiking shoes. Just by looking at my feet and gait, he estimated my shoe size and said that I had broad and flat feet. He was right on all counts.

After asking me what kind of activity I would be using the shoes for, he brought me a few pairs to try. I soon found out that he provided a choice as a formality because he knew what the best pair was. Impressed with his mastery, I bought that pair.

The hiking shoes lasted a long time even though I put them environments ranging from the forests of Malaysia to the mountains of Tasmania. Each time I put them on, I appreciated the wisdom of that salesperson.

My shoes accompanied me to the USA when I pursued a Masters in the desert of Arizona. Unfortunately, they did not last long enough to accompany me to my Ph.D. in the freezer of Indiana. They finally gave way in the desert heat and I had to tape them up to keep them together long enough to complete a hike.

I owned a few other pairs of hiking shoes after that, but they were not as good as my NZ pair. I did not have the benefit of the masterful shoe guy.

My reflection is not about a masterful artist who shares their craft on YouTube or a humble sale representative.  As usual, my mind wanders to the mastery that educators have that no one sees because very few a) see the work they do, b) listen to what they have to say about teaching and learning, and c) include evaluations of their work along those terms.

It would have been foolish and unfair to judge the shoe sale representative on his administrative compliance or sales pitches but ignore his deep knowledge and ability to connect with a customer. We would see the logic of a thorough and holistic evaluation. And yet we ignore this logic for our educators.

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