The Five Stages of Learning in the Competence Matrix
The best teachers are those who achieve a high level of instructional skill yet continue to reflect actively on their practices, always seeking ways to enhance their craft. They strive to achieve a state of “reflective competence.”
The Five Stages of LearningUnconscious Incompetence: I don’t know what I don’t know
Conscious Incompetence: I know what I don’t know
Conscious Competence: I know what I know
Unconscious Competence: I don’t know what I know
Reflective Competence: I am aware that I don’t know what I know, but I can shift back into conscious competence to teach someone else
Novice teachers begin on the left, in unconscious incompetence. They don’t yet know what they don’t know. Despite the best preparation, training, and theoretical understanding of education, the actual skill and craft of teaching can only be mastered through experience. As novice teachers begin to better discern and understand the complexities and practicalities of teaching (including student relationships, lesson and unit planning, classroom management, differentiation, formative and summative assessment, communication, authentic engagement, higher-level thinking, etc.), they start to move from unconscious incompetence toward conscious incompetence. In other words, they begin to grasp and understand concepts and skills they haven’t yet mastered.
With the proper experience and support, teachers begin to achieve conscious competence and mastery over the skills they’ve been working to acquire; they know what they know and how they know it. Eventually, though, master teachers move into unconscious competence. This is the state of having done something well for so long that it’s difficult to remember not knowing how to do it. The original trial and error that resulted in the successful experiment has been forgotten, and the teacher no longer remembers how or why they decided on a certain system; it just works.
The goal of educational professional development is to move novice teachers out of unconscious incompetence toward conscious competence, and to move master teachers out of unconscious competence into reflective competence. In order for master teachers to achieve reflective competence, they need opportunities to engage and share practices with others in their professions. Whether through offering workshops or mentoring new teachers and university students, master teachers force themselves back into the conscious state of active reflection. Their expertise becomes something they can articulate, explain, and begin to teach others.
By pairing master teachers with novice teachers in mentoring relationships, teachers at both ends of the spectrum work actively together to achieve a high level of competency for both, resulting in better teaching across the spectrum and higher achievement for students.