The Art and Science of Teaching

In Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, we see that he forms distinctions on the mental states of epistemé, techné, and phronesis. Educators who want to help their students flourish, must first have a firm grasp on what they are teaching. Translated scientific knowledge, epistemé combines knowledge of a teacher's discipline with educational theory. Commonly considered content knowledge, it is important for educators to have a solid understanding of the ‘what’ that they are teaching. However, it is also important that teachers have pedagogical knowledge—knowledge about the practices and processes of teaching. Aristotle calls this state of mind techné, and it is translated as craft or craft knowledge. Techné is the ‘how’ of teaching; it is comprised of the skills and techniques of good teaching, what we consider as best practices, and deals with “the most effective means to reach the goal” (Birmingham, 2004, p. 314). At the pinnacle of teaching as a moral activity is the state of phronesis, which translates as practical intelligence, practical wisdom, or prudence. Aristotle considered phronesis as an essential habit of mind and a virtue that involves individuals doing he right thing in the right place at the right time and in the right way. Demonstrating phronesis goes beyond possessing general knowledge—it is to exhibit judgment about what is an appropriate response in the particular context—and it often requires educators to reflect-in-action (Schön, 1983).

Those who have spent time in front of a group of students in a classroom know that good teaching is more than just knowing your content (epistemé) or even posessing a strong understanding of best teaching practices (techné). While knowledge of their content area provides educators with a strong foundation, and there is great wisdom in understanding methods and techniques, teaching is an intricate act that requires educators to employ sound decision making based on their knowledge of numerous internal and external factors impacting a situation.

Those who have spent time in front of a group of student in a classroom know that good teaching is an art, just as much as a science. 


Aristotle. (1872). Aristotle’s nichomachean ethics.

Birmingham, C. (2004). Phronesis: A model for pedagogical reflection. Journal of Teacher Education, 55(4), 313–324.

Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Basic Books.

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