Shulman Signature Pedagogies in the Professions

Shulman, L. S. (2005). Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus, 52-59.

Summary: In this essay, Shulman defines and makes an argument for signature pedagogies in professional preparation.


Professional work  has three fundamental dimensions: (1) to think, (2) to perform, and (3) to act with integrity.

Signature pedagogies are “the forms of instruction that leap to mind when we think about the preparation of members of a particular profession” (p. 52). “They implicitly define what counts as knowledge in a field and how things become known. They define how knowledge is analyzed, criticized, accepted, or discarded. They define the functions of expertise in a field, the locus of authority, and the privileges of rank and standing” (p. 54).


Professional schools face a particular challenge: “their pedagogies must measure up to the standards not just of the academy, but also of the particular professions” (p. 53).


Professional education: “Professional education is not education for understanding alone; it is preparation for accomplished and responsible practice in the service of others” (p. 53).


Three dimensions of signature pedagogy:

  1. Surface structure – “concrete, operational acts of teaching and learning, of showing and demonstrating, of questioning and answering, of interacting and withholding, of approaching and withdrawing” (pp. 54-55)”
  2. Deep structure – “a set of assumptions about how best to impart a certain body of knowledge and know-how” (p. 54)
  3. Implicit structure – “a moral dimension that comprises a set of beliefs about the professional attitudes, values, and dispositions” (p. 54)


It is also important to identify what is missing in a signature pedagogy. They almost always involve student performance. “This emphasis on students’ active performance reduces the most significant impediments to learning in higher education: passivity, invisibility, anonymity, and lack of accountability” (p. 57).


“To put it simply, signature pedagogies simplify the dauntingly complex challenges of professional education because once they are learned and internalized, we don’t have to think about them; we can think with them” (p. 56).


“Responsible professional pedagogy must address these (inherent) tensions and provide students with the capabilities to deal with them” (p. 58).


“Finally, severe critiques of the quality of professional practice and service, which occur with great frequency these days, can accelerate the pace with which the most familiar pedagogical habits might be reevaluated and redesigned” (p. 59). This is where we find ourselves today in teacher ed with the constant critique on teacher ed and the reform calls for centering clinical practice. How will this affect the signature pedagogies of our profession now that we place clinical practice in the center of our profession?


“Signature pedagogies make a difference. They form habits of the mind, habits of the heart, and habits of the hand” (p. 59).