Marzano, R. J. & Marzano, J. S. (2010). The Inner Game of Teaching. In R. J. Marzano (Ed.), On Excellence in Teaching. (10th ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

If you don’t–deep down–have an unshakeable belief (expectation) that your students can learn, and that you make a difference, then you will never be a successful teacher.  This is because you inner beliefs affect all of your outward actions and emotions, and without positivity in both of those, you will not positively affect student achievement.

That’s my impression after reading this chapter.  Oh, and to be a really good teacher you may need psychotherapy at some point.

Marzano and Marzano use a very instructive example in this chapter which helps to illustrate their points about how the inner game works, namely:

  1. We first start by interpreting a presenting event, i.e. students talking in the back of the room during a lecture.
  2. Next we select a desired outcome (situated goal), i.e. if we choose to react what tact do we take?

I like the example since I found myself tempted to get irritated at disengaged students at the back of the room, even though I don’t have anything in my background that would predispose me to fearing or resenting that event.  The trick is that you don’t really know why they are talking—since there are a host of motivations for that behavior—and you don’t know for sure if they are engaged or not.

Thus any defensive or personal reaction to the event seems inappropriate.  I felt a little like the Mr. Cannady (Marzano, Marzano & Pickering, 2003).  I probably would have called attention to their talking, and asked them to stop without even considering the other motivations for that talking.  At least that is what I would have done prior to reading this chapter.  Having read this chapter, I think I probably would have continued my lecture while drifting to the back of the room in an effort to get more information on what was going on back there.

Which leads us to the next points that Marzano and Marzano want to make in this chapter, namely that the inner game can be controlled metacognitively.  You must

  • First, use metacognition to control the interpretation, for which three questions are helpful.
    1. How am I interpreting this event?
    2. Does this interpretation help serve an important goal or an important principle in my life?
    3. If not, what is a more useful interpretation?
  • Then, use metacognitive control on the outcome selection.  Here, two questions to ask yourself
    1. What would this look like if it turns out well?
    2. What actions can I take to accomplish a more positive outcome?

Incidentally those of us who are parents can immediately try out some of these techniques in our parenting.  That’s a point which Marzano and Marzano don’t share, but which could be helpful to start practicing these metacognitive skills and especially under duress or on our feet.

Finally, Marzano and Marzano remind us that these metacognitive approaches can be practiced daily and benefits therefrom can be accrued over the long term.  In particular in classifying events we can get better at discerning how past experiences color our interpretations of current events.  Also, when it comes to examining our principles, if we detect a disconnect between how we act and what we claim to believe, we must should do some focused introspection, i.e “the ontological approach”.  Marzano and Marzano put it thus:

One of the ways to enact the ontological approach is through a reasoned examination of one’s behavior and the logical deduction of the basic operating principle that must be governing the behavior. Thus, a teacher would begin by examining what she actually does (as opposed to what she says she believes) and then deductively determine the basic operating principle that must govern such behavior. With a basic operating principle disclosed, an individual next examines the origins of that principle from the perspective that the principle was created by interpretations of specific life events. At the moment an individual experiences being the author of the basic operating principles governing his life, he simultaneously realizes that he has the power to change his interpretations of events as they occur.

Incidentally it all starts with reflection.  What happened in class last Thursday?  What did I want to have happen?  Why did what I want to happen, not happen?  What could I have done differently?  What prevented me from doing that, or why did I not see a better way at the time?  From that reflection we can uncover weaknesses in our metacognitive approach, or we might uncover a more serious gap in what we fundamentally believe.  This is the path to a more healthy inner game of teaching. 

P.S.  When I read the theories at the beginning of this chapter, I heard the following words of Jesus echoing throughout.

And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? (Matthew 15:16 English Standard Version)
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.  (Matthew 15:18-19 English Standard Version)


Marzano, R. J. & Marzano, J. S. (2010). The Inner Game of Teaching. In R. J. Marzano (Ed.), On Excellence in Teaching. (10th ed.). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Marzano, R. J. (with Marzano, J. S., & Pickering, D. J.). (2003). Classroom management that works: Research-based strategies for every teacher. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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  • heidirowles  On August 3, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    First of all, John, you are a fantastic writer. If you tire of your job as a teacher after a while, consider a job in journalism. I would look forward to your column each week.

    I’m thankful you included the words of Jesus at the end. When I read this chapter by Marzano & Marzano, I was thinking of the words of Jesus warning against judging your brothers and sisters in Matthew 7. He instructed his listeners to get the log out their own eye before they focused on the speck in another’s. As teachers, we need to be constantly willing to reevaluate ourselves. Like you said, this “ontological approach” begins with reflection and thinking through what did and did not work.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  • halgera  On September 5, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    I appreciated the connections you made as you shared some thoughts on this chapter. I trust that you will remember these ideas when you are faced with the challenges of the classroom.

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