Mastery Matters

Sep 13, 2017 | Posted by Nathan King


“Every child can learn. Everyone can do well.
You just have to create the right conditions." – Andrew Pudewa


Every student is capable of taking a journey toward becoming a confident, competent communicator. This confidence and competence in English communication comes from mastery of the language. Unfortunately, two common ideas negatively impact that journey: the belief that “difficult” study equals “better” study and the belief that innovation or self-discovery are the best places to start. While famous writers, scholars, and other communicators often have a high level of proficiency in the fields that they are known for, they did not start out as complex thinkers or jaw-dropping innovators. They began by following what is the best road to mastery in any field by first imitating, then practicing at deeper and deeper levels, and then (and only then) innovating.

Imitation has been called the sincerest form of flattery, and rightly so! To imitate something else implies that it has something to teach. Without imitation, a learner must develop everything that is good about their area of study on their own from the ground up. With imitation, a learner can benefit from the successes and failures of others who have traversed the same path that they are traveling. Besides, beginning a journey to mastery with imitation at the learner’s skill level makes logical sense. A masterful martial artist does not achieve mastery by making up his own style from the very beginning, but rather by starting with the basics. Likewise, superior swimmers do not develop their own complex strokes before learning the simple strokes developed by others.

Practice is an indispensable part of the mastery process. A student must practice his craft over and over, but he must do so by starting with the basics and then layering more and more knowledge and aptitude into his exercises. Starting with what is hard or with what requires a high level of aptitude in an area of study is a surefire way to increase stress, frustrate learning, and stifle motivation. However, by starting simply and then practicing skills relentlessly in different contexts at a progressively deeper and deeper level, students will eventually find that they can complete their exercises at will. At the end of long, progressive practice, students can freely use their skills to stylishly accomplish more complex activities with greater ease.

Innovation is the crown jewel of the mastery process. Students who have imitated great thinkers in their area of study and progressively practiced more and more complex exercises to develop the same aptitude in themselves are ready to forge new frontiers in their field. This is only truly possible in students who have put in the practice through imitation to become great at what they do.

When educators mistakenly claim innovation as the starting point rather that the worthy goal at the end, they doom students to think themselves masters when they are not and fail to give them the tools that ought to be within their reach. Alternatively, becoming a confident, competent communicator is possible through a mastery approach that stresses imitation and practice followed by innovation.


Nathan King, the customer marketing manager for IEW, grew up as the son of a pastor in Wichita, Kansas. Following his graduation from Manhattan Christian College and Kansas State University with a degree in secondary education in history, he worked for thirteen years as a youth pastor in his hometown. Since he began working for IEW, Nathan has enjoyed both the marketing and customer service sides of his position. Nathan and his wife of thirteen years, Melissa, homeschool their four children, but it is his amazing wife that does the lion’s share of this vital mission!

Live Chat with IEW