My Teaching Philosophy

Goodbyes

CC Photo by Julie Davis

I last wrote a teaching philosophy when I applied for my current job back in 2008.  I haven’t had any need to revisit it until recently.  I’m putting together a proposal for a 5 year learning plan and one of the pieces of the application is my “teaching philosophy”.  I’ve tried to articulate what I think and how I feel about teaching and learning in reviewing what I wrote before and what the intervening years have shown me. Since this is only my second blog post I wanted to share it as a way of introduction.  I also plan on posting more about my project proposal in subsequent entries.  One of the stipulations for the project to be accepted is that the learning be shared and blogging seems like the ideal way to do that. It’s a real opportunity to get feedback, advice and suggestions from those who have done it before and those who are interested in trying new things themselves.  What follows is my view on what teaching and learning are, starting with a famous quote:

“Education is not preparation for life, Education is life itself” – John Dewey

Teaching is a human endeavour. We want students to find purpose and grow as human beings. The type of relationship a teacher has with his or her students, then, needs to be built on the basic foundations of healthy human interaction, namely, mutual respect, kindness and trust. This is as true in our personal lives as it is in our professional ones. Because teachers don’t always know what will take root, kindness is the rich soil that scattered seeds need to land in. Kindness is also a building block of trust. If your students do not trust you, you cannot really teach them anything. They might pick some things up but there will be no deep learning experiences. According to Stephen Brookfield in his book, The Skillful Teacher, “In speaking of transformative learning events, students often make explicit mention of how teacher’s actions, and the trust these inspire or destroy, are crucial to learning”. The easiest way to gain trust is to simply treat people like people.  Students are not subjugates, clients or consumers, they are people.

Once trust is established, knowledge can be built through the dialectic process. Teaching through dialogue makes students active participants in their own education. It is the fundamental piece of my practice. It underlies social and collaborative learning. It is the basis for differentiation. It reveals prior learning. It articulates goals and desires. It allows learning to evolve. It also exposes me to new learning opportunities of my own. By posing questions to the students and vice versa, my expertise is not presented for memorization but, instead, we find and build knowledge together. I believe this stimulates critical thought on the topic at hand and also gives the student the skills needed to think critically about all aspects of their lives.

Authenticity matters. The projects, assignments, test and quizzes I give need to resonate or they are just teaching the “shake a paw” dog trick. Sure my dog can do it but it has no meaning to her. Through project based learning, collaboration and critical feedback students are able to personalize their learning, create knowledge and develop their own thoughts. One of the most important things a teacher should do is cultivate a sense of pride in work. This is perhaps the greatest “skill” I can leave a student with. It is independent of a mark, it is independent of a career goal, it is done for its own sake and it is universal. This cannot be accomplished with busy work, authenticity matters.

To teach effectively comes naturally to some and is harder for others. No matter who you are, to teach effectively you must continually assess and reassess your practice. This means modeling lifelong learning in a real and ongoing way. Reflect on, refine or remake lessons. Borrow from and share with others. Do new things in your classroom. Read about what others are doing. Find best practices and the latest research. Teaching is never static so learning isn’t the other side of the teaching coin, it’s the gold the coin is made from.

I believe by doing these things you provide the best opportunities for students to learn. By facilitating progress and emphasizing process over product we all gain the most. The learning has the potential to be transformative for both teacher and student. We are able to find purpose and grow. Education, indeed, is life itself.

Brookfield, Stephen D., 1990, The Skillful Teacher, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, pg. 163

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