Teaching philosophies and personal pedagogies lecture

Introduction

This chapter discusses two related areas; teaching philosophies, and personal pedagogies. There are many approaches to philosophy - and to education within philosophy - and the chapter seeks to sketch in some relevant ideas for your consideration. This is not a chapter that will try to teach you about philosophy; instead, it asks you to consider your approach to teaching and learning, so that you can develop your own understanding of the ideas which are important to you as regards education in both theory and practice.

The first section of the chapter discusses philosophical approaches to teaching in general terms. Significant schools of thought are summarised, and the differences between those which privilege the teacher and the learner respectively are identified. Connections between wider philosophical concerns and education are made in addition. The second element goes on to consider the relationship between an educator's personal philosophy of education and the contexts in which they might be delivering; this section makes the argument that teacher professionalism offers ways to both navigate and articulate philosophical positions in ways which are productive rather than divisive and ultimately self-defeating. The chapter's third substantive element looks at personal statement of educational philosophy, and considers the value of writing a teaching statement which encapsulates and articulates - to oneself and to others - one's philosophy of education. This section also gives information relevant to the writing of such a document, as well as to the usefulness of having, and maintaining through reflective practice, an up-to-date teaching statement. The final section of the chapter analyses some of the benefits to learners of having a personal statement in place.

Each section is accompanied with a set of reflective questions to prompt a fuller engagement with the subject matter of the chapter. A worked scenario offers further contextualisation to the topics which have been discussed.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Define philosophical approaches to teaching
  • Appreciate how personal pedagogic positions may be informed by philosophical concerns
  • Assess the role of professionalism as offering a way of balancing the personal and the contextual in education
  • Design and complete a teaching statement which articulates your philosophy of education
  • Recognise the usefulness of having articulated a teaching statement for yourself and for learners.

What is a teaching philosophy?

A teaching philosophy is a set of connected beliefs which underpin and inform how educators approach their profession, and also considers how learners are best taught. A teaching philosophy can represent personal positions about the function of education in society, the role of the educator, learner responsibilities, and the methods, theories and psychological needs being serviced by being a teacher.

Some philosophies will be informed by purely pedagogical concerns, and others by broader philosophical positions, as well as by political and cultural factors. Other philosophies will be generated by experience over time, and by the observations made by the educator over their career. Sometimes personal philosophies will be informed by the contexts of one's own education, and by the social and cultural contexts of that learning.

As a start-point, we may separate teacher-centred philosophies from student-centred ones. Teacher-centric approaches to education tend to the conservative, and privilege authority and continuity over time of long-standing principles. Student-centric approaches on the other hand, tend to be more open to subjective experience of the pupils, on the need to prepare learners for the next state in their life journey, and for developing the pupil as a whole person (Sadker and Zittleman, 2015).

Teacher-centric philosophies

  1. Essentialism: essentialism privileges a strong core curriculum and the importance of the maintenance of traditional academic standards; essentialism has a strong moral underpinning, and believes that traditional educational values tend to be the most appropriate for society.
  2. Perennialism: perennialists believe in the value of a classical education, and that great art, philosophy, and literature of the past has much to teach the young of today. Perennialists privilege the universality which they see in such foundational works, and in the role of the educator as transmitting education through the ages from the ancients.

Student-centric philosophies

  1. Progressivism: progressivist educational philosophies understand that education must have relevance for learners so that they can make meaningful sense of it. Progressivism seeks to determine the real needs of learners and designs curricula and environment which will foster growth by supporting the development of such needs.
  2. Social reconstructionism: social reconstructivists believe in the potential for education to overcome structural issues in society through education; education and other forms of social action are necessary in order that the most disadvantaged in society are given a fairer chance at a good and productive life.
  3. Existentialism: an existentialist approach to education values the free will of individual learners and sees education as a mechanism by which young people can design themselves and so mould their potential to maximum effect. Existentialism supports the perception of learners as rational and unique individuals, and supports their developing agency and self-determinism.

Such abstract and theoretical positions may be reflected in educational policy and practice, as well as the actions and beliefs of individual educators. For example, teacher-centric approaches will focus on the hierarchical control of the curriculum, the teaching day, and on the content of lessons. There will be a tendency to privilege Western conceptions of knowledge, and on the value of the past in providing lessons for the present. Learner-centric approaches differ, in that rather than assuming that didactic teaching is appropriate, a facilitative mode of teaching is preferred, putting the learner at the centre of the teaching interaction. Progressives might look for vocationally-relevant and experiential learning which has relevance to the social worlds of contemporary learners; social reconstructivists see part of the project of education to address what is broken in communities, and would work to see learners educated in ways which would benefit society as a whole. Existentialists, on the other hands, would strive to have learners be autonomous, and be able to define themselves with total freedom and independent choice (Sadker and Zittleman, 2015).

There are connections to be made between pedagogic theories, developmental and cognitive psychology, and teaching philosophy. One tends to support the other in meaningful and at-times mutually-reinforcing ways. Social constructivists, for example, would see the relevance of supportive pedagogies which articulate the learning theories of theorists such as Vygotsky; theory and practice combine here to inform a philosophy of education. Often, the links that we make when exposed to learning theories and to the psychological aspects of education, learning, and child development have instructive worth when we are considering our value systems as educators. Beyond this, education itself is a field of philosophical enquiry, and the nature and purpose of education has been a topic discussed in Western culture since the time of the ancient Greeks (Phillips and Seigel, 2013).

Other philosophical concepts and approaches may have a bearing on the way we, as teacher, approach our work. Often, though, we may not have the technical vocabulary to be able to put these positions into words. However, there is a place for teachers to consider their standpoints in relation to a number of concerns which are central to the subject area of philosophy (Sadker and Zittleman, 2015). Such areas include:

  • Metaphysics: this is the area of philosophical inquiry that is concerned with the nature of reality, how it is structured, and where it originates. Metaphysical concerns may impact on how we approach questions related to the value of the study of the physical world, and on the environment, or should there be instead a privileging on moral and ethical issues, and on faith?
  • Epistemology: epistemology is concerned with the truth-value of things, and with the extent and limits of human understanding. For Sadker and Zittleman (2015), there are direct connections to be made between how we conceive of knowledge and understanding, and how we can teach and evidence that learning has taken place.
  • Ethics: ethical concerns include the nature of good and evil in how people act and interact in society. There are ethical questions involved in the ways in which education models and privileges certain kinds of behaviour over others, and the ways in which it might be seen to restrict certain kinds of expression and behaviour, and support others.
  • Political philosophy: As education is a function of government, there are inevitable political questions raised at times. Some of these questions, will be concerned with policy and interpretation of national policy locally, some may relate to the privileging of certain political values over others in teaching topics. Other aspects of political philosophy may relate to micro-climates such as the politics of the classroom and the exercise of power, authority, and control within the lesson.
  • Aesthetics: aesthetic questions can be raised in terms of art, drama, literature, and music, and in other expressive contexts such as sport and games. The value of art to society and to education, the place of beauty, and of merit are all topic areas which may be raised in contexts as varied as the selection of texts of study to the nature of engagement with out-of-hours activities for learners.

Though teachers are not expected to be philosophers in the sense of being experts in that subject area, there are nevertheless multiple ways in which aspects of philosophy may impact on how we conceptualise teaching in theory and practice, and in the ways in which we conduct ourselves as educators (Phillips and Seigel, 2013).

Ultimately, teachers are educated, intelligent, informed and engaged people. Teaching does not occur in a vacuum, but in complicated combinations of geographical, situational, political, and social climates. Each of these may have a moderating effect on the educator, and the educator on them. It is useful for teachers to have an appreciation of themselves in philosophical terms, so that they can better work and be productive in their settings, and in the broader cultural frameworks in which they teach. The next section discusses some of these issues in more depth.

Reflection

This section contains a great deal of information. Go back and make notes on any sub-sections where it is useful to do so before continuing with the chapter.

How philosophical are you? Does consideration of such approaches to knowledge and belief systems come easily to you, or does it feel artificial or even meaningless? Why do you think you feel this way? Do you align more closely with teacher-centric or learner-centric philosophies? Or a mix of the two?

Are you a political person? And in what sense? Party politics, environmentalism, identity politics, issue-based campaigning, religious and/or spiritual views? To what extent do your beliefs inform your outlook on life? To what extent does you outlook on life come first, and from this you work out what you privilege?

Is education political, or not? How might you defend your position? How might you oppose it?

How can a teacher balance their personal philosophy of education with core theory / legal and policy frameworks?

Often, a teacher's personal philosophy of education will be a product, at least some extent, of their engagement with academic and pedagogic theory, their classroom experiences - both as a teacher and as a pupil in childhood and in adult life - and with the wider contexts of their practice. Such contexts may include the organisational culture of the setting in which one is teaching, the climates of individual classes, contexts related to subject-specifics and to curricular questions, and to the prevailing political moods of the day, particularly as it impacts of government educational policy and reactions to that policy.

As such, a teacher's individual position to the wider contexts of their practice will be in flux, and may sometimes come into conflict with aspects of policy or locally-enacted practice. The challenge for the educator is to navigate these situational issues. It is conceivable that the conflict is so deep and so central to an individual's moral and ethical framework that they are unable to continue in a role. Such situations may sound rare, but they are not unknown. Alternatively, an educator's philosophy of education may preclude them from seeking out certain roles or posts; many teachers, for example, are not interested in management careers in education as they feel that doing so might compromise their educational beliefs. Others, for example, would never countenance working in an independent school because of political or ethical standpoints which run counter to the perception of privilege and unfair advantage that private education might seem to represent. Others may seek out such positions for precisely the same reasons; that there is a fit between what is offered and the opinions and beliefs of the educator.

Having an articulated and coherent personal educational philosophy can help crystallise a teacher's views. This can draw parameters and give a reasoned underpinning for having beliefs; the section which follows explores the devising of such position statements in more detail. For many, though, there will be opportunities to articulate their personal teaching philosophies within the frameworks provided by curricular and policy networks at governmental level and within the setting. The key here is the development of professionalism as an approach to one's pedagogy. Professionalism goes beyond the capable performance of one's role, and can include the informed and engaged interaction with the contexts of one's teaching. For some, this will mean training and development, for others, engagement with committees and working parties. Others will maintain a keen general interest in politics and culture, and in relevant developments in educational policy and practice. Some may become involved in trades unions or other forms of representative working.

Professionalism can be articulated through the following principles (ATL, 2012):

  • That teaching involves learning, not only about the development and maintenance of subject specialisms, but in the contexts of how, where, and why learning takes place;
  • That teaching involves the fostering of professional relationships with learners, families, peers, and with line management, and that the central role of the teacher involves responsibility for learners, and the development of pupils;
  • That professionalism requires that suitable and varied techniques and strategies, as informed by theoretical knowledge, are applied to support teaching and learning;
  • That professionalism requires the appropriate use of judgement in all relevant situations;
  • That there needs to be a balance drawn between teachers' own value-systems and their responsibilities as educators and employees; similarly, the autonomy of the educator needs to be balanced against the exercise of appropriate and relevant accountability;
  • That it is responsible for educators to be involved in educational debates, not least because they are the experts in the field, and they are the people who will put policy and theory into practice.

Individual teachers will be attracted to some pedagogic approaches and be disinclined toward others. Likewise, aspects of the political and cultural relationships within which education is delivered may be problematic or troubling. The way to navigate such issues is through an appropriately professional attitude and performance, and through working with processes rather than against them, and by offering constructive criticism as well as support where and to whom appropriate to the context.

Reflection

What kinds of unprofessionalism in education have you encountered before? How did that make you feel?

Conversely, who are the most professional educators that you have experienced? In what way/s did you feel their professionalism was evident?

How would you react if asked to teach something which you disagreed with vehemently? How might you navigate such a situation professionally?

How can a teacher ascertain and describe their personal teaching philosophy? How does this impact upon their teaching/ pedagogy?

A philosophy of teaching may only emerge over time. Many people, when either contemplating a career in education, as part of their reflective practice while training, or when in position as an educator, find that personal perspectives towards education provoke themselves or are challenged in various ways by the conjunction of their core beliefs, their experiences, and their developing knowledge. A teaching philosophy may even be apparent to others in the way that a person conducts themselves within their professional interactions, but may not yet be obvious to the person.

One way to explore what one's teaching philosophy might be is to examine oneself. Records of reflection and continuous professional development logs may be of value here. It might be useful to read back through such documents and make notes on commonalities of approach and opinion which present themselves. Another, and somewhat allied, way of conceptualising what one's teaching philosophy might be is to write a teaching statement.

Teaching statements

A teaching statement is an outline of one's own philosophy of teaching. Sometimes called a statement of teaching philosophy, it is an articulation of one's own positions towards the profession and one's position in it. A statement should also discuss the practical implications of such beliefs, such as including worked examples of how one approaches the classroom.

Teaching statements are useful for several reasons. First, it focuses and helps define what might be nebulous and vague feelings and perceptions, and helps you articulate to yourself and to others - peers, students, potential employers in interview situations - your approach to education. Second, it can act as a preamble to the CPD file; the teaching statement being an abstract which summarises and defines the contexts in which the file refers to. Third, a statement is challenging, in that it forces the teacher to confront and reappraise their beliefs and positions from time to time. For that reason alone, a written teaching statement is not a definitive and permanent document, but should be revised or updated periodically to ensure that it remains a valid summary of one's philosophy.

Writing a teaching statement

A teaching statement does not have to be a long and involved document. Often, such statements of philosophy are between 500 and 1000 words in length. This sub-section offers some pointers on how to go about compiling a teaching statement.

First, collate some ideas onto paper. This is the raw material for your statement; it is not the final product. Do not worry if this is a long, rambling document at first, or if it takes time to compile. Some of the prompt questions here may take some time for you to arrive at clear responses.

  1. What is learning? Try to conceptualise what learning means to you. How do you know that learning has taken place? You can think of your own learning, or that of others.
  2. What do you understand 'teaching' to be? In this section, you may wish to consider what your underpinning values and beliefs are as an educator. Think also how this translates into action in the classroom. What is your function as a teacher: are you primarily an instructor, a facilitator, a communicator as possible examples?
  3. What are your ambitions for your pupils? What competencies are you working to have your learners develop? What would an ideal student be like in your conception?
  4. Do you have preferred methods? What works best for you in the classroom? What works best for your learners from you? What is your relationship towards learning theory, to academic pedagogy, and to its practical applications? Do you default to positions that you recognise as being core aspects of certain schools of thought? Do you cherry-pick from multiple educational paradigms? And why are you drawn to such positions, or what informs your individual synthesis of differing approaches to the ways that people learn?
  5. What are your relationships to learners? How do you interact with your pupils? How to they respond to you?
  6. How are the above made real in the classroom? Think in terms of relevant examples of your philosophy in action; this may be apparent in the design and decoration of your base room, in certain assessments, in notable learner engagements and achievements, in your relationships with peers and colleagues.
  7. What is your approach to assessment? How do you feel about different kinds of assessment? Is summative assessment more or less valuable than formative learning? Are there certain kinds of assessment which you prefer, and some that you dislike or find inefficient? How do you substantiate these points?
  8. Professional development. How do you continue to develop as an educator? What are your current goals, and what progress are you making towards their achievement? What new skills are you going to learn? How have you changed over time? In what ways has the current teaching philosophy statement evolved from previous iterations?

With this raw material, you can begin to structure the first draft proper of your teaching statement. One way to do this is to straightforwardly summarise what you have collected together under headings like the ones used above; one paragraph per section might be a way to approach this (University of Minnesota, 2015b). Alternatively, re-read the notes which you have made and look for repeating ideas, and thematic concerns which are emerging from your initial work. Some of these may be deliberate, others you may be less conscious of; sometimes the process of writing a philosophy of teaching statement can be revelatory. Try to think now also of specific examples which will add texture to the statement. Do not rely on assertion alone to carry the meaning of the document. Now put the draft away - let some time elapse between the initial writing and drafting of the document, and final revisions. In this way, you will generate some academic distance from the words on the paper or on the screen; you will be able to edit with your head, and not your heart.

After editing (or even before, if you think it will help you structure your thoughts) consider allowing others to read and comment on your work. Colleagues can give useful feedback not only on the writing itself, but on whether there is a discernible match between the person presented in the document, and the author. If your colleagues have their own philosophy statements, it may be useful to read theirs too.

After revisions, consider the content of the statement. These prompts may be of use:

  • Is the statement clearly focused? Are its themes evident? Is jargon and meaningless assertion avoided?
  • Does it communicate the voice of its author?
  • Does the document make clear the nature of the educational commitment of its author?
  • How does it communicate engagement with and enthusiasm for education?
  • In what ways it is a convincing and persuasive document?
  • Would you like to be taught by the person encapsulated by the statement?
  • Are beliefs related to specifics?
  • Are beliefs connected to subject specialisms in meaningful ways?
  • Does the statement show that a standpoint has been taken?
  • Does the statement indicate that this is a considered and thoughtful document?

Examples of completed teaching statements may be found widely on the internet. Links to some such examples are included in the reference list (e.g. University of Minnesota, 2015a). You will also find several possible templates to help structure your teaching statement online; again, one such example is included in the references at the end of the chapter (University of Minnesota, 2016).

Impact of a teaching statement

You may find that the experience of writing a teaching statement for the first time is difficult, and that putting into words your perceptions of your approach to education may be less straightforward than you anticipated. Too often - perhaps not least when first learning to teach - we are preoccupied with what we have to learn and do, and are less focused as a consequence on why. The experience of writing a statement may bring the core reasons for your engagement with education as a profession into the forefront of your thinking.

The statement will offer ample opportunities and inspiration for reflection, and you may find that you go back to the statement in the weeks after completing it as you continue to refine your conceptualisation about who you are as a teacher. You may find also that the statement gives you a set of expectations to live up to; that the version of yourself in the statement represents a more perfect you, and as such, the statement clarifies a quality threshold for your teaching. It may be used as a way to reflect on sessions; did I meet the standards set in the statement? Did I exemplify the values which I privilege?

The statement can also operate as a reward structure; by assessment against the statement, you can recognise when your performance in a session has been at its optimum, and explore whether your work has not only been true to the core educational values held, but has been executed with diligence and with coherence to the moral framework described in the philosophy. As such, a statement of philosophy can be freeing, as it validates performance and can reconfirm existing values. Furthermore, there will be times when inspiration is failing, when goals might be suspended, and when there is a perception that teaching has become flat and dull. A re-engagement with the teaching statement, and perhaps a reassessment of the purpose and philosophy behind one's engagement with the profession can be instructive (Zauha, 2009).

Reflection

Take each sub-section in turn. Work through each element to produce at least a sketchy first draft of a teaching statement. To what extent does it resemble the teacher that you think you are?

Come back to this task in a week's time. Revise the original draft. Continue to work through the section, developing a teaching statement as you go.

Look at sample teaching statements online. What kinds appeal to you, and what kinds are less attractive? Consider this in respect of both form and content.

Ask your peers. Who has a teaching statement? Who keeps theirs up to date? Who does neither of these? Try to arrange a critical friend to read your statement when you are ready.

How does having and channelling a personal teaching philosophy benefit learners?

It may sound straightforward to say that learners will tend to benefit from engaged and motivated teachers. The point sounds obvious, but it is nevertheless true. If may be that in your setting - or in settings yet to be encountered - that there are educators who are not so enthused about their profession. As in any aspect of professional life, in education there are those who are time-serving, who are inspirational, or who may even seem not to care. Such people may have a negative effect not only on the learning impacted upon in specific lessons or subjects but across learners' whole educational experience. Though we may all at times have crises of professionalism, or be burdened by workplace stress or anxiety, there is an imperative that this should not cause learners to be inconvenienced; to some extent at least, the teaching statement can play a part.

The statement on its own is of little use except as a memory; it remains as a file or a few sheets of paper in the front of a folder. However, if the statement is enacted, then it has real meaning, and such meaningfulness can be experienced by learners. Educators who are engaged, enthusiastic, and who have both purpose and direction to their teaching and their learners will be better received than their disengaged peers, and the subject being taught will be given life and relevance by the approach given it. Pupils are receptive to focus and to being positively challenged; and if this is matched with care for their outcomes, then there will tend to be engagement with both the teacher and the subject.

The teaching statement can also be used in other practical ways, Though the whole document may be impractical to use, an edited version of it can be shared with pupils as part of a learning contract between teacher and class. Having mutual expectation, not just of behaviour, but of approach to class and of working in certain positive ways can also reinforce the unity between pupils and teacher as the whole class works together to achieve session and curricular outcomes.

A teaching philosophy also means that the educator is engaged in an ongoing process of reassessment of their skills, competencies, abilities, and philosophical outlook on education. This can translate into experimentation, a willingness to try new tactics in class, fresh ways of sharing knowledge and in provoking learners to re-appraise their own learning strategies. If a teacher is invested in their own development, then that also communicates to learners in meaningful ways (Lone and Burroughs, 2016).

Studies repeatedly show that staff who are engaged and motivated have a positive effect on learners; those making a critical and proactive investment in their own professionalism by investigating and defining their philosophical standpoint too education can exemplify this to learners. Where educators foster an environment conducive to learning, then this has the effect of stimulating pupils positively to engage and to work towards succeeding (Trowler, 2010).

There are, in short, a number of benefits to manifesting a philosophy of teaching; not only is engagement fostered, and direction and purpose engaged, but there is a sense of investment and care in the learners which communicated to pupils and to colleagues alike. Benefits can only result from this, not least when other peers notice such positive tendencies, and work similarly in their own teaching practice.

Reflection

In what other ways might a teaching statement be useful to learners? In what ways would a learning statement from pupils be of use to you as their teacher?

Look again at the draft of your teaching statement. How do you embody this to learners, and in what ways can you evidence this back in your statement?

Conclusion

Teachers do not work in isolation. The contexts of teaching are multiple: there are subject-specific concerns, questions related to the level, age, and maturity of learners, the setting where delivery occurs, the wider social, geographical, and political cultures in which teaching occurs, amongst other things, to consider. Add to that our own educational experiences, incoming preferences, dispositions, likes and dislikes, our moral and ethical frameworks, and the moderating effect of the academic and vocational study of teaching and education.

It may take time for a personal philosophy of education to fully emerge; taking into consideration the diversity of potential influences on our feelings, perceptions, and intellectual focuses, that is perhaps not surprising. But it is nevertheless well worth considering, and reflecting on again at periodic intervals, what teaching means to us, how we are constructed in part by our influences, and the nature of decisions and choices we make that in turn have an impact on the learning of others. The value of doing so is that we have given time to such consideration, and can therefore reappraise them, as well as put them into operation in our teaching and in our wider professional lives as educators, and so make valid and informed contributions informed by a combination of moral, ethical, and philosophical considerations.

Reflection

Now we have completed this chapter, you should be able to:

  • Define philosophical approaches to teaching
  • Appreciate how personal pedagogic positions may be informed by philosophical concerns
  • Assess the role of professionalism as offering a way of balancing the personal and the contextual in education
  • Design and complete a teaching statement which articulates your philosophy of education
  • Recognise the usefulness of having articulated a teaching statement for yourself and for learners.

Reference list

ATL (2012) Position statement: teacher professionalism. Available at: https://www.atl.org.uk/Images/Teacher%20professionalism%20-%20April%202012.pdf (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Boye, A. (2012) Writing your teaching philosophy. Available at: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/tlpdc/Resources/Teaching_resources/TLPDC_teaching_resources/Documents/WritingYourTeachingPhilosophywhitepaper.pdf (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Carnegie Mellon University (2014) Writing your teaching philosophy statement. Available at: https://www.cmu.edu/gcc/handouts/Teaching%20Philosophy%20Handout.pdf (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Feinberg, J. (2014) Wordle: Beautiful word clouds. Available at: http://www.wordle.net/ (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Lone, J.M. and Burroughs, M.D. (2016) Philosophy in education: questioning and dialogue in schools. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Phillips, D.C. and Siegel, H. (2013) Philosophy of education. Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/education-philosophy/#DifBodWorTraIncFie (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Sadker, D.M. and Zittleman, K.R. (2015) Teachers schools and society: a brief introduction to education. 4th edn. New York: McGraw Hill Higher Education.

Trowler, V. (2010) Student engagement literature review. Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/studentengagementliteraturereview_1.pdf (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

University of Minnesota (2015a) Teaching philosophy statement examples. Available at: https://cei.umn.edu/support-services/tutorials/writing-teaching-philosophy/teaching-philosophy-samples (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

University of Minnesota (2015b) Writing a teaching philosophy. Available at: https://cei.umn.edu/support-services/tutorials/writing-teaching-philosophy (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

University of Minnesota (2016) Teaching philosophy template. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5x7J1Vso_k6dE52LTdKclhqaEk/view (Accessed: 11 December 2016).

Zauha, J.M. (2009) 'The importance of a philosophy of teaching statement to the teacher/librarian', Communications in Information Literacy, 2(2), pp. 64-66. doi: 10.7548/cil.v2i2.57.

Scenario

Question

As part of a training event, you have been asked to lead a workshop session with teaching colleagues on developing statements of teaching philosophy. How might you deliver such a session so that it meaningful to others, not least for your colleagues' learners?

Answer

First, agree a definition of what a teaching philosophy might encompass. Use Post-It notes to gather ideas from peers working on their own, and collate these ideas on a whiteboard for discussion. Have some definitions as back-up just in case, but it may well be that a workable definition can be generated from the keywords on the Post-Its alone.

Look particularly for recurring word and phrases. Do these commonalties suggest that people are thinking together along the right lines or that there are similar misconceptions across the group, for example? The direction indicated by the keywords which you have collected will be a stimulus for debating incoming preconceptions as well as establishing the definitions being used in the session.

Work from this to consider the component parts of a teaching philosophy statement. Again, this can be workshopped - perhaps as a group exercise - before the groups come back and report to the class on their findings. Components may include (though may not be limited to):

  • Definitions of teaching and of learning
  • Nature of teaching specialisms
  • Preferred teaching styles
  • Attitude to learner/teacher relationships
  • Pedagogical theory privileged
  • Preferred assessment methods
  • Focus on professional development

Have different templates on hand for exemplars, but first, working from these subject areas, have groups devise formats to construct teaching statements from. Once such formats have been devised, they can be discussed for their usefulness, perhaps be sharing with other groups.

Now look at the exemplars. Have both completed and blank template versions to hand. Completing a statement within a training session is an impractical thing to ask, as it takes time, but there is value in discussing how this might be done. What resources might colleagues draw upon, for example?

When discussing resources, ensure that colleagues consider each other; the training event can be a useful opportunity for peers to form pacts with each other for mutual support purposes, so they have a critical friend to provide feedback on their drafts.

Now think about presentation. A text document is the standard way of presenting a personal statement of this kind, but are there alternatives? Ask the group for solutions to this.

One way to take a teaching statement and derive from it a simple, visually-stimulating and direct resource which may be useful not only to a teacher but to learners is to convert the text into a word cloud. Several online applications offer this facility; recurring words are grouped by size in order of frequency. One such example is Wordle (Feinberg, 2014). Word clouds can be customised to maximise the visual appeal of the final image. This can be of use not only to those looking at the document to discern themes which recur, but may also be an interesting delivery prompt to learners; the word cloud acts as a promise to them that these are your main points of focus as an educator. Simple visualisations like this offer immediacy, directness, and can be more stimulating talking points than text documents. In addition, the responses returned by the word cloud generation software can be surprising, and may provoke connections that had not previously been apparent.

It would be useful to have use of an internet connection and a whiteboard so that word clouds of statements can be trialled live in group; otherwise, you could have text versions and the corresponding word cloud to hand so that the similarities and differences between the two may be appreciated.

As a summative activity, ask the group to agree to feed back their responses by means of producing a word could and sharing it; these can easily be collated into a single file and distributed back to the group to close the activity. This will also secure a commitment from each member of staff present to both complete a personal statement of teaching philosophy, and to evidence that through the sharing of the resultant word cloud. Be prepared to follow this up; sometimes the initial enthusiasm from a training event can dissipate, but a reminder email sent a few days later, with a note of the deadline for return of the word cloud, should be sufficient prompt. If some have responded early, then these examples can be included in the reminder email as a further incentive, as well as examples of good practice and professionalism in engagement with the training event. 


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