Teaching philosophy

I believe that [the] educational process has two sides – one psychological and one sociological – and that neither can be subordinated to the other or neglected without evil results. – John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed

I teach as I believe; my philosophy drives my methodology. Through my experiences, I have developed a series of theses that convey my beliefs about teaching and learning.

Education is a compact between learners and educators. The best teachers are willing to consider their students as collaborators and change the power structure of their classrooms in order to place more control in the hands of learners. The most successful learners are those willing to acknowledge that they have an active role to play as well, to take on more ownership of the learning environment and content, and to critically examine what is being taught, and why.

Learning occurs through connections. One of the responsibilities of a good instructor is to help students understand the relationship between what they’re learning and their own lives.  This isn’t just true for adult leaners, as Knowles proposes, but for students of all ages.  The more relevant the connection, and the more obvious it is made, the more motivated a learner will be to engage with the content.  For this reason, educators cannot dismiss the affective aspects of their classrooms – emotions help bring students closer to what they’re learning.

There is no such thing as a “single subject.” Although core classes are always separated into specific areas of focus, any good class includes content culled from across disciplines and placed in a larger context. This practice only strengthens the connections mentioned above.

Students want to be inspired, challenged, and validated.  My goals in teaching extend beyond covering content and ensuring that learners can demonstrate mastery.  I also want to make students want to learn.  I want to make them struggle at times so that they feel like they’ve earned what they’ve mastered, and I want to give them experiences that will teach them that they’re capable of such mastery over different information and in different situations.

The environment matters. The best classrooms are not just collections of independent students, but rather collaborative groups with common goals, regardless of how different individuals’ backgrounds might be.  A good teacher facilitates the relationships among learners  and pushes them to see themselves as a unified cohort.  A high-quality learning environment feels safe at all times, even when an instructor encourages risk-taking and asks students to go beyond their established comfort zones.

The classroom should be in a state of “perpetual beta.” The “Web 2.0” trend introduced the notion that a tool can still be useful and effective even when under development, and that user inputs may be employed to make immediate, beneficial changes.  I believe a similar concept applies to the classroom: that good teachers are always willing to make changes to what they’re doing based, in part, on feedback from learners.

Assessment does have a place. Evaluation of student work is important, and not just to ensure that state, local, or institutional standards are being met.  Assessment should also provide formative feedback to learners to help them improve. And, as noted above, assessment of the learning experience is also important.  Students should be given opportunities beyond a traditional course evaluation to provide feedback so that instructors have the opportunity to make changes.

Teaching should be tiring. When I leave the classroom, I’m exhausted.  I throw all of my energy into my teaching, and I think that students draw from the enthusiasm I demonstrate and my love for what I’m doing.

I work very hard in my teaching to keep these theses in mind, and to demonstrate my commitment to them.  I love teaching and working with learners, and I hope – and believe – that it shows.