Learning and Teaching Philosophy? What Are Your Essential Messages?

3 Sep

I.  It’s the start of an academic year.  Let the learning and teaching begin. 

Okay, let me redirect this a bit: Let the taking account of your knowing, learning and teaching philosophy begin.  We who are part of this higher education fabric certainly all go into classrooms infused with ideas about knowing, learning and teaching.  We are awash with tacit and implicit ideas about what counts as knowledge, what ways of knowing are best, and what believe to be valuable as identities and roles and expectations and characteristics of learners and teachers and knowledge.

Wherever you are on that continuum from “newish” teacher like the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who will come into my Teaching in Higher Education course this Friday to that place of “established” teacher like me with 30 years of classroom teaching experience, odds are that unless you’re about to enter the job market or turn in a tenure or promotion dossier you have not recently revisited your own “teaching philosophy.”  In fact, you may have never composed a traditional teaching philosophy narrative or statement.

Now, for the space of this blog post, my request is that you step back from course design and class session planning to think for a bit about how you view knowing, teaching, learning; knowledge, teachers, learners; learning for now, learning for life, learning across a life.

Here’s how I have been asking people new to developing a learning and teaching philosophy statement to begin generative writing as part of that thinking – thinking that leads to clarifying and naming essential messages or statements about knowing , learning and teaching:

Tell the stories that would reveal the “ideal impact” you want your course to have on students – while they’re first learning with you and in their worlds up to 50 years beyond their time in your unique classroom.

Describe who you are as a teacher and your common teaching practices.

Name your ideas about learners and your practice for engaging learning.

And, as a last component, I ask that this generative writing be shaped into six statements to be shared with others.  The statements can be a collection of phrases of up to six words and of sentences about the length of a typical Tweet, 140 characters.  Writers may opt to include visual component – a diagram, a sketch, a collage, a photograph – with any or all of the six statements as verbal components.

For example, the statements I composed when it I took on my own assignment with a group of Mayo Clinic postdoctoral fellows and early career researchers were these:

  • More learning for more students. (5 words; all three: impact, learning and teaching)
  • Multicultural learning and teaching is everyone’s every day work. Period. (75 characters; learning and teaching, teachers and learners)
  • As a teacher I work in a classroom alongside learners not on a course for the department. (91 characters; teaching and teachers)
  • Classroom climate as “persons connected in a net of relationships with people who care about each other’s learning as well as their own.” (131 characters; learners and learning)
  • What can I do about that?  (6 words; ideal impact)
  • “Yes, and…” thinking replaces “Yes, but… arguing” (okay, 7 words; ideal impact)

Writing out the statements as a follow up to the generative writing prompted me to identify not only two principles I’d never articulated but also a generated a 7th principles that surprised me –  I hadn’t been aware how regularly I enacted in practice the idea that “Music, writing, technology, images, drawing, oration and movement belong in all courses.”  I was sending this message in my course design, assignments and activities, but had not acknowledge the scope of communication modes I expected students to use in the outcomes or syllabus narrative.

Being in the midst of newish teachers composing knowing, teaching and learning statements reminded me of teaching philosophy shared by three University of Minnesota professors in two examples:

The Three Be’s for Teaching – shared with the Preparing Future Faculty staff through co-teachers Bud Markhart and Steve Simmons.  Three key concepts.  Can be as eloquently, simply stated as these lines from a Steve Simmons write up suggest:

  • Being prepared includes keeping abreast of the sumbject matter and assuring that the logistical aspects of your course are well executed.
  • Being concerned and being yourself is expressed in many ways, from bringing useful anecdotes into the classroom based on your personal experiences to believing that student [questions] are important when they deal with student needs and concerns.  Taking time to listen is always important.

Or consider these Teaching Tips from Donald Liu, which serve as a one-page introduction to the full six-page narrative philosophy Liu presented at a symposium on “Teaching Tips from Top Teachers” presented by the American Agricultural Economics Association’s 2006 Award Recipients.  Here Liu sets out teaching characteristics and learning practices he aspires to incorporate in classes large and small, undergraduate and graduate, in and beyond classrooms:

Or maybe you could be inspired – as I have been – by my Fall 2011 GRAD 8101 / Teaching in Higher Education students who each created a three-slide set for an interactive presentation that would – in five minutes time – introduce principles and practices for learning to students who would be enrolled in courses the GRAD8101ers were designing.

When I accepted the challenge this summer – offered up by scores of recent and past students who knew that I fused the elements of my learning and teaching philosophy into course syllabi – to create one or more stand alone knowing, learning and teaching philosophy documents, the first one I created followed the three slides model, and will be part of my GRAD 8101 course this term as I introduce course learning practices and expectations.  My sample 3×3 slide deck looks like this – one slide acknowledging the full range of learners, one characterizing learning processes, and one setting out learning practices in light of classroom activities and course assignments.

So that the slides can stand alone after an interactive presentation, the narrative informing my extemporaneous presentation lives in the Notes field of the PowerPoint slides.  Not only will students have resources and ideas at hand even after the presentation, my colleges can offer feedback and will be able to push back when these slides make their way to the Slideshare or Scribd or personal blog sites where things by @IleneDawn live in public view.

II.  A teaching philosophy is a complex set of practices that is grounded and principled but not rule governed.

The fuller version of this idea from Lee Shulman – who in turn credits Donald Schön – is this:  “A teaching philosophy is a complex set of practices that is grounded and principled but not rule governed; joined with reflective practice; infused with examples of practice (teacher, student, peers, literature).”

Stephen Brookfield, in The Skillful Teacher, notes that as a personal document a teaching philosophy is necessary to “personal sanity and morale” and offers “a distinctive organizing vision – a clear picture of why you are doing what you are doing that you can call up at points of crisis.”

And, in describing the pedagogical purpose of a teaching philosophy, Brookfield writes, “Teaching is about making some kind of dent in the world so that the world is different than it was before you practiced your craft. Knowing clearly what kind of dent you want to make in the world means that you must continually ask yourself the most fundamental evaluative questions of all – What effect am I having on students and on their learning?”

In short, the content of a learning and teaching philosophy holds together – and holds for personal as well as public study – an organizing vision for now and proposes a plan for practices that will grow into the future.

As academics, most of us have gotten to this 21st century teaching and learning work by way of 20th century rules formalizing ways of writing about, conveying and documenting our ideas about academic work.  As reported in the Resources noted below – the formalized requirement is to create a “teaching philosophy” as a narrative of 1-2 pages that includes:

  • your conception of teaching and learning,
  • goals for student learning, generally / student learning outcomes, specific course
  • a description of how you teach,
  • justification for why you teach that way, and
  • practices that animate an inclusive learning environment.

And that, furthermore:

  • demonstrates that you have been reflective and purposeful about your teaching;
  • communicates your goals as an instructor and your corresponding actions in the classroom;
  • provides an opportunity to point to and tie together the other sections of your portfolio; and
  • outlines plans for on-going professional development as part of a reflective plan drawing on one’s own reflection from the midst of teaching, student comments, peer observations, research-based literature related to teaching & learning.

Notice that the items listed here don’t ask us to consider gaps in our knowledge or gaps between our learning and teaching hopes and our actual practices.  Given that learning comes from identification of gaps in knowledge from which we create plans for constructing new meaning, I ask people working with me in developing  new or first or revised learning and teaching philosophy documents to:

1) Review the generative writings – reported in section one above – with three more prompts in mind:

2) List verbs to depict the full range of learning a student would need to engage in order to act out the things you call for in your ideal impact statement.

3) List verbs that will convey what you’ve said about expectations for learning and practices in teaching.

4) Identify gaps between what you set out in item #2 and item #3 in order to make visible the teaching and learning work you have yet to do in order to offer the sort of teaching and learning that will provoke the ideal impact you seek.

One gap I’ve detected in the process of composing and sharing teaching philosophies is this huge one:  We write them with administrative timelines, guidelines, audiences and formats in mind while we say that these documents are about teacher-student interactions, places of interacting, modes of interaction, and means of communicating.  In short, we don’t share what could be the most vital thinking and writing we do regarding knowing, teaching and learning with our students as part of classroom activities or in the public course-related documents we share with them.

And in a 21st century based in complex learning, it’s not just a “teaching philosophy” we’re called to consider and create any longer.  The philosophies we select, shape and share will need to be – at minimum – learning and teaching philosophies that will sustain continued learning beyond our classrooms.   Ideally, these will be philosophies that set out our ideas about knowing – epistemological views, and about complex acting in the world  – engagement views.  This documentation will require newer forms, formats and forums: electronic presentations for students, one-page positioning papers shaping analysis through visual and verbal components; blogs that sustain reflection, invite reflexive feedback, and further formative development of academic philosophies and practices; open access portfolios that demonstrate professional growth thorough reflection, feedback, revision and action planning.

So, in closing, this one more prompt that I offered to the Mayo audience: Where and how will you share your learning and teaching philosophy principles and practices with the 21st century audiences who encounter you and your teaching?  Consider whether to use participatory media – blogs, Twitter, open access documents.  Ask how you might repurpose established technologies – presentation software and word processing packages – to visualize and verbalize your learning and teaching practices as part of interacting with the learners in your classrooms and the learning peers in and beyond the places where your teaching happens.

III.  What are your philosophies of knowing, learning and teaching?

In addition to those Section I prompts that I ask of newish to teaching folks or brand new composers of philosophy statements, I have developed a new set of questions for experienced teachers:

What does it mean to teach well? to teach openly?

How do I explain learning – what it means to learn well and what it takes to make that happen: in general? as part of my course activities and assessment plans? as students work with one another? through comments and examples from past students?

How do I make room for new learning and expect surprises in learning?  And what will I make of those moments?

Resources

University of Minnesota
http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/tutorials/philosophy/create/index.html
http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/tutorials/philosophy/index.html.

Ohio State University
http://ucat.osu.edu/portfolio/philosophy/Phil_guidance.html
http://ucat.osu.edu/teaching_portfolio/philosophy/philosophy2.html

University of Michigan
www.crlt.umich.edu/tstrategies/tstpts

 

Sample Learning and Teaching Philosophies Noted in this Post

  • Three Be’s document,
  • Teaching Tips full document, and 
  •  IleneDawn’s sample 3×3 slide set are available at UMinnTeachLearn’s Slideshare page.

And you’re always invited to make use of Comments here to add links to examples you know and recommend we review. 

Advertisements

6 Responses to “Learning and Teaching Philosophy? What Are Your Essential Messages?”

  1. Cristina Costa 23 September 2012 at 4:59 am #

    Awesome blogspost. We are about to write our own teaching philosophies as part of the #TESSGTA programme. I think your post is really spot on and I am going to sign post it to the students taking part in #TESSGTA.

    I was also very impressed by the 3 Be’s and I think I will use them too. Thanks for sharing. They really convey well the practices of teachers. We will always be concerned no matter how well prepared we are; yet I cannot help but being myself. That’s when I get in my own element.

    We are coming from a different starting point in that we are going to write the teaching philosophies without being exposed to any initial theoretical background and then work on the literature until we review our teaching philosophies again in the last week of the programme. The idea is to develop a sense of reflection from day one. Let’s see how it works. It would be great at some point to share teaching philosophies across the two programmes as a way of weaving that wider network.

    We will be keeping everyone posted by using #TESSGTA on twitter

    Thanks for this great blogpost!

  2. Ilene Dawn Alexander (@IleneDawn) 25 September 2012 at 10:56 am #

    Love when the writing begins with the person who’s doing the thinking and feeling about learning and teaching, and that – as Robert Boice would put it – “begins before you’re ready.” That beginning of reflection place. A first draft of a learning and teaching philosophy is due during Class 5 of the Teaching in Higher Education course – by then students will have done generative reflective writing each week in and out of class, with nary a sample philosophy statement made available until well after that first draft has drawn comments from peer and teacher readers based on a writer’s own questions. Each time students weave visions and practices, statements and examples with a personal and engaged voice. Looking forward to #TESSGTA writing coming together about the same time as the #ida8101 writing!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Learning and Teaching Philosophy? Got one you openly share with ... | Tradition and Innivation in 21st Century Education | Scoop.it - 3 September 2012

    […] I. It's the start of an academic year. Let the learning and teaching begin. Okay, let me redirect this a bit: Let the taking account of your knowing, learning and teaching philosophy begin. We who are part of this higher education …  […]

  2. Learning and Teaching Philosophy? Got one you openly share with ... | #Spectrum | Scoop.it - 4 September 2012

    […] I. It's the start of an academic year. Let the learning and teaching begin. Okay, let me redirect this a bit: Let the taking account of your knowing, learning and teaching philosophy begin. We who are part of this higher education …  […]

  3. Learning and Teaching Philosophy? Got one you openly share with ... | Improving Your Teaching Practice | Scoop.it - 5 September 2012

    […] As academics, most of us have gotten to this 21st century teaching and learning work by way of 20th century rules formalizing ways of writing about, conveying and documenting our ideas about academic work.   We should all have a teaching philosophy that we can easily share with our fellow teachers, students, parents, community, and administration.  That philosophy, however, should be organic and change as we change as individuals, IMHO.  […]

  4. Learning and Teaching Philosophy? Got one you openly share with ... | compaTIC | Scoop.it - 9 September 2012

    […] As academics, most of us have gotten to this 21st century teaching and learning work by way of 20th century rules formalizing ways of writing about, conveying and documenting our ideas about academic work.   We should all have a teaching philosophy that we can easily share with our fellow teachers, students, parents, community, and administration.  That philosophy, however, should be organic and change as we change as individuals, IMHO.  […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: