As an educator, what would you want to say about yourself if you were asked to explain your teaching philosophy?
You may be surprised, and perhaps you are included in this category, with the number of educators who either do not have a teaching philosophy or cannot articulate clearly and concisely provide (without the use of clichés or generalizations about teaching) any indicator of their own beliefs about learning or teaching. Over the past few weeks I have been interviewing faculty for adjunct online teaching positions and many of the candidates I’ve spoken with have not developed a clearly defined philosophy statement or never thought it was needed. While that does not automatically disqualify them from a teaching position it does not help them provide a true representation of what could be expected if they were teaching a course.
Every educator needs a teaching philosophy statement. This is a summary that allows someone else (especially a recruiter or someone in a position to hire new faculty) to develop insight into their teaching and instructional strategies, methods, and practices. I’ve seen two different approaches used for those educators who have a well-defined statement; one that is researched-based and one that is very personal and written in the first person. If you are pursuing new positions, my recommendation is that you chose the latter approach and present an overview that represents you as an educator. In higher education, many teaching positions require a mandatory statement be submitted as part of the screening process. What follows is a condensed version of philosophy statement I have used, to help you get started or review what you have already developed.
Conceptualization of Learning
There is a five-part approach that was developed by Nancy Chism, a former Director of Faculty and TA Development at the Ohio State University, which is very helpful for educators. The first part is Conceptualization of Learning and it is meant for an educator to describe what they believe about learning based upon their knowledge, expertise, education, and experience.
Since my primary work is focused on distance learning, my view of learning is concerned with how students learn in a virtual environment. For online learning, it is my belief that the basic principles of adult education do not change. However, the format of learning has changed and that is the reason why new and updated instructional strategies must be implemented. In a virtual classroom the process of learning involves the acquisition of knowledge and the development of new skills. In order for knowledge to be acquired and retained in long-term memory, students must have an opportunity to apply what they are studying and given a context for learning that is relevant to their lives and/or careers. The same can be stated for the development of new skills; learning occurs when students are given an opportunity to practice what they are being instructed to learn.
In an online classroom, as with any classroom environment, learning is not a one-time event. Learning also does not occur because an online course shell has been created, an instructor has been assigned to teach the course, and students are enrolled in the class. Learning occurs as a result of students receiving and reading materials, processing the information received in a manner that prompts advanced cognitive skills, and then is applied to and connected with existing ideas, knowledge, and real-world scenarios so that it is retained in long-term memory. The learning process does not stop there as that new knowledge must be recalled later if it is to continue to be retained. This means that students will learn only if the subject and course topics are presented in a meaningful manner, one that requires them to do more than memorize concepts.
Conceptualization of Teaching
The next section of a well-defined philosophy statement is a personal narrative about what it means to teach. For me, it is a perspective about learning in a technologically-enabled classroom.
There are phrases used to distinguish traditional classroom teaching from online teaching and includes “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side”. I prefer to view online teaching from another perspective. I’ve read three primary words used to describe the role of the online educator and it includes instructor, facilitator, and teacher. I believe that an online educator must know how to instruct or implement instructional strategies as a function of classroom management. An online educator must also know how to facilitate a learning process and teach the subject matter through his or her expertise and experience. Within the online classroom an educator must work to see students individually and with unique developmental needs. They must be responsive to their students, available, and easily accessible. They can teach, guide, and mentor students with every interaction, every classroom post, and all of their communication with students.
Goals for Students
The section that follows needs to be a personal perspective about the goals or expectations that an instructor holds for their students.
For many online schools, the classes have been developed by someone other than the instructor who is assigned to teach the course. That doesn’t mean an instructor cannot have their own expectations of students, even if they cannot alter or make additions to the course syllabus. An online educator can state their expectations in classroom announcements and/or through the feedback provided to students. What I expect students to do, and I support their attempts to do so, is to accomplish more than report what they have read. I want them to work with the course topics, conduct research when needed, investigate subjects that interest them, and when it comes to posting a discussion message or submitting a written assignment, I want them to demonstrate critical thinking. What this means is that they do more than state a general opinion or belief and instead, they write a well-researched statement or position about the topic. I encourage students to comprehend what they have read, analyze the information, and then apply it in some manner to their personal or professional lives. I show students that I value their ideas, solutions, proposals, and analyses.
Implementation of the Philosophy
This next section provides an overview of how the philosophy is put into practice and it shares insight into an educator’s instructional practice.
My philosophy of online teaching has been influenced by my work as an online student and educator, and it continually evolves through my interactions with students and other educators. While I may not be able to be involved in the process of developing every course I’m teaching, I can develop instructional practices that influence how students learn. For example, when I am involved in online discussions I will acknowledge something the student has written, build upon it through my own expertise and experience, and then ask a follow up question that helps to continue to move the conversation forward. When I provide feedback, I use that as an opportunity to teach students and I’ll use the same approach as my discussion posts and it aligns with Socratic questioning techniques. I want to prompt their intellectual curiosity and encourage them to learn.
With most online classes I have a short period of time to connect with students and my approach is to try to build connections and nurture productive working relationships. I am aware of the tone of my messages, especially since words represent me in an online classroom. I also demonstrate empathy for those students who have low motivation and may be academically under-prepared. When I observe students who are struggling or disengaging from the class, I’ll perform outreach attempts to try to help engage them back into the course and address their developmental needs. With every student I acknowledge their efforts and encourage their continued progress, while always being readily available and easily accessible.
Professional Growth Plan
The last component of a well-developed philosophy statement is an overview of how an educator plans to continue their own professional development. Many schools have a professional development requirement and this statement can demonstrate a willingness to continue to learn.
I consider myself to be a lifelong learner and that my learning did not stop once I completed my last formal degree. I continue to learn through my work with online faculty development as the discourse that I have with other faculty allows me to gain new perspectives about learning and teaching. I also continue to research the field that I am actively involved in, which is distance learning, along with other topics of interest that include critical thinking and andragogy. I am a writer and I have authored numerous articles that are based upon my work and research. My work with instructional design and curriculum development projects has also allowed me to grow professionally as I have expanded my knowledge and skills. I also utilize social media as a means of sharing knowledge, ideas, and resources with a global educator base. Finally, I work to make scholarly contributions to this field. The two milestones reached to date include publishing a journal article and presenting my research at an international conference for distance learning.
What is Your Philosophy?
Whether or not you have developed a clear position about learning and teaching for your chosen field, now is the time to consider what you believe and the strategies you use – even if you are not seeking another position. Establishing a well-formed statement allows you to reflect upon your current practice and it will help you identify what is working well and areas that you can develop further. Every educator has a potential to continue to grow and learn, and developing a clear understanding of your beliefs and progress now will allow you to build from your strengths and strengthen your teaching practice. A teaching philosophy is a personal representation of who you are as an educator and something you can use to create developmental plans.