Higher education institutions often require faculty members to develop and communicate their teaching philosophies – 2-to-4-page descriptions of their educational beliefs, approaches and methods. Contained here is my current teaching philosophy.
Role of Facilitator
I am grateful to be instructing in higher education today, as teachers are becoming viewed more as facilitators of student-centered learning rather than repositories of information, regurgitated in one-way communication. I tell my students on day one there is a good chance they know more than me on a particular subject, and that I stand to learn as much from my them as they do from me, sometimes more. That is my ultimate hope as a life-long learner.
For my part, I commit myself to being the best facilitative leader possible, planning with great diligence for diversity as well as multiple learning styles, utilizing tools and techniques ideal for facilitative process (and participating in facilitative training to expand this repertoire), and encouraging participation from every student to foster dialogue, active engagement, and inclusion of diverse perspectives and approaches, as well as experiential skill development. Paramount to this role is my recognition that variation in instructional approaches has been key to my success in the classroom. This has included case studies, interactive games, consulting projects, teach-backs (where they prepare brief instruction), World Café dialoguing, convergent and divergent thinking exercises, research-based learning, Individual Activity Plans (IAPs) – complete with student proposals and strategic plans for accomplishment – and opportunities to refine communications skills (written and speaking), among others.
One Key Take-Away
There is no doubt my ultimate hope is that a course I facilitate will rock my students’ world. I like to be appreciated and successful. But that is a bit naïve. More realistically, but equally anticipated, is my primary objective that each student take away “one key learning” that will be relevant to them personally or professionally five years from now. Then, I know we have succeeded together in this time and space. Ideally, the approaches used should empower students to articulate ideas and process concepts in ways that are meaningful to them. At the close of the course, I ask students to recount the one experience, bit of information, or acquired skill that stands out and most importantly, why it is valuable to them. This often takes the form of a written reflection paper, class roundtable or one-on-one meeting, depending on the course.
Fostering a Creative Environment
As a student and researcher in creativity among other discipline areas, I find great value in the work of Goran Ekvall (Creative Climate Dimensions) as well as that of Dr. Teresa Amabile, current Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. Each has looked at fostering an environment for creativity as paramount for learning as well as individual and group outcomes. Motivation…Empowerment…Dynamism…and Openness; I attempt to weave these macro dimensions into my teaching style and lesson plans. I also recognize the growing value of technology as a medium and conduit for creative learning, and work to acquire abilities in this area and to integrate as part of instruction. I try even in my face-to-face courses to weave in some “distance” instruction, to not only keep me skilled in online instructional modes and strategies, but to also familiarize students with distance education delivery platforms, as many go on to such formats for graduate school or course augmentation.
On the issue of challenge (motivation), I take pride in creating an environment in which students feel confident in attaining content objectives for each course, but also in the deliberate provision of opportunities for them to stretch beyond those objectives in some meaningful and relevant way. Each semester in Randy Pausch-style (Author, The Last Lecture), I bestow a Penguin Award to a student who embraced something new and uncomfortable, even if they believe they failed, because often our best learning is from what we envision doing differently or better the next time around. Students are encouraged to apply for this award and to plunge in to unchartered waters!
High Expectations; Willingness to Assist
My students understand I have high expectations regarding their work ethic, capacity to learn, their contributions both within and outside their comfort zone, preparedness, exhibited mutual and collective respect, and overall willingness to grow. My students also know I will go above and beyond to assist them in the classroom and in an advising capacity, as long as they are willing to do what is required of them to accomplish their goals (“doing their work”) — whatever work that might be. To that end, I have enjoyed numerous student interactions and advise students on job hunting, professional and academic challenges, problem solving, and general adjustment issues. I have benefited, in turn, from long-term collegial relationships with my students even after they graduate, and relish in their ultimate successes.
Appreciating Students as Individuals
One day, when a Clarkson student ambassador was giving a tour to prospective students and families, I overheard him in my hallway say, “Our professors are keyed in on really getting to know students. I had a Com professor who knew each and every name of her students and something unique about each of them by the second class. That’s how much she cared about understanding us as people.” That was one of my students, and I was that instructor! If I were to admit to a “greatest strength” as a teacher, it is that I care enough to know my students so that I can better facilitate student-centered learning that is relevant to each of them and to positively impact their individual and collective overall experience.