September 7th, 2010

Finding the Inconsistencies


The previous blog post featured two quotes advocating reflection about teaching philosophy and teaching practice. The goal is to discover discrepancies (if there are any) between what one believes about teaching and how one teaches. The problem? It’s darn difficult to be objective about one’s teaching. We just have too much of ourselves invested in the endeavor to see clearly what we are doing and why. But we aren’t blind. We can see if we make a concerted effort. Let me suggest some ways of looking that might help us see what we may have missed or not seen clearly.

• Take a policy—maybe yours or maybe somebody else’s. It might be a participation policy, an attendance policy, the rules about arriving late and leaving early, an academic integrity policy or something else. Give the policy to a trusted colleague and ask him or her to explore with you the assumptions and premises on which the policy rests. If a teacher uses this policy, what does that teacher believe about teaching, learning, and students? You can undertake this analysis yourself, but it’s better to do this looking with somebody else: four eyes will see more than two.

• Take the student perspective—you were once one and probably have some memories associated with the experience. Look at a syllabus, again it can be your own, but it’s probably better to look at somebody else’s and even more useful to look at one from a course with content you’d have to learn. Assume the syllabus is all you have. What would you conclude about the course and the instructor based on it? Be sure you can point to specifics in the syllabus that lend credence to your conclusions.

• Writing your teaching philosophy can seem like a daunting task. Could you instead identify three or four basic, bedrock beliefs you have about teaching? I’d write them out as simple declarative statements. Then consider your practice and write three examples of things you do when you teach that illustrate (or operationalize) that belief. Use this opportunity to identify other things you do that have nothing to do with any of these statements? What beliefs are they resting on? Here as well, it makes sense to let a trusted colleague “check” your work.

• Do you have a favorite teaching story? Maybe it’s about your favorite teacher or some dreadful mistake you made when you first started or about this truly amazing student. It’s a story you hear yourself telling often. Never mind the point of the story, which you probably know quite well. Instead ponder this: what does this story tell you about the teacher who tells it? Does it say something about what she thinks is important? Does it reflect something about her as a student?

Be welcome to use the comment feature to add your suggestions. We’re looking for ways that get us seeing connections or the lack of them between teaching beliefs and practices.

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One comment on “Finding the Inconsistencies

  1. I have written w/literally thousands of students, from undergrads to doc students, in a "platforming" process. I adopted/adapted the format and process from a book by Starrat and Sergiovanni. I have created platforms for all sorts of professions and life paths. The process requires recursive writing on a series of categories in which students profess beliefs/aspirations and I ask questions.

    One key to the pedagogy is to ask what Palmer refers to as "open, honest questions" – w/out presuming proper answers and directed at promoting disequilibrium, not immediate solutions. This dialogic process has been for over a decade and a half, the foundation of my teaching role. It isn't repetitive as people aren't replicants.

    In the original text, the authors invoked the Argyris & Schon's distinction tween professed beliefs and beliefs in action. Both those authors spent a career probing the nature, breadth and amelioration of that "gap." One of my favorite invocations to students, as we write, is from Hamlet: we know what we are, but know not what we may be. That suggests both our inner confusions and the possible of substantial change.

    In any case, I have a lot of materials and examples I'd be plzed to share if anyone were interested. Adopting this pedagogical tool has altered the course of my professorial life and given me a tool that produces experiences continuously renewing and enriching my work. If anyone wants to converse/share, I'm found at

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