My philosophy of teaching can better be described as a philosophy of learning. In order to be an effective instructor, I must focus on student learning and adjust my teaching strategies in response to the pace and depth of student understanding. I view teaching as an interaction between an instructor and a student; thus, the impact of this interaction on learning, rather than my activities as an instructor, is of primary importance.
Approaching teaching as a scholarly activity with continual evaluations and adjustments allows me to maintain a focus on student learning and continually improve my instruction. By utilizing flexible teaching strategies, rather than strict adherence to a particular teaching style, I am able to adjust my instruction to match the abilities and preexisting knowledge that each student brings to the classroom. Thus, my primary role as an instructor is to create interactions which foster interest and understanding for individual students.
This approach to learning emphasizes a cognitive developmental perspective. As highlighted by developmental theorists, students learn best by actively exploring their environments. This type of “trial-and-error” learning can then be fostered by having a support structure in place to facilitate understanding. The self-paced nature of exploratory learning relies on the notion that effective learning environments actively engage students with the material and promote meaningful associations between new material and information already known. As an instructor, it is my responsibility to help students generate their own context for meaning through the application of new material to their everyday lives.
Reflecting upon the dynamic interaction between pedagogy and personality, my teaching style is best described as applied, mastery instruction. While the specific learning goals of a course are dependent upon the nature of the course, the education level of the students, the purpose of the course within the department, and the relationship between the course and related courses, I have three overarching goals for any course that I teach:
- to foster critical thinking so that students may become effective consumers of psychological information,
- to promote mastery of course content, and
- to encourage application of course materials to real-world contexts.
B. Jean Mandernach is an associate professor of psychology and research associate for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Park University.