December 4, 2012

Strategies for Writing Better Teaching Philosophy Statements

By: in Philosophy of Teaching

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Teaching philosophy statements are now prepared for a variety of reasons: as part of a job application process; to be included in a promotion and tenure dossier; for a teaching award; or to foster reflection about how and why you teach. Regardless of purpose, the goal ought to be preparation of statements that reveal those beliefs and practices characteristic of an individual teacher. Writing teaching philosophy statements that accurately describe the instructional self isn’t easy, given that so many of us begin teaching careers with little training and continue them with episodic professional development. A set of resources can do much to assist the process and an impressive collection appears in the article referenced below.

Among resources included in the article are summaries of seven websites that contain a range of materials on teaching philosophy statements, including definitions, suggested formats, writing exercises, sample statements, and rubrics that can be used to assess them. It also contains a list of questions that can be answered when writing about learning goals, teaching methods, assessment of student learning, and assessment of teaching.

Several writing exercises are proposed that would not only help candidates prepare statements that might stand out, but that are wonderful ways to deepen individual reflection about teaching and learning. For example, “Think about a moment in your classroom when you and the students were having a great time. Write about that ‘great moment’ using the following series of questions: What was the topic and activity during which this great moment happened? What was the goal of the activity? How did you structure the activity? What did students do during the activity? How could you demonstrate that the activity resulted in significant student learning? How does this great moment exemplify what you value about your discipline and your personal and instructional style?” (p. 140)

This is followed by the suggestion that you write about a not-so-great moment, responding to a similar set of prompts. Or you might start with a “story” that “refers to a pivotal moment, either in your own learning or in your teaching.” (p. 140) Finally, there’s a prompt that asks you to imagine that you are being interviewed for a magazine article about effective teachers. Here are some of the questions you can expect to be asked: “What is a ‘personal best’ achievement for you as a teacher during the past year? What of your worst qualities as a teacher would you throw away? If you wrote a book about teaching, what would the title be?” (p. 141)

They also identify four areas where most teaching philosophy statements could be improved. “Many early drafts of teaching philosophy statements lack concrete evidence of student learning and assessments of teaching.” (p. 142, bold added) Here writers need to either include or write about those classroom artifacts and evidence that constitute proof of learning and good teaching.

For new teachers or teachers without much experience, it can be challenging to write about the breadth and depth of teaching experience. But if different courses and different student populations have been taught, those should be described. And whatever the teaching experience, writers can explain how an experience in one instructional setting would inform what they would do in a different setting.

The authors also note that early drafts of teaching philosophy statements tend to be rather generic. They read as though they could have been written by any teacher. They contain statements where the teachers indicate that they aspire to develop critical-thinking skills or plan to use active learning. “Careful consideration of vague terms not only motivates writers to remove jargon and buzzwords but also helps them balance philosophy and methodology in their teaching philosophy statements.” (p. 142) And finally, statements often do not effectively value teaching and learning. They make bland or empty statements that readers have heard and read many times before. “I am passionate about students’ learning.” “To help writers express their enthusiasm for both their discipline and sharing it with others, we ask them about their own pathways as learners and subsequently as teachers.” (p. 142) If you work with those preparing teaching philosophy statements or if deepening and enlarging yours would benefit you and better impress readers of your statement, this article contains a first-rate collection of resources.

Reference: Kearns, K. D. and Sullivan, C. S. (2011). Resources and practices to help graduate students and postdoctoral fellows write statements of teaching philosophy. Advances in Physiology Education, 35 (1), 136-145.

Excerpted from Writing Better Teaching Philosophy Statements, The Teaching Professor, 25.10 (2011): 6.

For more on Philosophy of Teaching, download a FREE copy of Philosophy of Teaching Statements: Examples and Tips on How to Write a Teaching Philosophy Statement!

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