September 2nd, 2010

Keeping Teaching Philosophy and Instructional Practice on the Same Page


“Conscientious pedagogical reflection is necessary to produce a complete, well-developed teaching philosophy. The absence of pedagogical reflection can result in daily instruction that fails to reflect an instructor’s teaching philosophy or instructional belief system accurately. In particular, an underdeveloped teaching philosophy may translate into a teaching style full of inconsistencies, characterized by poorly coordinated and designed instruction.” (p. 182)

That quote comes closer than anything I’ve read in a long time at getting at what happens when the espoused teaching philosophy is not the one demonstrated in daily instruction. It is not only possible, but regularly happens, that people believe one thing and do something quite different. Everybody knows that smoking is harmful and texting while driving is dangerous, but some people still do both. The contradictions between beliefs and behaviors in teaching tend to be less obvious, especially to the teacher involved. For example, most teachers believe that they need to test those higher-order thinking skills, not the rote acquisition of factual details. But analysis after analysis of exam questions shows that the majority focus on facts. Most teachers also believe in the value of participation—that it engages students, develops important communication skills, and provides valuable feedback. But formal studies and informal classroom observations document that little time is devoted to student interaction in many classrooms.

But here’s the question I’ve been wondering about: Does it matter if teachers believe one thing and do another? In the examples above it matters because they don’t write good test questions or effectively involve students in discussion. But does it matter beyond that? I think it does. The disconnects powerfully motivate change. I know I shouldn’t text and drive. When I do I feel guilty, I experience dissonance. Sometimes it’s strong enough to make me get off the road. Once aware that an action in the classroom compromises something one espouses to believe, it’s hard to continue without at least some discomfort.

But this motivator only works if the teacher is aware of the contradiction. Not being aware becomes symptomatic of another problem—the lack of critical reflection, serious thinking about beliefs or practice or both. And you don’t grow as a teacher if you aren’t regularly subjecting your practice and your philosophy to thoughtful analysis. The authors of this article say that, too. “A fundamental goal for every educator should be to grow continually as a teaching professional. Such instructional growth requires hard work and commitment. Specifically, serious growth requires an educator to engage regularly in an objective self-examination of his or her instructional beliefs and behaviors.” (p.183)

Reference: Titus, P. A. and Gremler, D. D. (2010). Guiding reflective practice: An auditing framework to assess teaching philosophy and style. Journal of Marketing Education, 32 (2), 82-196.