Preparing Teaching Philosophy Statements

Although they are a fairly recent innovation, most faculty are familiar with teaching philosophy statements. Many have prepared them for job interviews, for promotion and tenure dossiers, for teaching awards, or for personal benefit.

Teaching philosophy statements are narrative descriptions of “one’s conception of teaching, including the rationale for one’s teaching methods. It is seen as a place to voice holistic views of the teaching process, including one’s thoughts about the definitions and interaction between learning and teaching, perceptions of the teacher’s and student’s roles, and the goals and values of education.” (p. 100)

Preparing a teaching philosophy statement can effectively promote the ongoing growth and development of teachers. Authors Beatty, Leigh, and Dean (reference below) explain why. “The process of reflection required to create and periodically revise a statement is as important as, and sometimes more important than, the actual content of the end-product statement.” (p. 100) Some of that growth benefit is lost when teaching philosophy statements are prepared for a venue in which the teacher is being judged. Then there is motivation to prepare a “correct” or “impressive” statement as opposed to one truly reflective of what the teacher believes. However, that is not the concern of these authors.

They are concerned that “philosophy” is often left out of these statements or is described with widely used buzzwords that faculty assume everyone defines the same way. Even though a teaching philosophy statement is a very personal expression reflecting a teacher’s identity, these statements do share common origins. “The building blocks for these personal statements are drawn from the lexicon of basic educational philosophies, which are shared among the community of teachers.” (p. 105)

In the first of two articles by these authors, five philosophies of education are succinctly and clearly highlighted: idealism, realism, pragmatism, existentialism, and critical theory. The review shows with concrete examples how these various philosophies result in very different beliefs and approaches to education. In the second article, the authors propose a card-sorting activity that faculty can use to start seeing how their beliefs about education connect with these fundamental philosophies of education. A set of cards for the exercise can be obtained online—a Web address is included in the article. The exercise can be completed by an individual or a small group, or in a workshop setting.

The authors note there is a benefit of doing the activity with others, because the process of verbalizing beliefs and hearing others do the same often makes those beliefs and their implications more clearly understood. And there is another benefit: “When each faculty member makes his or her teaching philosophy statement available for public discussion, it becomes possible to examine common ground and differences in philosophy across faculty in a department or college or across institutions.” (p. 112) These exchanges do need to occur in a climate of open inquiry. The objective is not to prefer one philosophy over another or attempt to convert those holding one set of views to another. “Because one’s teaching philosophy is such a core element of one’s identity as a teacher, direct criticism of one’s teaching philosophy is akin to a direct assault on the self and will shut down any kind of learning dialogue.” (p. 112)

With a philosophy in hand, the next step is to look at the alignment between these expressed beliefs and the teaching practices that occur in the classroom. The authors suggest that the course syllabus is the best place to look for this alignment. “Choices about assignments and projects, testing, and classroom dynamics should ideally be consistent with elements of one’s teaching philosophy. Philosophical views come into play as teachers cope with cases of academic dishonesty, imploding student teams, critical classroom incidents, and negative feedback on their teaching.” (p. 111)

Both of these articles show how preparing and regularly revising teaching philosophy statements provide important growth opportunities for teachers. They describe a process that can make preparing such a statement a challenging and rewarding intellectual endeavor, a process that puts the philosophy back into teaching philosophy statements. Both articles are another great illustration of really outstanding pedagogical scholarship done within the boundaries of a discipline but with relevance to every discipline. They are two of the most thought-provoking, informative, and useful articles I have read on teaching philosophy statements.

Beatty, J. E., Leigh, J. S. A., and Dean, K. L. (2009). Philosophy rediscovered: Exploring the connections between teaching philosophies, educational philosophies, and philosophy. Journal of Management Education, 33 (1), 99-114.

Beatty, J. E., Leigh, J. S. A., and Dean, K. L. (2009). Finding our roots: An exercise for creating a personal teaching philosophy statement. Journal of Management Education, 33 (1), 115-130.

Reprinted from The Teaching Professor, June-July 2009.