February 18th, 2009

Aligning Teaching Philosophy Statements with Classroom Practices


In the upcoming March issue of the Teaching Professor you’ll find highlights from two really excellent articles on teaching philosophy statements. I’ve been sort of down on these statements for a while now. When they are written to accompany job applications or to be included in tenure and promotion dossiers, or as part of a case for a teaching award, the motivation to write a “correct” or “impressive” statement gets in the way of writing a statement that truly reflects what the teacher thinks and believes.

But this group of authors raises another issue. They contend that “philosophy” is really being left out of these statements. Rather than linking to an existing philosophy of education, most teaching philosophy statements rely on buzzwords (such as learner-centered teaching or a community of learners) that authors do not define, but assume everybody understands. The first of the articles clearly and succinctly summarizes five educational philosophies and uses concrete examples to show how those philosophies prescribe really different approaches to teaching and learning.

Both articles point out that a teaching philosophy statement should be aligned with classroom practices. In other words, how the classroom is being managed, how the learning is being assessed, what teaching methods are being used should all be consistent with the beliefs articulated in the teaching philosophy statement. The teaching philosophy statement should provide the rationale for every classroom practice.

I really think we should be using teaching philosophy statements for personal development. Preparing one thoughtfully and carefully allows a teacher to craft a tool that can then be used to dig deeply into classroom practice—that place where the rubber meets the road. The authors make two more points salient to the use of these statements for personal growth. Faculty benefit when they share teaching philosophy statements with each other. They don’t share to impress but use it as an opportunity to better understand beliefs about teaching—their own and those of others. And, teaching philosophy statements merit revising as time passes and the teacher changes, as does the content and students.

References: 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.

—Maryellen Weimer