My Personal Philosophy of Teaching and Learning – Education Essay
My personal philosophy of teaching and learning is a product of many influences including experience, instruction, a melding of the philosophies of past educators and an intrinsic sense of what is right. I have attempted to capsulate this philosophy in the seven belief statements that follow. I believe learners are individuals who bring a unique set
of needs and abilities to the classroom and that they should be encouraged to become responsible for their own learning, especially as they mature. I believe that a teacher’s primary role is that of a facilitator of learning, creating opportunities for learning which improve the chances of student success. I believe that the learning process is multifaceted, unique to each student, yet containing unifying threads of purpose in addressing the student as a whole person. I believe the curriculum is a set of criteria designed, as much as possible, to meet the needs of students and should be offered to them in as compelling a manner as possible. I believe that the learning environment is a shared, public place that must be welcoming, safe, and the responsibility of those who share it. I believe it is important to recognize and embrace the diversity that arises from the milieu as it provides a myriad of opportunities to enhance student learning and growth. Finally, I believe if I am to be a good facilitator of the learning of others, I must embrace opportunities to expand my own learning on an ongoing, life-long basis. This includes allowing myself time to be critically reflective. These seven belief statements form the core of my current philosophy of teaching and learning. This is an evolving philosophy that is heavily influenced by experience and driven by a passion for teaching and a passion for learning. It is my hope that these passions will combine to kindle a similar passion for learning in the students in my care.
The articulation of a philosophy is the first and often smallest step in its development. Once stated it must be measured against a set of recognized criteria or standards to determine its validity. I propose to measure my personal philosophy of teaching and learning against the standard created by the five principles of philosophy outlined by George Counts.
The first of these standards requires that my philosophy be based on my experiences. I have worked in a public school as a Resource Educational Assistant for the last five years and this, coupled with my own educational experience has afforded me the opportunity to observe dozens of teachers at close range. From this myriad of experience I have formulated a philosophy that focuses on the student as an individual. I recognize through this philosophy that students bring different biological, psychological and social experiences to the classroom. My philosophy welcomes and validates each of these experiences, valuing the benefits they bring to the learning environment.
My philosophy, though brief, is comprehensive in its outlook. Its focus on the needs of the individual is counterbalanced by the belief that the classroom must welcome diversity and requires that this same environment be one in which all participants have an equal voice. The belief that the classroom must be welcoming, safe and tolerant of the diversity of the milieu validates all elements of each learner’s social heritage while striking a balance between meeting the needs of individuals and preparing them to become accepting, contributing members of society. Similarly, the increasing onus on the learners to take responsibility for their own learning as they mature, balances the demands of childhood with the demands of maturity.
This philosophy is very consistent in all aspects. By asking students to become responsible for their learning and their classroom they are being taught to become responsible for themselves and their environment later in their lives. The aim of this philosophy has been to develop a sense of self worth while acknowledging that all other participants must also be valued. If my role as a teacher is to facilitate student success then it is consistent that the atmosphere created in the classroom be one that welcomes all participants and places their safety above all else. It also follows that a curriculum that is approached in a manner that embraces the diversity of the milieu encourages the success of every student within the classroom and beyond.
This philosophy incorporates practicality in its focus on my own self- development. If my philosophy is evolving then it stands to reason that this evolution will keep it current and adapted to any particular time and place wherein it is practised. Similarly, if I am constantly upgrading my skills through on-going, lifelong learning then my practices and my philosophy will reflect a harmony with the current trends that reflect what is best for the students. This sensitivity to, and incorporation of, the latest methods in education should empower students to be successful in their current and future environments.
Since my philosophy incorporates sensitivity to current ‘best practices’ in education, the unique individual requirements of the students, and the diversity of the milieu, it cannot help but be satisfying to its adherents. Students will find their needs met and their social heritage embraced and validated. I too will be satisfied because personal growth will result from the passionate pursuit of further knowledge and experience. Based on the proofs offered in the preceding five paragraphs, it may be concluded that my philosophy of teaching and learning is consistent with George Counts’ five principles of philosophy.
There are three belief statements within my philosophy that I would like to defend in greater detail. The first step in affecting a greater defense of these belief statements is to show that they are grounded in the theories of past philosophies of education. The first belief that I propose to defend further is that learners are individuals who bring a unique set of needs and abilities to the classroom and that they should be encouraged to become responsible for their own learning, especially as they mature. This belief represents a combination of three different schools of educational philosophy: Existentialism, Idealism and Realism.
Soren Kierkegaard, the founder of Existentialism, stated that each individual has his or her own inner history and they choose for the future (Stendahl, 1976). Adherents to the philosophy of Idealism maintain that “education is the process of unfolding and developing that which is a potential in the human person” (Van Nuland, 2001). The concept of the learner as an individual is supported by Dr. Howard Gardner who developed the theory of multiple intelligence which states that students learn in several different ways (Gardner, 1983). The later part of this belief statement is supported by a component of the school of Realism which maintains that learning is the students’ primary responsibility. (Van Nuland, 2001)
The second belief I would like to defend in greater depth is that a teacher’s primary role is that of a facilitator of learning, creating opportunities for learning which improve the chances of student success. The School of Existentialism supports this belief through its emphasis on individuality. It states that it is the teacher’s role to help students make their own choices and become their own person (Van Nuland, 2001). It also states that it is the teacher’s responsibility to create a learning situation where students can express their subjectivity (Van Nuland, 2001). The School of Idealism claims that it is the teacher’s responsibility to stimulate learner awareness of ideas and be a transmitter of cultural heritage (Van Nuland, 2001). The school of Idealism also states that a teacher should expose students to the wisdom in cultural heritage so they can know, share and extend it (Van Nuland, 2001). Finally, Freidrich Froebel, the founder of kindergarten, may be cited in support of this belief as he emphasized the importance of the learner’s own self-activity (Van Nuland, 2001).
The third and final belief that I would like to further defend is that the learning environment is a shared, public place that must be welcoming, safe, and the responsibility of those who share it. The definition of the student according to the school of Idealism is a mind to be nurtured and protected (Van Nuland, 2001). This directly supports the notion that the classroom must be a safe environment. The purpose of a school according to Idealism is to expose students to the wisdom in cultural heritage so that they can know, share and extend it (Van Nuland, 2001). If the classroom described in my personal philosophy is truly welcoming then it will embrace the varied heritages brought to the classroom by the students and foster an appreciation for each of them.
Having shown that each of these belief statements are grounded in past philosophies of education I would like to continue to defend them by connecting them to more modern thought and my own practical experience. In many ways this has already been completed. The schools of Existentialism, Idealism and Realism were discussed in our Education and Schooling class lecture presented by Dr. Shirley Van Nuland on November 7, 2001 at Nipissing University. The theory of multiple intelligence, developed by Dr. Howard Gardner was discussed in detail in Professor Darlene Brackenreed’s class and in an assigned reading (Gardner, 1983). The belief that the teacher is a facilitator is supported by Dr. Ron Weeks and Professor Jeff Scott who instruct future teachers (at Nipissing University) how to teach Science to Junior/Intermediate students (Weeks, 1997). Both advocate the extensive use of discrepant events and that the teacher should often act as ‘a guide on the side’ so students may learn for themselves. This is also how the theory of Pragmatism sees the teacher’s role. The third belief, of those chosen for further defense, is supported by Barrie Bennett and Peter Smilanich who co-wrote Classroom management: A thinking and caring approach. This text was consulted regularly in the Management class of Dr. Pat Falter at Nipissing University. In their book Bennett and Smilanich state that inclusiveness is what a teacher does to ensure that all students experience a sense of belonging. This, they maintain, is one of the first steps in creating a safe, welcoming environment within the classroom (Bennett, 1994). The importance of a safe environment is also reflected in the Ontario Government’s policy on Safe Schools which has been adopted by the Avon Maitland District School Board, among others. Finally the need to create inclusiveness was made clear to me by Mr. Douglas Yeo who has taught for thirty-three years in various public schools in and around Goderich, Ontario. It was Mr. Yeo who first explained to me that if you give students enough say in a classroom, they will take responsibility for it. He then proceeded to successfully demonstrate this concept during my first two practica.
These three beliefs must also be applicable in the classroom if they are to remain an integral part of my philosophy. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, I have seen the belief that a classroom must be welcoming, safe and the responsibility of those who use it practised successfully by Mr. Yeo in his Grade 7/8 classroom. I would use his practices of allowing the students to co-write the classroom rules and decorate a large portion of the room themselves so that they buy in to the concept that the room is their responsibility as well as mine. In addition I will also instigate the practice of holding a weekly classroom meeting in the style set out by Dr. Janet Nelsen in her book Positive discipline in the classroom: Developing mutual respect, cooperation and responsibility in your classroom. One of these meetings would be held on the first day of classes and continue at least once a week with the expectation that they could be held more often if necessary. In this approach students and I sit in a circle and are encouraged to share first compliments, then concerns. All members of the circle will be afforded the opportunity to speak when they are in possession of the ‘talking stick’ (to borrow from an Aboriginal People’s model). The meeting will be run according to an agenda that will be formulated from suggestions contributed to an anonymous suggestion box (Nelsen, 2000). If run properly, this meeting will constitute a safe, comfortable environment in which we can praise each other, share our successes and resolve any problems within the classroom.
Ensuring that my primary role as a teacher is that of a facilitator of learning, creating opportunities for learning which improve the chances of student success will require some adjustments to the teaching style I use on my future practica. I do not believe I can completely avoid the ‘sage on the stage’ approach, as my Faculty Advisor, Mr. Stephen Binstock described it, but I hope to minimize its use. Increased use of single and multiple activity lesson plans, which utilize a hands-on, Pure Inquiry or Directed Inquiry approach to student learning, will enable me to act as a facilitator of learning more often. The artful use of questioning should also lead to a sense of self-discovery for the students. I am fortunate because I have access to a tremendous wealth of resources like the Curriculum Planner, experienced teachers, and board sponsored workshops. All of these will support me in this approach to teaching.
The most challenging belief to bring into practise in the classroom will be to treat learners as individuals who bring a unique set of needs and abilities to the classroom and who should be encouraged to become responsible for their own learning, especially as they mature. The first step to adjusting to the uniqueness of learners will be close observation and extensive pre-assessment at the beginning of the school year. This assessment will be of learning styles as well as knowledge. Most important of all I will try to get to know the students early by showing an interest in them. To do this I will make myself available to listen to the learners by being in the classroom early, greeting them at the door ‘morning, noon and night’ and after recesses. I will inquire about their extra curricular activities, coach as many of their teams or clubs as I can and have regular contact with their parents.
I believe the use of a rubric for assessment is the best way to encourage students to accept responsibility for their work. Though it will involve more work for me I hope to vary the means of assessment and evaluation so that it will permit students to succeed by choosing a method of evaluation that recognizes their unique learning style. I am confident that the staff at Nipissing University will assist with any problems I may encounter and they represent over one hundred years of the best quality teaching. The resources I have become familiar with during my year at Nipissing will be invaluable sources of lessons that will accommodate the uniqueness of the students. Finally, gatherings like the 2001 Checkmark Conference on Assessment will provide wonderful opportunities to view various methods of adjusting my teaching and assessment, helping me stay up to date on the latest ways to facilitate learners.
This ends my in depth defense of three elements of my personal philosophy. In conclusion I would like to illustrate how my philosophy of teaching and learning will contribute to my teaching practice. The exercise of defining and defending my philosophy has enabled me to consolidate my approach to teaching. This philosophy has allayed much of the initial trepidation I had about teaching. I am now confident if I adhere to this philosophy, until experience evolves it into an even better one, I will be equipped to provide the best possible learning environment for the students in my care. My philosophy will cause me to continually strive to find better, learner centered, approaches to teaching. This philosophy will cause me to be constantly aware of the value of the approaches others take to teaching and I will be open to incorporate the ‘best practices’ I see into my evolving philosophy.
The most important impact that this philosophy will have on my teaching practice is that the students will experience greater success because of it. My assessment, evaluation and teaching methods will all be varied so that they maximize the students’ chances to succeed. I realize that the requirements it will place on me will be onerous but I sincerely believe that this flexibility is possible. The challenge that I look forward to most is providing a welcoming, culturally diverse environment, free of prejudice, gender bias, and violence. This philosophy, if adhered to, will create this kind of environment in my teaching practice. The elements of my philosophy will be the source of the enthusiasm for creating this type of environment and of the passion for teaching and my own ongoing learning. These two emotions, enthusiasm and passion, coupled with student success, will become the earmarks of my teaching practice as a result of this philosophy of teaching and learning. I am so looking forward to putting it into practise and watching it evolve.
Respectfully submitted by Russell A. Watson: Section 8
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