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Centre for English Language Communication, National University of Singapore
Address for Correspondence: Assoc Prof Wu Siew Mei, Centre for English Language Communication, National University of Singapore, 10 Architecture Drive, Singapore 117511
Wu, S. M. (2016). Teaching philosophy statements: How do I develop them?. Asian Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 6(2), 143-152.
A recent attendance at a Talking about Teaching and Learning (TATAL) workshop during the 2016 conference organised by the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) helped me understand how a Teaching Philosophy Statement (TPS) can be systematically developed. This commentary shares some pointers learnt about writing TPSs.
TPSs are written for various personal, professional or pedagogical purposes. These statements are usually prepared as part of a teaching dossier, which is a professional document providing evidence of one’s beliefs and practices about teaching and learning, one’s teaching abilities and significant teaching-related experiences, including curricular and materials design as well as classroom experiences. TPSs usually then form the foundation from which one rationalises one’s pedagogical mission, approaches, methodologies and goals in one’s professional path as an educator. They undergird one’s teaching practices and provide that platform from which we understand why we do what we do as university classroom practitioners so that there can be that necessary space for thinking systematically through or ref lecting on our classroom practices –whether it be in the conceptual design of programme curriculum and materials, or in the classroom practices of teaching, facilitating learning and assessing.
A TPS is a systematic and critical rationale that puts focus on important components defining effective teaching and learning in a particular discipline and/or institution (Schönwetter, Sokal, Friesen & Wetter, 2002, p. 84). It can be described as a narrative of your beliefs, values, rationale, and insights into learning and teaching. It describes how your teaching beliefs and ideas are enacted in your teaching practice, and how your teaching practice can influence your students’ learning.
Nancy Van Note Chism, Professor of Education at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) notes that the articulation and intermittent reshaping of these statements are personally and pedagogically beneficial as “[r]eviewing and revising former statements of teaching philosophy can help teachers to reflect on their growth and renew their dedication to the goals and values that they hold” (Vanderbilt University Centre for Teaching, n.d.).
TSPs could be aimed at articulating the following necessary elements so that there is a sense of completeness in the portrayal of one’s educator self to enable others to understand our teaching practices:
(Source: Vanderbilt University Centre for Teaching, n.d.)
There are three main frameworks to guide the writing of TPSs, namely Schönwetter’s Framework (2002), Chism’s Framework (1998) and Metaphors. Of the three, I would like to recommend Chism’s framework to guide one’s articulation of TPSs with a sense of completeness.
Chism (1998) describes the five main components of a teaching philosophy as being descriptions of how teachers think about learning and teaching, their role, goals for students, and the actions they should take (pp. 1-3).
Ask yourself questions such as “What do we mean by learning?” and “What happens in a learning situation?” Think of your answers to these questions based on your personal experience. Some teachers try to express and explain their understanding of learning through metaphors, because drawing comparisons with known entities can stimulate thinking, whether or not the metaphor is actually used in the statement. On the other hand, most instructors tend to take a more direct approach, describing what they think occurs during a learning episode, based on their observations, experience or what they read from the literature.
Ask yourself questions such as “What do we mean by teaching?” and “How do I facilitate this process as a teacher?” Include personal teaching beliefs on how you facilitate the learning process. The metaphor format can be used, but a common practice is a more direct description of the nature of a teacher with respect to motivating and facilitating learning. Also address issues such as how to challenge students intellectually and support them academically and how you respond to different learning styles, help students who are frustrated, and accommodate different abilities. Furthermore, talk about how you as a teacher have come to these conclusions (e.g., past experience or as a result of what you read from the literature).
Describe what skills you expect students to obtain as the result of learning. Address such issues as what goals you set for your classes, what the rationale behind them is, what kind of activities you try to implement in class in order to reach these goals, and how the goals have changed over time as you learn more about teaching and learning.
Illustrate how one’s concepts about teaching and learning and goals for students are transformed into classroom activities. Ask yourself, “How do I operationalise my philosophy of teaching in the classroom?” and “What personal characteristics in myself or my students influence the way in which I approach teaching?” Reflect on how you present yourself and course materials, what activities, assignments, and projects you implement in the teaching-learning process, and how you interact with students in and outside class.
It is important to continue professional growth, and to do so, you need to set clear goals and means to accomplish these goals. Think about questions such as “What goals have I set for myself as a teacher?” and “How do I accomplish these goals?” Illustrate how you have professionally grown over the years, what challenges exist at the present, what long-term development goals you have
projected, and what you will do to reach these goals.
I re-present below a Teaching Philosophy Statement and reflections on the statement written by Dr John Gilchrist (2016, personal communication) as a sample statement that encapsulates all five elements of Chism’s framework. I have also included some comments about the sample statement, which are presented in parentheses as “Commentary author’s remarks”:
Teaching philosophy and personal reflections that prompted parts of the statement by John Gilchrist
Two features that help effectiveness in this TPS are the use of metaphors, and the use of citations to illustrate one’s ideas and to support the rationale for one’s beliefs respectively. Metaphors are good literary devices that create that connection between what is familiar and that which is not so familiar, so that one’s understanding or imagery of the familiar will help explain/describe the less familiar. As such, the idea of kindling a fire helps explain the role of a teacher in kindling students’ curiosity and interest so that the concrete act of kindling a fire makes the abstract nature of triggering curiosity and interest more concrete. Further alignments between the two acts can be explicated in the statement to identify clearly the role of the teacher in the learning process using this analogy.
Schonell et al. (2016) provide four questions which, when answered, will help illustrate the conceptualisation of teaching clearer through the use of metaphors:
The other feature of citing relevant sources to support aspects of one’s statement undergirds rationales, practices and strategies in a scholarly manner. Frequently, these sources provide the theoretical perspectives to rationalise related teaching and learning behaviours including learning goals, approaches and strategies adopted, assessment practices, conceptualisation and the design of courses and materials. These teaching and learning theories are important fulcrums that ensure strong justifications for the teaching and learning behaviour articulated.
There are indeed various ways to present one’s philosophy of teaching and the above sample is but one instance of an effective TPS. Generally, the TPS provides insights into one’s conceptualisation of teaching, learning, goals, implementation of philosophy and professional development. These statements when articulated, reviewed and reshaped intermittently reflect an educator’s developmental trajectory, dynamic and often, progressive over time.
Biggs, J. B. & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university. (3rd Ed.). Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education & Open University Press.
Chism, N. V. N. (1998). Developing a philosophy of teaching statement. Essays on Teaching Excellence: Toward the Best in the Academy, 9(3), 1-2. Retrieved from http://ucat.osu.edu/wordpress/assets/V9-N3-Chism.pdf.
Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to teach in higher education. London: Routledge.
Schonell, S., Gilchrist, J. Kennelly, R., McCormack, C., Northcote, M., Ruge, G. & Treloar, G. (2016). TATAL: Talking about teaching and learning. Teaching philosophy workbook. Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia. Retrieved from https://herdsa.org.au/publications/documents/tatal-talking-about-teaching-and-learning-teaching-philosophy-interactive.
Schonwetter, D. J., Sokal, L., Friesen, M., & Taylor, K. L. (2002). Teaching philosophies reconsidered: A conceptual model for the development and evaluation of teaching philosophy statements. The International Journal for Academic Development, 7(1), 83-97. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13601440210156501
Vanderbilt University Centre for Teaching. (n.d.). Teaching statements. Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-statements/.
WU Siew Mei is the Director of the Centre for English Language Communication. Her research interests include investigations into the nature of academic writing, objective testing in large-scale English language proficiency assessment and the validation of test descriptors. She has published in the HERDSA journal, AJSoTL, Reflections on English Language Teaching, the Regional English Language Centre Journal, PROSPECT (an Australian TESOL journal) and English for Academic Purposes Journal. She is currently a member of the Editorial Board for AJSoTL.
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