In the springtime I was thrilled to receive a teaching award. Today I’m walking into the classroom for the first time since then. Every time I step in front of students, I think about what I am doing. I have five courses this fall of various kinds. Preparation-wise, they range from dusting off last term’s Powerpoint slides to writing and producing an entire lecture series on a specialty topic for the first time. The students range from first year/first course undergrads fresh out of high school to graduate students in extremely rigorous programs. No matter the level of student or the complexity of work, I am always thinking of what it means to be a teacher.
This is why I keep my teaching philosophy fresh. I have developed my teaching philosophy over my decade or so in the classroom. I have allowed my breadth of experience to fill it out, including a decade of youth ministry, a decade or so of professional writing, and my work in policy and consultation. True pedagogues will have their own version of a teaching philosophy, even if they haven’t written it down. While mine is informed by research into the art of teaching, I have tried to avoid any of the technical terms that teaching scholars use. Perhaps this can be helpful to you, and if you have articulated your own philosophy of teaching–or if you can share it briefly–let us know in the comments below.
Statement of Teaching Philosophy
The Classroom as Space for Transformational Experience
I believe that University should be an encounter. My postsecondary education had a profound impact on my thinking in every area of my life, even though the curriculum was focused in very specific areas. Because of my own experiences as a student, my classroom teaching, and my work in youth leadership, I have come to see education as creating an environment for transformational experiences. My key pedagogical values have developed out of this belief.
The Classroom Space and Vocation
There is a lot of discussion today about the University’s role in shaping students for their work-life. This is a discussion that I have been a part of in my role as a University teacher, government researcher, and student vocational counsellor. We are in a time of great change as the University is being redefined and the global marketplace continues to evolve.
As much as the world around is in a period of accelerated transition, students themselves are also in a period of vast changes and development—perhaps even changing faster than the world around them. While a University education should excel at discipline-specific and interdisciplinary preparation, I believe that our teaching should meet students in the midst of their life journeys. The older idea of vocatio—a sense of calling—can inform our conversations with students as we create classroom space where they can explore who they are, where they fit in the world, and what roles they want to fulfill in personal, family, work, and community life.
Critical Thinking and Inquiry
I have worked hard to engender good student-teacher relationships. With student experience at the centre of my teaching, I intentionally create an atmosphere of “critical empathy” in the classroom. The classroom is meant to be a space of many voices. Students are invited to ask any question, knowing they do so within an ongoing personal conversation with colleagues, with the professor, and with the material. The study of religion and literature is ideal for developing the twin skills of critical thinking and inquiry. We want to give our students the space to learn how to ask the right questions and think through the great problems of human experience.
If the classroom is about creating a space for personal exploration and teaching skills of critical inquiry, what, then, is the role of the academic as “professor”—as one who imparts knowledge?
As we talk about “flipping the classroom,” there is a battle in the world of pedagogy between philosophies of outcome-based or expectation-driven education and a student-centred approach in the classroom. There is also an emerging tension between the university as a protected space for critical inquiry and the university as a job preparation tool.
I do not believe that these philosophies of education are either universally applicable or diametrically opposed. Different courses and programs will have different outcome requirements and explorative opportunities. Indeed, a multi-modal approach to education adapts ongoing exploration of critical ideas with both the tools/methods available and the intention of shaping students to be workplace engaged. The goal is to create an interactive atmosphere that identifies the skills a student can achieve in the classroom while protecting that space for curiosity, inquiry, and critical thinking.
Indeed, those things are precisely the kinds of identifiable skills that employers require. When we combine the ideas of critical inquiry and learning goals, we can create a student experience that allows learners to define their own roles within the educational encounter. That onus on the student for success is still centred in key conversations of Religious Studies—discussions of history, culture, theology, and ideas that make Religious Studies an exciting and broad discipline.
Therefore, I do not feel like it is my job to merely impart knowledge. I do impart knowledge, and my students sometimes feel overwhelmed by the complexity of religious ideas. But my key job is to impart enthusiasm, to excite the imagination, to awaken dreams, and to help students mine the great depths of the human story. Ideally, then, I do not teach classes; instead, I teach students, allowing them to shape their transformational experience as organically as possible while being true to the curriculum.
Relevant Teaching Methods
Practically speaking, this means augmenting the lecture model with other teaching methods. I also must create within the classroom a culture of openness, where the students are safe to share ideas within the educational environment.
Education should be relevant, not just economically and vocationally, but also personally and culturally. I passionately believe that each coming generation—and the generations seem to shorten with time—is charged with the task of changing the world for the better. This seems like a grand statement, but each cohort of students really does stand on the edge of new worlds. The university is a place that shapes the potential of the generation that is before us.
I aim, then, to use a number of different teaching methods in my work. I am constantly seeking to develop my teaching skills. I demonstrate this by the numerous workshops and seminars I have attended. I also seek to expand students’ experience through a variety of teaching methods, including discussion, debate, journaling, breakout groups, moodle forums, blogging, wikis and glossaries, video and media integration, class readings, fully written lectures, improvised lectures from outlines, Powerpoint presentations and Prezis, dramatic monologues, thought-mapping, question-storming, and team-teaching. I continually seek to develop these methods and hone my skills as a communicator and facilitator of learning. As the ultimate goal is student engagement, I will try most any creative endeavour to draw the students into the material.
As an emerging scholar, I am excited about the opportunities to integrate the oft-separated academic pillars of research, teaching, and service. Anticipating the metrics for networked participatory scholarship in UPEI’s draft Academic Plan, my scholarship already exists both in academic forums as well as in blogs, editorials, interviews, guest lectures, and podcasts. In continuity with my philosophy of education, I have extended the classroom and the research process into the worlds of social media. I am actively engaged on Twitter and Facebook, rooting the conversation to my popular blog on faith, fantasy, and fiction (www.aPilgrimInNarnia.com).