Marina Smitherman, Dalton State College
Key Statement: Use your teaching philosophy statement to reflect on, reevaluate, and reinforce your commitment to your students and your professional goals.
Keywords: Teaching Philosophy, Framework, Self-Reflection
Without reflection, we often fail to fully realize who we are and what we most value. Sans this information, it is challenging to know the way forward in our efforts to become better educators. An intentional, well-written teaching philosophy is a powerful means to guide what you do in your classroom and to share your approach with those making decisions regarding issues such as promotion and tenure (Caukin & Brinthaupt, 2017).
Photo by Dmitriy Belenovsky. Unsplash.
Purpose and Passion in Teaching
To get started, write out five sentences beginning with “I believe…” (Caukin & Brinthaupt, 2017). Write out concrete examples of your life and experience that support what you believe. Consider your identity as a faculty member teaching in higher education. Why do you choose to teach and what do you enjoy about teaching?
Making a deliberate connection in your philosophy to your purpose and passion shows that you have reflected on your motivating factors. If you are aware of them, you can safely assume your students are as well. For inspiration, read through comments on student evaluations and note any comments pertaining to your passion or enthusiasm for teaching or learning. Similarly, consider sharing past cornerstone moments when you were awakened to the impact of your teaching.
Finesse, Structure, and Style
Do you have a quote or two from someone who has inspired you as a teacher? A quote that represents your overall philosophy and approach to teaching is a nice way to draw your reader in and introduce what follows.
As you write, be crystal clear in your communication of your values and in-classroom teaching and learning experience. Regardless of your discipline, an organized and clearly defined teaching philosophy represents an organized and clear teacher.
Keep clear of comments such as a desire to “help people” and “be the change they want to see in the world.” Although this can absolutely be true for anyone, using clichés like this can make your philosophy seem trite and generic.
What Learners Need to Be Successful
Explain what you consider necessary to support learner success in general with highlights of how you approach (or plan to approach) these considerations in your courses. This could include topics like a clear course structure and expectations, knowing what is coming up, time and space to use many methods to develop discipline knowledge and critical-thinking skills, and real-world examples linked to student interest in the course. Basic needs such as a safe, secure place to learn and food are also important here (Maslow, 1987). In fact, you may have encountered students who needed support in these areas, reaffirming your understanding of the importance of your role as educator and resource. There are an increasing number of excellent resources pertaining to how people learn that may be helpful (e.g., Eyler, 2018; Zakrajsek, 2022).
Goals for Student Learning
Most faculty, regardless of discipline or courses that they teach, are looking to guide the development of literacy, research, critical-thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and refined communication skills for the workplace. Review the learning objectives and assessment strategies you include in your syllabi. Ask yourself, what do you expect students to take away from the courses you typically teach? Which of those outcomes are common to every course? Those are the ones to focus on here in this short document. Do not list every course’s outcomes and assessment in your teaching philosophy, but do use that information to help inform what you write.
Learning Activities for Student Success
This is a great place to include the structure of a typical class that you teach. Do you open with a plan for the session? Do you begin with a small teaching technique (Lang, 2021), such as an inspiring quote or some music that pertains to the topic of the day as students file in to immediately engage them in the content? Do you interweave different types of learning activities at different points during the class, and if so when and why? If an institution is interested in hiring you, would they be able to read this section and build a solid image of you in the classroom?
How will you know what your students learned from each class session and the course overall? Assessment, done well, can help the student to assess whether they have met the learning objectives and simultaneously help you assess whether you had the desired positive impact on their learning. Assessment breaks into two main types; formative assessment, which is designed to inform and improve, and summative assessment, which is critical evaluation of whether a student has at that point in time met the relevant learning objective. Assessment—again, done well—will also help demonstrate your teaching effectiveness. Proof of your use of evidence-based activities, through student evaluations or DWF rates, helps support your and your students’ achievements.
What is offered here is not a prescriptive “how-to” guide or a strict framework for you to plug in your answers. Your teaching philosophy statement should read as though someone could open the curtains of the window into your beliefs regarding education and peer into your classroom to observe you in the act of teaching. Take advantage of this regular opportunity to reflect on and renew your teaching and your sense of self as an educator.
What aspects of your teaching would you consider to be most likely to change in the next few years?
To what extent does assessment define your approach to teaching? Does your approach to assessment, both formative and summative, align with common strategies in higher education or do you take a more novel approach in some aspect of your assessment strategies?
Reach out to a colleague who is newer to the field than you, and one who is more experienced. Share your teaching philosophy statements with them and ask for their impression of your teaching based on your statement. To what extent is their impression aligned with what you perceive to be your approach to teaching?
Eyler, J. (2018). How humans learn: The science and stories behind effective
college teaching. West Virginia University Press.
Caukin, N. G., & Brinthaupt, T. M. (2017). Using a teaching philosophy statement as
a professional development tool for teacher candidates. International Journal
for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 11(2).
Lang, J. (2021). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning.
Maslow, A. H. (1987). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). Pearson Education.
Zakrajsek, T. D. (2022). The new science of learning: How to learn in harmony with
your brain (3rd ed.). Stylus.
Teaching Philosophy & Statements. (n.d). University of Michigan Center for
Research on Learning and Teaching. https://crlt.umich.edu/resources-