I needed to write up a statement of my teaching philosophy for a job application I’m submitting shortly, and it just seemed like the sort of thing worth sharing. So here you go. Constructive comments welcome.
My teaching philosophy centers on my core values. I highly value practicing compassion and empathy for students; I value digging deep into the joy of learning something new and mind-expanding; and I believe in making learning as fun as possible.
Compassion and empathy can easily be mistaken as running counter to “rigor” or serious learning. However I see them as being central to creating a learning environment where everyone can feel safe enough to dive heavily into seriously challenging skills and ideas. This is pretty easy to do with students who you feel a connection with because of common interests, backgrounds, etc, but to make a classroom safe for all students can often mean deliberate, soul-searching work. I believe this really deeply matters to the lives of students, and to the future of our STEM professions which we want to see diversify.
I really enjoy the challenge of learning, and I love seeing students experience that same sense of mastery when they understand something that used to be incomprehensible. I’m also awfully stubborn about assessing students in ways that demonstrate deep understanding rather than shallow recall. I’ll check for small details here and there, but I would much rather see that students can be handed the sorts of information they could’ve looked up online anyway and see them work out something challenging with it.
I also believe that all of the above can create a fun atmosphere to learn in. Difficult challenges in a safe environment are a foundation for engaging gameplay, and I believe a classroom can be this best kind of game. It’s not easy, but I’ve seen glimpses of it and I want to see more of it in my teaching career. This has to be deeply challenging stuff, and it has to be safe enough that failure isn’t a game-breaker. (For more on this, you can read this blog post of mine from a few years ago.)
Here are some examples of how I’ve worked towards this in practice.
My usual classroom assessment practice has quickly settled on using “standards-based grading”, something that’s been slowly growing in usage in math education circles via blogging and Twitter networking. SBG is based on the idea of tracking ideas/skills assessed, rather than tracking individual assessments. It takes a bit more planning up-front but allows for much easier reassessment along the way and helps move assessment more towards being a measurement of learning rather than a collection of abstract points.
I spent one year developing and running a digital media program for Abbotsford Middle School which I focused mostly on Scratch-based narrative, art and game development. This was an incredibly valuable time for me as I got to see first-hand the value of wide-open, inclusive access to computing education – and it was FUN! Students from diverse backgrounds, ability levels and of both genders regularly surprised me with their accomplishments and enthusiasm. (For more detail on how I approached the program, here’s another blog post.)
Another goal I have strived for in my teaching is to emphasize active learning in the classroom instead of passive listening. I have worked with low-tech “clickers” for in-class polling, random-group standing whiteboard work for exploring new mathematics, and whole-class assessments that drive students to collaboration and discussion. While I am very capable at explaining ideas on a whiteboard, I believe that students who are actively processing new ideas in the classroom are more engaged with the learning itself, are more likely to form a healthy learning community, and will walk away with more self-efficacy than if they simply hear me explain things in a clever way.
For more examples of my thoughts on teaching, as well as a cross-section of some of my other interests, I encourage you to browse around my past and current blogs:
– josh giesbrecht