A friend of mine at Augie has often done this as part of an exercise at the start of the course with her students: she shares her teaching philosophy, which vividly uses the metaphor of the ’90s educational children’s TV program The Magic School Bus to describe her thoughts about ideal teaching and learning. Well, she’s like that.
She then asks students to draft a brief “philosophy of learning” statement, which gets students (most of them for the first time) to do some reflective metacognition on how and why they tend to approach learning the way that they do.
A research study brief published in the new (free!) online Faculty Development Today newsletter discusses a pilot approach to sharing teaching philosophy statements with students and assessing their end-of-course responses. The results are intriguing: this move can not only provide you with helpful feedback on your teaching, but also might encourage a greater sense of classroom community for students! It’s worth checking out. Maybe you’ll end up showing your students the inside of your magic school bus and take them for a spin!
Faculty members traditionally develop a teaching philosophy statement (TPS) as part of the job application process, for tenure reviews, or to encourage reflection. In a study published in the Journal of Faculty Development, we propose an alternative approach—to develop the TPS with students as the primary target audience, distribute it to students at the beginning of a course, and collect evaluative data from students about its accuracy at the end of the course. Data were reported from three faculty members who used this student-directed TPS approach. The study revealed implications for faculty development and for the creation and use of teaching philosophies.
Key Findings from Using a Student-Directed Teaching Strategies Philosophy Statement
To our knowledge, this is the first study to systematically examine student perceptions of their teachers’ TPS.
- Students are the most important information source for teachers to adjust the ways they achieve the goals and values represented in their TPS. The self-reflection aspects of the student-directed TPS appear to be its most valuable attribute. Teachers can use the feedback from their students to assess the accuracy of their statement, the extent to which their philosophy is translated into the classroom, and ways that they can improve their teaching.
- This approach to the TPS can serve both formative and summative purposes. The major advantage of this kind of TPS is its capacity to encourage reflection. The kinds of methods, practices, and experiences that teachers will likely emphasize when their students are the primary audience for their TPS may not necessarily serve the needs of a hiring committee. However, we argue that it can also meet the traditional summative, administrative decision-making uses of a TPS described earlier, especially if the teacher collects student data that provide evidence of actual practices.
- The student-directed TPS can be used for multiple purposes. The literature discusses creating one’s TPS in different formats, typically for administrative decision-making and for personal reflection. The innovative, multimedia techniques used to develop and present one’s TPS described by Alexander et al. (2012) enhance the ease with which this document can be shared with different audiences. The student-directed TPS can serve as an additional format and, in fact, can be used for multiple purposes. Whether the kind of TPS we are advocating is perceived as valuable by peers and administrators as the traditional version remains to be seen.
- The student-directed TPS provides accurate feedback for a teacher’s practices. In the present sample, the results showed that these student-directed TPSs very accurately reflected the practices of the teachers in their classes. And, the items used in the evaluation instrument as well as the open-ended student responses provide teachers with extensive data that are useful for reflection.
- Students benefit from inclusion in the TPS process. Why do students need to know their teachers’ philosophies of teaching? Are there specific benefits to the students when seeing their teacher’s TPS? If it is accurate, the TPS provides students with a valid preview of how their teacher intends to meet the course learning objectives. Sharing the TPS might also help to personalize the teacher, create a bond between students and teacher, and encourage a sense of community. These are questions that future research could address.
- Possible shortcomings of this approach to TPS cannot be ignored. It could be argued that one’s students are not qualified to provide objective critiques of a TPS. Specifically, their evaluations may be driven mostly by their expected grade in the course. On the other hand, because they are veterans of the course and teacher, their ability to accurately evaluate the TPS has advantages over occasional peer observations or feedback. It is also true that teachers may be hesitant to create a student-directed TPS if it induces fear that they might fail to meet their students’ expectations or reflects negatively on their teaching. Even with a well-written TPS, it is often difficult for teachers to assess their teaching practices accurately.Students were not asked to assess the effects of having seen the TPS at the start of the course on their perceptions and experiences in that course and with that teacher. If a teacher chooses to use a student-directed TPS, evaluating its effects on students would be a useful extension for future research.
We have made the case that the student-directed teaching philosophy statement provides a new and effective way for the document to be used in faculty development. (Tweet this quote.) This option should be included in any discussion of best practices for the creation, development, and use of a TPS.
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Alexander, P., Chabot, K., Cox, M., DeVoss, D. N., Gerber, B., Perryman-Clark, S., Platt, J., Sackey D. J., & Wendt, M. (2012). Teaching with technology: Remediating the Teaching philosophy statement. Computers & Composition, 29(3), 23-39.
Tom Brinthaupt, Ph.D, is Professor in the Department of Psychology at Middle Tennessee State University and Director of Faculty Development at MTSU’s Learning, Teaching, and Innovative Technologies Center.