“I don’t really like math, but this is one of my favorite classes still, sir.”, “Well I was always terrible at math, but the way we do it in this class makes me feel like I actually can be good at it”. Two of the comments my students made after we started a discussion about how to make a perfect school transitioned into favorite subjects’ students were currently taking.
These two statements from two different students make me smile inside as they reflect important aspects of my teaching philosophy. I am intentional with my classes, to include the curriculum, seating arrangements, class covenants, management style, and student interactions. All these choices built together to try and create an environment that I believe is best for the students, and myself to create an optimal environment.
I believe that teaching is one of the most important and impactful professions that someone can do, as they are responsible with shaping the future of students. As an educator I believe in helping students transition from youth to adult, helping students develop critical thinking skills, deepen their knowledge, and learn how to learn. Every student I interact with, I hope to help them achieve these outcomes. Educators are role models in the life of students as they go through the transition from youth to adult, and this position should be used to help students develop healthy characteristics that can help and guide them through their entire life.
Critical thinking is an essential skill for everyone, and within the school setting rather than focusing on content, we must engage students to develop an ability for critical thinking and assessment. Teaching students how to learn, how to push beyond barriers they may have with learning and achieve more than they thought possible should be a goal for all educators. And finally, giving students a deeper content knowledge, finding connections with their personal lives and their curriculum and developing confidence and competence within a subject is another important goal I have for all students.
One of the most important aspects of teaching is the interactions a teacher has with a student, and I believe this to be a vital aspect of a worthwhile philosophy. As I said previously helping develop positive characteristics is one of my top goals, and to do this as a secondary educator I believe some key attributes of interactions with students must include treating students with the respect they deserve, helping them develop self-confidence, developing responsibility, collaboration skills, creative skills, research skills, and analysis skills. Helping students develop their own self and encouraging them to have confidence in that self is an everyday task that teachers must do, and I try to make this a purposeful part of my practice. Additionally, encouraging students to push for their personal best, whatever that is, to reach beyond what they believe, or what they have been conditioned by others to believe they can achieve, and go to their true potential. These skills that I wish to develop in students are directly linked to the choices I make and the interactions I have with students. The feedback I give students, the attention I give to students, the time I give up to students outside of class time, making eye contact with students and engaging them as a person first, not allowing the silent middle to be forgotten. All of these can be viewed as by first truly caring for the students, each and every individual from the “easy” student, to the “teachers’ pet”, to the “difficult” student, and the “silent majority”. All of these students need a teacher who cares about them, and is purposefully attempting to help develop them as people.
Learning is not about inputting information into a blank slate and having the ability to repeat this information verbatim, but rather is about taking information and applying this knowledge in an effective skillful manner. Learning involves an individual to be able to take new information and use it effectively (Simon, 1996). When an individual has truly learned a concept, they are able to use this knowledge to evaluate new information for accuracy, apply this information to situation specific context, or use this new knowledge as a scaffold to new knowledge or skills. Learning is not measured by a score that someone receives in a class, and is never final because learning is continuous regardless of environment, age, etc. Learning always happens, from birth through death, and in defined settings, such as a classroom, and unspecified settings, such as a baby learning from a parent or a person learning from the interactions they have every day. To read more about my theory of learning click here
To help achieve this learning an educator has a role of “teaching” and while this role is not the entirety of a teacher’s role, it is certainly an important aspect of a teacher’s job. As an educator I believe that students should be taught to pursue and attain mastery of their content, and then to use that mastery and their critical thinking skills in application. As an educator I believe in guiding students in their pursuit to master their own learning experience and to attain mastery of their content. I believe it is my role to scaffold students’ learning, based on a desired outcome, and to help them access deep critical thinking skills, high quality learning opportunities, and guidance from subject matter experts. With this they will be able to have deep learning and develop skills and knowledge they can apply to their life and their future lives. I know that not all students will achieve the same outcome, and they don’t even desire this, but that all students have the ability, and right, to achieve their best and to have the opportunity to achieve success and happiness in life. With this knowledge I approach each student as a unique individual and personalize an individual path of learning based on their learning preferences, aspirations, previous knowledge, history, and resources available.
To do this I utilize evidence-based best teaching practices to guide my curriculum and pedagogy choices (You can see this in the document above this paragraph). I use a student-centered mastery learning curriculum that allows individual differentiation for each student and pushes them to achieve mastery at their own pace. I use criterion-based measurement of mastery and utilize varying levels of comprehension measurement based on different levels of knowledge assessment (from rote understanding, application, to analysis). I believe in the employment of establishing intrinsic motivation in students, fostering peer collaboration, scaffolding, connections to the real world, and consolidation of higher-level thinking. Additionally, I regularly employ the evidence-based strategies of content spiralling, modelling, scaffolding, distributed practice, practice testing, interleaved practice, and feedback.
In summary reflecting the statements made by my students, it made me happy as an educator because I could see that despite being challenged the students had taken internal control of their learning and enjoy a class despite not enjoying the subject. My teaching philosophy is to make every student pursue mastery, develop as an individual, and pursue ownership of their life and learning. These statements reflect that while I am imperfect, I am making many of the impacts that I intended to.