Here’s a riddle for you:
It may not be the type of writing you’re used to, and it requires thinking and reflection about an aspect of your work that you may not think as much about. It has an intimidating word in the title and is the first hurdle in preparing an outline of your work. What is it?
Answer: A Teaching Philosophy Statement
What is a teaching philosophy statement?
A Teaching Philosophy Statement is a reflective statement of your beliefs about of vision of teaching, your educational goals, and preferred educational practices/approach(es). Included are reasons for your teaching approaches. Critical self-reflection is a key component here. Your Teaching Philosophy can inform all of the subsequent materials in your dossier—acting as the spine of your dossier. It should also discuss how you put your beliefs into practice by including concrete examples of what you do or anticipate doing in the classroom.
Often medical faculty are required to prepare a teaching dossier or portfolio. These are often requirements for awards, for competitions or for promotion.
The actual dossier may be a familiar piece of writing for many of you: Describe what I do, prove what I do, summarize what I do.
But most dossiers start off requiring you to write a Teaching Philosophy Statement.
And this is where you may come up against a form of writing that is somewhat unfamiliar, unless you specialize in narratives or reflection.
Annual reports are coming up, and awards are being bruited about. So I thought it was timely for some ideas, tips and definitions for you, some from a much longer piece I’ve written on the Teaching Dossier for OHSE, and others from readings that have struck me.
(If you’ve done all your thinking and just want some writing tips, skip to TIP 4.)
Tip 1: Don’t do it…first
First of all, I suggest leaving your teaching philosophy alone until you’ve prepared some of the other parts of your dossier. So my tip is: Get your materials, your explanations, proof and evidence of your teaching together. Then…
Look through all your data. What similarities do you see? Any patterns?
What does this say about you as a teacher? What have your students said about you over the years? (or year, if you just started). What have your colleagues or your Course Director or Dept. Head said about your teaching?
These are all other parts of the dossier, necessary, and helpful to reflection.
Tip 2: Reflect
Yes, there’s that word again…Reflect. Or, if you don’t like to reflect, try: Analysing or recalling. You can also mull, ponder or ruminate.
I find it helps me reflect if I have prompts or hooks to anchor my thoughts. Try these 3 questions first, and just jot ideas down as they come to you. (You can “word splash”–just what the phrase says.)
Make your teaching philosophy personal to you
1) Why do I teach?
2) What do I want my students to leave my class with?
3) What do I believe my role is in the classroom?
Now try this: What in your experience and/or in your study of education has lead you to believe this? Describe your preferred approach, practices, and methods.
Need more help with your reflection?
Try these prompts to make your writing soar: (but don’t use all of them to write your statement or it will be a book, not a statement!)
- Put students first: In many courses on pedagogy, teachers are advised to place the students as learners at the centre or forefront of their teaching. If you begin with knowing how your students learn, how does that impact on you? What would be some of the first steps you would take in your classes?
- Learning: What is your definition of learning? How do you facilitate this in the classroom? How have your experiences influenced your view of learning?
- Teaching: What is your definition of an effective teacher? What are the roles and activities of an effective teacher? How do you challenge or engage learners? How do you teach? This should be a reflective statement describing your preferred approach, practices, and methods.
- Your teaching experiences: Think of times when you have been an effective teacher. What were you doing? Why and how? Times when you were ineffective? What were you doing? How can you improve that?
- Your teaching strengths: What are your strengths as a teacher? How will you capitalize on this? What are your weaknesses? How will you improve this?
And lastly, try these prompts:
- What are the chief goals you have for your students?
- What content knowledge and process skills, including career and lifelong goals, need your students achieve?
- How do you help your students achieve their goals?
NOTE: Please don’t try to answer all of these questions in one Teaching Philosophy Statement. Select a few that will guide you personally as they relate to you. See Tip 10 below in #4.
So what we’ve done so far is Collect, Select, and Reflect*. (*Sheila’s patented approach to dossiers and portfolios.)
TIP 3: Use and outline or a graphic organizer
Some people are gifted enough to have full statements spring full blown from their minds. I on the other hand, need an outline. Now, my outline is usually just a mass of words that I start organizing into themes. Thematic organization is actually just pattern recognition. However, you may find some helpers such as word clouds or concept maps useful. Here are some I found on the web as examples:
If we’re still using my approach, now we’ve done: Collect, select, reflect, connect.
TIP 4: 10 TIPS for crafting your writing:
i. Write in the first person with “I”, “my” etc.
ii. Some people use a metaphor to guide their statement. (teacher as coach, fitness trainer, gardener, strike a spark, not filling a pail but lighting a fire, tour guide, 911 dispatcher… Teaching is like….)
iii. Use the teaching philosophy statement as a guide to link with your responsibilities, strategies and effectiveness sections to form a cohesive dossier by drawing connections this statement.
iv. Buff or polish it to ideally 3-4 paragraphs—max. full page for physician educators’ teaching dossiers. (Some requirements are for 2 pages. That violates writing tip # 10.)
v. Provide specific supportive evidence, either from personal teaching experience or relevant teaching literature (See prompts above). Treat this like evidence in a study, if that expository kind of writing is more familiar.
vi. Use language appropriate to the audience.
vii. Work with another person as an editor and/or brainstormer. And view others’ statements as exemplars.
viii. Ensure that you can refer back to the key points of your philosophy in later components.
ix. If you can, make it a narrative, engaging and rhetorically effective text. Whoever is reading this might as well enjoy the experience.
x. Be brief and concise.
OK, I’m pushing it, but we’ve done all these steps: Collect, select, reflect, connect and now we’re beginning to “perfect” or “confect”.
I hope these are helpful tips and strategies for you. Please let me know if they are helpful and also if you have tips and strategies as well! Happy writing!
- Components of a Teaching Dossier, Queen’s OHSE.
- Elements of a Teaching Dossier: the Basics Centre for Teaching and Learning
- Writing a teaching philosophy
- R. Neil Johnson. Assessment Rubric for Teaching/Learning Philosophy. Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence. Penn State University.
- My Philosophy