Philosophy of Teaching Statement
On a sunny afternoon, I took my media studies students on a walking field trip to explore the city’s use of public and private space. Student groups were using video cameras to record short documentaries on topics ranging from surveillance to graffiti and advertising. At some point during the excursion, a group of students rushed over to inform me that they had unwittingly recorded a road rage incident, instigated by a driver trying to make a right hand turn at a red light and a cyclist unintentionally obstructing his turn. They recorded the driver getting out of his car, viciously attacking the cyclist and speeding off. We contacted the police, and in minutes, news media was alerted and arrived to cover the scene. Forward two days, and the driver, an off-duty police officer, turned himself in, making national news. This was swiftly followed by news media arriving at our school asking to interview my students for their response. Back in the safe space of the classroom, we reflected on the incident, and I conferred with students and parents about how they wanted to proceed with news media requests. With facilitation and guidance, the students took the experience a step further, and chose to use the event and the ensuing media frenzy as an opportunity to reflect on and critique news coverage, which eventually became the focus of their documentary.
I share this vignette for two reasons. First, this ‘real world’ event provided an opening for a teachable moment, like so many teaching experiences have the potential to do, and it underscored the need for educators to be responsive, adaptable, and value life events as authentic learning opportunities, even in unpredictable situations. This vignette also speaks to Jerome Bruner’s (2002) belief that all of life is a story, and that these kinds of stories and anecdotes help put the pieces of our life events together. Sharing our stories based on our lived experiences connect and bind us together, they have the potential to build community, and can leave a lasting and significant impact long after a course of study is over.
To take this a step further, knowing the stories and backgrounds of our students opens a window into who is in our classroom, and with this knowledge, we can plan meaningful curriculum and purposeful learning experiences accordingly. This knowing helps builds positive relationships, a sense of community, it improves the efficacy of differentiated instruction, and deepens our understanding of diverse student needs.
Some of the same fundamental truths hold for teaching adults, but there are significant distinctions for adult learning (andragogy) that require consideration. Knowles (1984) developed several principles for adult learning that include: the involvement of the learner in the planning of their instruction, a problem-centered approach, the inclusion of lived experience of mature learners, and relevant curriculum. As such, I often use narrative (in many forms), role playing, scenario-based learning, case studies and reflective practice with teacher candidates in order to provide rich learning opportunities. I have taken a constructivist approach to learning and in doing so, it acknowledges, values and benefits from the wisdom and lived experiences of the adult learners in the classroom. This approach entails the co-construction of knowledge through a socially interactive process, and the role of the instructor is as facilitator and guide on the side. For teacher candidates in the Bachelor of Education program in particular, the learning experience is complex in that many concepts and both practical and theoretical must be absorbed in a limited time. One of the central tensions, is the shift in identity to ‘teacher’ and is, in my opinion, an area that requires ongoing dialogue and reflective practice.
For the past twelve years, my teaching practice has expanded into online learning environments. Despite the change in learning contexts, my mission remains the same as it does for classroom teaching: to connect with students through authentic and meaningful learning experiences. As an online educator and researcher with considerable background in this area, research has taught me that some of the greatest challenges facing online learning are lack of student motivation and engagement, and the potential challenges inherent in the of dis-embodied nature of online education. Despite this, online instructor presence is known to have a positive impact on student learning and I’ve come to see the primary task of my online teaching to humanize the online environment. I do this through increased instructor presence partly through personal instructor videos, live asynchronous and interactive lessons with students, and ongoing, personalized feedback. Humanizing the online experience for me acknowledges that while technology shifts and online tools may come and go, the focus remains on building rapport, relationship and community.
Finally, my present research is in the field of online learning. It explores how restructuring pedagogical practices to promote intercultural communication and collaboration in increasingly diverse global online learning environments may improve student engagement and meaningful cross-cultural interactions.
The Long Game
So what has 20+ years of teaching taught me? So far, I have learned that best practice means being adaptable to new situations, environments and changing technologies. It has taught me that building relationships and community with students while providing meaningful, relevant learning opportunities have an impact. It has taught me that authentic assessment and meaningful feedback guide and shape the learning experience. And finally, my most recent role instructing teacher candidates has taught me that I am a lifelong learner, and my journey as an adult learner runs parallel to that of my teacher candidates.