Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bringing My Teaching Philosophy Into Focus

Teachers Point of View

I'd had the link saved for a while, but I finally got around to reading "Six Questions That Will Bring Your Teaching Philosophy Into Focus" last week. I've gotten in the habit of letting go of saved links if I haven't read them in a certain amount of time, but something about the title of that piece had me saving it - and I'm so glad I did.

I highly recommend reading the whole of the original if you have the time, but I thought it would be fun and enlightening to answer the questions and then share the results. If you only have time to read one, I of course want you to read my blog. However, you do need to know one thing from "Six Questions" - the author believes how we like to learn informs how we like to teach. I agree with that for the most part (caveats and addenda are all to do with the reading I've done about educational psychology and epistemology, and are besides the point of this post). So, here goes...

1. Describe the best learning experience you have had as a student.
I'm hoping the teacher who gave me this experience ends up reading this, which is likely since we're actually friends on Facebook. Without even a close second, my best learning experience was the time Mrs. Atwood (sometimes I can bring myself to use her first name, but not today) let us choose our own topics in the Talented and Gifted class she taught at my elementary school. (I know, forever ago, but it's pertinent.) I wrote about dragons, but it wasn't just a story I dreamed up. No. I compared the life cycles of eastern and western dragons. I discussed the science of dragon flight. I talked about St. George. I even covered the mating habits of different species. It was glorious good fun to write, and I may even still have the report itself around my apartment somewhere. Most important, though, that project let me know that my curiosity was just as important in the classroom as the teacher's goals. It taught me that education could be fun. Thank you, Debbie, for teaching me to enjoy learning.

2. Describe the best teaching experience you have had as an instructor.
Early on in my librarian career, there was this one student who tried to snowball me. We originally met during an instruction session I did for his class. He came once to ask for help. He came a second time to ask for help. The third time he came to ask for help, I gave him the help, but then I asked him a few questions about what he'd tried before coming to me. When I realized he was hornswoggling me, I called him on it. "I think you know how to do this and you're coming to me help so I'll do it for you." His face broke into a grin and he admitted it: "Well, I can be very charming." After his admission, I told him that he could always come to me for help, but that I was going to want some kind of proof that he'd tried it himself. Then I went further - I told him that I was going to inform the rest of the library staff about the deal we'd just made. He groused a bit, but then he agreed. A couple of months later, he came running up to me in the library to tell me about the B+ he'd gotten on a paper for which he'd found all the resources all on his own. It was in that moment that I realized I needed to hold our students accountable, that I needed to be kind but that I shouldn't be nice. Further, he taught me that students want to be held accountable.

3. What are you trying to achieve in your students with your teaching?
I want to get students to the point where they can teach themselves. It's a multifaceted skill set. Part of it is teaching them how to think critically, but that's not all of it. There's also the need to understand how to deal with failures, both in the short term and in the long term. Teaching students to concentrate on resilience and self-care while holding them accountable is a careful balance, and not one I can do on my own. (I've talked about my agenda in the past.) Information literacy cannot exist in a vacuum, nor should it.

4. Why is this important to you?
Because I care about the future. Grandiose, I know, but true. I know people who are educated to do a thing, and only that thing, aren't as well equipped to deal with change as are people who are educated to think. Because I want a well educated and informed, and yes - INFORMATION LITERATE - populace. Because, as I said in that post about my agenda, "our education system is churning out a generation of Spartans, but what we need is Athenians." Most of all, this is important to me because there are people in my past who gave me these lessons, and those skills have served me in good stead. 

5. How do you achieve your objectives you wrote down for question #3 above?
This is an area where I need to do a lot of thinking, since I don't have a strong enough answer. I know that I try to achieve my objectives by working to integrate information literacy into our curriculum and by educating members of my community about the research based practices I've developed. I know that I have built an information literacy curriculum in the past based on my constructivist pedagogy. I also know that I am working to do something similar at my new school in that vein. Of course, "Six Questions" is clearly focused for individuals and not programs, but I still feel I need more detail. And proof. Besides, if nothing else, I'd like to be able to answer the final question with more confidence than I currently feel.

6. Why do you use these particular teaching strategies as opposed to others that are available to you?
I do my best to use and advocate for teaching strategies that are research based because I know they are more likely to work, but that answer sounds hollow to my mind. I'm not saying it's wrong, just that I want to be able to answer this question with more depth. 

So, how about you? Do you think you could answer these questions? Do you want to?


  1. I really like this post. I do one-shots pretty much exclusively, and I haven't consciously applied a teaching philosophy. I think this is partly because lots of my one shots focus on how to use X (database/catalog/etc) to find good resources for Y (a specific assignment). This post definitely gives me something to think about.

  2. I love this post! I am applying for jobs after 7 years in a research library providing mostly one-shot resource informational techniques and information literacy classes... not much emphasis on a philosophy. Many universities require a teaching philosophy with applications now. I am finding it difficult to construct and communicate a fully formed teaching philosophy. Thank you for your post!