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Teaching Philosophy

 


 

My teaching philosophy is constructivist in essence, based on the belief that people construct meaning and knowledge from their experiences. I believe that students bring with them rich experiences, skills and understandings into the classroom, and I encourage students to connect the course material to their own lives. I value students' experiences and believe that the direction of a course or individual class session can be determined just as much by student contributions as it is by the syllabus or curriculum plan. As a foundation for my teaching, I have three overarching goals for my students: to integrate learning across contexts, look at ideas and issues from multiple perspectives, and become more effective writers. These goals serve as a template for my course design and teaching plans. 

My teaching practice is student-centered and integrative in nature; I take a broad interpretation of learning, and value opportunities for students to connect, apply, and synthesize what they learn both in and outside of the formal classroom. Many students are quite adept at multi-tasking and making connections among various tasks and concepts, but this skill is often unrecognized in the classroom. I look for opportunities to harness this integrative ability and utilize it in the context of our course material (e.g., bringing an artifact from their home life into class for the purpose of illustrating a course concept). My career experiences as a student affairs administrator have informed, and my research has supported, my views on the benefits of integration of learning across contexts. I design course assignments that require students to apply course concepts to areas of their lives outside of the classroom, for example creating a program or intervention that they can put into action in their professional job or graduate assistantship.

As we work together in a class, I challenge students to look at the material from a variety of perspectives. Stepping outside of one's own position and trying to see the world from someone else's vantage point can be a difficult (and sometimes frightening) task. I understand this and try to provide a number of spaces, both public (e.g., class activities, discussions) and private (e.g., reflective journals, writing assignments) for students to experiment with perspective-taking. Stretching to see an issue from an alternative point of view can help students clarify their own values and beliefs while gaining a greater understanding of others' experiences. For example, I may ask students during a class discussion to discuss an issue from the perspective of a college president for ten minutes, and then shift to discussion from an undergraduate student's point of view. Likewise, prompts for writing exercises can be crafted to encourage looking at the world from multiple perspectives. 

My background as an avid reader and an undergraduate English major influence my appreciation for good writing. I have witnessed through my own professional and academic experiences how poor writing can disadvantage a student. Despite a student's level of writing when they enter my class, I aim to help them become a better writer by the time they complete the course. Often, I can achieve this through my own detailed feedback on written assignments; other times I may refer a student to resources on campus for more intensive assistance with their writing. For each graded writing assignment, I develop a rubric that clearly delineates the characteristics of work representing each grade (A, B, C, etc.). This allows me to clearly communicate my expectations to students, as well as provides a framework for me to provide more thoughtful feedback to students. These rubrics often include the tasks of integrating across contexts and perspective-taking. 

Students in my classes are challenged to understand the course material through discussion, writing, and reflection. These are three of the most powerful tools in any teaching and learning experience in my opinion. My courses are generally discussion-based, and assignments are writing intensive, with both discussion and writing providing means for reflection. These methods are particularly appropriate for higher education because they allow students to organize and communicate their own thoughts, and also provide opportunities to look at the world from multiple perspectives. Not to mention that the abilities to discuss, write, and reflect are practical skills which are vital in later life, regardless of discipline or occupation. 

I have a strong background in student development theory, and I bring a developmental perspective to my teaching. I understand, through both my experience and research, that the way a student makes meaning of the world has a profound impact on how they interpret the material and assignments for a given class. Two students at different points in their developmental journey may have very different understandings of the same exercise in a course. Through conversations and writing assessment, I attempt to gain insight into where a student may be situated developmentally, and try to ensure that the class experience speaks to students who may be at differing developmental levels. To accomplish this, I design assignments and activities in a way that is developmentally sequenced, meaning that the skills or concepts introduced earlier provide the necessary support for future challenges.

I strive to foster an inclusive environment in teaching settings, and believe this ethos begins with me modeling the way by showing respect for all students in the class and their experiences, and introducing diverse perspectives into our work. Multiculturalism can be a politically charged idea, but I believe it begins simply with a shared respect, and the encouragement of thoughtful 
perspective-taking. As a constructivist, I believe there is an important place for students' identities (as well as my own) in the classroom (e.g., race, culture, gender, class, sexual orientation, faith). I realize that this openness is not always the norm in students' other class experiences, and I communicate the expectation early in the course that I encourage students to bring their unique 
characteristics and stories into our discussions. 

In my experiences as a teacher and a student, I have learned that engaging directly with students is by far the best way to reach them. I thrive on the relationships that I build with students as a teacher, and look forward to engaging, challenging, and mentoring students inside and outside the classroom. I see my role as a professor to introduce information, challenge assumptions, encourage critical thought, and facilitate discussion and reflection on ideas. This concept of mentorship is at the heart of my teaching philosophy.