Teaching Philosophies: Time for a Revisit

Credit: iStock.com/francescoch
Credit: iStock.com/francescoch
Several discipline-based teaching journals now annually recognize articles that have had lasting impact. It’s a great way to honor pieces of scholarship that have advanced our understanding of important pedagogical issues and improved practice in the process. The Journal of Management Education recently honored two concurrently published pieces on teaching philosophies—one that proposes connecting teaching philosophies to relevant educational philosophies and one that contains two exercises designed to help faculty discover and articulate their own teaching philosophy (Beatty et al., 2009a, 2009b).

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Several discipline-based teaching journals now annually recognize articles that have had lasting impact. It’s a great way to honor pieces of scholarship that have advanced our understanding of important pedagogical issues and improved practice in the process. The Journal of Management Education recently honored two concurrently published pieces on teaching philosophies—one that proposes connecting teaching philosophies to relevant educational philosophies and one that contains two exercises designed to help faculty discover and articulate their own teaching philosophy (Beatty et al., 2009a, 2009b).

For Those Who Teach from Maryellen Weimer

A well-established practice now, preparation of a teaching philosophy statement is a routine part of job applications and professional advancement. I’ve been decrying their use for these purposes for years now. The process promotes the preparation of a statement that describes “acceptable” approaches to teaching, not necessarily statements that reflect the preparer’s actual beliefs about education. Perhaps my view is more cynical than it needs to be, but the power of a teaching philosophy rests on its authenticity—it needs to be compiled as part a process that encourages teachers to poke and prod practice with powerful queries: “Why am I doing this?” “What’s the educational rationale behind this policy, practice, or behavior?” “If this is what I believe, why don’t my practices reflect it?” Honest answers to questions like these motivate teachers to realign what they believe and what they do.

The rationale for the first article (2009a) rested on authors Beatty, Leigh, and Dean’s belief that most teaching philosophy statements were light on philosophy or theoretical grounding. I think that critique still applies. Rather than explorations of educational philosophy, most statements are something closer to teaching manifestos, to credos or statements of beliefs. Even with the narrower focus on beliefs, these statements are still provocative tools for teachers in a profession where the skills of reflection and analysis are not usually taught, honed, or particularly valued.

In a current article (Beatty et al., 2020) that revisits the original piece, the authors note their continued belief that a teaching philosophy is singular. A teacher has one, but that singularity still allows for differences in practice—how one teaches beginning and graduate students, for example. If the philosophical underpinning of a teaching philosophy is based on pragmatism, which acknowledges situational values, for example, a teacher might let general education students participate in knowledge creation but do so at a markedly different level than in major courses.

A singular teaching philosophy defines the space within which teaching and learning occur. I love how the authors describe what happens in that space: “Just like the old jazz metaphor, which says the rules and structure establish important guardrails within which creativity blossoms, we firmly now understand that learning creativity comes alive within the structure of our overall philosophical orientation to teaching and learning” (p. 539).

What’s of interest to the authors now is how a teaching philosophy evolves across a career: “Our personal teaching philosophies are similar to our earlier selves, but now seem developmentally obsolete” (p. 538). Does an evolution of some sort occur in all teachers? What kind of external influences and experiences might change a teacher’s philosophy? If the teacher becomes aware of growth and change, does that awareness add significance, make it more likely to affect what a teacher does in courses?

Creating, maintaining, and revising a teaching philosophy or manifesto for the purpose of instructional growth has so many potential benefits. I deeply regret that I did not regularly shine the light of my beliefs on my instructional practice in any systematic or purposeful way. I stumbled onto inconsistencies. Thoughtful preparation of a teaching philosophy reveals disconnects—how a teacher can hold a belief but then contradict it with a practice or commit to a practice unaware of the belief structure on which it rests. Revisiting a statement prepared earlier is like looking at the teacher you once were and seeing what’s changed. I look at my hands; they’re still mine, unlike anyone else’s, but now they’re old hands. Seeing change is instructive. Sharing teaching philosophies reveals different belief structures and enables us to discuss their relative merits, given what, how and who we teach. And finally, these statements of belief make clear the largeness of what education attempts to accomplish. We teach to make lives better today and tomorrow.

References

Beatty, J. E., Leigh, J. S. A., & Dean, K. L. (2009a). Philosophy rediscovered: Exploring the connections between teaching philosophies, educational philosophies, and philosophy. Journal of Management Education, 33(1), 99–114. https://doi.org/10.1177/1052562907310557

Beatty, J. E., Leigh, J. S. A., & Dean, K. L. (2009b). Finding our roots: An exercise for creating a personal teaching philosophy statement. Journal of Management Education, 33(1), 115–130. https://doi.org/10.1177/1052562907310642

Beatty, J. E., Leigh, J., & Dean, K. L. (2020). The more things change, the more they stay the same: Teaching philosophy statements and the state of student learning. Journal of Management Education, 44(5), 533–542. https://doi.org/10.1177/1052562920932612