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Examples of "Teaching Philosophy" Statements
taken from Dalhousie University's Guide to the Teaching Dossier
By their very nature, people are inquisitive. The goal of education should be to encourage seeking answers, as it is in this way that we advance. I seek to facilitate this advancement of knowledge, and the main theme of my teaching philosophy is reasoned thought.
Whether in the classroom or in meeting groups of the general public, my goal is to encourage thinking in rational ways, so that this can be applied in other, unfamiliar situations. I particularly emphasize learning to think about trends and directions (e.g. increasing this will decrease that), rather than rote memorization of facts.
In order to further encourage seeking answers to the questions around us, I try to encourage the questions themselves. All teachers should do so, but it is difficult to "allow the time" for this to take place, especially in a classroom setting. One way in which I have done this is to design a course based on answering questions. This is the Materials Science class that I have been developing since 1990. (Materials science has been deemed one of the two most important topics in chemistry currently--the other is biotechnology--but classes in materials sciences are extremely rare.) The class is based on first asking the questions (why are materials coloured as they are? how is heat stored? why is marble cold to the touch? etc.), and then developing the principles to explain the concepts as needed. This is just the reverse of most physical science classes where principles are presented and then a few examples are added at the end.
I am presently writing a textbook for this class. Judging from the interest in this class when I spoke about it at a national chemistry meeting and interest in a paper describing this class published in Canadian Chemical News, I expect that the publication of this textbook will lead to development of similar classes at many other institutions.
Another important element of my teaching philosophy is encouraging reasoned written and oral work, especially in developing logical arguments. A major factor of this is spending my time making suggestions, as students can only learn to present their ideas more effectively if someone shows them how and why modifications could be made to their natural style to make it clearer.
Finally, I aim to encourage a sense of wonderment in the world around us. Although I am a scientist and teach mostly science students, this is not, in my mind, an exclusive club. We are all scientists. We all wonder about the world around us. We must continue to ask the "how?" and "why?" questions in order to advance. Only if answers to these questions continue to come (either from the teacher, or, better yet, through reasoned thought on the part of the one asking), will the questions continue to flow.
Teaching Philosophy or Approach
My teaching is somewhat eclectic and resists a neat philosophical classification. What I will attempt to do is to identify some themes which emerge from my teaching and let others determine whether these themes constitute any coherent pattern.
At the outset, I would state that teachers impart more by way of example than precept, and that students are very perceptive in recognizing when a teacher does not practice what (s)he preaches. There are several values that I try to teach students, both by my words and my actions. Included among these are the following: the importance of organization, preparation, and homework; respect for other people and their views; the public service obligations of the lawyer; the value of clear and effective communication in both written and oral form; the importance of fair process; the centrality of equality, to name but a few.
Another important theme of my teaching is to emphasize the value of critical scholarship, which not only clearly describes the present state of the law but explores what the law should be. I make a point of including in my in-house case books (prepared from scratch and revised every year) scholarship that questions and challenges the state of the law as presented in the statutes, regulations, and cases. I also encourage students in their own research papers to move beyond the mere description of the present state of law to make constructive suggestions for law reform. I have been gratified by the number of my students who have not only written these scholarly plans for change but have gone on to get them published (see Appendix 4). It is important for students and teachers to realize that pedagogy and scholarship are allies rather than enemies in the academic enterprise.
While it is hard to say this without sounding like a cliche, I try to teach in a human and humane fashion. This is a theme that I articulated in my 1982 article on the "Social Cost of Incompetence" (see Appendix 7). Unless there is a climate of mutual respect in the classroom, students will be very reluctant to add to the conversation. I have been pleased that my formal evaluations (Appendix 2) and the informal student feedback (Appendix 3) would suggest that I have had some success in creating a learning environment in which students feel safe, yet stimulated. This means they are free to contribute to the class and develop their ideas. I like to think that it is this human touch which explains the touchingly positive response to my winning of the Law Teaching Award last year (see Appendices 3,5, and 8). One of my objectives is to do my small part to humanize the law and remind students that the law is really about resolving people's problems.
A final theme in my teaching, which I will emphasize, is teaching in an inclusive fashion. This theme of inclusiveness is reflected in my curriculum vitae (Appendix 1), pedagogical publications (Appendix 7), course innovations (Appendix 6), peer evaluation (Appendix 8), and continuing education (Appendix 9). The best indications of my views on this topic can be found in my Breaking Barriers Task Force Report and my Dalhousie Law Journal article on "Institutional Responsibility and the I.B.M. Programme at Dalhousie" (see Appendix 7). In the 1990s and beyond, we must take account of diversity in our teaching. This means who we teach, what we teach, and how we teach must take account of equity concerns and celebrate the diversity of our student body.
My Approach to Teaching
The teachers I have had who stand out in my memory have some attributes in common: they presented their subjects in a way that caught my interest, clarified difficult topics and led me through complex areas, and put knowledge into context so that its relevance was apparent. These role models have influenced my approach to teaching: I view myself primarily as a facilitator of learning, rather than as an expert who simply delivers information to students. When planning a curriculum or interacting with students, I am always conscious of their different learning styles and rates, what they have already learned and what they will need to learn in the future. Feedback from students has been vital to the process of growth I have undergone since I began teaching: I learned from them, for example, the pacing of lectures, and effective ways to help them learn in small group discussions.
Personal contact with students is essential to my approach. Many need encouragement to talk to their teachers, so I emphasize my availability for informal discussion and my willingness to help them sort out any problems they have with what they are learning. My experience as a teacher is greatly enriched by this contact with students. I am fortunate to teach in a professional school where I can follow the progress of the students through the program and sometimes beyond graduation.
As I gained experience and confidence as a teacher, I came to regard teaching as my primary professional responsibility. Consequently, I moved into areas of teaching administration and faculty development. My current position as Assistant Dean legitimizes my efforts to effect changes in the medical curriculum, and places me where I can have an influence on the "learning climate" of the medical school. I am able to help my colleagues develop as teachers in my roles as local chair of the Canadian Association for Medical Education and as a TIPS teaching skills instructor. Several years ago, I began to be interested in the theoretical background for teaching and learning. I have attended meetings and workshops to learn about this and am currently enrolled in a distance-education diploma course in medical education. I have begun to do collaborative education research.
As a physiologist working in a professional school, I benefit from having students who are eager to learn an intrinsically-interesting subject. On the other hand, basic science teachers are often handicapped by having no clinical training, and therefore find it difficult to know the relevance of what they teach to the practice of medicine. Moreover, there is a torrent of new information in the basic medical sciences, and medical students have likened it to trying to sip from a fire hose. I have developed some teaching strategies to ameliorate these problems, including collaboration with clinicians for curriculum planning and teaching, and articulating clear educational objectives for myself and my students. Further, student autonomy is important in this situation: students must be encouraged to play an active role in determining what and how they learn. In so doing, they will develop the life-long learning skills needed to cope with progress in medical practice.
As chair of one component of a year-long course in Body Systems, I have had the opportunity of putting these strategies into practice. With my clinical colleagues, I have modified the content and format of the renal systems component so that it provides a bridge between preclinical and clinical sciences, and fosters students' self-educational and self-evaluation.
I played an active role in developing a new course for the first year of medical studies: Introduction to Physiology is a model in our undergraduate program for its innovative use of demonstrations. As chair of this course, I continue to work with my colleagues and students to improve it and to demonstrate its unique qualities to physiologists around the world.
Statement of Teaching Style
I bring a lot of energy to my class. If I can't get excited about my subject, why should my students?
Accounting is viewed by many as boring; there are right and wrong ways to approach questions, and finite answers to many questions. Of course, it is far more than that as accounting should be viewed as a complex language with many shades of gray that necessitate complex judgement calls. I try to get beyond the procedures.
The major course I teach at Dalhousie is a required course in the commerce program, and many non-accounting-oriented students must take this course. The course involves computer work, and many non-computer-oriented students must take this course. I work to make this course not just survivable, but interesting as well.
There are a number of things I try to accomplish for my students:
- A positive atmosphere. Students are called upon to discuss questions, but mistakes are treated as opportunities to explore misconceptions, not as a reflection of a student's abilities.
- A window on the world. Almost any event you can link to the business world, (The Exxon Valdez, the collapse of Olympia and York, etc.), has accounting implications. Examples such as these are used to remind the students that accounting is the language of business, and the events that must be described are, at times, quite dramatic.
- Fair playing field. I go to some lengths (individualizing computer assignments, etc.) to ensure that students know that there is no easy way out.
- Access to a caring individual. No, I don't know all their names. But when I am teaching 190+ undergraduates, I work with my office door open, and I am available to help.
- Computer troubleshooting. Many students give up on computer exercises in total frustration when they reach an impasse. I try to be available, both in scheduled lab times and in impromptu "walk arounds" through the labs, to ensure that students learn from the computer exercises.
- Empowerment. I believe that anyone can do well in accounting if they are willing to spend the time at it. Some pick it up quickly, some need to spend more time. If I provide any value added, it is in encouraging all my students to be interested enough in the subject to invest more time. Then, I try to make sure they spend their time productively.
- Respect. Students work hard, earn their grades, and are entitled to their opinions. My task is to facilitate their learning process.
Sample Letter to Students Requesting Feedback (Clause 6.5(c))
Professor _______________ is being considered for _______________ at The University of Western Ontario. In arriving at a decision, the Committee reviewing this case will be considering Professor _______________'s performance in each of the areas of teaching, research and service.
In assessing performance in teaching, the Committee will have the results of the annual teaching evaluations along with peer opinions. In addition, it would be valuable to have the input from some of (his/her) former students such as yourself. You are invited to submit to me your written assessment of Professor _____________ as a teacher and mentor. It is important that you provide forthright and honest opinions and that you sign your letter. Unless you specifically indicate in the letter that your identity can be known to the candidate, your identity will be kept confidential from the candidate. The contents of your letter will be revealed to Professor _____________ by including in (his/her) Promotion and/or Tenure File a copy of your letter with all identification removed. If you wish your identity to remain confidential, please phrase your letter such that your identity is not revealed by content. You should be aware that your letter in its entirety will be seen by the Promotion and Tenure Committee reviewing this case.
To meet our deadlines, we hope to receive your report by _____________. If you prefer, you may send your report by courier (collect) or Facsimile Communication (to Fax number ______________). If providing your reply by Fax, please send the original through the mail.
I am grateful to you for undertaking this task. We appreciate your considered judgement of the candidate's qualifications.
(Dean, or designate)
Sample Notice for Posting of Public Solicitation by end of May (Clause 6.5(c))
Promotion and Tenure
The Faculty Collective Agreement requires that in evaluating a faculty member's performance for promotion and/or tenure purposes, a public solicitation for letters must occur.
Professor ______________ is being considered for ______________. Anyone wishing to make a written submission can do so until the File is closed. It is anticipated this will occur [approximately] by __________. Those engaged in the review of the Promotion and/or Tenure File may wish to refrain from providing a letter of support in order to avoid a perception of bias.
Unless you specifically indicate in your submission that your identity can be known to the candidate, your identity will be kept confidential from the candidate. The contents of your letter will be revealed to Professor _____________ by including in (his/her) Promotion and/or Tenure File a copy of your letter with all identification removed. If you wish your identity to remain confidential, please phrase your letter such that your identity is not revealed by content. You should be aware that your letter in its entirety will be seen by the Promotion and Tenure Committee reviewing this case.
We appreciate your considered judgement of the candidate's qualifications.
This submission should be sent to (Dean, or designate).