“ I have no question that students who learn, not professors who perform, is what teaching is all about…teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal- or keep them from learning much at all. Teaching is the intentional act of creating those conditions, and good teaching requires that we understand the inner sources of both the intent and the act.” (Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach)
The best teachers possess a unique ability to gently awaken and transform our assumptions and beliefs about the world around us. They awaken a sense of joy, creation and innovation. They challenge us; they make us believe; they inspire a sense of inquiry; and, they bring a sense of meaning and importance to our personal experiences. They inspire us to create positive change, and motivate us to be better and to do better.
From my work in educational development, and through my own teaching experiences and attendance at a number of workshops and conferences focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning, I have learned that there are multiple approaches to improving teaching and learning in higher education; that a commitment to learner-centeredness is of utmost importance; and, at the same time, that context matters. Each teaching experience is unique – from instructor to instructor, semester to semester, discipline to discipline, course to course, and even from day to day.
I strive to implement an approach to teaching based upon a fundamental commitment to student engagement and active learning. Whether instructing a graduate research seminar in Landscape Architecture, or an interdisciplinary course on the theory and practice of university teaching, my teaching strategies are most informed by experiential and collaborative learning, peer development, critical inquiry and discussion, and a clear focus on student autonomy and responsibility for learning. My teaching strategies are informed by the simplicity of Kolb’s (1984) theory of experiential learning and the authenticity embedded within Mezirow’s (1990) theories of critical reflection and transformative learning. As such, course activities are intentionally designed to encourage learners to discover and apply new meaning, through a cycle of experience, awareness, reflection, practice and transformation.
I have found students are very receptive to learning strategies which establish a fundamental link between research, theory, and practice. As I continue to diversify and build my research agenda, I strive to bring these experiences into the classroom. I have used on-line learning journals to encourage a thoughtful integration of the course material, and am often inspired by the students’ learning progress and their ability to synthesize, critically examine, and transform the course material through their personal learning experiences. I have found that students appreciate being provided in-class opportunities that actively engage them in the learning process through critical inquiry, problem-solving, respectful debate and small-group discussion. I have learned the value of the peer review process, as students increase their knowledge of the course material, and discover the potential of providing effective feedback to others. I often incorporate both informal and formal peer review strategies as part of the assessment process.
From the first day of class, I encourage students to set clear learning goals. I develop mid-semester evaluations that encourage critical feedback regarding the design and delivery of the course, and also require learners to reflect upon their individual learning progress. I have found that students appreciate an instructor who is well-organized, approachable, enthusiastic and passionate about the subject matter. Throughout the semester, I do my best to learn and address each student by their name and to provide unstructured time to listen to their knowledge, ideas and concerns. I strive to intentionally align the course learning objectives, activities and assessment strategies, and to continually communicate this link to the students – in-class, on the course website, and in the objectives of each course assignment. I am aware that course assessment techniques have a strong influence on what, when, and how students structure their learning, and strive to ensure that there are sustained opportunities to receive and apply formative feedback throughout each semester, in order to foster a commitment to continuous improvement and learning.
In no way do I profess that I have succeeded in every teaching situation. However, I have learned from every teaching experience and am inspired to grow as an instructor. I am committed to a philosophy of continual improvement and am motivated to learn from: the advice offered by experienced instructors and colleagues; the scholarship of teaching and learning; my own reflective practice; and, most importantly, the feedback that I receive from students through informal mid-semester and end of the semester instructor evaluations.
My philosophy of teaching is certain to evolve as I discover the methods of teaching which enable me to effectively create a climate for learning that awakens a sense of joy, spirited curiosity, innovation and personal excellence. Like many, I am often challenged by an intrinsic fear of teaching – a fear which paradoxically drives my passion and commitment to university teaching and learning. In the end, it is the heart of teaching that embodies my passion for this profession. I simply could not imagine a more rewarding career.
Kolb, D.A. 1984. Experiential Learning. Prentice-Hall Inc., New Jersey.
Palmer, P. J. 1998. The Courage to Teach. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
Mezirow, J. 1990. How critical reflection triggers transformative learning. In Mezirow, J. (Ed.) Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood (Pages 1-20). Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco.