The Person in the Mirror
Understanding Your Educational Philosophy
In my work as a teaching and learning consultant, working with teachers, home educators and university academics, one area that they all share is confusion over educational philosophy.
You may well ask yourself, why do they all need to understand educational philosophy? Well to be more precise, what they need to be able to do is to articulate their educational philosophy in an educational* (or teaching) philosophy statement. Questions I often get are: I don’t get it, why do I have to do that? Or, what is it anyway? Or even, where do I start? Well, why don’t I go ahead and answer these questions for you!
Getting to the bottom of it
When I unpack these questions with people, the most common reasons for needing to write an educational philosophy statement depends on their context. University Academics write them for promotions, for teaching fellowships, for grant applications or awards. School teachers are often asked to write them as part of their pre-service teaching courses, to put in their teaching portfolios, for job applications, and for promotions. Home educators write them to show to their registration bodies – not all states require this, but many are encouraging it as part of the review process. They write them to explain to the reader who they are as a teacher.
And that makes sense – it really does! As a teacher, you need to know who you are.
Who are you?
Why do we need to know who we are? In his 2007 book, The Courage to Teach Parker Palmer stated, “We teach who we are”. I cannot put it better than Palmer did in his text, so to quote from the opening chapter of his book:
“There is another reason for these complexities: we teach who we are. Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror, and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge–and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.” (p. 2)
So why do you need to bother? Because knowing why we teach, who we are as teachers, what we belief about teaching and learning – holds up a mirror to ourselves. It helps us to not only know who we are, but also where we are going, what we want to achieve. For ourselves, for our students, for our subject. It holds us together in the dark moments of a teacher’s life – and there are dark moments! You ask any teacher.
There will be moments when you are wondering why you went into this life, moments when nothing is working out in the classroom, when your subject seems like double Dutch. They are the moments a teacher’s nightmares are made of. You know the ones where your class is out of control, students are climbing out of the window, and then you discover you are teaching in your underwear! Argghhhh! And you wake up in a cold sweat, screaming and strangling you partner.
Yes, you need to be able to articulate your educational philosophy for these moments. And to know your students, and teach them well. And to know your subject and explain it with full understanding.
So, what is an educational philosophy – do we need to delve into the whole philosophy thing? Well, from the philosophy basics website, the word stems from the Greek philosophia – literally meaning the “love of wisdom” (how good is that!). Philosophy is about the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, thinking about thinking, the study of the nature of man and his behavior and beliefs. And Educational philosophy, from that same site, is the study of the purpose, process, and the ideals of education. So, when we talk about YOUR educational philosophy, articulated in an Educational (or teaching) philosophy statement, it then becomes about YOUR purpose, YOUR process of teaching and learning, YOUR ideals of education. WOW!
“The work required to ‘know thyself’ is neither selfish nor narcissistic. Whatever self-knowledge we attain as teachers will serve our students and our scholarship well. Good teaching requires self-knowledge: it is a secret hidden in plain sight.” (Parker Palmer, 2007)
Where to start? How to write your Educational Philosophy Statement? How to work this out? There are several ways of writing one – but to go into detail is too long for this post! But one way is to start is to answer those three questions: What are your ideals? What is your process? What is your purpose?
Making our way back to the top
So, I guess, I could have started this post with Michael Jackson’s song, Man in the Mirror.
“I’m starting with the teacher in the mirror
I’m asking them to think about their ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and be the change!”
(Sorry Michael, a few word changes here)
And yes, if you want to be an excellent educator, whatever your context, you need to understand who the person in the mirror really is. And to do that you will need to engage with the notion of your Educational Philosophy. You need to understand why you should be able to articulate one. And you need to be clear about what one is and how it can help you.
So, if you are ready to get writing, to learn more, I invite you to enroll in the course Developing Your Educational Philosophy. This course is suitable for home educators, classroom teachers and university academics. In this course I not only cover the why and what, but also take you further into the Where, When, and How of writing down your beliefs about teaching and learning. And I have added a BONUS.
The BONUS workbook provides you with ample spaces to write your notes. And of course, areas for reflection (thinking about!) and responding. This will help you to take your first steps to writing your Educational Philosophy Statement.I am ready – take me there now!
On completion of the course, you will walk away with a sound understanding of an Educational Philosophy Statement, have begun to think about what your beliefs are about teaching and learning, and have started to put it all together. Yet, as you will discover – this is only the start of what will become a life long journey of philosophizing!
* I use the broader term educational philosophy, rather than the narrower focus on teaching philosophy, as it should not just be about your teaching, but also about learning. The learning of your students, your own learning, and your subject.