Teaching Philosophy

Some years ago, on my original blog, in a fairly flippant mood I wrote ” Although I have been a teacher for most of my working life, I have come to realise that I am not particularly good at teaching people how to do things but I seem to be excellent at getting them to think about what they are doing!”  However, when I reflect on these words they don’t seem so far from the truth.

Res300 2006classAt whatever level I am teaching, I have always believed that I am an educator not a trainer and for me there is a large difference.  There is a necessary place for both of course, but I don’t engage with students primarily to teach them specific skills but to “draw out” from them their understanding of the world and to help them re-shape that with new knowledge and new understandings.  To use the current jargon, I have always seen myself as a’guide on the side’ not ‘a sage on the stage’.  Whether in 1972, teaching history to uninterested 12 year olds or 2013, teaching research methods to undergraduates, I am always aware that the separation between us is primarily one of experience and age, not knowledge or intellectual capacity.

Back in 1974, as a fairly naive teacher, I listened to a cynical and tired colleague complain that although he had taught a particular mathematical concept to his students, they hadn’t learnt it.  At the time, this struck me as a peculiar perspective to take – surely I thought, if they haven’t learnt it then you haven’t taught it! For me standing in front of a class and talking about something, is not teaching (although I suppose it may at times be training).

Knowing and seeing my students as autonomous individuals who have their own unique way for framing their understandings of the world is a pre-requisite for any teaching that I do.  So, while I have successfully lectured to 300 students in large lecture halls,

Teaching in Second Life

that to me is not teaching and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Knowing my students well enough to be able to share with them the purpose and sometimes the tricks of my trade, is for me a necessary part of engaging them in the material we need to cover.  Providing them with the opportunity to master the material in their own way (and as far as possible in their own time) and giving them the autonomy to decide how to best achieve this is my most successful and preferred tactic.

I tend to agree with Dan Pink’s claims that mastery and autonomy are prime human motivators. Generally, people want to get better at something they believe is worthwhile and they need to be free to exercise their own judgement in how they may best achieve that.  Unlike, Pink I believe that the third component of personal motivation is not so much a sense of contribution but acknowledgement and positive feedback.  Praise for achievement is something almost all of us delight in; supportive and helpful encouragment to overcome failure is something almost all of us welcome.

I have elsewhere highlighted what for me are the big three of 21st century education:

and the importance of revisiting not only what we consider necessary content, and relevant methods of assisting students to engage with that content but also how to show students what we value but how and what we assess.  I believe it is essential that educators debate these issues and I am attempting to kickstart some of those discussions by highlighting the entrepreneurial education work that we are currently doing.

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