Teaching Philosophy- How Strong is It?

You’ve made a stab at writing your statement of teaching philosophy for your job application, but have no idea of how effective it is. Now is the time to start asking yourself questions that can help you begin to evaluate what you have written.

Vicki Daiello,Professor of Art Education at the University of Cincinnati, has adapted a series of questions originally developed by the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota that will help you to do this, and I am reproducing them here with her permission:

Evaluating the Teaching Philosophy: Questions to Consider
Purpose & Audience
Is there a clear focus or theme(s)?
Are the language and tone appropriate for the intended audience without
relying on trite phrases, clichés, or lofty jargon?
Would it hold a reader’s attention?
Writer’s Voice
Is it “authentic” – do you have an idea of who this person is as a teacher (or
who they aspire to be)?
Does the teacher reveal self and personal/political/pedagogical
Is enthusiasm for teaching evident?
Does it sound as though the teacher cares about the beliefs expressed and
the arguments being made?
Would you like to take a course taught by this teacher?
Beliefs/Arguments/Claims & Illustrative Support
Does it convey what the teacher believes in a way that is engaging, specific,
and easy to understand?
Does it express why these beliefs are held?
Does it tell how these beliefs came to be held?
Does it communicate the teacher’s goals for and expectations of learners?
Discipline-Specific Knowledge
Are the beliefs/arguments/claims grounded in the teacher’s discipline?
Does the organization/structure support the arguments/claims being made?
Are the beliefs/arguments/claims backed up by evidence, examples,
anecdotes, etc.?
Are there specific examples of strategies, methods, or theories used to achieve
teaching and learning goals and to help students meet or exceed
Are headings, transitions, and paragraph design appropriate to the content?
Are length and thematic structure appropriate to the content?
Are there any distracting grammatical, typographical, or spelling errors?

Next up: A checklist that can also help you assess the quality of your statement of teaching philosophy.


Teaching Philosophy- How to Begin?

You know that you need to write a statement of teaching philosophy as part of your job application, but how in the world do you go about writing one? Or, if you’ve already written one, how can you make it stronger?

Vicki Daiello, Assistant Professor of Art Education at the University of Cincinnati, has these recommendations:

How to begin?
Especially if you’ve never done one before, perhaps the hardest thing about writing a
philosophy of teaching statement is figuring out how to begin. I recommend looking at a
number of sample teaching philosophy statements and then brainstorming or free-writing
in response to one of these prompts:
What is important to you in your teaching? Or,
Being an art educator means . . . ?
Also, it helps to produce a list of words or ideas – I encourage you to create your own list,
marking or highlighting the items that are most important to you and trying to think of
examples of ways in which these ideas are implemented in your classroom teaching. As
you brainstorm, try responding to some of the following questions:
• Think of an activity that you believe is a good example of successful
teaching and a good reflection of you as the kind of teacher you want to
be. What was it about the activity, and the way you implemented it, that
made it so?
• How do you establish rapport in your classes?
• Think of an activity that bombed in the classroom. Why do you think it
didn’t work? How would you change it and/or the way you presented it?
• How do you go about motivating students?
• How do you feel about assessment and grading?
• What do you think are important attributes of successful art students?
• What do you think makes an excellent teacher (in general)? an excellent
art teacher?
• How do you feel teachers can get better at what they do?
• What do you think is the most important issue in art education today?
• As an art teacher, what are some of your main concerns? What can you
do (or what can be done) about them?
• How do you think people learn art (successfully)? How does instruction
help? How can materials help?
• If I were to ask your students about your teaching, what would they say? (if
you were one of your students, what would you say about your teaching?)
• If I were to ask your supervisor about your teaching, what would they say?
(if you were your supervisor, what would you say about your teaching?)
Philosophy in motion. . .
Keep in mind, your philosophy of teaching statement will undergo changes and
refinements over time. Since you are changing and growing as an art educator, it is only
natural that your philosophy of teaching will grow and change along with you. Also, you should expect to adapt your philosophy of teaching statement to meet varying needs of
particular audiences. For example, the philosophy of teaching statement you present in
an employment application may differ in length and/or content from the philosophy of
teaching statement you include on your website.

Next up, how to evaluate the statement you have written.

You’ve Made a Mistake- Now What??!!

Every person who has ever taught a class has made an error of some sort. Sometimes you know you’ve made one immediately, while sometimes the mistake becomes evident only after a period of time.

I was recently contacted by an adjunct professor who had been provided by her university with a syllabus, lesson plans, assignment instructions, grading rubrics, etc. for a very technical class. One of the assignments had a set of relatively complex instructions. Five weeks into the project, she discovered to her horror that she had interpreted the instructions for the assignment in a certain way, and while half of the class had followed her lead, the other half of the class had interpreted them completely differently. Because of this, this second group was generating work that was different than that of their classmates. How should a professor handle something like this and still be fair to all?

While there were a number of solutions to this specific problem, the key to resolving any problem that arises from a teacher error is to admit to the class that you made a mistake. Give them a brief outline of what happened- they don’t need to know all the details, just enough to give them a picture of what led to the confusion/misunderstanding/error. This shows them that you are on top of it now, and that you understand the necessity of working towards a fair solution. Then present them with that solution, which is just what this professor did.

In this case, the best solution had to strike a balance between what was done by both groups prior to discovery of the error, what the assignment originally intended (learning outcomes), how well the work already done by both groups would achieve the learning outcomes of the assignment, and importantly how the professor wanted to grade the assignment from this point forward.

Teaching Philosophy- What is It?

One of the items that is required in an application package for a teaching position in higher education is a statement that outlines your philosophy of teaching. This is one of those documents that most people hate to write, for a variety of reasons. One may be that you  have hardly any teaching experience, and so haven’t really had the kind of time to really figure out who you are as a teacher. Another might be that you have lots of experience and have the teaching thing down, but just don’t want to articulate your thoughts about it in writing.

Regardless of your reasons, the Teaching Philosophy statement carries a lot of weight with search committees. It can provide clues as to the role that you play in the classroom (ex. dictator, collaborator, facilitator, etc.), how you treat students, what your course content might emphasize (ex. technical skills, concept-driven work, theory, etc.), and the value you place on teaching.

Vicki Daiello, Assistant Professor of Art Education at the University of Cincinnati, spends considerable time teaching her graduate students how to effectively compose a statement of teaching philosophy. Professor Daiello, who won the 2011 Award for Outstanding Teaching in the College of Design, Architecture, Art & Planning, has generously given me permission to share this brief summary on how to begin writing one:

Your Philosophy of Teaching
A Philosophy of Teaching essay is a statement of your ideas and beliefs about teaching
and learning art, and perhaps also about education in general. Most sources
recommend that you keep your teaching philosophy statement between one and two
pages in length, covering what you believe, why, and brief examples of how you
implement it in the classroom.
Often, people do not include every single aspect of their philosophy of teaching in such
statements but instead focus on its core elements, the ones that are most important to or
indicative of them as a teacher.
While philosophy of teaching statement is an important item to include in your teacher
portfolio, it also performs other important functions: It guides and informs you as you
prepare other teaching portfolio items; it helps you prepare for a job interview; and it can
help you ensure that you are consistent in the way you answer job interview questions.
Possible Teaching Philosophy Components
• theoretical underpinnings of your belief system and how your belief system affects
decisions such as materials selection, teaching strategies, and classroom
• a description of what you actually do in the classroom, why doing things that way
benefits your students, and how you know when teaching strategies are working
• teaching as a form of activism (how does teaching art mesh with your world
• content (what it is you’re teaching)
• meaningfulness (drawing on students’ ideas, interests and concerns)
• classroom dynamics and class atmosphere
• affective and emotional components of teaching and learning
• evaluation and assessment
• being flexible (working within the needs and constraints of the institution, the
students, and your beliefs as a teacher)
• collaborating with other teachers (sharing and developing ideas)

In my next post on this subject, I will share with you Professor Daiello’s thoughts on how to begin writing a statement of teaching philosophy.


AFT On Campus issue on MOOCs

Something all educators should be considering is what the role Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) will play in all of our futures. All indications appear to be that many administrations are looking at MOOCs as a silver bullet for financial woes. But it’s not that simple — MOOCs open a whole can of worms and this issue of the American Federation of Teachers On Campus publication explores MOOCs from several useful perspectives. http://www.aft.org/emags/oc/oc_winter201314/index.html#/20/

Learning Outcomes vs. Goals/Objectives

Is there a difference between the terms “learning outcomes”, “goals”, and “objectives”?

Well, yes.

In reality, these terms are often used interchangeably by educators. We all know what we are talking about when we use these terms, whether we are talking about them in terms of an individual class or an entire departmental curriculum. Although the differences between “goals” and “objectives” are relatively slight, there is in fact an important difference between those terms and “learning outcomes”:

A “goal” is the general result or achievement toward which effort is directed. It implies that you might not get there, as these are only the results you intend to get. (ex. “To gain an understanding of basic composition principals.”)

An “objective” is the specific result or achievement toward which effort is directed. Like “goals”, it also implies that you might not get there, as these are only the results you intend to get. (ex. “To  become familiar with the principals of line, shape, form, contrast, and color in artwork.”)

An “outcome”, on the other hand, is something that follows from an action. It states that you will get there and that there will be evidence of learning that took place. It also outlines the means by which students will achieve the learning. (ex. “Students will demonstrate effective use of the compositional principals of artwork, both graphic and aesthetic, in the creation of a studio project and/or a written research project.”

An “outcome” will also make evident what exactly will be assessed. This is why creating a learning outcome can be so helpful when figuring out what to grade and how to grade it. A well-written learning outcome for a course or a project will initiate the seamless “threading” process that leads a teacher from the outcome to the assignment to the critique to the grading of the work produced.

Please note that both “goals” and “objectives” are usually written with the passive voice. “Outcomes”, on the other hand, are written in the active voice. This difference is clear in the above examples. Verbs like “interpret”, “identify”, “present”, “design”, “analyze”, “apply”, “illustrate”, “explain”, “demonstrate”, and “create” are all very useful when creating a learning outcome statement.

For more information on this subject, the University of Connecticut has published an excellent Assessment Primer that covers these differences in depth.

Cover Letters: Salutations

Yesterday I was asked by a graduate student about whom to address a cover letter to when a job listing has no specific person given as the recipient. Here is some practical advice that can help answer that question.

First, if no one’s name is listed, you can always call the secretary of the department to find out who the chair of the search committee is. However, it can be the case that the membership of the search committee has not been solidified at the time the job posting goes out, so you may not be able to get a name even if you try.

If a person’s name is listed: If you know that the person is a PhD, then use “Dear Dr. XXXXXXX,”. If you don’t know or if you are in doubt about it, use “Dear Professor XXXXXXX,”. A comma after the name is appropriate.

If a person’s name is not listed: Use “To the Search Committee:” or “To the Committee:”. A colon after the word “committee” is appropriate in this case.