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How our teaching philosophies shape us as educators.

Why do you teach? The answer may lie in your philosophy of teaching. More specifically, the overarching values and beliefs which guide you as an educator. I believe that an educator’s core beliefs about the purpose of education is one of the drivers of  their desire to work in education. So, what are your beliefs about the purpose of teaching and learning? What shapes you as an educator?

The terms ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ are hard to define. Learning environments and students are diverse. There are so many variables when thinking aout what learning means and what is  looks like. An individual’s philosophy of education refers to their own principles, attitudes, and how they believe teaching and learning takes place. In order to identify our own philosphical approach we may turn to educational perspectives, theories and theorists to  distinguish whether their ideas and principles resonate with our own intentions for our teaching and our learners. What we do as educators is a reflection of our implicit theory of learning.

Do you believe education is a passive process and learning is about changing behaviour through negative and positive reinforcement (behaviourism)? Or, do you consider learning to be a process of storing and retrieving information (cognitvism)? Maybe you consider your learners’ prior knowledge and own experiences as something which may be built upon in order for them to construct their own meaning and understanding (constructivism). Perhaps you see students as being responsible for their own learning and your role as an educator as one which encourages self-directed learning and to ensure everyone has the right conditions to learn (humanism). Very often it is our awareness of how we ourselves think about our own learning, our meta-cognition, and our own learning journeys, which influence our beliefs and therefore the theories we relate to.

I have been influenced by the work of bell hooks and Paulo Freire, and my own educational journey. My initial interest in teaching adults came about from being a mature student myself when I commenced my undergraduate degree. I gained so much from higher education as an adult that I was inspired to enthuse other adults in learning and to realise their potential whatever their starting point. I see education as a form of empowerment and a tool to enhance critical thinking and to open people’s eyes to see the world through different perspectives.

Hooks (1994) called for engaged pedagogy which includes mutual participation and saw teaching as a vocation to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students.  For hooks’ the goal of teaching is the practice of freedom. In her book ‘Teaching to Transgress’ she talks about building a classroom space which enables students to find their true voice and share their personal experiences. This, she argues, will promote critical thinking.

The very nature of the social science subjects I teach lend themselves to engagement with critical thinking and reflection. Paulo Friere  (1973) called for learners to be allowed to develop praxis – putting theory into practice – an inventive way of life that encourages free, creative reflection and thoughtful action. Indeed, my learners at Bristol Medical School are  health professionals engaging in teacher training. They are encouraged to learn about theories of education to transform their own  practice as educators – their praxis.

So how do you identify your own philosophy of teaching? You may want to start by exploring your own definition of learning and asking yourself what you believe the purpose of education to be. Do you believe that all students can learn and how do you think students learn best? Do you stand at the front and attempt to fill your students with your knowledge or are you more likely to set your students to task in small groups to try and find an answer to a problem you have set them? What does a successful lesson look like to you? Is this where students have felt able to challenge what you tell them and give their opinion or experience in order to suggest an alternative approach or method?

Maybe you believe success is proven by high test results or student retention. Do you believe that your students should be co-creators of knowledge or passive recipients? Should your classroom be quiet while students work independently or is your classroom more often buzzing with activity and discussion amongst your learners? Answering these questions may help you to understand why you choose the teaching and learning strategies you have adopted, and identify your philosophy of learning, and how this influences the way you teach. I hope that by reading this blog you have been prompted to think about, and celebrate, the reason you work in education. Have a great term!

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