At the core of my teaching philosophy is a commitment to personal change and adaptation. I strive to improve my pedagogical framework by incorporating feedback from students and colleagues, engaging with the teaching and learning literature, and attending professional development workshops and lectures.
From my early experience as a piano teacher of three students to my more recent experience as an instructor of undergraduate classes of more than one hundred students, I have come to understand learning as a dynamic process that happens as a function of a learner’s interactions with the world and is not merely a consequence of external stimuli or memorization of curricular materials. With this understanding, I work to instantiate into my classroom a set of values known to promote flourishing in dynamic settings.
I seek to create a space that encourages positive self-esteem and empowerment of students. I see the classroom as a community of multiple interacting individuals, each with the capacity to flourish in often unpredictable ways. I try to encourage a more egalitarian atmosphere by attempting to de-emphasize the power-gap between myself and students. I do this by adopting an attitude and communication style that is open and fluid. For example, I encourage feedback, challenge and discussion on course content and evaluation structures, and I include students’ ideas and suggestions in my teaching whenever possible.
Partnership and cooperation are important values that I seek to foster in my classroom. Almost every class incorporates open discussion between me and students and among the students themselves. I typically include a number of formal assignments and exercises to facilitate small group discussions and team work, and students are encouraged to use online discussion forums to continue the conversation outside of class. I often remind the students that I, too, am a learner. I respond and adapt to new insights and ideas that emerge in and around the classroom and other learning spaces. It is not uncommon for students to alert me to information from various media sources that supplement the topics covered in class. In this vein, I do not always herald the ‘correct’ answer, but I am always willing to seek out and entertain new ideas and perspectives.
Diversity is an extremely important value in terms of furnishing the learning environment with ample resources for growth and development. I try to foster and support diversity in numerous ways. For example, I utilize a wide variety of teaching tools such as videos, handouts, online articles, guest speakers, anecdotes, lecture, discussion, and debate. In all classes, I strive to ensure that all spaces, both actual and virtual, are accessible. One example of the way I do this is to provide course material in multiple formats such as written transcripts of videos. Also, I recognize that the classroom consists of a wide variety of students, each with their own insights and experiences, that constitute a set of learning resources for both them and others, and so I work diligently to make space for their voices to be heard in connection with the course material. I do this by encouraging students to provide examples from their everyday lives to contextualize theories and concepts. I often highlight issues from a global perspective that are relevant to the course material in order to broaden the discourse beyond the local viewpoint.
My own academic experience is interdisciplinary to the core, and my teaching philosophy reflects this experience. My perspective as a researcher and educator spans numerous disciplinary borders, and my courses often draw students from a variety of academic programs—both within the sciences and the humanities. One of my greatest strengths as a researcher and educator is that, by engaging a wide range of perspectives, I can find and lead others to find relational patterns between seemingly disparate concepts and ideas. This process of discovery is often a new and invigorating experience for students. My objective as a teacher is to guide students to ways of seeing that open the door to novel ideas and insights. I do this by introducing conflicting perspectives, probing the contextual landscape of knowledge claims, and exploring and challenging dualistic frameworks that often structure difficult or controversial issues.
The evaluation process provides a unique site of pedagogical praxis as I negotiate both the stringent academic demands of the university and the open and self-determined nature of my teaching philosophy. The university requires an accurate and precise measure of achievement which is typically accomplished through some form of examination that seeks to measure a student’s competency with the course material. I do include this form of traditional testing, but to it I add “safe spaces,” opportunities where students are free to explore and challenge the material without the added pressure of getting it ‘right.’ Students are awarded marks for participation in class discussions, written assignments, and informal exercises. For a portion of these marks, some form of participation is the only requirement. In formal examinations, I try to include questions that allow students to include their voices on the course topics, and I provide a series of in-class demonstrations as to how to approach these questions. The evaluation of these questions is based on the extent to which a student has engaged the topic(s). For example, an answer that simply recites the text would receive a lower grade than an answer that explores the topic in a unique context or utilizes explanatory examples. Between formal evaluations, I encourage students to provide as much feedback as possible on the evaluation process, which I then try to incorporate into the next evaluation milestone. As with my teaching philosophy in general, this is an area that is perpetually under construction. The main objective, however, is to integrate the academic rigor of institutional standards with the dynamism of complex learners in order to achieve a broad and inclusive assessment process.
The classroom is not an isolated time/space; thus, what transpires within the confines of the classroom draws from and contributes to a much broader network of interactions and relationships in which students are engaged. I feel that it would be irresponsible to neglect this relationship, and so I challenge students to see their work as an element of social significance beyond their final grade. Critical discourses from across the disciplines often suggest that that knowledge is situated and entangled with values and assumptions from the context in which it is derived. I thus encourage students to unpack knowledge claims in order to expose hidden norms and ideals. I usually explain that knowledge claims about how the world is are sometimes translated into normative claims about how the world should be. Normative claims typically set boundaries and limitations that will inevitably exclude and marginalize some thus may warrant challenge and change. As knowledge practitioners both within the academic community and within our social communities in general, I believe that it is our responsibility as teachers and learners to be critically engaged and to delve into the complexities of knowledge to incite discussion and debate. These convictions motivate my approach to teaching. In this way, my teaching philosophy might be summed up as a perspective that is less concerned with the facts of the matter than with the matter of the facts.