How (and Why) to Define Your Teaching Philosophy

I first read Jessica Olin’s October 28 post “Bringing My Teaching Philosophy into Focus” on her collaborative blog, Letters to a Young Librarian, while preparing to write a personal journal entry about LIS blogs a few weeks ago. Olin, Director of the Robert H. Parker Library at Wesley College in Delaware, has been a librarian since 2003, so sharing her teaching philosophy with the titular “young librarian” addressed by her blog is an act of virtual mentorship. As this blog, The Academic Library Panel, is intended to explore the educational role of librarians as fully as possible, exploring the concept of a teaching philosophy seems a fitting complement to previous posts about teaching techniques and educational standards.

Before turning to Olin’s post, let’s look at the article that inspired it, Neil Haave’s “Six Questions That Will Bring Your Teaching Philosophy into Focus” (2014). Haave advocates an active, team-based approach to learning in his classroom, yet he observes that “students still seem to equate lectures with better learning/teaching as opposed to student-centered teaching strategies despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary” (para. 2). In order to find an ideal balance between traditional pedagogy and the teaching strategies geared toward adult learners (andragogy), Haave suggests identifying “the connection between personal learning experiences and the reasons for using a particular teaching approach” (para. 5). To help new instructors understand and articulate why they teach the way they do, he has devised six questions and insists “there are no correct answers,” only “better supported” ones (para. 10).

  1. Describe the best learning experience you have had as a student.
  2. Describe the best teaching experience you have had as an instructor.
  3. What are you trying to achieve in your students with your teaching?
  4. Why is this important to you?
  5. How do you achieve your objectives you wrote down for question #3 above?
  6. Why do you use these particular teaching strategies as opposed to others that are available to you?

How does an experienced academic librarian answer these questions? Like many drawn to librarianship, and perhaps like many of us LIS 6010 students, Olin is able to answer the first four questions pretty easily, but struggles with the last two. She fondly recalls the elementary school teacher who allowed her to write about the topic of her choice (dragons), instilling the sense that her curiosity was valued in the classroom. She writes about the student early in her career who taught her how to hold students accountable for their own learning and showed her that they appreciate it. She explains that she hopes to help students become self-educators and critical thinkers while developing their resilience and self-care skills, and she echoes much of the LIS literature we’ve encountered this semester when she points to her desire for “a well educated and informed, and yes—information literate—populace” (para. 6).

While Olin clearly has studied educational theory, citing Piaget’s constructivist pedagogy as the foundation for her information literacy curriculum and advocating for research-based teaching strategies that she believes are “more likely to work,” she admits feeling unable to articulate satisfactorily how she achieves her objectives and why she prefers certain strategies to others (para. 8). Perhaps, as a commenter points out, this is because so many of the classes librarians teach are one-shot instruction sessions meant to introduce specific research tools or skills and usually geared toward a specific class or assignment. It can be difficult for others, and even for us, to recognize the value of the “teachable moments” that take place outside of classes and curriculum design—the seemingly ordinary interactions when we encourage students’ curiosity, when we empower them to help themselves, when we model how to use information strategically and ethically. Learning to explain the significance of what we do, and why we do it the way we do, both in and out of the classroom is vitally important to the future of academic librarianship.

References

Haave, N. (2014, June 2). Six questions that will bring your teaching philosophy into focus. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/philosophy-of-teaching/six-questions-will-bring-teaching-philosophy-focus/

Olin, J. (2014, October 28). Bringing my teaching philosophy into focus. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://letterstoayounglibrarian.blogspot.com/2014/10/bringing-my-teaching-philosophy-into.html

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2 thoughts on “How (and Why) to Define Your Teaching Philosophy

  1. Defining this concept for yourself is no important, and I’m not sure schools tackle it as they should, since I don’t have a teaching degree. The questions Olin asks are very retrospective, and should help teachers and potential teachers figure themselves out a bit. It speaks volumes that Olin can’t answer all the questions for herself- they are very hard to come to solid conclusions on!

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    • I’m planning to give it a try on my personal journal for this class by the end of the semester, but I’m almost certain to run into the same problems. Even that is valuable, though. At least I’ll have a better idea of what I need to learn.

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