What is a teaching philosophy statement (TPS)?
What Makes Good Teaching? A Short Film by Harvard Ed Students
“A teaching philosophy is a self-reflective statement of your beliefs about teaching and learning. In addition to general comments, your teaching philosophy should discuss how you put your beliefs into practice by including concrete examples of what you do or anticipate doing in the classroom.” (U. Minnesota, p.1 PDF)) “Each teaching philosophy statement [also] reflects not only personal beliefs about teaching and learning, but also disciplinary cultures, institutional structures and cultures, and stakeholder expectations as well.” (Schonwetter et al, U of Manitoba & U. of Winnipeg, p.1 PDF)
The most common reasons for writing a TPS are: to apply for a job, a promotion, tenure, or a grant, or to be considered for an award; to complete a teaching dossier; or to take stock and give new direction to your work which “in turn enhances your ability to contribute positively to your learning community.” (Chapnick, Faculty Focus Special Report, 2009, p.4).
What makes writing a TPS so challenging?
If the task this week is causing you some anxiety, you’re in good company. “For most educators, writing a philosophy of teaching statement is a daunting task. Sure they can motivate the most lackadaisical of students, juggle a seemingly endless list of responsibilities, make theory and applications of gas chromatography come alive for students, all the while finding time to offer a few words of encouragement to a homesick freshman. But articulating their teaching philosophy? It’s enough to give even English professors a case of writer’s block.” (Bart, Faculty Focus Special Report, 2009, p.2)
There are several reasons for this:
- There is no standard formula or set of guidelines to follow.
- The writing style -- narrative and first person rather than formal and academic -- is unfamiliar.
- Experienced teachers may have too much to say in 1-2 pages; whereas, new instructors may have too little.
- It can be difficult to show, for example, that you’re passionate, care about your students, take a learner-centred approach, value active learning, and foster individual growth (desirable) without saying that you’re passionate, care about your students, take a learner-centred approach, value active learning, and foster individual growth (undesirable). (Arghh!!!!!)
What will we be doing during the course?
- To complete a first draft (at least)
- To contribute to a class ‘gallery’ by sharing that draft
- To apply the criteria for an effective TPS when composing and checking your own and reviewing others’ work
- If comfortable, to ask for feedback, specifying what help you need or selecting the rubric to be used
- If time, to revise and share your next iteration
As you work through the steps and take advantage of the support of your colleagues, hopefully you’ll come to think of writing your TPS as an opportunity to indulge in some enjoyable reflection and conversation about teaching plus a little shameless self-promotion :-).
Where to begin?
The articles below, by writers who wrestled in one way or another with TSPs, will get you thinking about different ways to tackle this project.
"How do you write a statement of teaching philosophy that doesn't sound exactly like everybody else's?"
James Lang (2010, Chronicle of Higher Education). 4 steps to a memorable teaching philosophy. From https://www.chronicle.com/article/4-steps-to-a-memorable/124199
"As an academic, I'm used to people paying no attention to what I write. But what about those people who do decide to read my statement? What on earth do they want?"
Jeremy Clay (2007, Chronicle of Higher Education). Everything but the teaching statement. From https://www.chronicle.com/article/Everything-But-the-Teaching/46672/
"Quietly, he read and reread my statement. Then he turned to me and simply said, 'Tell me what you are trying to convey.' I realized I could not succinctly answer his question."
Mary Ann Lewis (n.d., Ohio Wesleyan U.). Teaching statement as self-portrait. From https://chroniclevitae.com/news/734-teaching-statement-as-self-portrait?cid=articlepromo
Why are so few TSP samples provided in this course?
You may be surprised to hear that reading other people's teaching philosophy statements can make finding your own voice and vision more difficult. Drawing on the advice and support of peers and co-workers is more productive. So you decide if you'd find it useful to search online for examples that fit your discipline & exemplify the kind of writing style to which you aspire.
Do I have to follow all the steps?
No, nothing is mandatory. You know best what you need to push forward and achieve your goal(s). According to the pre-course survey, this group is split pretty evenly between those who want to update an earlier TSP and ‘newbies’, so the course has been designed to accommodate both working sequentially and personalizing.
Most ‘how to’ websites and articles advise TPS writers to begin by answering a collection of questions designed to help them to verbalize what they do and the thinking that underlies the choices they make. Often such questions are grouped into categories that can be used to develop an organizing structure for the TPS. In this course we’re going to take a step back to think first about the essential question of why we teach and then put words to the big idea(s) which guide our work
Simon Sinek: Start with Why (excerpted from a longer TED Talk; also available the complete version with subscripts)
In the blog, Three Teachers Talk, Amy Rassmussen writes about how educators, like the business leaders described by Sinek, tend to be stuck in ‘what, how, why’’ thinking. Sometimes we don’t even get to ‘why’. “I do not know a teacher who does not want to inspire students …. but we “focus on the WHAT and the HOW – like making learning relevant, engaging our students, teaching them grit, focusing on achievement …. instead of WHY we teach our students in the first place. … To inspire lasting change, we must start with WHY.” >To make her point, Rasmussen gives us what could be an educator’s version of Sinek’s ‘business as usual’ example:
- “We teach high school.
- Our school culture is spirited and sound. Our curriculum is rich. Our test scores are high.
- Wanna come here?”
She then contrasts that to what happens when the conventional way of thinking is turned inside out:
- “Everything we do, we believe in challenging our students’ thinking. We believe in genuine and individual inquiry.the WHY
- The way we challenge our students is by making our school safe and innovative with … knowledgeable teachers who are … compassionate [and] cater to the needs of all students.the HOW
- We happen to graduate honorable and educated citizens. the WHAT, i.e. the results] Wanna come here?”
Finding your ‘WHY’ can give you the big or unifying idea for your TPS, but it doesn't always come easily. As you’ll read in this story by one biology grad student trying to write a TPS, the struggle can yield wonderful results.
The next step in the process is to brainstorm the 'HOWs' and 'WHATs' that emanate from your 'WHY'. In the Activity below, you'll find links to a selection of websites and documents with plenty of questions to get you started.
It's good to keep a few things in mind as you do this:
- “You are not meant to answer all these questions in a teaching philosophy” (Dunne, Memorial U., p.1). As soon as you begin to feel themes and connections emerging, focus on questions that will help you either expand these ideas or gain clarity about what you want a potential TPS reader to know about your teaching.
- "Avoid making generalizations." The more specific and personal your answers, "the more valid and compelling ... [your TPS] will be because you are not asking the reader to agree to universal claims" which anyone could make (DePaul U.).
- This is the time to read sections of the institution &/or division’s mission statement, strategic plan, and other documents that pertain to teaching and learning. You'll want to note where your practice aligns with the priorities on your campus (or the one offering the job you'd like to get) and select a few quotations you might want to use.
A TPS is a "narrative that offers concrete examples of the ways in which [you] enact your beliefs in the classroom. ... As appropriate, draw from scholarly literature [correctly cited] to help ground the approaches you take and beliefs you hold" (UBC, n.d.). Your TPS should show that your pedagogical decisions are evidence-based and that your choice of content and design of learning experiences reflect best practices in your discipline. You'll also want to gather examples of student work as well as data and comments from course evaluations or peer observations.
Given that you have a maximum of 2 properly formatted pages, you must be selective. Highlight recurring and connected ideas, experiences, and evidence to find what is really important to you. Those 'HOWs' and 'WHATs' will reveal the values -- the 'WHYs' -- you most cherish as an educator. That's what a reader of your TPS will want to find in those pages -- your best, authentic, teaching self.
What's in Your Secret Sauce?
Your TPS "gives you an opportunity to explain to readers the kind of teacher you are, what students in your classes can expect of you and the ways you structure your courses.You want to find a way to balance a broad ideal about teaching with detailed descriptions of how you put this ideal into practice. As someone reads your statement, they should be able to imagine what it is like to be a student in your class.
As you write your teaching philosophy statement, keep in mind that it is a personal essay. This means you should write in the first person (i.e., use “I”), use an active voice (i.e., use “I believe” rather than “It is believed”), support your claims (i.e., give specific illustrative examples), and have a clear structure." (Carelton U., 2017).
What a Teaching Philosophy is NOT
- "a utopian vision" (Ciara O'Farell, Trinity College Dublin, Slide 16)
- "an exhaustive document" (Vanderbilt U.)
- "a summary of the experiences (or accomplishments) on your CV, nor is it an article on pedagogy" (Washington U., St Louis)
- something “that you just made up” (Small Pound of Science, 2013)
- "the place to complain" or to say what others do that you don't agree with (U. of Pennsylvania)
What will your potential readers be looking for?
From The Room 241 Team (Concordia U., Portland, 2012)
They will expect to be able "to pull key insights from the statement." They will want to be able to assess whether:
- you can "handle the teaching responsibilities of the job"
- your "teaching approach [will] fit in with the department and our students"
- you "want to teach, and why?"
- you will "add to the department? What will the students gain from your classes?"
- can "handle the challenges of a classroom and teaching", and how?
Features of a successful TPS
From Chris O’Neal, Deborah Meizlish, and Matthew Kaplan. (U. of Michigan, 2007, pp.1&3)
A survey of 457 search committee chairs in six disciplines ... found broad agreement on the desirable characteristics of a statement of teaching philosophy."
- It offers "evidence of practice."
- It "conveys reflectiveness."
- It "communicates that teaching is valued."
- The teaching practices described are "student- or learning-centered, attuned to differences in student abilities, background knowledge, or levels."
- It is "well written, clear, and readable."
You should self check your first draft at 3 levels: for content, for structure, and for style (includes mechanics).
CONTENT (1): Checking for the WHY's, HOW's and WHAT's
Many advice websites recommend making reference external sources as a way to show that you're cognizant of scholarly writing and research about effective teaching especially as it applies in your field. Quotations and works referred to should be cited correctly at the end of the TPS.
Keep in mind that you only have 2 pages to work with so every section should add something new. Although some websites recommend a version of the old 'tell them what you're going to say, say it, and them tell them what you've said' as a TPS structure, this results in a lot of repetition. You just don't have the space for that. (The following is adapted from Carleton U.)
- The thesis statement, or your 'WHY', "is the crux of your philosophy: it is a broad statement that forms the framework for and on which you elaborate in the rest of the document." You can lead off with this or end the opening paragraph with is as a way to transition to the body which will demonstrate how you express this through various aspects of your teaching
- You can define, describe, or use a statement of importance, an illustrative anecdote, a metaphor, or inspiring quotation.
- For more details and practise exercised in crafting an Introduction, please refer to Claremont's TSP Workbook, pp.16-18.
- Body: "This part of the philosophy statement gives readers a chance to imagine what it is like to be taught by you. Think of this section of the statement as an explanation (with specific examples) of how you put your beliefs about teaching and learning into practice as you engage in various tasks as a teacher."
- "You can use this space to show how your approach to some of the following practices reflect your philosophy: course design, interactions with students, classroom teaching, work with TAs, undergraduate and graduate student advising, office hours policies, classroom policies, providing or asking for feedback, or designing assignments." Highlight 2 or 3 "as a way of allowing readers to imagine what you are like as a teacher."
- Break out "two or three descriptions of you as a teacher. ... Explain to your reader how you practice each of these smaller pieces." Include how your work blends not only pedagogical but also professional (i.e. related to your discipline) best practices and priorities.
- Avoid repeating any device used in the introduction.
- Avoid summarizing. In such a short piece, you don't have to worry about your readers losing track of your thesis.
- Use it as space to "to gesture beyond just what is included in the philosophy statement." You can be reflective (looking back and looking forward) or muse about what you envision for your teaching in the future. What do you want to try? to learn more about? How will you do that? How will those changes make a difference to your students?
- If you have not used an anecdote already, this can be a good place. You can also anchor the piece with a closing quote or statement of importance.
- If you're applying for a job, you can sum up what makes you a good candidate, if you have not said this earlier.
- References: (From Vanderbilt U.) "Your teaching statement is not a research paper. However, if you say that you will use backwards design in developing your syllabus, then you ... [should] cite Wiggins and McTighe (2005). If you suggest that you will use a particular model, cite [an] authority showing how that model has been used successfully. Your teaching statement must give credit where it’s due, just like any other writing you produce. It’s good to show the reader you are familiar with scholarship of teaching and learning broadly, and within your discipline. Consult mentors in your field to find out more about disciplinary conventions for page length and how to cite authority in your teaching statement."
- Cite any ideas that are not your own.
- Use in line citations and create a reference list.
STYLE: Writing for Clarity and Efficiency
Although the voice of a TPS is personal and narrative, the style is not informal. Selection or review committees should be reassured from reading this document that your writing will reflect well on the institution.
- Eliminate noise - p.19; Exercise - p. 22 (Claremont Workbook)
- Use the active voice (i,we) - p. 20; Exercise and sample rewrites - pp.21- 22
- Paragraph clarity (assertion-evidence-commentary model) - pp. 24-26; Exercise and sample rewrites - pp. 26-27
- Try the Hemingway Editor -- http://www.hemingwayapp.com/
- WARNING: Don't trust your spelling and grammar checkers.
- The best ways to find errors in your writing are to: (1) wait a few days and then reread or (2) ask someone to proofread it with you. I stress 'with' rather than 'for' because it's a more powerful way of learning what to look for yourself.
- Trusting the spell checker in your word processing program can be risky, because it's guessing at a correction based on letter combinations rather than meaning. Google Docs has the most powerful checker I've seen. It not only picks up spelling problems but will also show some wording errors.
- I tested 5 online grammar checkers, including Grammarly, with the sentence: "Driving through the deep snow, it was too dangerous to go on." Not one flagged it as an error.
"Teaching philosophies are never written in isolation. They are meant to be shared, they are meant to be iterative, they are meant to be given to others and to get feedback on them. They should be shared with students. They should be shared with colleagues and feedback should be sought. ... [They] are meant to be a public statement about what you believe and how you approach it (Red Deer College)."
Benefits of a peer review
The reviewer benefits from internalizing the expectations or standards expressed in a rubric or checklist as they use it as a lens through which to assess another writer's work. This can give the reviewer a more objective way to self check.The writer gets an opportunity to see his/her work through the eyes of a reader. A good reviewer will find both strengths and areas that need work and can help the writer through several iterations of the TPS.
Despite the fact that most TPSs are written with the purpose of having someone else read them, sharing yours in a public forum can feel risky. You're not only exposing your teaching values and practices to external judgement but also your ability to express that in a way that is engaging, thought-provoking, and well written.
I have to admit that seeing my work side-by-side with others' reactivates all the old competitive feelings I've struggled with as a learner since I was in grade 6!! How will my work measure up? Will I be found lacking? Will my peers like me? Sending my TPS off to strangers to be read as part of a job application is easier for me than sharing it online for the purpose of peer review despite what the research says about our "being more receptive to feedback and constructive criticism when we have asked for it" (P. Gray in Johnson, 2012). (BTW: This activity can be a good way to remind yourself how students feel whenever they submit a piece of work for evaluation.)
What should a TPS reviewer be looking for?
You should be thinking about providing feedback at 3 levels: about content, about structure, and and about style. Reading the comments below this bloggers outline of his TPS can give you a sense of how detailed feedback can be. It's worth noting that this is the blogger's 3rd draft and that he asked his readers for their reactions.
CONTENT: "At the very least, statements should address foundational questions:
- Why do you teach?
- What [and who] do you teach?
- How do you teach?
- How do you measure your own effectiveness?
If you've made it this far in a week, congratulations are in order. Whether you use this section during or after the course, I encourage you to finish your revision and then share it with someone where you work.
Guidelines for Revising
O’Neal, Meizlish, and Kaplan. (U. of Michigan, 2007, pp. 3-7) suggest their rubric be used "as a starting point for revising first drafts of your philosophy. ... [It] consists of the following five categories:
- Goals for student learning
- Enactment of goals
- Assessment of goals
- Creating an inclusive learning environment
- Structure, rhetoric, and language
The first three categories of the rubric were purposefully framed to encourage instructors to think about the alignment of their goals, methods, and assessments. ... The fourth category reflects our belief that pedagogical practices that reach students at the margins of the classroom are beneficial for all students. ... The last category addresses some of the most common complaints search committee chairs voiced about teaching statements. Chairs complained about teaching jargon that alienates many readers and weak thematic structures that make reading difficult."
The rest of the article describes those categories in greater detail and also provides an FAQ section.
Will this be the last time I write a teaching philosophy?
"Teaching philosophies are becoming a common component of tenure and promotion packages at colleges and universities. If you continue in academia as a tenured or untenured faculty member, a teaching statement will likely be one of the ways in which your performance is assessed. Fortunately, having written one for the job search, you will have a head start. Remember, however, that the teaching philosophy is an evolving document, changing as you gain more experience as a teacher and your beliefs about effective teaching and learning evolve. Returning to the teaching philosophy statement throughout your career is a useful reflective exercise that can help to make your current teaching practice more explicit and deliberate" (U. of Michigan, 2007, p.6).
- Goals for student learning