With classes to prepare for, assignments to grade, students to mentor, grants to write and research papers to finish, writing a statement of teaching philosophy might seem like just a lot of busy work.

In fact, why bother writing out a personal statement of teaching philosophy when WSU has adopted the Six Learning Goals of the Baccalaureate, which provide a universitywide framework for what every faculty member should be striving for in undergraduate education?

Because, said Kimberly Green, an instructional design consultant with the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology, knowing what your goals are is an important first step, but figuring out how your practices support your intentions is crucial.

“Ideally, articulating a teaching philosophy allows you to systematically think about what you do and why you do what you do,” she said.

For self and others
On Friday, Jan. 18, Tom Tripp and Rachel Halverson of the President’s Teaching Academy are presenting a workshop for graduate students on how to write a statement of teaching philosophy. While such statements have long been a routine part of job applications for K-12 teachers, they are increasingly required of job applicants in higher education, as well as in tenure and promotion decisions.

Still, said Green, the real value of the statement is not in impressing others, but in helping faculty reflect on and refine their own efforts. Instead of being a time and energy drain, creating a statement of teaching philosophy could help a faculty member cut through the clutter and get to what matters most for student learning.

Living the philosophy
Tariq Akmal (right), associate professor in the department of teaching and learning, said writing out a statement of teaching philosophy can create a tension.

“What you can do is not the same as what you want to do,” he said.

Still, he said, writing out such a statement helps faculty be reflective about the choices they make. Key questions are “How do I engage the learners? How do I make learning relevant for them? How can I make sure they’ve learned it?”

A colleague, assistant professor Pauline Sameshima (left), said she sees correlations between a statement of teaching philosophy and a university’s mission statement.

“It’s exactly the same thing, just on a different level,” she said. The idea is to articulate your core beliefs, make sure they are aligned and then make sure that your actions support those beliefs.

“I think the really good teachers are the teachers who are living the philosophy,” she said.

Always refining
Developing a teaching philosophy takes time, she said, and it is always a work in progress. Even while core beliefs may remain the same, how you get there with your students is going to change over time.

“At the end of the day, you have to decide whether you want to be a better teacher,” said John McNamara, professor and animal scientist in the animal science and nutrition program. McNamara, who has been on a 25-year-quest to be a better teacher, said he is still trying new things, still looking for better ways to engage his students.

A member of the President’s Teaching Academy, McNamara said he advises younger faculty to hone their teaching philosophy by just writing out their thoughts, getting everything on paper.

“If you don’t think about it and write it down and think about it again, you don’t have anything,” he said.