In Part Two, I set a draft of my core values. I keep coming back to them in hopes that I can clarify what motivates my teaching philosophy. I’d like to break them down for you here and invite you feedback/questions…

1 – Building upon perspective & experience over right or wrong leads to open-mindedness.

The correct educational term for this is scaffolding: the process of progressively building upon existing knowledge towards eventual mastery. It requires the teacher to create situations where they can determine the students’ existing knowledge on any given subject and use what they know as a basis from which to offer incremental lessons. One must embrace a process-oriented and student-centred mindset to accomplish this. The teacher must also be determined to break the lessons down into micro-learning segments and use frequent formative assessments (knowledge checks) before moving forward and to encourage student engagement.

2 – Encouraging experimentation, exploration, & discovery leads to better problem solving abilities.

Following the previous value statement, this one refers to empowering the learner and is based on the idea that knowledge acquired meaningfully is retained and understood far more effectively than information given. This a personal motivator for me as I really get energized by my students “aha” moments. I have noticed that these moments seldom arise during my lecturing; they frequently arise during activities, games, and discussions: all opportunities for my students to safely explore understandings and make connections to existing knowledge.

3 – Embracing mistakes as positive learning moments leads to more confident risk taking.

Again moving the importance of being right or wrong towards a mindset of “what did I learn this time and what can I change next time?”. I’d like to share a story as an example (or maybe share it again). In my Grade One class, I had a little perfectionist on my hands. Unfortunately, when he got something wrong, he shut down and stopped working. You can imagine how this might have impacted his contributions to art lessons: in his words, he hated them. I had already started my mantras that art isn’t about perfection; rather it’s about expression. And I explained and demonstrated this in many age-appropriate ways, but my little perfectionist still wanted to make perfect portraits of his friends. So, I went on a demonstration of vulnerability and opened a silliness campaign: ie: I asked the students to challenge me to draw someone in the class and let them make fun of my drawings. I also challenged them to guess the subjects of mystery portraits I drew in front of them. While drawing I purposefully spoke my thought processes out-loud: eg: “I think I’ll draw this ear as really big, because it makes me laugh and feels fun.” I would also occasionally ask what I should do about a certain feature and explain why I was unsure. The students were comforted by my willingness to make “silly mistakes” and yet still be able to draw something recognizable to them.

Let’s get back to my little perfectionist… during a mystery drawing activity, the students were to draw a favourite person and he chose to draw one of his classmates, who he loved as all 6 years olds love friends… COMPLETELY & FULLY IN THE MOMENT. I could see he was starting to get frustrated even though his drawing was very well done. I took him aside and in our talk he let me know he was scared his friend would hate it. I first reminded him that it was meant to be a mystery drawing and so it was ok if nobody knew but him who the subject was. Then I encouraged that some of the features he drew were obviously indicating his friend. Encouraged, he asked me how to draw a specific feature related to personality. That was the key! How does one draw personality? I prompted him with questions like how does the personality make you feel? His answer was “it makes me feel like laughing all the time”. So, I asked him what else makes makes him feel like laughing all the time and to draw that into his picture. After very few “really?s” and my responses of “why not?s”, he dove into it, giggling all the way.

Now, before we did the show and tell in front of the class, I started in on getting him to helping to build a new class mantra. I stated I though making mistakes is a good thing, because they sometimes make our art completely unique… and a little more. Then, I asked him what do we get from making mistakes… He shouted: “We learn! We can have fun! Mistakes are good!” I’m trying to shorten the story here, but the result was that all the students started using the mantra for all learning activities. Why? Because mistakes weren’t the final result of any lesson; they were a step to learning more and better understanding.

4 – Nurturing expression & understanding over perfection leads to meaningful goal-setting.

There’s arguments that this is more teacher-driven than student centred, but I don’t really follow that perspective, completely… I feel this is an example of Paolo Friere’s co-learner approach to teaching. Getting to know our students must be the driving force to how we teach. Continuously adapting (with incremental tweaks) our teaching (scaffolding) upon the existing experiences of our students must be our habit. For this to occur we must strive to listen without prejudice (LITERALLY). I had a professor who argued that complete objectivity is a goal, not an achievement, because we also subjectively connect what our students give us to our own experiences. It is how humans (and probably other beings) learn. The best we can do is to practice being aware, mindful of our perspectives and stay open-minded to those of others. The great thought leader, J. Richard Clarke stated it best: “Seek to understand, before being understood.” Model this behaviour, ALWAYS, and your students will feel more comfortable expressing themselves in your classroom. The outcome will be that you will develop a better understanding of them, what they need to learn, and how to teach them.

5 – Modelling the love of learning over the mastery of subjects leads to life-long-learning.

Both good management practices and modern teaching theory label this as “active listening” or “genuine interest”. I see it as a fundamental personality trait: “endless curiosity”. Now take away the temporal component. ie: when you think you have learned enough, but know more questions might arise after reflection on what you learned. What’s left is someone who simple loves to learn more… about seemingly everything! I think this trait drives my wife a little crazy, because I can easily geek-out on all sorts of subjects she simply has no interest in, but she also reminds me that this trait of curiosity is what allows me to engage in various conversations with diverse people and to make meaningful connections. I used to call it “just enjoying people”, but as a teacher I need to model this LOVE. To do that, I define it as curiosity, as a love of learning. And, I practice it in every interaction I’m blessed to have.

The second half of myself statement is equally important to my philosophy; I don’t have any need to know everything about anything. In fact, I feel more motivation from the realization that there is more to learn, than I do from having completed the lesson. That’s my learning philosophy that is modelled through in my teaching. Maybe mindfulness trying has made this easier for me, in that I seek to fully enjoy what I’m learning, when I’m learning it, and I trust that I will be able to apply that knowledge when it will be needed. Having sad this, I feel this might be a good place to stop for today.

How would you describe my teaching philosophy?

How would you describe your teaching philosophy?

I very much look forward to hearing from you!


One thought on “Building a Teaching Philosophy – Part Three: Creating a classroom of self-motivated learners

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