Image by Al Hurley

What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul – James Addison

My teaching philosophy is a dynamic one and is centered on two foci: transformative learning and inclusive education. It is dynamic because it depends on my transformative learning as I (a) engage with my students; (b) read the literature that entails novel and proven effective teaching concepts and practices; and (c) discuss with my colleagues about my experiences. It rests on inclusive education because I believe students with diverse educational needs can learn once they are provided with the appropriate resources. A snapshot of my teaching is like a photograph that illustrates the time and place, and the ways in which I interact with my students which can appear captivating, or simply unappealing. These static elements are the individual brush strokes on a canvas. When looked at in its entirety, a fascinating and intense painting emerges – my learning is transformed as my students discover their capabilities with new knowledge mediated by personally relevant symbols and tools.

Given my artistic metaphor, transformative learning and inclusive education encompasses three core components:

  1. The Active Reds – Social
  2. The Fertile Greens – Cognitive
  3. The Voluminous Blues - Evaluative

The Active Reds…

The red strokes on the painting of my teaching are active because they envelop social interactions. My students are usually diverse in terms of race, age, culture, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and ability and thus, trust is a major characteristic that is nurtured in my classroom. I endeavor to make my classroom environment welcoming where I tie their knowledge with features in my syllabus in order to build a learning community. Learning new knowledge can be laborious especially if students are having difficulty accommodating knowledge into existing value and belief structures. In addition, they may experience doubts about their ability to learn due to negative classroom experiences or social forces outside of the classroom. Thus, I listen to my students to understand their spoken validation of their places in the world which may demonstrate their positional roles and disclosures of their identities. Their cultures influence their identities, identities which are based on norms that they embrace, resist and/or negotiate. As a result, my goal is to continue to create safe conditions where my students learn a subject towards course completion, that on the contrary, they may have learned with little effort, or relinquish achievement due to increased anxiety or contempt. It is my duty to care about my students’ backgrounds, and learn how their understandings can be integrated into my teaching of the content and make their classroom experiences less threatening, active and meaningful.

The Fertile Greens…

The green strokes on the painting of my teaching are fertile because they germinate the connections students make between their knowledge and the concepts I introduce. Students come into my classroom with different abilities so I conduct a needs assessment to gauge the zones of my students, and discern how much scaffolding to provide. Also, students require explicit and timely feedback throughout the course in order for them to understand the concept before advancing to the next level. Their outcomes give me the evidence I need to reflect and re-evaluate my strategies, and to utilize possibly a different set of technological tools. Some students may require more instruction if they gravitate towards concrete as opposed to abstract concepts and thus I employ web application hybrids to ground some of these concepts with electronic portfolios. Furthermore, I utilize social constructivism to drive some of my classroom activities that are centered on group work. These activities help students recognize their roles not only as students, but also other roles like teachers, leaders, mentors or organizers. They learn the responsibilities they need to have towards the group, and their capacities to share with each other. This work can nurture their moral development, foster stress management and their attention to the underlying tenets of ethics and global citizenship. My goal is to try to understand my students’ cognitive capabilities to cultivate links between their micro-worlds and the macro-worlds to spur their growth for knowledge.

The Voluminous Blues…

The blue strokes on the painting represent voluminous tones because they showcase my challenge in designing summative assessments that accurately meet students’ behavior and capabilities. When students are not following my directions or do not come to class, do their behaviors stem from misinterpretations/misunderstandings, acts of defiance or unwillingness, or obstacles outside of class? My responsibility firstly, is to infer directly what stimuli may have triggered their behavior. Secondly, the grade I assign must competently reflect my students’ efforts and what they learned after they have left my classroom. Thus, have I made an equitable judgment based on what they have shown me and what I have taught? Given these conundrums, it is imperative that my syllabi include distinctly clear objectives and an anticipatory set of weekly determinable goals. This will offer students the structure they need to evaluate their own learning and behaviors at their actual level and plan what they need to do to reach their highest potential. Furthermore, I acknowledge my students’ frames of mind (e.g. spatial, kinesthetic, and interpersonal) that may de-emphasize any diagnosed or speculated disabilities with multi-modal assessments (e.g. offline/online rubrics, presentations, portfolios). These assessments are formulated with inquiry-based, problem-based learning and/or creative methods. My decision to proceed with these types of evaluations attempts to close the expansive gap between my students’ learning and behavior, and my teaching.

Conclusion

The active red, fertile green and voluminous blue strokes – the social, cognitive and evaluative – coalesce to paint the dynamic form of my teaching philosophy. Transformative learning and inclusive education both require flexibility and adaptation on my part in order to customize the best learning environments for students with diverse educational needs. Consequently, my kaleidoscopic teaching philosophy is a rigorous art-form; it reverberates the life, power and vigor of subject matter that affects my students to become not only curators, but followers and activists of knowledge for life-long learning. And this brings me to my mission - at the end of the semester, my students have a profound understanding of the content being taught and a view of themselves that they (a) value and can share with others, (b) develop and can design for their own; and (c) keep vivid to treasure for a lifetime.