Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Teaching philosophy: participate, contribute, and lead

Sorry for the lateness of this post. I got swept up in graduation and faculty development days. It was while I was helping run the faculty development portion of the week that the inspiration for this post hit me. As faculty members, the librarians at our university will be participating in professional portolios for the first time. I won't get into the requirements and pieces and such here, but one of the artifacts that I will have to develop is a "Philosophy of Teaching" statement.

I don't know about most of you, but I don't have an education background. My teaching and instruction qualifications stem from a semester long course on IL instruction. That's it. I've never written a philosophy of teaching before. And I'm not sure I've ever really consciously thought about what mine might include. Will mine be fundamentally different from someone who teaches a for-credit course? Or someone who sees the same students every day? I wonder if mine will be shaped by the fact that I fall into what one of my colleagues called a "practice discipline." One where a students' development and progress in the area are measured more in skills and proficiency honed via practice than in innovation, new thinking, or crafting a product. But my role in this eduction is that latter piece. I strive to think differently about education (partly because I don't have that classical grounding to fall back on) and teaching. It isn't the rote practice for me that it might require of my students. I know that philosophies of many great teachers are not bounded by the walls of a classroom, but I wonder how to address the significance that not only does learning happen outside the library classroom, but so too does the teaching.

As I got overwhelmed with these ideas yesterday, I was grounded by the language in the section I was leading. In the arena of scholarship, we are asking our faculty to think of their engagement in their disciplines and professional arenas in the following ways: participation, contribution, and leadership. I like that idea for my own scholarship, but as I took that idea one step further, I wonder if it wouldn't work for students and IL skills too. Can we think of our instruction not in the language of "introduce, reinforce, and master" but in something like participate, contribute and lead? And not just in skills. Don't we want to use scaffolding and building up of skills just in one session? Can we ask students to lead some of the instruction for lower-level skills we think they ought to have, but ask them only to participate in activities in areas unfamiliar to them. I really like the flip-flopping of this language because it changes the subject of those sentences. It is not the librarians who are participating and contributing in the instruction, it is the students. We write our Student Learning Outcomes as "The student will..." but when asked to talk about instruction, we begin our sentences with "I will..." Why? Does simply reframing the way we describe and think about IL change how we teach? What about the expectations for students?

It's something to think about. And I would love to hear about your philosophy of teaching? Have you written one? Where do you start? Has it changed throughout your career?

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