“Caring about students beyond the classroom is the first step of sparking engagement”
- Beth Morrow
My teaching philosophy is based on five core principles, each of which contributes to my ultimate goal of ensuring the highest possible levels of student engagement:
The first principle is that my students need to know I care about them. To implement this teaching principle in my classes, I do a number of things. First of all, I get to know my students. Personal contact with my students is essential to my approach. I learn their names, their interests, and aspirations. This makes the students more willing to participate in the classes and to take risks in their learning. Some students need encouragement to talk to their professors, so I emphasize my availability for informal discussion and my willingness to help them sort out any problems they have with what they are learning. I make myself available via e-mail, extended office hours, and an open-door policy, so the students know I am interested in supporting them as learners.
Another part of this process is for students to get to know me. I tell them about my own development as an emerging professional educator, my K-12 teaching experiences, my research pursuits, my family, hobbies and passions. Doing so creates a safe space, demonstrates my willingness to be vulnerable with them, and encourages them to do the same. My experience as a teacher is greatly enriched by this contact with students since teaching and learning, for me, is a human endeavor in which all parties benefit. Just as I provide opportunities for the students to engage with the scientific and mathematical concepts being explored in my courses, I also work hard to engage them in the development of a community of learners with an environment of mutual trust and support in my classroom.
The second principle is that being a Science and Mathematics educator means much more than just being a person who conveys scientific and mathematical principles to students. As a teacher, I aim to encourage a sense of wonderment in the world around us. Although I am a scientist/ mathematician and teach courses in the pedagogy of these areas, this is not, in my mind, an exclusive club. We are all scientists and mathematicians. We all wonder about the world around us and the beautiful patterns and relationships it contains.
Since I work with future teachers, it is very important for me that they have positive and engaging experiences in my courses. I believe that genuine science and mathematics learning is a very empowering and exciting experience and every student, whether a science/math or non-science/math major has the right to experience it. It is very important for me to teach my classes so the students will feel they have a connection to the material and to one another. My job is to know their backgrounds and interests so I can engineer learning opportunities that will ensure their personal engagement with the course.
The third principle is that, whether in positive or negative ways, we all teach by example.
I believe that teachers impart more by way of example than precept, and that students are very perceptive in recognizing when a teacher does not practice what (s)he preaches. There are several values that I try to teach students, both by my words and my actions. Included among these are the importance of organization, preparation, the value of clear and effective communication in both written and oral form, respect for other people and their views, and the necessity to be positive and enthusiastic in our daily interactions with others.
My students “learn what they live” in my classroom and, as such, I have an obligation to establish the kind of classroom culture that I hope they will transfer to their own classrooms as emerging teachers. Employing the concept of exponential growth, I understand the responsibility I have as a teacher of teachers. During my career, my actions and examples will be observed and potentially embodied by thousands of teacher candidates who will impact the learning experiences of quite possibly hundreds of thousands of others. That being the case, what I do in my class today can have effects on countless learners in the future so it had better be as positive as I can make it!
The fourth principle reflects my belief that students have to have ownership of their learning. Learning cannot be imposed on anyone; therefore ownership of learning is the key to success. One can impose reading assignments or essay writing, but real learning is an active process students have to be in charge of to have ownership of their learning experiences. Embracing authentic student-directed learning, I involve my students in the daily class agendas as much as possible. The students design and demonstrate experiments and mini-lessons, they ask questions, participate in class discussions, take part in peer assessment, and analyze data from real science and mathematics classrooms. In their learning, the students have to have chances to experiment, try new things, and see what works for them. Self-directed student engagement is what matters most.
The fifth principle is that lifelong professional development is the core of our profession. Effective teaching requires continuous reflection and rethinking. If we want our students to become lifelong learners, we have to become lifelong learners ourselves. The teacher who does not constantly think about teaching, does not try to understand deeper the content he or she teaches, or does not try to find more effective teaching methods cannot, in my view, be a truly effective teacher. That is the reason for my active involvement in organizations such as the Canadian Society for the Study of Education, the National Science Teachers Association, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the National Association of Research in Science Teaching. Continually thinking about teaching through ongoing research and involvement in professional organizations has played a crucial role in my teaching career so I share this with my students. They know about my conferences and workshops, research projects and articles. I want them to see how engaging in continued learning can be a part of their professional careers and how it will support their development as exemplary teachers as their own careers unfold.