Recently, I found myself cleaning out files on my computer and stumbled across my original teaching philosophy. Part of my master’s work was to write my teaching philosophy, which is ironic, because how could I create a philosophy about something that I had no real experience with? I read through my philosophy from fifteen years ago and in reflection, I can confidently say that I have grown and changed, not only in my understanding of educational practices but also in my understanding of how students learn and why that is so important. I have taken a very idealistic philosophy of a profession that I knew nothing about, and I have turned it into a reality for myself. Now though, 20 years later, I can feel another shift in this thinking, one where there is a transformation from a teaching philosophy to a teaching manifesto. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that the sharing of beliefs is important but even more so, a plan to transform those beliefs into action gives a more comprehensive understanding of who I am as an educator.
I believe that we are in an incredibly inspiring place in education right now, one where every aspect of teaching and learning is approached with intentionality and creating space with students firmly in the center of this work. Along with this intentionality however, we are inadvertently creating spaces for students that often ask too much of them. Our students are striving hard to achieve in all areas of their educational practice but often, they are not sure why they are doing what they are doing. This lack of clarity in purpose is leading to record high levels of anxiety, stress, and depression in students today and I believe that it is our job collectively (parents, teachers, and administrators) to reimagine what the learning experience looks like and feels like for students so that we can anchor this experience in their own developing sense of purpose. According to Matt Damon of Stanford’s d.School, purposeful students are happier, healthier and manage stress more effectively than students who are merely goal-driven. Purpose is a critical antidote to the growing levels of anxiety and stress in teens today and is a potent game changer for school culture. It is my belief that there are visible and intentional strategies that schools can pursue that help teachers and students explore purpose and bring greater meaning to learning.
To that extent, I work each day to:
1. Strategically support teachers as they transition their classroom focus from a teacher-centered to a learner-centered environment.
As educators, we approach our work from a student-centered lens. We put the overall well-being and psychological safety of our students at the forefront of the work that we do every day. But, being student- centered and learner-centered are not the same thing. To put the learner at the center means that we are critically looking at the learning experiences in our classrooms from the perspective of the student, making sure that each experience allows for student autonomy and that a deep exploration of student purpose and passion occurs through the learning.
2. Work with the Administration team to ensure that the professional learning provided for teachers meets them where they are in their own learning journeys and aligns with their personal professional development interests.
School change can only happen when teachers are allowed to own and drive the change. Teachers embody the culture and the purpose of a school and, when properly supported and inspired, teachers transform schools with their energy and ideas around learning. Teaching in the 21st century is not only a skill; it’s a mindset shift. Therefore, educator development needs to be long-term and continuous to be effective, knowing that true change in the classroom requires long-term work.
3. Look critically at the mission and vision of the school to ensure that the activities and traditions align with what we want for our students’ growth and development.
Using the Backward Design model to look critically at the big picture learning experience for students is an essential practice to ensure that we are indeed “walking our talk”. Reflecting on longstanding traditions to ensure that they provide equitable spaces for all students to be seen and feel valued; using the Profile of a Graduate as a starting place to not only examine what we want students to look like when the leave our institution but to create a corresponding framework to measure the success of that vision; and, ensure that the students themselves are at the center of this work and that the mission and vision of our school is reflective of the learners that occupy this space.
4. Work with the parent community to explore ways that parents can help children approach their individualized educational experience with the uniqueness that makes up each and every one of our students.
Educating the parent community on the complexities and ever-changing nature of the educational experience for students is a necessary component of collaborative support of students. We must work with parents through the understanding that best practices in education have caused a shift in priorities in schools and that these priorities are focused solely on the success of each student as a unique and inspiring member of the community.
5. Be a sounding board for students as they navigate through their personal and educational experiences in this period of their lives.
The most important thing that we can do for students is to help them develop a deep love and respect for themselves, others, and their environment while in our care. Beyond the walls of educational institutions lies a world waiting to be made better by the passion, dedication, and determination of our students as they embark upon the world in pursuance of their own dreams and goals. Preparation for this moment will ensure the empathy and understanding necessary to not only become a valuable member of our communities but also become a valuable member of the entire human race.