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Philosophy of Teaching & Mentoring

What it does it mean to teach? What does it mean to learn? As I plan for and instruct graduate students in teacher education programs, these questions weigh heavily on my decisions. My goal is to help students construct new knowledge and question the institution of education in which they are a part. I want students to bridge the gaps that exist between what they are learning, believing, and doing in their classrooms. I want them to raise questions of why. My teaching approach stems from my commitment that teachers are just as much students as their students are their teachers (Freire, 1970). My teaching is informed by three prongs of research: teachers must model that which they expect from their students, reflection is critical to effective teaching and learning, and learning must be embedded in practice. These prongs carry forth into all of my instructional settings, whether face-to-face or online.


Teacher education programs continue to face increased scrutiny for disconnection from the field (Hammerness, Darling-Hammond, & Bransford, 2005). I am keenly aware of this criticism and seek a close connection between university and schools. In this attempt, I work in schools with teachers as much as possible to learn their needs and to experience the state of the field from those who live it each day. As I seek for them to expand their understanding of course content, I seek to expand my understanding of the contexts in which they will be enacting their knowledge and skills. All students, but especially teachers who are used to top-down mandates with little recognition of their expertise (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2013), deserve course instruction that models rather than tells. All of my classes, especially those online, therefore, are conducted in communities of practice style where collaboration on meaningful tasks are central to learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991). While there are, of course, times when information is presented to students, these times are always framed with questions that push students to make their own meaning from the information. Just as I want them to raise their own students’ voices, I try to design environments for the construction of knowledge and development of critical inquiry (Dewey, 1944; Hinchey, 2010). When I first joined my current program in 2013 (Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning), they were just beginning to offer parallel online sections of their face-to-face courses. Unfortunately, at that time, that meant folders of content just housed in Blackboard with limited student interaction. With my colleagues, I dove into the challenge of transforming these courses into online learning experiences that valued the students (practicing PK-12 teachers working on their M.Ed.) as engaged learners with questions to follow. 


Relatedly, I am also committed to the principle that through critical reflection, deep learning is achieved (Brookfield, 1995; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Van Maanen, 1977; Zeichner & Liston, 1996). I want students to develop the mindset that teaching and schooling are complex, and they deserve to be opened up and examined. This can be difficult for some students unfamiliar with such a challenge. If critical reflection is not carefully structured to account for potential inexperience with such an active and ideologically challenging educational environment, resistance can occur very quickly. Therefore, in my teaching, I encourage students through carefully selected readings and supportive tasks to first make connections between content and themselves and then as we move forward together, to start analyzing their experiences and teaching more critically.

The third prong of my teaching stems from the belief that learning must be contextualized in practice (Harris & Muijs, 2003; NCATE Blue Ribbon Panel, 2010; York-Barr & Duke, 2004). If students are to step back and examine their environment and teaching, to step outside of the knowledge constructed during their apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 1975), and to start engaging their conscientization (Freire, 1970), they need their learning opportunities to be embedded in context. In EDUC 615, for example, I ask students to collect data and analyze their own schools for the existence of equity/inequity. In EDUC 614, they are asked to surface and question their current teaching practices by stepping outside of themselves and, in many ways, making their familiar practices strange. This is done through journaling, peer discussion, and video recording of themselves teaching. Tasks are always job-embedded and directly connected to students’ lived experiences.

I have had four doctoral students intern with me in my courses (two in online courses and two in face-to-face courses). My philosophy of teaching applies to those mentorship relationships as well: modeling, critical reflection, opportunity. I sit down with each intern (whom I refer to as a co-teacher) prior to the start of the semester to ascertain their goals and vision for the experience. I encourage them to keep an ongoing journal documenting their questions, and I engage with them in co-planning, course refinement, and feedback. My role is not to teach them to teach like me. Rather my role is to help them figure out who they want to be as a teacher and help them to begin developing the skills necessary to become that teacher. And I also view my role as that of a learner- each doctoral intern breathes greater life into my courses and enhances my mentorship skills. 

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