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CAREER ADVICE

Write a teaching philosophy statement that stands out

A good TPS is a living document and a key part of our self-assessment as educators.

By ALISON FLYNN, GAVAN WATSON & JAY WILSON | MAR 06 2019

A teaching philosophy statement (TPS) is part of most academic job applications, but it’s much more than that. How do you make one that stands out? A technically strong TPS places learners at the centre, serves many purposes, and leverages scholarly literature on learning and teaching. It is a living document that can help you get a job, keep that job and guide you to do a better job. To complement current resources on writing teaching philosophy statements, we want to highlight important areas that are often neglected in typical recommendations for how to approach a TPS.

Writing a TPS begins by asking the following: What are the goals and knowledge level of the learners in your classes? What do you know about their backgrounds and needs? Consider how you use that information to create an equitable, accessible, inclusive, diverse and culturally responsive learning environment. How will you support the learners in achieving their educational goals? Teaching does not happen without considering the learners, and an important starting point is the literature on teaching and learning.

A scholarly approach

When conducting our disciplinary research, we take a scholarly approach. This same approach, we argue, should be taken when writing a TPS. A teaching philosophy should describe how the writer incorporates literature on learning and teaching in a scholarly way into their teaching practices. A TPS that shows an over-reliance on intuition communicates that the writer is doing a disservice to the learners, just as intuition might suggest that students will learn better by following a specific learning style, despite a lack of evidence supporting that hypothesis.

Different purposes and situations

Collegial processes such as tenure and promotion often require a TPS but not all of its uses are that instrumental. A teaching statement can also serve as a reflective document that lives and changes over time and is a key part of our self assessment as educators. Regularly updating and reviewing a TPS tracks the growth of the individual in their teaching. As well, a good TPS often plays a central role in teaching award dossiers, which are built around the applicant’s ability to share thoughts about their craft.

We can all agree that no one wants a TPS that is formulaic and bland; however, there are many ways to write an engaging one. Consider how you could share your TPS with others to start conversations about learning and teaching. Your TPS should reflect the context of your teaching, your personality and your classroom experiences. Know your audience: are you writing for peers as part of an award application or for yourself as part of critical reflection on your own practice?

One audience that is not well-described in the literature: students. Sharing your TPS with your students can help make visible why you take a particular approach in the classroom. Foundational similarities will exist in all teaching philosophy statements yet each one is based on the individual and becomes stronger when informed by scholarship.

You don’t need to portray yourself as the perfect educator in the TPS – rarely are we that for every student. As we change over a lifetime, our abilities and approaches to teaching also evolve: we face new experiences, try new approaches and address challenges. A teaching statement should reflect the past, present and future of your philosophy on education – your evolution as an educator. It is the “embodied” articulation of your embedded classroom practice. If you can live what you say in your TPS, it is authentic, not artificial.

Modelling good professional practices

The impact on your students of attending to your TPS over time cannot be overstated. You are modelling good professional practice and reflecting on your approaches. The human aspects of your relationships with students can be carried farther and wider than you can imagine. You are training future graduate students to support your work and the work of your colleagues. You are preparing students for their careers and contributing to the evolution of citizens.

As for making a TPS stand out? Only you can bring your complement of experiences, personality, expertise and approaches to the learning and teaching environment – let that complement come through. For us, the TPS has given opportunities to deeply reflect on our teaching, engage in scholarship about learning and teaching, ponder innovation and ultimately improve our efforts in supporting our students’ learning.

Alison Flynn is an associate professor of chemistry and biomolecular sciences at the University of Ottawa. Gavan Watson is director of the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning as well as associate vice president, academic, teaching and learning, at Memorial University. Jay Wilson is an associate professor and head of curriculum studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

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