Statement of teaching philosophy
A statement of teaching philosophy can either stand alone, often as part of a job application or as an introduction to a teaching dossier.
A statement of teaching philosophy is a central component of a teaching dossier and is often required in applications for academic positions. Faculty often view developing and writing their statements of teaching philosophy as onerous and perplexing. One of the reasons for this is that faculty are not clearly aware of their own guiding philosophy or are confused by the notion of a philosophy determining their everyday activities. Therefore, it is important that in developing a statement of teaching philosophy that faculty realize that the aim is to reveal an underlying philosophy rather than trying to create one.
To accomplish this we therefore need to understand what a statement of teaching philosophy is for, some general guidelines of how it can structured and presented, but in particular, how we can reflect upon our teaching and discover our own guiding philosophy.
In developing a statement of teaching philosophy, however, there are also a few points to keep in mind:
A statement of teaching philosophy must distinctively and authentically convey the individuality of the author.
- The development and writing of a statement of teaching philosophy will require a few drafts and reviewing as with any other piece of writing. Similarly, the final version must be impeccable in terms of spelling and grammar. Therefore, some time (but not a lot) will need to be devoted to this process as well as creativity and thought.
- The final statement should be only one to three pages in length, be written in plain language avoiding excessive jargon. However, it is important to keep in mind who will read the statement and for what purpose. As these statements become part of career decision-making procedures, it is important for statement authors to present their most authentic and best selves.
The role of the statement of teaching philosophy
A statement of teaching philosophy can either stand alone, often as part of a job application, or as an introduction to a teaching dossier. For the latter, the statement needs to refer to aspects of teaching revealed in the larger dossier document. In writing a statement of teaching philosophy an instructor may not only become aware of their own guiding principles but also of how they would like to develop as a teacher. Readers of a statement of teaching philosophy do so with a mental agenda regarding expected and desired qualities and writers obviously need to be aware of this. A statement of teaching philosophy is a useful way to indicate interests and strengths evidenced in a teaching dossier.
In particular, however, a statement of teaching philosophy can indicate the scholarly and informed motivations for the many choices in teaching practice, and in doing so convey a deeper and authentic picture of the author.
Developing a statement of teaching philosophy
In academia, our scholarly development is strongly influenced by our experience of others’ work. Therefore, it is not surprising that faculty will feel at a loss in writing a statement of teaching philosophy if they have little or no prior experience of reading one. Therefore, as a first step, looking at relevant statements of teaching philosophy from colleagues and peers can be a useful way to develop a basic picture of what is expected. Peter Seldin’s book “The Teaching Portfolio” and O’Neil and Wright’s “Recording Teaching Accomplishment” include some examples. Colleagues and peers may also be willing to share their own statements. However, in the absence of available models relevant to an author’s specialty, examples may be found online; a quick Google search entering key words (e.g. teaching/philosophy/your discipline) can yield numerous examples. It is, of course, obvious that this can provide some ideas but the final statement must be entirely original save for perhaps a few carefully cited academic sources; it would be most unwise to cite another’s statement of teaching philosophy. At its most basic, the development of a statement of teaching philosophy requires the author to reflect on a few basic questions that can produce an array of diverse and extensive answers. For example:
- Why do I teach?
- Why do I teach the way I do?
- What does teaching in my discipline mean to me?
- How do students learn?
- How have my past experiences brought me to where I am today?
- How do I see my teaching developing in the future?
- How do I view the relationship between teaching and research?
- In general, what are my teaching objectives? Do I have a mission?
In our time-pressed lives, it can be difficult to find time to reflect on questions such as these. A few strategies to develop ideas around these questions include:
- Brainstorm ideas with a colleague over coffee or lunch.
- Write these questions on a whiteboard or large piece of paper in an area of your office where it is visible. Jot down ideas as they come to you.
- Note down keywords or terms that are most meaningful for you, rather than immediately trying to write formal answers to these questions.
- Consider whether these questions could they be answered using an experience in your past, the influence of a mentor, or an important topic in your field?
The structure of a statement of teaching philosophy
There are numerous ways to express the ideas that become apparent through such self-reflection, and most frequently the chosen form is that of formal written text. Under certain circumstances, an image, a piece of creative writing such as a poem, or a metaphor may be a useful and discipline-relevant tool. However, before employing such unusual formats, be sure that they are widely accepted forms of expression in your discipline. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.
You may wish to introduce your statement of teaching philosophy with an introductory paragraph describing yourself and your career experience to date. This could include your years of experience, field, type of courses taught, and so on. Organize the paragraphs that follow to focus on certain themes and conclude with future goals.
Some writing suggestions include:
- Develop a list of key terms and ideas that you feel must be evident in your statement of teaching philosophy.
- Keep in mind who will be reading your statement of teaching philosophy.
- If possible, allow some time after writing before you review the final product. Even better, ask a valued colleague to read it through and give you their honest comments.
Keep in mind that each of us brings unique gifts and skills to teaching and consequently our own statement of teaching philosophy should be equally unique, professional, and compelling.
Seldin, P., 1997, The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improve Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions.
O’Neil, C. and Wright, A., 1993, Recording Teaching Accomplishment: A Dalhousie Guide to the Teaching Dossier.
*Source Benbow, M. (2007). Developing a statement of teaching philosophy. In E. Friesen & C. Kristjanson (Eds.), A. A. Editor & B. B. Editor (Eds.), Teaching at the University of Manitoba: A Handbook. (5.12-5.15). Winnipeg, MB: University Teaching Services.
Examples of teaching philosophy statements
Resources and references
Exploring your teaching philosophy: Sample exercises. Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo.
Statement of teaching philosophy. Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation at the University of Toronto.
Writing your teaching philosophy. Centre for Educational Innovation at the University of Minnesota.
Writing a philosophy of teaching statement. University Centre for the Advancement of Teaching at the Ohio State University.
Writing a teaching philosophy statement. Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Iowa State University
How to Write a Statement of Teaching Philosophy by Gabriela Montell at the Chronicle of Higher Education.
What’s Your Philosophy on Teaching, and Does it Matter? by Garbiela Montell at the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Brookfield, S. (2006). The skillful teacher. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Bullock, Ann Adams, & Hawk, Parmalee P. (2001). Developing a teaching portfolio: A guide for preservice and practicing teachers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Chism, N. V. N. (1998). Developing a philosophy of teaching statement. Essays on Teaching Excellence, 9(3), 1-2. Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education.
Kearns, K. D. & Sullivan, C. S. (2011). Resources and practices to help graduate students and postdoctoral fellows write statements of teaching philosophy. Advances in Physiology Education 35, 136-145.
Nilson, L. B. (2016). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors. (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Schönwetter, D., Sokal, L., Friesen, M. & Taylor, L. (2002). Teaching philosophies reconsidered: A conceptual model for the development and evaluation of teaching philosophy statements. International Journal for Academic Development, 7(1), 83-97.