I believe that teaching is an incredible opportunity to invest in the lives of people as they discover and learn about the world around them. I know of few more noble callings than to advance the learning of people as they think, process, discover, and examine the world around them. Upon graduating from my bachelor’s degree, I had absolutely no interest in teaching, however, my interest and appreciation has grown over time. Spending time teaching junior high in Honduras and then university students in the United States and Costa Rica has cemented my interest in this valuable role. I have seen the tremendous value and opportunity in teaching and reflected upon the significance of teachers in my own life. Great teachers have had a profound impact on me throughout my lifetime: challenging and fostering what I know, how I think, what I value, and ultimately how I live. My professors have challenged my thinking of the world, applied the subject matter to real life examples, invited the whole class to their home for a dinner, met with me to discuss career ideas, and listened as I expressed challenges. It is my desire to follow the model of my teachers to promote the holistic development of students – intellectually, emotionally, socially, culturally, and more.
Learning is an ongoing process that can happen inside and outside of classrooms around the globe. Transformative learning stems from motivated learners and an effective learning environment. Much like a seed planted in soil, there must be a healthy seed, but also good soil and nutrients in order for a plant to grow effectively. Learning happens most effectively when teachers are responsive to needs of their students and students are engaged and motivated to develop their understanding. My own philosophy of learning is influenced by constructivist and cognitive epistemologies of learning. It is my belief that students learn best when they are engaged in an active learning process rather than simply being passive recipients of the subject matter. I have seen students learn far more through an engaged classroom discussion examining aspects of poverty or spending time speaking with clients at a homeless shelter than through a standard lecture on a similar topic.
I approach teaching through creating a student-centered, learning-centered environment – whether that takes place inside or outside a physical classroom. This means that I, as the instructor am not the most important figure in the room nor the sole holder of knowledge, but rather I have the opportunity to facilitate thinking, discussion, processing, learning, and reflection among the class to push their understanding of subjects further. Kolb’s Model of Experiential Learning (Kolb, 1984) has been influential in helping me understand how I teach as I work to actively engage students in the learning process. I have worked to incorporate all aspects of Kolb’s model:
- Abstract conceptualization (e.g., talks and discussion about theories of understanding culture)
- Active experimentation (e.g., guest speakers who work with migrant workers and projects where students share deep level understanding of a culture)
- Concrete experience (e.g., field trips to Haitian, Central American, Middle Eastern, and Korean grocery stores)
- Reflective observation (e.g., reflection journals through online blogs and active discussion)
Through my teaching I desire to advance students to higher order thinking on Bloom’s taxonomy. I want my students to move from simply remembering or understanding a relevant subject matter to being able to analyze and evaluate its relevance to them, how it relates to other concepts, and whether they agree with it. As such, I design my courses with relevant subject matter and encourage them to think critically about the material they are encountering. My learning objectives are based upon the skills and understanding that are essential for students to move forward and successfully manage in an increasingly globally engaged world. I also design my course objectives based upon the relevance of the class – an introductory class for first year students has different objectives from an upper level class on a specific topic.
I do not desire that students simply repeat things I have told them on a test or a paper. Instead, I wish to facilitate students’ development so they may have a purposeful influence on the world around them. My assessment methods are built upon an effort to promote students’ own innovative solutions to address real world problems. Writing a compelling editorial for a newspaper (evaluating on Bloom’s taxonomy) or creating an effective online video accurately distilling a complex issue (creating or analyzing on Bloom’s taxonomy) are relevant and useful assessments of students’ comprehension of a subject matter. Additionally, based on extensive scholarly support, reflection activities are an effective assessment and promote intellectual development.
I plan to grow and develop my teaching throughout my career and lifetime. Along with my students, I wish to learn about the topic at hand, and the most effective ways to teach. I work to effectively assess students and gain further student feedback in order to evaluate what they are learning and ways to further develop their learning. Gaining the feedback of my colleagues and more senior professors is also a valued part of developing and improving my own teaching. Just as I invested time during my graduate program in taking a course on college teaching, I will continue to seek opportunities to develop my teaching, with the hope of becoming more effective in encouraging student learning throughout my teaching career. I look forward becoming a more effective teacher and promoting student learning throughout my lifetime.
Bloom, B. S. (1971). Handbook on formative and summative evaluation of student learning. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill
Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall