A Statement of Educational Philosophy

Philosophy of Education

Recently, I took some time to revisit my educational philosophy. I’ve written my philosophy a few times over the course of my career, and I find it interesting to note what has varied with each iteration. My beliefs have changed drastically over the course of my career, but my love for students and my passion for learning have remained steady. This “statement” is by no means perfect and continues to be a work in progress. Nevertheless, here is my recent thinking. 

Everyone should be a lifelong learner. The essence of life is learning. As I examine what I believe about education, I realize how much my educational philosophy has changed over the past 15 years. The constant in my career has been my need to reflect on my thinking, evaluate my own learning, and adjust my beliefs and my actions accordingly.

I used to think a teacher’s primary job was to know his content thoroughly and to present the material well, but now I think a teacher’s main role is to get to know his students, to uncover their understanding, and to help them demonstrate their learning well. Early in my career, I spent untold hours studying the content I needed to cover and preparing the presentations I would use in my teaching. These days, I devote the majority of my time to conferencing with my students individually and in small groups and to having them share their thinking visibly. While I appreciate teaching as an important part of the process, I believe learning should be the primary focus in classrooms and schools.

Learning is more than the process of gaining knowledge and skills. It requires constructing meaning and transferring understandings to new contexts; it includes meta-cognition and reflection. I believe learning should be active and passive, social and secluded. Activity, collaboration, and interaction should enhance and deepen understanding, but there must be time to process, read, write, and think quietly, too. I believe the most engaging and memorable learning arises from student-driven inquiry, where students ask questions, research ideas, evaluate answers, connect information, and share their learning. Project-based and problem-based learning develops the critical skills today’s students need to become deep thinkers and take ownership of their own learning.

My leadership stems from a passion to serve those around me and to help them become the best they can be. To serve them I listen carefully to hear their needs and concerns, I work with opposing people and polarizing ideas to find creative solutions and build consensus, and I strive to lead honestly and transparently building a common vision and a culture of care.

I know schools and classrooms must be places where all learners feel secure, valued, and able to take risks. Effective leadership focuses on the strengths of each individual to build relationships and develop leadership at every position within the learning community. As leaders empower teachers to take risks, teachers inspire students to grow into the creative entrepreneurs our society needs through the challenging, meaningful, purposeful, and engaging learning they experience.

My current philosophy of education consists of these ideas. Yet, as a landscape is changed by a river rolling through it, my philosophy will continue to be shaped and molded by future experiences, new discoveries, and further interactions with my community of learners. As a mentor once said, “We do not know where our train is going, but Someone knows.” I do not know what insight and changes the future holds for me, but the Teacher does—and that is enough for me.

Prioritizing Thinking

See/Think/WonderPerhaps the most important thing my students need to know about me and our class as we begin the school year is the value we will place on thinking. Our class content focuses on reading, but the primary learning goal is to become more thoughtful–to be better thinkers. So on the first day, we start by prioritizing thinking. I don’t want our focus to be on procedures, rules, or even our classroom community. Those things are important, but the main core of everything we do is with the goal of becoming better, more thoughtful thinkers.

With that in mind one of the first activities we did is a See-Think-Wonder about 6th grade reading and our classroom. I gave my students a few Post-It notes and asked them to spend a few minutes exploring the classroom and writing down the things they saw. We talked about the need to gather evidence and pay attention to details. (These are skills we will use to help us become better readers, too.) The whole room was open to the students. I encouraged to explore every facet of the classroom including the closets, bookshelves, filing cabinets, and drawers. I challenged them “to research” the room thoroughly. After a few minutes, I called them back to their seats to complete their lists and share what they found.

Once we talked  about their “I See” lists, I asked them to begin interpreting, drawing conclusions, and making inferences about the things they noticed (Again, these are skills we will use to grow as readers, too.) They developed a set of “I think” statements. I gave them a few minutes to come up with as fluent of a list as they could; then, I dared them to come up with a few more. Their conclusions fascinated me. As they shared their thinking, I reinforced how important it is to base our conclusions and inferences on evidence by asking, “What makes you say that?” so that had to support their reasoning.

Finally, I challenged the students to take their thinking to a deeper level. We discussed that best way to push our thinking is to ask good questions. We talked about the value of questioning and concluded that “good questions” inspire us to think deeper–to explore our ideas further. (Yep, a skill we will use to further develop as readers.) “Good answers” can be helpful sometimes, but they tend to curb thinking more than deepen it. I asked the students to consider their “I think” statements and take them to a deeper level by developing “I wonder” statements about their original conclusions.  Again, we shared our thinking with our partners and with the class. Then, we prominently posted our thinking where it can be seen by everyone in class and any visitors we may have.

Again, the goal was to help the students understand (from the very first activity) their thinking is highly valued. Here are a few random pictures I captured of different students’ thinking about the class, our space, or me:

I see. . .

See 1 See 2 See 3

I think. . .

Think 3 Think 2 Think 1

I wonder. . .

Wonder 3 Wonder 2 Wonder 1

I’ve written previous posts about this first-day activity in past years. You can read those posts here and here.

This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

Running Thoughts: Fitness Thinking, Teacher Sustainability, and Teaching Writing

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Note: I gave myself a 30-minute time limit for writing this.

This morning I set a “thinking agenda” for my run. Knowing I was going to run approximately 6 miles in 70 minutes with my warm up and cool down. I planned to spend the first 2 miles thinking about my fitness goals and routines, the second 2 miles reflecting on John Spencer’s chapter in Sustainable on “Success: Fireworks or Fire Works?,” and the last 2 miles brainstorming about teaching writing. One thing I learned about myself is that I’m not really a linear thinker. Even though I had an agenda, my mind still shot down rabbit holes popping back up in the other areas I wanted to think about. Perhaps, this is why I have such a hard time following sermons and lectures. My mind can be full of wormholes of cognitive hyperlinks sometimes. But I digress.

In thinking about my fitness goals and routines, I am proud to say I have completed my Bridge to 10K running plan. I’m certainly not the fastest runner, but I have now stuck to and completed two different running programs, and I’m proud I stuck with it. A few days ago, I saw a #temt post on Twitter that made me start evaluating my fitness routines. The post made note that the #temt stream was full of cardio-related posts, but seemed to lack posts about strength conditioning. I know I have neglected this part of my regimen, so I think I will speak with Dale Brady at 2PC about possibly training me or setting me up on a strength training plan. I’m also thinking that as school begins, I will try to run on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays and commit to strength training on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. I also need to commit to doing P90X’s Ab Ripper X three days a week, too, to work on my core.

In reflecting on John’s chapter on success, a couple of thoughts came to mind. John thinks it’s important for teachers to create a meaningful, realistic story about one’s teaching life. I agree. So I’m trying to think about my teaching through the various story elements and I’m thinking about who I want to be as the main character in this story and how I can be faithful to that. John also talks the most important theme in teaching being love not influence–that it’s more about love than making a difference. I’m not sure. I want to make a difference–not just to individuals, but I want to help them think well and do good. I agree that love is crucial, but I want my love to be demonstrated through the ethic of kindness. (Does that make sense?) A final thought is that I really like the metaphor of being a fire versus a firework. Where I think the metaphor might collapse, though, is variety. Fireworks vary. They have different colors and they explode in a unique ways. Likewise, I think there are a variety of approaches to teaching that can work well. I didn’t always think so, but as I experiment with different strategies and philosophies I’m learning there isn’t just one way.

My final thoughts center around teaching writing. I only have a bit of time left to write this post, but my thoughts centered around the need to focus on the process, to have students write frequently, to provide meaningful feedback from both teacher and peers, and the need to create authentic projects and audiences. Students would also benefit from clear modeling and having a choice about what they write. Side thought: I need to pull together some resources that might help give this wings.

Okay, the online egg timer and the laundry buzzer sounded so I need to get this posted. Remember this is a process post. Nevertheless, I would love to read any thoughts or comments ou have on today’s “Running Thoughts.”