“ I have no question that students who learn, not professors who perform, is what teaching is all about…teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal- or keep them from learning much at all. Teaching is the intentional act of creating those conditions, and good teaching requires that we understand the inner sources of both the intent and the act.” (Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach)
From my work in instructional development, and through my own
teaching experiences and attendance at a number of workshops and
conferences focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning, I have
learned that there are multiple approaches to improving teaching and
learning in higher education; that a commitment to learner-centeredness
is of utmost importance; and, at the same time, that context matters.
Each teaching experience is unique – from instructor to instructor,
semester to semester, discipline to discipline, course to course, and
even from day to day.
I strive to implement an approach to teaching based upon a
fundamental commitment to student engagement and active learning.
Whether instructing a graduate research seminar in Landscape
Architecture, or an interdisciplinary course on the theory and practice
of university teaching, my teaching strategies are most informed by
experiential and collaborative learning, peer development, critical
inquiry and discussion, and a clear focus on student autonomy and
responsibility for learning. My teaching strategies are informed by the
simplicity of Kolb’s (1984) theory of experiential learning and the
authenticity embedded within Mezirow’s (1990) theories of critical
reflection and transformative learning. As such, course activities are
intentionally designed to encourage learners to discover and apply new
meaning, through a cycle of experience, awareness, reflection, practice
From the first day of class, I encourage students to set clear
learning goals. I develop mid-semester evaluations that encourage
critical feedback regarding the design and delivery of the course, and
also require learners to reflect upon their individual learning
progress. I have found that students appreciate an instructor who is
well-organized, approachable, enthusiastic and passionate about the
subject matter. Throughout the semester, I do my best to learn and
address each student by their name and to provide unstructured time to
listen to their knowledge, ideas and concerns. I strive to
intentionally align the course learning objectives, activities and
assessment strategies, and to continually communicate this link to the
students – in-class, on the course website, and in the objectives of
each course assignment. I am aware that course assessment techniques
have a strong influence on what, when, and how students structure their
learning, and strive to ensure that there are sustained opportunities to
receive and apply formative feedback throughout each semester, in order
to foster a commitment to continuous improvement and learning.
In no way do I profess that I have succeeded in every teaching
situation. However, I have learned from every teaching experience and
am inspired to grow as an instructor. I am committed to a philosophy of
continual improvement and am motivated to learn from: the advice
offered by experienced instructors and colleagues; the scholarship of
teaching and learning; my own reflective practice; and, most
importantly, the feedback that I receive from students through informal
mid-semester and end of the semester instructor evaluations.
My philosophy of teaching is certain to evolve as I discover the
methods of teaching which enable me to effectively create a climate for
learning that awakens a sense of joy, spirited curiosity, innovation and
personal excellence. Like many, I am often challenged by an intrinsic
fear of teaching – a fear which paradoxically drives my passion and
commitment to university teaching and learning. In the end, it is the
heart of teaching that embodies my passion for this profession. I
simply could not imagine a more rewarding career.
Kolb, D.A. 1984. Experiential Learning. Prentice-Hall Inc., New Jersey.
Palmer, P. J. 1998. The Courage to Teach. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
Mezirow, J. 1990. How critical reflection triggers transformative
learning. In Mezirow, J. (Ed.) Fostering Critical Reflection in
Adulthood (Pages 1-20). Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco.