February 14, 2022

What is your teaching philosophy? – Travis Clarkson

What is your teaching philosophy? How has this originated and can you evaluate how your educational touchstones will impact on the teacher you aspire to be?

‘Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do.’ (Bandura, 1977 p. 22)

I am fortunate enough to hold fond memories of my first teacher with whom I do not share a surname. Attending a wedding in Costa Rica as the only adolescent in a close social group comprised of my parents’ peers, I immediately attached myself to one of the wedding attendees. For the duration of the trip, he acted as a capable guide into a world with which I was immensely unfamiliar. That I associate this period with particularly rapid and impactful learning is likely because, by means of guided observation, I was experiencing my acquisition of novel skills being ‘considerably shortened through modelling.’ (Bandura, 1977)

My teacher was not acting in singularity, rather he was inviting me to join a social group of my intellectual superiors as a ‘legitimate peripheral participant’ (Lave and Wenger, 1990) wherein I was expected to develop the preliminary aspects of behaviours already deeply engrained into their social fabric. I was not treated as an ‘equal’ per se (this would have been odd given that I was decades younger than the next-youngest member) but instead as though I had the potential to become an equal, if given the opportunity. That I was able to participate meaningfully as a member of this group did not necessitate a fundamental shift in social dynamics or subjects of discussion towards those that may have been more ‘common’ amongst learners of my inexperience. It was a potent demonstration that, as Bruner hypothesized, ‘any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development.’ (Bruner, 1960 p. 33) I left Central America with cognitive skills and behaviours that I had begun to develop from the teachings of that group, and that I would return to frequently over the course of my formative years in an increasingly complex manner.

If the writings of those theorists cited above are to hold - and in my experience as a learner and as a teacher, I believe they should - then knowledge is constructed first and foremost within social contexts. My philosophy is therefore one that emphasizes authentic teacher-student relationships as being paramount to the act of learning. Meaningful learning, in other words, cannot be achieved without relationships facilitated by clear communication, mutual understanding, and principled fairness of interaction (DfE TS1, Part II). All pupils should be regarded as having the potential to reach intellectual parity with their instructors (with the teacher-student relationship acting as the vehicle to deliver learning), and students should be given every opportunity to develop such a relationship, with desired behaviours, skills and attitudes being modelled thoroughly and consistently.

Evidence that my adherence to this philosophy is bearing positive results can be found in the manner in which my superiors describe my impact on learning, as well as in communications from my students themselves. (DfE TS 5, 6, Part II). As part of my continuing strategy to make relationships central to my teaching, I am volunteering my time to co-found, with a student, an extra-curricular club dedicated to learning psychology. (DfE TS 8).


Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Prentice-Hall.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1990). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bruner, J. (1960) The Process of Education, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

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