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June 20, 2022
What is your teaching philosophy? How has this originated, and can you evaluate how your educational touchstones will impact upon the teacher you aspire to be?
In 2005 - the same year that I graduated - Stephen Fry was awarded an honorary doctorate from Anglia Ruskin University. At our awards ceremony, he gave a speech, much of which I cannot remember except for one piece of advice that I have carried with me until this day (non-verbatim): No matter how much money you make, or how successful you become the only thing you will be remembered for by anyone is how you made them feel.
It is indeed the teachers who made me feel supported, who were warm and approachable, who encouraged me and showed patience, sincerity and consistency, who I remember the most. So much so that without one particular teacher’s influence I am not even sure I would have applied for university, let alone completed a degree. With this, I also remember the teachers that did not make me feel so valued. And like many of us do, I left school with an understanding of who I was and what I could do based on what I was shown by the adults around me.
I achieved a D for GCSE maths and I am not very good at it. Is that a truth or is it a message instilled in me from school when I was told this by a teacher? Cowley argues that “The relationship with the learners you teach effects the quality of differentiation that takes place in your lesson” (Cowley 2018, p.62). With this in mind, had said teacher taken the time to find out more about why I was struggling might the outcome have been different? Would my beliefs about my numerical capability still be the same? Conversely, one of the highlights of my career before teaching was supporting high level civil engineers with the development of professional qualifications. Engineers need to be very good at maths and I needed to have an understanding of mathematical concepts in order to support them. Why was I able to do this successfully despite a D grade? Because a colleague (and a mentor) recognised my strengths, looked beyond what I thought I couldn’t do and focused on what I could.
Just recently I was listening to a podcast called Off Menu. On this particular episode award winning actor and writer Asim Chaudhry talks about a negative experience he had with a teacher. Despite huge success Chaudhry explains that this one experience still affects him now and for many years he didn’t think he was good enough (Acaster, J. & Gamble, E. 2021). As Dweck explains “Every word and action can send a message. It tells children – or students, or athletes – how to think about themselves. It can be a fixed mindset message that says: you have permanent traits and I’m judging them. Or it can be a growth-mindset message that says: you are a developing person and I am interested in your development.” (Dweck 2012, p.266)
The language we use as teachers is powerful and it sticks. It is therefore my philosophy that successful pedagogy cannot exist without a genuine demonstration of belief in student capability, and to celebrate successes equally, whether that be an A* for one student or a long and laborious struggle from a D grade to a C for another. For if I am able to do this as a teacher then it is my hope that students will leave school with a strong sense of self-belief, motivation and an acknowledgement that they are defined by much more than what they believe they can or cannot do.
Acaster, J. & Gamble, E. (2021) Off Menu [podcast] Ep 113: Asim Chaudhry 20:00-20:55 / 01:06:28 Available at: https://play.acast.com/s/offmenu/ep113-asimchaudhry Accessed on 4th October 2021.
Cowley, S 2018, The Ultimate Guide to Differentiation: Achieving Excellence for All, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, London. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [9 October 2021].
Dweck, C 2012, Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, Constable & Robinson, London. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [9 October 2021].