Moving Forward: Teaching Philosophies in a Post-COVID Era

“Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who you are – so you can more wisely build the future” – Paulo Freire

Across higher education as well as my own institution, the question of what college will look like “post-COVID” is front and center. Any week the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and several other related sources publish articles, op-eds, and interviews on our post-COVID realities.

We have learned there is not much we can control in terms of the pandemic itself, governmental responses, or even how universities have met this moment. But as we emerge as faculty from this year of education triage, I have been thinking about what this means for myself and my peers who put the “education” in higher education.

As an educator who thrives on face-to-face classroom interactions with my students, this past year of isolation and online learning has been a challenge for me and my pedagogy. As I devoured any online training, research article, or book on online education, I found myself thinking (and rethinking) my own approach to teaching. In this tour-de-force, I was recommended a recently published article by Beatty, Leigh, and Dean (2020) on the connections of teaching philosophy statements and student learning. You might remember that teaching philosophy statement as the singular document you wrote as a piece of your application package (and have never given it another thought), or perhaps you revisit it annually when pulling together materials for your evaluation, or maybe it is printed and hanging on your office wall. Wherever one might fall in this continuum, perhaps we might revisit that statement of our personal values, connections with our discipline and university, and our “classroom” practices.

In this article, the authors reflect back on a decade of their work using a simple card-sort exercise to help faculty discover their own teaching philosophies. The exercise simply asks participants to sort cards with words or phrases such as “interdisciplinary” or “learning-by-doing” based on how the participant feels that card represents their own ideas about teaching and learning. On the reverse side of each card is the name of a theorist or approach to teaching and learning; the cards that best match with the participant can act as a catalyst for further work to explore more deeply and formally execute a philosophy of teaching statement. The cards that are chosen, through several rounds of guided imagery and written drafts, lead to a more formal statement.

Why is this statement important? Whether created with this card-sorting method or some other reflexive means, Beatty, Leigh, and Duncan (2020, pp. 538-9) argue, “Having a teaching philosophy based on lived experience as well as our dreams for the future allows a liberating way to negotiate the terms of our engagement with students in real time, iteratively, and based creatively on our students’ needs…In all of our experiences thus far, our choices of modalities are much less important than our orientation to supplying a high-quality learning experience for our students.” As the authors show, these statements – and our commitment to them – make us better educators.

This really stuck with me as I think not just about my current reality teaching online, but of my future practice back in the classroom, and as I prepare to transition into my forthcoming role as Director of Faculty Development. In doing so, I have often asked myself, “What is it that I can build on from this past year that can define and describe my agency as a professor and faculty developer? Having survived this moment, what are my holistic views of the teaching process and the interactions between teaching and learning?”

While there is much left to be discovered in the shape and nature of the post-COVID university, perhaps one place we can start – and control – is right back at the basics, that statement of our ongoing personal and professional development. I have learned a lot about my myself, my teaching, and student learning this past year; the challenge is now to take the best of these lessons and evolve moving forward – starting with this teaching philosophy.

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