My philosophy of teaching has been informed by years of experience teaching a variety of subjects across multiple contexts with diverse learners. My teaching philosophy centers around three components: relationships, relevance, and reflection. I briefly discuss each of these and describe examples from my teaching.
At the core of any teaching and learning endeavor is the relationship between teacher and learner. For deep learning to occur a learner must know their teacher genuinely cares about who they are as a person. I strive to put my relationship with learners first. I get to know them and provide opportunities for them to get them to know me. The community that is formed in a class is a key component of the learning experience. It is important for students to know each other, learn from each other, and allow other’s thinking and perspectives to interact with their own through whole class and small group discussions and collaborative experiences.
One way that I encourage relationship building among learners in my classes is through active discussions that employ elements of choice, especially in online settings. Forced online discussions can often become merely a checklist of assignments that students complete, rather than a place to genuinely share thinking and opinions. In my online classes I strive to create experiences where discussions help students form relationships and where students build on each other’s thinking in order to understand the concepts from various perspectives. Teaching in online settings presents a challenge for this type of relationship building, but technologies like Flipgrid and Zoom allow for new types of experiences that can support the building of caring relationships, such has video discussions, and synchronous brainstorming sessions.
I also believe that laughter is an essential component for a positive social learning environment. A little humor can go a long way in making learners feel comfortable and thus willing to share their thinking and opinions. One fun activity that I like to use is creating sniglets. A sniglet is a new word formed from parts of existing words. This activity is a wonderful ice breaker and requires creative thinking. Here are a couple examples from previous students: Animoʻo – Any four or more legged creature that is scary to local kids. Excusababble – When a student gives a reason or explanation for not having his or her homework done. Techfusion – A feeling of confusion when selecting the most appropriate device or program.
A social constructivist at heart, I believe that learners need to be actively engaged in experiences that encourage creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. As an instructor, making learning relevant means knowing my learners and designing instruction that allows them to connect the content to their own previous experiences and knowledge. It is essential that this connecting of new learning to previous learning be facilitated by instructors; learning happens when our brain makes connections. I believe teaching is an act of design. It takes risk-taking, creativity, and flexibility. I try to encourage student creativity and to model a variety of instructional strategies that my students can use in their own settings. The process of creating (an artifact, a video, a collage, a paper, a podcast, a lesson plan) helps students internalize their learning and share it. In the process of creation, connections are made and learning is relevant. One example of this is an assignment when students were asked to select a big idea from the course (e.g. their definition of learning, their view of aloha, their definition of creativity) and create a physical artifact to represent the big idea. The assignment supported them through a thinking and design process that encouraged them to make connections among different concepts of the course and their own experiences and to share that with others through the artifact they created and a written reflection.
Students need opportunities to express themselves in multiple modalities: written, orally, and with media. Opportunities to share their thinking and receive feedback, and opportunities to engage in and revise work based on their changing understanding of the topics they are learning are integral elements to deep learning. In my courses, students apply concepts to their own lives in tangible ways that require creativity and critical thinking. In my design thinking courses at MSU and Kamehameha, the teachers selected an element of their practice for which they wanted to design a creative solution. As students worked through the course, they consistently applied their learning to their problem of practice in order to have direct and immediate impact on their teaching.
Reflection is an integral part of my instructional cycle, for my students and myself. I continuously assess the effectiveness of the experiences that I design and facilitate, changing them as needed things to accommodate the learning of my students. One of the most important things that learners can do is reflect on their learning, together and individually, in multiple modalities. These reflections may be in the form of discussions with others, journal writings, video reflections, or prompts that encourage them to think about the content they are learning. Spending time reflecting helps connections form and allows learning to deepen. I commonly use a reflection journal in Google Docs that students return to throughout a course so that they can see the evolution of their own thinking.
Ultimately, I believe that the best learning leads to empowerment and transformation. Education should connect learners to each other, to their communities, and to their cultures. It should be deeply fulfilling and meaningful, helping them understand who they are and how important their work is as educators. Focusing on relationships, relevance, and reflection, helps me create an atmosphere where transformational learning can occur.