I believe that all human beings have inherent value and deserve to have caring, respectful relationships with their teachers, and I believe that all other aspects of teaching hang upon this central tenet.
All theoretical models, research findings, and teaching skills are ancillary to teaching in the sense that the heart of teaching is caring concern for one’s students, and I submit that a teacher who does not care for his or her students in a sincere, individualized manner is no teacher at all and that the most important aspect of my own belief system that makes me a valuable and effective teacher is my deep, committed concern for my students.
The social structure of the classroom and the relationships that exist therein shape the learning process in either beneficial or detrimental ways.
This belief, however, is not merely an ideological statement with no bearing on practical realities. Rather, my beliefs about teaching and learning are influenced by a variety of theoretical models and research findings, and they impact my practice in valuable ways. If we accept that human knowledge is socially constructed, then we must also recognize that the social structure of the classroom and the relationships that exist therein shape the learning process in either beneficial or detrimental ways. As such, teachers must recognize the sociocultural experiences that shape their students’ understandings of the world as a basis from which to work. Instead of attempting to enculturate students to some arbitrarily designated set of behaviors, maxims, or beliefs in a subtractive manner, I believe that the goal of education is to build upon the world views that students bring with them into the classroom and to empower them to develop the literacies necessary to become effective lifelong learners.
Along with the New Literacy Studies theorists, I believe that literacy in its various forms may be defined as the ability to participate successfully in different social contexts and that literacy development is not about doing, but about being. This means that all teaching and learning cannot exist in a contextual vacuum, but must be intricately connected and interwoven with our world views and our core senses of self, and that teachers must help students to learn in a manner that is personally meaningful and beneficial for their own senses of identity. Rejecting stringent cognitivist and behaviorist notions of learning that ignore social realities of this process, I believe that learning is about making connections both in the mind (e.g., connecting new knowledge with prior experiences) and between the self, other people, and the world.
In the realities of work, research, and social life, we rely upon a variety of connections to enable us to participate meaningfully in society.
In this way, I appreciate theoretical models of distributed cognition and Connectivist attempts at improving educational experiences by focusing upon networked relationship building. Education has never been about how much information a person can hold in his or her head, because in the realities of work, research, and social life, we rely upon a variety of connections to enable us to participate meaningfully in society. In this way, educational experiences that do not value the development of sustained connections between learners, teachers, and resources have little lasting value beyond the confines of the classroom. This is especially poignant as the world becomes increasingly connected via technology and as it becomes clearer that individuals’ abilities to participate in society are regulated by their abilities to navigate media and to connect with people and resources via technology-mediated spaces.
Because such connection-building must be approached in a manner that is authentic and socially valuable to the individual, I am a firm believer in utilizing project-based pedagogy in constructionist scenarios. This means that practically all aspects of the courses we teach should be framed within the context of larger projects that allow for personal agency and require scaffolded self-direction and self-management on the part of learners. This also means that the outcomes of these projects should be representative constructions of developing knowledge (i.e. constructions in the world reflecting constructions in the mind) that can be of use to learners in the future (e.g., portfolio items, research tools, etc.).
I further believe that we must set high standards for our students and expect them to excel in authentic ways. This implies that our evaluations of student work can and should be amenable to standards set in real-world contexts. Thus, rather than treating the classroom as a space apart from the world, we should view it as an extension thereof and seek to ground our students’ learning experiences and their evaluation criteria in defensible expectations, thereby avoiding esoteric and non-transferrable knowledge, which do not hold up to external scrutiny. In short, we should treat the classroom less like a monastery for academic observance and more like a Socratic public square or community schoolhouse, where we engage with the problems of society in ways that reveal our own connection and vested interest in its improvement.
In summary, these beliefs and understandings shape my teaching in a variety of important ways. First, they lead me to develop caring, respectful relationships with my students. Second, they lead me to value diversity as an essential component of the learning process. Third, they lead me to design learning experiences that are culturally and personally valuable for my students. Fourth, they lead me to help students to connect with social and information resources in sustainable ways that will be beneficial to them in the future. Fifth, they lead me to design learning experiences within the contexts of constructionist projects. And sixth, they lead me to hold my students to high standards that are transferrable outside the classroom.