Writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement
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A teaching philosophy statement is a written description of your values, goals, and beliefs regarding both teaching and learning… and uses evidence from your teaching to make the case that you have excelled as a teacher… As a general expression of your beliefs and practices, your teaching philosophy can shape your syllabi or introduce your course website.
Teaching philosophy statements are unique to each individual and reflect contextual factors such as the discipline, influential mentors, personal educational experiences, type of teaching (graduate vs. undergraduate, large vs. small classes etc.), and program-related teaching requirements (e.g. case-based learning), to mention a few.
Why Write a Statement of Your Teaching Philosophy?
A statement of your teaching philosophy is often a required or highly recommended part of a tenure dossier, so many instructors only develop teaching philosophy statements during the tenure submission process. However, this is not the only time a teaching philosophy statement is useful. Early in your career, it is very helpful to have gone through the process of reflecting about your own teaching, which gives you a better idea of your beliefs and strengths as an instructor and the ways in which you could develop your teaching practices over time. For instance, if you are a proponent of team-based learning, you could seek out new approaches to group learning that would make it a better/more effective learning experience for your students.
Another reason to have a teaching philosophy statement is that it is increasingly common to ask for such a statement as part of the application process for tenure track positions. As well, teaching philosophy statements are usually required for nominations for teaching awards, such as the 3M National Teaching Award.
If you seek a career as an academic, ideally you should begin to articulate your teaching philosophy in graduate school. The sooner you start thinking about your teaching philosophy, the easier it is to formulate a statement when you need it. Once you have articulated your beliefs and practices as an instructor, it is far easier to jot down relevant examples of your teaching strategies and successes as you go. Don’t leave it until the time when a polished teaching philosophy statement is needed.
Over the years, keep a file of
- how you enact your teaching beliefs in your courses
- how your thinking about your teaching practices has evolved
- what you have done to change or enhance your teaching practices
- what new innovations you have incorporated into your teaching.
With this file at hand, it will be a much easier job to pull together or revise your teaching philosophy statement, and include examples to illustrate how you translate your teaching philosophy into effective classroom practices that facilitate student learning.
- Make your Teaching Statement brief and well written. While Teaching Statements are probably longer at the tenure level (i.e. 3-5 pages or more), for hiring purposes they are typically 1-2 pages in length.
- Use a narrative, first-person approach. This allows the Teaching Statement to be both personal and reflective.
- Make it specific rather than abstract. Ground your ideas in 1-2 concrete examples, whether experienced or anticipated. This will help the reader to better visualize you in the classroom.
- Be discipline-specific. Do not ignore your research. Explain how you advance your field through teaching.
- Avoid jargon and technical terms, as they can be off-putting to some readers.
Try not to simply repeat what is in your CV. Teaching Statements are not exhaustive documents and should be used to complement other materials for the hiring or tenure processes.
- Be sincere and unique. Avoid clichés, especially ones about how much passion you have for teaching.
- Be humble. Mention students in an enthusiastic, not condescending way, and illustrate your willingness to learn from your students and colleagues.
- Revise. Teaching is an evolving, reflective process, and Teaching Statements can be adapted and changed as necessary.
(List adapted from Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University)
In addition to these guidelines, another valuable suggestion is to have your Teaching Philosophy statement reviewed by academic colleagues who may have other insights into what you could include in your statement. As well, you need to make sure that you are conforming to specific expectations (f there are any) from your Faculty or Department about what to include in your Teaching Philosophy statement. For example, according to The Teaching Dossier: A Guide for the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry (pdf), the statement of teaching philosophy "may include, but not be limited to, discussion in each of the following:
- your personal theory of learning (e.g., what happens inside students when they learn)
- the goals for instruction (what should be learned)
- the role(s) and responsibility(ies) of the student in this process
- the role(s) of the instructor in this process
- a description of the variables which promote learning
A statement of teaching philosophy is a flexible document, and can be successfully constructed in a number of different ways.
One way is to include descriptions of specific teaching strategies (e.g., a description of a particular assignment of class activity) alongside your teaching beliefs. Some instructors prefer to integrate these strategies into the philosophy statement; others prefer to describe them in a separate document (a “Statement of Teaching Practice”). Other common components of a statement of teaching philosophy include:
- your definition of good teaching, with an explanation of why you have developed or adopted this particular definition
- a discussion of your teaching methods: how do you implement your definition of good teaching?
- a discussion of your evaluation and assessment methods and a description of how they support your definition of good teaching
- a description of your students, and their most important learning goals and challenges
- a description of your teaching goals: with what content, skills, or values should students leave your classroom? What are your goals for improving your own teaching?
(List adapted from Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation, University of Toronto)
Nancy Chism’s (1998) classic article on teaching philosophy statements outlines guiding questions for developing key components of a good teaching philosophy statement, including:
- How does learning take place?
- Based on my observation and experience, what do I think happens during a learning episode?
- How do I facilitate learning?
- What are my assumptions about teaching?
- Why do I teach the way I do?
- How do I motivate, challenge, or support students?
- How do I deal with students who struggle?
- How do I vary my approach?
- As a result of learning, what do I expect my students to know, do, or value (in their careers and future lives)? Why?
- What does my teaching philosophy mean for my students?
- How are my conceptions of teaching and learning transformed into instructional strategies?
- What are the consequences of my instructional strategies?
- How do I know my teaching is effective?
- What data do I use to gauge my effectiveness?
- What goals have I set for myself as teacher?
- How will I accomplish these goals?
- What are some present challenges to overcome in order to achieve my goals?
- How have I developed?
- What evidence do I have that can demonstrate my development?
- What has changed over time in my assumptions and actions?
- How have I met goals that I set in the past?
Adapted from Reflections (Spring 2000) by Mike Atkinson
There are numerous approaches you can take when writing your teaching philosophy. Let's examine several of these by looking at the reflective statements from some of Western's award-winning teachers. These should not be considered as mutually exclusive strategies. In fact, many instructors use a variety of these styles.
This approach presents a general statement about what you see as the "job" of a university instructor. You might consider what the instructor ideally should do in the classroom. How does this help the student to develop? Remember to keep your comments focused and to the point.
"My responsibility as a teacher is to create an environment where students are empowered to think critically and creatively, to learn to seek resources to achieve their learning goals, to develop as self-evaluators, and to receive constructive feedback about their work. I am very cognizant of the need for undergraduate students to acquire specific knowledge while they develop the attitudes and skills that are essential to professional practice in nursing." (Carroll Iwasiw)
"Teaching in a professional faculty, I am constantly mindful of the need to ensure that the theory I discuss is presented in a context that is meaningful to my students. Most of my students are mature students, for whom relevance of subject matter to their chosen careers is highly valued. Most of my graduate students have had substantial experience as teachers and administrators and are looking for theory to explain, if not outright solve, the problems they encounter in practice." (Greg Dickinson)
"The primary challenge I have faced is related to the fact that my field--Restoration and eighteenth-century literature--seems remote to most students. My job, I believe, is to make the field come alive for the classes I teach, to demonstrate its centrality in the culture of the late twentieth century, and to instil a love for works that might initially appear intimidating in their neoclassicism or vexing in their satiric density." (Alison Conway)
"Teachers provide a catalyst for learning by making information understandable and applicable to students. A teacher must have an intense passion for teaching. An effective teacher also has the will and the ability to show emotion, realizing that genuine emotions not only reveal his or her character, but also are an effective and personal means of communication. And not least, a teacher must know the importance of being humble." (F. P. H. Chan)
Here, the individual outlines how and why he or she entered the profession of academia. This may be quite specific ("My father was a customs officer and I became intensely interested in people's ability to lie") or very general ("For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in helping students to learn"). Some questions for you to consider: Why did you become a university instructor? Who were your role models? What attracted you to your specific area of study?
"I chose to study French when I entered university because of an intense interest in language and languages, which I developed in my first year of secondary school. In my teaching, I start from the assumption that each student either has a similar fascination already and that my task is to help her follow it further, or that she has the potential to be as fascinated as I am, and that my job is to help her develop that enthusiasm for the subject matter." (Jeff Tennant)
In this approach, the instructor discusses specific examples of things she or he has done in the classroom. The focus here is not so much on a listing of activities as it is on a demonstration of pedagogical approach.
"Even in large lectures of a few hundred I attempt to invite at least minimal participation, for example, through 'You Be the Judge' exercises. In smaller settings I employ debates, role-playing, dialoguing, and mock trials or hearings--techniques that require students to 'sift through the evidence,' enabling them to adopt various perspectives and make defensible arguments for them." (Greg Dickinson)
"Let me start by saying that I find the term 'philosophy' to be rather too pretentious for my approach to teaching. However there are several things that I do in an attempt to be as effective as possible in the time available. I try to be organized so that both the student and I know what is coming, where we have been and what is expected. I also work hard at getting the students involved individually in the lectures and keeping them up to date in the course material. I try to know everyone's name and I ask lots of questions in class. On a weekly basis, I hand out short problem sets and we hold sessions in which student volunteers present the answers on the board to the rest of the class. The vetting of the problem sets can be quite time consuming, but I am convinced that it is one of the most effective things that I do". (D. H. Hunter)
An instructor may want to set a broad philosophical background for his or her own pedagogical approach. As always, this does not have to be a lengthy discussion of philosophical theory. Rather, the focus is on your own values and beliefs. Such statements tell the reader a great deal about your personal approach to teaching, interaction with students, your choice of instructional format, evaluation, and so on. Think about what values are the most central to your beliefs about education. Equality? Perseverance? Exploration? Whatever you choose, this is a good way to begin your statement of teaching philosophy.
"Teaching is one of the most important of all human activities with a potential for great good or harm. It is far more complex than most people realize and makes large professional and personal demands on the teacher. It repays the teacher's efforts many times over in terms of the gratification in being a part of the awakening and development of students". (W. Wayne Weston)
"My cognitive machinery is not designed for fine detail work. I think about and understand the world in broad strokes on large canvasses. In the classroom, my emphasis is always on the big picture because that is where I am most fluent. I tend to 'dig down' to the necessary level of organizational detail rather than 'build up' from all of the component bits and pieces. I am open with my students that they probably command more of the minutiae of the discipline than I--but I also warn them of the speed with which our knowledge of minutiae changes. I try to model a way of being intrigued by, and working with, knowledge rather than being chock-full of it." (Tom Haffie)
"My philosophy of teaching is less philosophy and more value-based. However, I do have some basic tenets that I hold dear to my pedagogical practice. My first premise sounds trite but is absolutely critical to what I do in class: I believe I teach students, not a subject. Of course, it is not completely true and I do teach a subject, but I am teaching students about a subject. I have long admired the question, 'What is worth knowing? and try my best to remind myself of that question when I prepare for classes. Its corollary is equally important, 'How do you go about getting to know what is worth knowing?' For both questions, the issues of HOW to teach and HOW to learn are critical. Teaching to me is about process first, content second." (Don Morrow)
"The encounter between teacher and student is an honoured tradition in which one passes on parcels of knowledge to the other. Particularly in the university environment, it involves more than the dissemination of detailed information: the myriad of facts are only kindling used to fuel the desire to imagine, to reason, and to think." (F. P. H. Chan)
We have a variety of goals in mind whenever we teach a class. Some of these are broad and quite loosely defined ("I want my students to gain an appreciation for chamber music.") Others may be very specific and could reasonably be thought of as instructional objectives ("By the end of this course, students will be able to identify correctly all of the major structures in the human nervous system and will be able to suggest the likely cause of any neurological disorder when presented with a hypothetical scenario"). Whatever your goals, it is useful to set them out clearly. In this way, you (and your students) can know whether or not the goals have been achieved.
"The following are the general goals I set for myself in the courses I teach:
To encourage students to make the subject matter their own. In the case of language courses, this involves encouraging them to make use of French every chance they get, both inside and outside the classroom.
To help students make progress in the learning of their second language by giving them the means to identify and correct their errors.
To encourage students to challenge their common sense assumptions about language by analyzing it from a rigorous scientific viewpoint.
To help students, through the study of sociolinguistics, to recognize sources of social and ethnic prejudice in beliefs people have about language and about differences between groups of people based on their language and use of language.
To establish with students a cordial relationship between learner and teacher based on mutual respect rather than one based on authority.
To be available to students for assistance with their work when they need it. To this end I encourage students to make an appointment to see me if they are unable to come by during my regularly scheduled office hours." (Jeff Tennant)
- Nanda Dimitrov: Teaching Philosophy – Intercultural Communication
- Gavan Watson: Statement of Teaching Philosophy
- Teaching statement examples from the Center for Teaching and Faculty Excellence at George Mason University.
- Eric Anderson, 2014 Teaching Excellence Award Winner – General Education (CHSS)
- Yoosun Chung, 2012 Teaching Excellence Award Winner – Teaching with Technology (CEHD)
- Gregory Grimsby, 2014 Teaching Excellence Award Winner (CVPA)
- Christopher Hamner, 2013 Teaching Excellence Award Winner (CHSS)
- Jeff Offutt, 2013 Teaching Excellence Award Winner – Teaching with Technology (VSE)
- Michael Summers, 2014 Teaching Excellence Award Winner (COS)
- Sample Teaching Philosophy Statements from past University of Calgary Teaching Award recipients, including graduate teaching assistants
- Sample Teaching Philosophies organized by field of study from graduate students at the University of Michigan
A teaching philosophy is part of the Teaching Dossier that you will submit for the Certificate. It should be:
A succinct, clearly reasoned statement of your personal beliefs about teaching and how these have influenced your choice of teaching methods, i.e., an explanation of why you do what you do...maximum length 2 pages (Required)
If you are an inexperienced teacher you can discuss what you would do, rather than what you have done with respect to classroom teaching.
The Teaching Dossier is a highly personal document that reflects your unique approach to teaching and student learning. We recommend that you review samples of dossiers and philosophy statements to develop a clear understanding of their structure and organization. However, if you find yourself drawing from the ideas of others when developing your statement, please consult "How not to plagiarise" and, where in doubt, cite sources appropriately.
If a dossier or philosophy statement that you submit in support of the Certificate is deemed to have been plagiarised in any way, you will have to wait a minimum of six months before you are able to submit revised (and wholly original) documents and receive the Certificate.
The following programs periodically have workshops on writing teaching philosophy statements:
- 4 Steps to a Memorable Teaching Philosophy (Chronicle of Higher Education)
- Teaching Philosophies and Teaching Dossiers Guide (Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary)
- Exploring Your Teaching Philosophy: Sample Exercises (Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo)
If you need individual assistance in writing a teaching philosophy statement, please contact one of our educational developers.
Chism, N. V. N. (1997-98). Developing a philosophy of teaching statement. Essays on teaching excellence: Toward the best in the academy, 9(3). Retrieved from: http://podnetwork.org/content/uploads/V9-N3-Chism.pdf