Exploring Your Teaching Philosophy: Sample Exercises

The following prompts, questions, and perspectives are intended to help you reflect on your teaching as you seek to develop a teaching philosophy statement. We suggest that you don't just think through them but rather type or write out your responses -- doing so will result in deeper and more nuanced responses, and a better sense of yoiurself as a teacher. A Teaching Philosophy Statement is an integral part of every instructor's Teaching Dossier

Your beliefs about teaching and learning

  1. What do you, as an instructor, enjoy about learning? 
  2. What do you, as an instructor, enjoy about teaching?
  3. Who are your students? Do they tend to share certain assumptions, backgrounds, and motivations? Why do they want to learn? 
  4. What do you hope to accomplish when you teach? What do your aims say about you as a instructor?
  5. Create a list in response to the following prompt: “When I teach I...” Once you’ve created the list, reflect on why you do what you do.
  6. Does your subject matter affect your beliefs about teaching or learning? If so, explain how.

Thinking as a teacher

(adapted from Apps, J. (1991). Mastering the Teaching of Adults. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Co., pp. 23-24)

In Mastering the Teaching of Adults (1991), J. Apps proposes a number of metaphors that represent a number of different ways that teachers conceive of themselves. Which of the following do you most resonate with? Do you resonate with more than one? If none of them seem suited to you, what metaphor would you propose instead? 

  • Lamplighters - They attempt to illuminate the minds of their learners.
  • Gardeners - Their goal is to cultivate the mind by nourishing, enhancing the climate, removing the weeds and other impediments, and then standing back and allowing growth to occur.
  • Muscle builders - They exercise and strengthen minds so learners can face the heavyweight learning tasks of the future.
  • Bucket fillers - They pour information into empty containers with the assumption that a filled bucket is a good bucket. In other words, a head filled with information makes an educated person.
  • Challengers - They question learners’ assumptions, helping them see subject matter in fresh ways and develop critical thinking skills.
  • Travel guides - They assist people along the path of learning.
  • Factory supervisors - They supervise the learning process, making certain that sufficient inputs are present and that the outputs are consistent with the inputs.
  • Artists - For them teaching has no prescriptions and the ends are not clear at the beginning of the process. The entire activity is a subjective experience.
  • Applied scientists - They apply research findings to teaching problems and see scientific research as the basis for teaching.
  • Craftspeople - They use various teaching skills and are able to analyze teaching situations, apply scientific findings when applicable, and incorporate an artistic dimension into teaching.

Self-reflective interview

(adapted from Grasha, A. (1996). Teaching With Style. Pittsburgh, PA: Alliance Publishers, p. 55).

Imagine someone is interviewing you for an article about effective teachers. How would you respond to the following questions:

  • What is a “personal best” achievement for you as a teacher during the past year?
  • Who was or is the best teacher you have ever known? What personal and/or professional qualities made this person a great teacher? How do these qualities appear in your own teaching practice?
  • What aspects of your teaching practice would you like to enhance, change, or get rid of? How would you proceed to do this with one of those aspects? 
  • If you wrote a book about teaching, what would the title be? What would be the titles of the first three chapters? 

Personal definition of teaching

(adapted from Grasha, A. (1996). Teaching With Style. Pittsburgh, PA: Alliance Publishers, pp.112-115).

In articulating your definition of teaching, it is often helpful to carefully analyze your definition to ensure that it is comprehensive and clear to readers other than ourselves. To do this, we need to unpack the terminology we use. Respond to the following prompts to help clarify your personal definition of teaching.

  • What is your personal definition of teaching?
  • What key phrases or words in your definition are absolutely critical for someone else to understand your approach to teaching?
  • What does each of those key words or phrases mean to you?

For example, a personal definition could be: "Teaching is a process of internal reflection and external dialogue about things of importance conducted with passion and discipline." Key words to further explain might be: "process," "internal and external dialogue," "passion," and "discipline."

Critical moments in teaching

(adapted from Palmer, P. (1993). “Good Talk about Good Teaching” in Change 25(6), pp. 8-13).

Think about a course you have taught. Draw an arrow from left to right in your journal and fit along the arrow the “critical moments” that you experienced as the course progressed.  A “critical moment” occurs when a learning opportunity either opens up or shuts down for your students, depending on how you respond. Sample critical moments could include the first day of class, the first question from a student that is very off-target or ill-informed, the first time the class understands a complex concept, and so on. Pick three or four moments that really stand out for you and describe how you responded to them – for better or for worse. If your response was not ideal, what would do another time you encountered a similar situation?

Reality check from the other side of the desk

It is very easy to generate ideals for our teaching philosophies. But are they realistic? And do they really serve the needs of our students? In this activity, think about your experiences as a student and answer the following questions:

  • What were my most positive learning experiences as a student? What made them so positive? List as many things as possible and be specific.
  • What were my most negative learning experiences as a student? What made them so negative? List as many things as possible and be specific.

Review your responses as a student as well as your responses to other teaching philosophy exercises you have done (e.g., metaphor exercise). Which, if any, of the positive aspects have you built into your teaching and your ideas for your philosophy statement? Which, if any, of the negative aspects appear in your teaching and your ideas for your philosophy statement? Most importantly, what do you need to change or add in order to be more the kind of teacher that you appreciated as a student? How will you make those changes?



If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help.  View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact.

teaching tipsThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Exploring Your Teaching Philosophy: Sample Exercises. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.