Twice in the past few years, I have had to develop and refine a teaching philosophy statement (required for a tenure application and an award nomination). I struggled a bit with trying to define how and why I teach the way I do. However, I very much enjoyed the struggle and feel it is an important process for educators to go through. For what it’s worth – I thought I’d share my final product with you!
I have always believed in the importance of physical education (PE). Movement and physical activity have been an integral part of my own life since I was a child. As I grew up, went to school, tried to figure out my life and eventually settled on a career in education, PE was always at the forefront. The year 2017 marks my 24th year in the field and after nine career “adjustments” over this time span (new positions, new schools, new degrees), two constants have emerged: PE and working with children and youth. Over the length of my career, I have developed a fundamental belief in the absolute, critical, elemental, life changing and life giving need for human movement. This belief guides my teaching and provides the foundation of how I choose to support pre-service teachers in their journey towards becoming teachers of PE. As well, my philosophy of teaching is rooted in my own experiences as a K-12 teacher. I pride myself on being a teacher first and have had a very diverse career. My practice in K-12 education has ranged far and wide including: a school in Peru, a Hutterite Colony in Southern Alberta, several different schools in Alberta and a school for disadvantaged children in Ecuador. These experiences have enabled me to grow and develop as an educator, refine my management and assessment skills, gain valuable insight into the social and cultural influences affecting students, families and communities and finally, helped to define my identity as a teacher. Throughout those experiences, I can see the threads of joyful, essential movement being woven into the fabric of my teaching identity. Those threads also form the basis of my relationships with students and encourage me to meet students where they are. The following quote is from an email a parent sent to me in 2002 (the name has been changed):
Thanks for making PE fun and enjoyable for Katie this year. She always comes home with good comments about gym and I am thankful, because PE was not my favourite subject. In those days, you were ridiculed if you couldn’t do the skill well. I have many scars from that experience and so I appreciate your approach. You have taught Katie the importance of trying and not to be afraid of failing. Thank you!
I share this email because it speaks to the creation of a safe learning environment, where students feel free to challenge themselves and support those around them to do the same. Sometimes PE can be a scary place – everything you do, including your body itself, can be seen to be on display. As I did in my K-12 teaching, I also strive to create a PE culture with my university students that is inclusive, safe, caring and joyful. Finally, my teaching philosophy draws heavily on John Dewey’s theories of experience and education. I base the nature of my classes at the University of Alberta, undergraduate and graduate, on this premise:
“Experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other. For some experiences are mis-educative. Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience. An experience may be such as to engender callousness; it may produce lack of sensitivity and of responsiveness. Then the possibilities of having richer experience in the future are restricted” (Dewey, 1938, p. 25-26).
In every class I teach, we dig into past experience and strive to learn from both the educative and mis-educative. My students come to PE with their own individual experiences and contexts. We take the time to explore their past as it impacts their teaching: present and future. We search for instances of joyful movement wherever they may be found and then we build on those experiences and extend them to our teaching and learning. As a teacher, I have engaged in this process as well and feel that my students reap the benefits of my own reflective practice. Therefore, I strive to ensure that each and every class I teach provides students with a truly educative experience enabling their growth, learning and understanding as pre-service teachers. Quite often, students will approach me and express their apprehension about taking a class on PE pedagogy. Their fears may be grounded in a negative experience, a misguided perception or a stereotype – it really doesn’t matter. My teaching philosophy allows me meet them where they are, provide joyful movement experiences and, help them establish an identity as a teacher of PE.
“I was really dreading the idea of having to teach PE. All of that changed this semester! The things you taught us were real life, things we can actually use and it was so much fun (so different from past classes)”
(Student letter, Winter 2014)