My Teaching Philosophy

My goal as an instructor is help build connections for students: connections that bridge them to the material, me, and their fellow students, and connections that bridge their past experiences with their present realities and hypothetical futures. To build these connections, I rely on three main teaching strategies: 1) Collaborative learning, where I engage students with the material and their classmates to enhance their understanding and build sense of community, 2) Critical thinking exercises, to challenge students to see beyond definitions and descriptions and apply the psychological science concepts to “real-world” issues, and 3) Personal reflection and application, to encourage students to think about concepts in relation to their own past experiences and future goals. By using these teaching methods, I endeavor to make the course material more meaningful, which will increase the likelihood that the learning that takes place is not memorized and quickly forgotten but rather integrated into the students’ perspectives, reasoning, and life choices.

Collaborative Learning

In developing my classroom pedagogy, I referenced a wide body of works by Vygotsky, who made significant contributions to the field of cognitive development. According to Vygotsky (1978), knowledge is constructed within social contexts; learning cannot be separated from the environment within which it occurs; and collaboration within social environments is essential to learning. To foster collaborative learning in my face-to-face classrooms, I have the students participate in a variety of in-class group activities, which depends, in part, on the level of the course. My commitment to collaborative learning is also evident in my online courses (child and lifespan development). In these courses, students earn participation points by contributing to discussion boards throughout the semester.

Critical Thinking

Psychology is a science, and I aim to emphasize the bases of psychological science in all of the courses I teach. Some of the opinions that students bring to classes are based on non-empirical sources, such as reports from the media and personal experiences. For example, a student might have the opinion that medication is “bad” for people to take because he or she saw a media headline linking medication consumption with shorter life expectancies and feels (from personal experience) that medication never really helps. I feel that one of my most important tasks as an educator in the field of psychology is to help students think critically about these media headlines and also understand that personal experiences do not necessarily reflect societal norms. To do this, I engage the students in exercises of critical thinking.

Personal Reflection and Application

Although I emphasize that personal experiences vary, I also encourage students to think about the concepts we cover in class in relation to their own lives. These may seem like discordant goals; on one hand, I’m encouraging students to think critically and beyond their own personal experiences, and on the other, I’m having them consider the concepts within the realm of their own past and future experiences. However, I feel that these goals are complementary, as they both encourage students to examine their own personal experiences, perceptions, and biases and evaluate them against societal norms. And by helping the student connect with the topic on a personal level, I hope to make the information more meaningful, which may aid in retention of concepts.