Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy has evolved from a variety of experiences and studies. At the beginning of my teaching career, I quickly realized that the approaches and expectations I had come to know as a graphic designer were very different from those needed in an educational environment. Learning how to teach by teaching required that I be a student and a teacher at the same time. This approach still holds true for me and is at the core of my teaching philosophy. As I gained experience and confidence in the classroom, I developed an intuitive approach to student-focused instruction. Many of these approaches were later confirmed as I pursued an MS in Instructional Leadership degree at Robert Morris University. Through the study of educational and instructional theory, I was able to refine the philosophy and techniques I apply in the classroom.

I believe that fostering respect and accountability, being genuine and modeling a desire to learn are the most important characteristics of an effective teacher. The role of the instructor as the sole information provider is ineffective. Instead, the instructor should guide the students through the process of learning how to learn. By asking themselves questions and through building a self-driven determination to solve problems, students gain lifelong skills and begin to claim their own education. The instructor is paramount in providing an environment where the student can discover information and practice skills through simulation, analysis, collaboration and reflection.

An effective teacher should be an expert in their field of study and maintain a set of standards that is continually evaluated according to industry and individual student needs. There is also an emotional side to teaching. Like any relationship, it can be messy at times. But, what I like about teaching is that it’s real. When all is said and done at the end of the day, my exhaustion, hopefulness, laughter, anger, pride and frustration are real. That’s what I want the students to see. My job would be a breeze if all I had to do were to teach Graphic Design. It takes a tremendous amount of personal and professional investment and commitment to teach the individual instead of simply teaching the subject. It makes you aware of yourself more than anything. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had.

Model and reinforce development of mutual respect and appropriate social behavior.

Being consistent with social expectations, boundaries and mutual respect is one of the most important ways a teacher can gain respect in the classroom. Following through on decisions, showing consideration, maintaining appropriate boundaries, assigning accountability and enforcing consequences for unacceptable behavior are all necessary in maintaining and managing a professional and safe learning environment for all students.

Be honest; be genuine.

It’s important to be who you are. I am not a performer. It’s not in my nature, so I don’t see my classes as performances. I see my classes as workshops where we all learn together. Students are very perceptive and can sense if you’re not comfortable with what you’re doing, so it’s not even worth trying to fool them. I really enjoy working with people, seeing their potential and encouraging them to meet high standards. This is genuine and the students can see that. They can also see that I’m not someone who goes home every night to learn graphic design applications. They know that I’m not a techie and they seem to be OK with that, too, because I don’t try to hide it.

Define clear parameters.

Companies and organizations spend thousands of dollars and a good bit of time to establish parameters for their employees. From vacation time to dress code to benefits, rules and regulations are defined in employee handbooks. By simulating this in the classroom, students begin to learn how to work within a specific framework of expectations. They begin to understand what the expectations and guidelines are for conduct and assignments. This leaves the guesswork out so they can focus on what they need to do to reach their intended goal. It also encourages students to choose the degree to which they will adhere to these guidelines and accept the consequences if they choose not to. Students are provided with grading rubrics and a set of standards for behavior and interaction. Although most students don’t realize it, this structure provides a safe learning environment for each individual by making the same expectations accessible to all students.

Create a challenging learning environment.

Encourage students to find their own answers. This is not about “do what I say because I am the instructor” as much as “what decisions have you made, why have you made these decisions and how does it solve the problem?” Students will work to the level of expectation provided by the instructor. Show students where to find the answers as opposed to dishing out the answer. This will help build self-sufficiency, confidence and a sense of accomplishment.

Maintain high standards.

If expectations are low, students will achieve at low levels. If expectations are high, students will continually strive to meet high levels. Consistently expecting high quality work can be exhausting and students are especially good at wearing down our level of patience. I believe that if you maintain high standards, students will eventually conform to that expectation. The challenge is to make sure that you don’t set the levels so high that they are unachievable. Rubrics help to define what the expectations are and students can see exactly what they need to do to achieve their desired level.

"My ultimate goal in teaching is to foster mutual respect and help students become more self-reliant. These approaches help in maintaining consistent standards and expectations, while inspiring students to become interested in their field and take ownership of their learning."

Show examples of exemplary student and professional work.

Most students fail to research what’s already been done before creating a solution of their own. They tend to be at the age where they think that everything they need to know is in their own head. To show exemplary student and professional work challenges and inspires them to achieve higher quality and gets them outside of their own mind. If they don’t have a gauge to refer to, they might not realize what is considered to be high quality and what is not.

Model effective learning behavior.

It’s so important for teachers to be models and to show students that learning never stops. It’s also important to show students appropriate forms of behavior in the classroom. If the instructor is not professional, why should they be? If they see you learning new material, reading, looking at images, studying designers, and questioning your own point of view, they will start to model that behavior to some degree. Showing the students that you are invested, that you put forth time and effort, that you are interested in the exchange of information and opinions, that you are comfortable making decisions and that you expect improvement, is essential.

Give students options.

By giving students options, they learn to develop a decision-making process and are accountable for the results. This allows them to weigh their decisions by reviewing project specifications. It also allows them to identify themselves as individuals separate from the group.

Encourage self-directed learning and student accountability.

By encouraging students to learn on their own and find answers through different resources, they will be more able to transition to the work environment where this is an expectation. They will become more self-reliant and confident as they learn to find solutions on their own.

Invite students to collaborate on classroom decisions.

This doesn’t happen with every class decision, but I do think it’s important to get input from the students when a decision is being made that will affect them. It’s easy to forget that as the instructor, we are often giving students deadlines, but are not doing the assignments ourselves. It helps to hear their perspective, within reason, when making these decisions. They might not always get what they want, but I do think it’s important to listen to their side.

Encourage students to recognize their strengths and improve on their weaknesses.

Each student, each individual, has some kind of skill in which they excel. It’s important for the instructor to point out that skill and communicate it to the student. If the student knows that they are good at something, and someone else recognizes this, they will be more likely to improve on their weaknesses. The more honest you are with feedback regarding students’ skill level, the better off they will be in the long run.