Good knowledge of teaching techniques is not enough for real success in the broad field of education. To become a professional who inspires students to learn, it is also critical to develop a set of teaching beliefs and values to be implemented into practice. This paper is aimed at discussing an educational philosophy based on the theory of transformative learning and connections.
Theoretical Framework of Philosophy
The first theory of learning applies a constructivist approach to knowledge acquisition. The theory of transformative learning was first formulated by Mezirow in 1978 to explain the various dimensions of change related to the formation of new knowledge (Illeris, 2018). The mentioned theory is based on the assumption that learning is the process aimed at encouraging transformation, and the latter involves changing the frames of reference that are problematic (Illeris, 2018). Transformative learning is impossible without critical attitudes to one’s knowledge, self-reflection practice, and critical thinking (Illeris, 2018). As a process, this type of learning involves the following elements: critical reflections on the learner’s and other people’s assumptions, the use of empirical methods or discourse participation to distinguish between correct and incorrect points, and perspective transformation (Illeris, 2018). The first theory that resonates with my philosophy links learning with the critical reinterpretation of one’s assumptions and worldview transformation.
Transformative learning is a theory that has significant practical potential. For instance, in their phenomenological study, Haber-Curran and Tillapaugh (2015) fill in a significant research gap by using this approach to teaching in leadership education. The authors explain the potential of transformative strategies in the field of education concerning the key priorities of the American system of education. They include the need to turn students into members of society that will be productive at work and success in personal life (Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015). In the discussed study, the principles of transformative learning, such as the practical value of knowledge, were combined with student-centered approaches to instruction to design an effective leadership training course (Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015). As is clear from this example, modern authors list the theory’s compatibility with priorities in the labor market among its most important advantages justifying the need for further research.
The theory is practically relevant and can be used in combination with other approaches to instruction. After taking the mentioned course, twenty-eight undergraduate students, the majority of which were White women, were asked to write final reflection essays to discuss their experiences, perceived achievements, and any changes related to their perspectives on leadership (Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015). Using the method of thematic analysis, Haber-Curran and Tillapaugh (2015) studied the students’ works and singled out several themes. They included, for instance, changes in the authority structure, and ability to build trust and develop community, learner empowerment, and skills helping the students to understand themselves (Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015). The use of the transformative and student-centered approaches to instruction was also associated with increases in motivation and the student’s confidence in their skills and the knowledge of leadership theories (Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015). Based on that, student-perceived benefits of the transformative approach to teaching also speak in favor of its effectiveness.
The next theory that resonates with my approach to instruction is connections. In this theory, learning is regarded as a “network phenomenon” that evolves due to the development of modern technology and the exchange of experience between different people (Goldie, 2016, p. 1064). As for the key principles that should inform the educational process, they include the diversity of opinions as to the key to new knowledge, the capacity to know, and the need to encourage connections between information sources to facilitate learning (Goldie, 2016). More than that, the use of connectivism involves efforts that enable people to see more or less evident connections between different concepts (Goldie, 2016). As is clear from the key ideas, the supporters of connectivism appreciate efforts that help to develop systems thinking in learners. Based on the mentioned article, the key benefits of connectivism in education include flexibility in learning. Moreover, its potential advantages that can promote positive change and be helpful to specific categories of students include an ability to strike the right balance between students’ interdependence and autonomy.
As for the real-life applications of connectivism, the theory focuses primarily on learning with the help of online communication. However, to some extent, it applies to modern classroom environments, in which the combination of online and offline activities is used to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge (Goldie, 2016). Learning networks that are effective and can benefit people should possess several characteristics, including information diversity, openness or the ability to add to the existing knowledge, strong links between different nodes, and participants’ ability to work autonomously (Goldie, 2016). Despite some critical reviews, connectivism is regarded as a promising theory used in massive open online courses that are offered by top universities in Europe (Goldie, 2016). Along with innovative online activities, such as the use of digital lectures, participation in discussion boards, and online quizzes, such courses utilize traditional approaches to assessment (Goldie, 2016). With that in mind, the theory in question is used in the teaching method that is becoming more popular and enables learners to use multiple online tools to understand new concepts and solidify this knowledge.
Philosophy of Education
As for my understanding of teaching, I regard it as the process of experience sharing that leads to the acquisition of new knowledge. To maximize positive outcomes for students and make sure that they will be able to transform this new information into helpful skills, it is particularly important to verify that the teacher’s knowledge is accurate, up-to-date, and systematic. Subject matter expertise (SME) is among the dimensions of educators’ knowledge that contributes to their success and defines the degree of their professional suitability (Lucero, Petrosino, & Delgado, 2016). The role of SMEs in teaching cannot be overstated; without it, educators become incapable of going beyond lesson plans and answering students’ unexpected questions. As for questions that learners ask to better understand some concepts or test their speculations, they often refer to connections between some topics, and the teacher will be unable to answer them without SME and systematic knowledge.
The importance of SMEs becomes even greater if attention is paid to the fact that both the state of the art and learning tools evolve constantly. The presence of high qualifications in the subject to be taught enables a person to evaluate the quality of some new findings in the field of tools for learning and define if they disrupt what is already known or not. At the same time, without a steady knowledge base, an individual will be unable to understand the way that new information changes the scientific field (Lucero et al., 2016). These problems can negatively impact the quality of teaching and lead to the transfer of outdated knowledge.
The teacher’s beliefs related to the way that students learn significantly impact the selection of approaches to instruction. I believe that they need the help of qualified teachers, age-appropriate learning materials, and a group of peers to acquire new knowledge successfully. When it comes to students of the high school age, they can learn new concepts by examining their knowledge and changing some fixed assumptions that they find to be wrong or incomplete (Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015). As for the process of student development, it can be seen as an ability to make logical connections between different notions or generalizations that gradually improve (Goldie, 2016). Finally, I believe that students learn through the exchange of experience, but group work does not eliminate the need for individual assignments.
Equality in access to education is a widely-supported principle, and any teacher is expected to be able to manage diversity in the classroom. When it comes to language barriers resulting from cultural diversity, potential problems can be solved with the help of additional and simplified explanations. About special needs, I can adapt to diverse students by learning more about the difficulties that they face and observing their behavior during lessons. For example, to meet the needs of students with dyscalculia, it is helpful to give them extra time to complete tasks that require calculations, encourage them to ask any questions, or use a lot of visual means to explain abstract concepts.
The willingness to work hard and critical thinking and problem-solving skills should be promoted by the teacher to improve students’ academic performance and help them to succeed as adults. To do that, the specialist should have a profound knowledge of instructional strategies and choose the best teaching styles depending on the context and learners’ knowledge level (Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015). The teacher plays a great role when it comes to the promotion of problem-solving skills since it is the person who implements practices helping students to understand the variety of approaches to tasks, including group discussions and individual work.
The teacher’s contribution to students’ development is difficult to overestimate since the professional is expected to take on a large number of roles to maximize the effectiveness of teaching strategies. In general, this specialist’s role in the promotion of the mentioned skills is to analyze students’ level of knowledge. Based on that, the teacher can choose between the direct provision of new information and the creation of opportunities to help learners to practice and think independently (Buckley, Archibald, Hargraves, & Trochim, 2015). It is also possible to motivate students to perform at high levels by selecting classroom activities that promote healthy competition in the group.
The ability to create a positive learning environment is critical to success in teaching. As a specialist working in a resource setting, I aim to meet this goal by implementing specific practices that encourage students to learn while developing necessary social skills. For example, to encourage social interaction and students’ active participation during lessons, I use peer-assisted learning, a tool with proven effectiveness in special education (Thorius & Santamaría Graff, 2018). This approach to teaching involves pairing students by their academic performance and providing necessary support to help them to learn together and exchange experience in an effective manner (Thorius & Santamaría Graff, 2018). Apart from its impact on students’ ability to interact, the mentioned classroom strategy can encourage intrinsic motivation. Judging from my observations, students working in pairs clearly understand that they are responsible for each other’s success in learning. In addition, the use of open discussions during lessons is the strategy that promotes active learning by inviting students to share their opinions with the rest of the group.
The use of proper communication styles when working with students can impact their learning outcomes. As for my approach to this aspect of work, I prefer to use both directive and facilitator communication styles depending on the situation and students’ knowledge level. This strategy is partially informed by the theory of transformative learning, according to which learners become capable of engaging in “the process of ongoing inquiry” when they have enough prior knowledge (Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015, p. 67). In this theory, the promotion of critical thinking is among the key priorities (Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015). The facilitator communication style that I use involves asking a lot of questions and encouraging students to think independently, which makes it applicable to the theory. However, some elements of the directive style still need to be used to explain complex topics that are new to students.
Communication methods should be effective to foster collaboration, interaction, and inquiry in learning. If the approaches to teacher-student communication are selected properly, learners clearly understand what they are intended to do, and it encourages them to collaborate with other people in the classroom. If the teacher chooses words or non-verbal signs that are ambiguous in meaning, it can cause misunderstanding and even affect students’ performance (Titsworth, Mazer, Goodboy, Bolkan, & Myers, 2015). The need to express thoughts and emotions precisely and accurately is specifically important in special education. For instance, students with some intellectual disabilities may find it challenging to understand the meaning of certain non-verbal signs, which can hinder effective collaboration and interaction. In general, if the teacher demonstrates clarity using any type of communication (verbal, non-verbal, or media), he or she helps students to engage in classroom activities.
As for the key strategy, I choose techniques to monitor and assess student progress depending on the aspect of development. As an example, when it comes to changes in social and emotional skills, it is helpful to make some informal observations and analyze the way that students communicate with adults or their peers (Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015). More precisely, to assess socio-emotional development, I pay attention to students’ ability to understand each others’ ideas and the extent to which a specific situation informs their choice of communication strategies. To put it in other words, I focus on students’ flexibility in such assessments.
Speaking about progress related to knowledge in specific areas, I can use both curriculum-based tests and individual assignments to monitor development. The techniques should be age-appropriate and take students’ specific learning difficulties into account to verify that the results of assessments are accurate. This formal approach to student evaluation helps me to identify gaps in knowledge and provide students with individual recommendations related to learning. I demonstrate this disposition by implementing different strategies to assess student progress, ranging from regular knowledge tests to observations and the use of peer feedback.
Future Implications for Practice
Self-criticism is an important part of my philosophy of teaching and learning. To become a reflective practitioner, the specialist should develop critical thinking skills and be able to assess his or her performance objectively to make necessary adjustments. The importance of such skills for educators is widely recognized; for instance, according to Ashraf, Samir, and Yazdi (2016), reflective teaching is among the features that competent professionals possess. Reflective practitioners are effective teachers because they evaluate their previous experiences with students and the outcomes of different practices to outline necessary changes (Ashraf et al., 2016). Therefore, they are unlikely to use some outdated and controversial approaches to instruction.
Reflective activities implemented by specialists in education have a positive impact on both students and the selection of teaching practices. For example, it is known that teachers who are effective at the reflective practice can transfer this knowledge to students, thus helping them to develop critical thinking skills (Ashraf et al., 2016). Specialists use self-reflection to monitor their professional progress and conduct error analysis, and their conclusions often indicate the need to make adjustments to their teaching methodologies and modify practices (Ashraf et al., 2016). With that in mind, self-reflection usually prevents teachers from making mistakes in the future.
Using my educational philosophy, I am going to support productive relationships with different stakeholders, including students, their parents, and other professionals. Values that are central to it include learning through communication, an ability to think critically, and flexibility in interpersonal collaboration. Focusing on them, I can share the results of progress monitoring with students and involve their parents in decision-making processes in case of significant problems with behavior or academic performance. Similarly, to act based on the mentioned values, I will collaborate with colleagues and, if necessary, school psychologists. It will help me to exchange experiences with other professionals and take a critical look at my approaches to working with students having specific psychological problems in addition to learning difficulties.
Future Research/Social Change
My key assumptions about the priorities in teaching can encourage future research activities promoting positive change in special education. As has been mentioned, I support the theories that regard knowledge as a system and emphasize the practical value of new information (Goldie, 2016; Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015). As for my professional duties, I work with students of high school age who have specific learning difficulties. For learners with special needs, it can be challenging to proceed from theory to practice and develop skills helping them to integrate into society. Studying the potential of transformative learning in special education is an example of a research activity that can promote social change by finding new instructional techniques helping students with math-related disabilities to acquire new knowledge.
My philosophy is informed by two modern theories that relate to the role of online communication in learning and knowledge acquisition as transformation. The potential of these theoretical concepts has not been fully studied yet, which has implications for future research activities in general (Goldie, 2016; Haber-Curran & Tillapaugh, 2015). As a life-long learner, I would like to study a variety of topic areas, but the applications of modern technology in special education are among the questions that interest me most of all.
To sum it up, my philosophy of teaching is based on a variety of sources, including personal values and the elements of connectivism, and the theory of transformative learning. I demonstrate my professional dispositions by adapting to students with special needs and choosing educational activities that encourage them to learn through collaboration. Finally, I hope that this approach to student instruction will cause positive change.
- Ashraf, H., Samir, A., & Yazdi, M. T. (2016). Reflective teaching practice in an EFL context: A qualitative study. International Journal of English Linguistics, 6(7), 48-58.
- Buckley, J., Archibald, T., Hargraves, M., & Trochim, W. M. (2015). Defining and teaching evaluative thinking: Insights from research on critical thinking. American Journal of Evaluation, 36(3), 375-388.
- Goldie, J. G. S. (2016). Connectivism: A knowledge learning theory for the digital age? Medical Teacher, 38(10), 1064-1069.
- Haber-Curran, P., & Tillapaugh, D. W. (2015). Student-centered transformative learning in leadership education: An examination of the teaching and learning process. Journal of Transformative Education, 13(1), 65-84.
- Illeris, K. (Ed.) (2018). Contemporary theories of learning: Learning theorists…in their own words (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
- Lucero, M. M., Petrosino, A. J., & Delgado, C. (2016). Exploring the relationship between secondary science teachers’ subject matter knowledge and knowledge of student conceptions while teaching evolution by natural selection. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 54(2), 219-246.
- Thorius, K. A. K., & Santamaría Graff, C. (2018). Extending peer-assisted learning strategies for racially, linguistically, and ability diverse learners. Intervention in School and Clinic, 53(3), 163-170.
- Titsworth, S., Mazer, J. P., Goodboy, A. K., Bolkan, S., & Myers, S. A. (2015). Two meta-analyses exploring the relationship between teacher clarity and student learning. Communication Education, 64(4), 385-418.