The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Philosophy of Education, Take Two

Continuing my series of posts related to my graduate school program, I thought I’d share the philosophy statement I was asked to write for my Introduction to Administration course. This was written using a template that was provided by the course instructor but, just as I stand by everything I wrote in my philosophy statement related to the UIUC Conceptual Framework, I also stand by everything in this updated philosophy statement.

The purpose of education is, to paraphrase Illinois-born educator and essayist Elbert Hubbard, to enable students to get along without their teacher. Another way to put this is that the primary task of education is to teach students how to learn on their own. A student in my classroom once stated that she believed my job as a teacher was to give her the answers. I told her that she was mistaken and that my job is really to help all students understand how they learn so that they can learn without being told what to learn. Education is about guiding students to discover their own potential to become lifelong learned in whatever fields they wish to pursue.

A good education includes giving students the skills and tools they need to become lifelong learners. A great education also acts as a compass to direct that learning so that it benefits not just the student but the community as a whole, whether than community be the school, the neighborhood, the city, the state, the country, or even the whole world. Some of the skills that students should acquire through their education include fundamental knowledge of the history of the world around them, an understanding of how that world works, and a vision for how they, as members of our society, can impact the world for good. In saying this, I am in no way indicating that learning standards such as close reading, mastery of standard mathematical algorithms, or conventions of the spoken and written language are unimportant; quite to the contrary! Students who learn how to read closely will learn how to critical examine their own world. Students who master standard algorithms will learn how to examine problems, find a possible solution, and know how to check to see if that solution worked. Using the conventions of spoken or written language will make it easier for others to understand their call for change.

All people deserve to be treated fairly. Each and every person on this planet has a unique set of skills, talents, and experiences that make them important to those around them and to the society at large. Nobody deserves to be treated unfairly. To be treated fairly, of course, does not mean the same as being treated the same. In a fair, just, kind world, fairness means giving everyone equal access to opportunities to learn, to grow, and to participate regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, socio-economic status, or political or religious beliefs. Fair treatment also means listening to others and valuing their opinions and beliefs, even if they differ from one’s own. Fair treatment guarantees that everyone is treated with respect and can feel safe in their interactions with others.

I have just one core, nonnegotiable value that drives everything I believe about education and life in general: respect. If I respect others, I will treat them with fairness. I will value what they have to contribute. I will listen to their words and consider them carefully. When I teach my students to be respectful, I teach them that this means that they will not take things that are not theirs, that they will not say things that are harmful, that they will not be rude or unkind to others. When I ask fellow educators to be respectful, I expect them to treat one another as professionals, to practice what they teach in their classrooms, and to act with the utmost level of professionalism in all they do. I ask parents to be respectful in their interactions with me, with other parents, with their children. Respect is the core value that underpins everything else we do. Buildings often have school-wide expectations, such as be safe, be responsible, and be respectful. However, if we are being respectful, we are going to be safe because we respect the property, rights, and bodies of others. If we are being respectful, we are also going to be responsible because we value our own time and the time of others and would not want to do anything that would take away from time to learn, to grow, and to act.

The role of the principal is captured in the title he or she has. As a noun, the word is generally used to indicate the person with the highest authority within the school. As an adjective, the word is used to indicate a position of leadership. Having authority and leading are roles that require the principal to be an example for others to follow. The principal is responsible for establishing a culture of learning and maintaining a climate of respect. The principal has many responsibilities that facilitate this fundamental role, as Marzano, Cotton, and others have found, but they all lead back to the role of being an example. Just as the principal player in an orchestra section plays the note that the rest of the section tunes their instruments to, the principal of the school sets the tone for the whole building by everything he or she does. The role of the principals, then, is to make sure that what they are doing reflect what they want to see others doing, as well.

The role of the teacher is to establish a community of caring. Members of this community, which include the teacher, the students, and the parents, will want to work together to see that the goals of the community are met: that students are learning both content knowledge and prosocial skills, that the teacher is engaging students and valuing their unique contributions, and that the parents are both supporting the classroom and being supported by the classroom. A community of caring is one in which learning, understanding, and doing are constantly taking place. A community of caring is one in which students, teachers, and parents feel comfortable sharing with one another, helping one another, and taking risks so that they can better prepare themselves for the future, whether that future is in five minutes, five years, or five decades.

The role of the student is to learn both how the world around works and how they, as the student, fit into that world. Students are expected to come to school each day ready to learn, armed with prior knowledge, questions, observations, and a willingness to accept that they do not, in fact, know everything. Students are responsible for their own learning. The teachers in their lives can present amazing lessons that capture the attention of every person in the room, but they cannot learn for the students. Teachers can guide, but students must follow. Teachers can share, but students must accept. Teachers can inform, but students must internalize. The role of the student, then, is to be open to and interested in learning so that they, in the words of the Urbana School District mission statement, can each achieve their own personal greatness.

The role of the parent is to both support the school and be supported by the school. Parents support the school by sending their students prepared to learn. Parents support the school by encouraging their students to apply knowledge, to complete assignments, to ask questions, and to think critically. Parents support the school by attending family nights, by working collaboratively with teachers and administrators to provide a meaningful program, by asking their own questions, and by showing their children that they value education. But parents must also be supported by the school and they must know that they are being supported. Parents are supported when they are given valuable information in terms that parents can understand and guidelines for how they can help their children be successful. Parents are supported by the school when they are given opportunities to ask questions and contribute to discussions both great and small. Parents are supported by the school the school when they are directed to appropriate resources, empowered and encouraged to teach in the home, and treated with the utmost level of respect at all times.

The role of the community is be a resource for the application of what happens in the classroom. Every community, no matter where it is, no matter who lives in it, no matter what the members of the community do, offers resources for application and further understanding. As students venture into the community and see businesses, parks, museums, government offices, other schools, homes, and, perhaps most important, people, they began to see how the things they are learning and doing in school have real-world application. Ideally, the community will reflect what is being taught in the classroom, but this is not always the case. In these instances, the community serves as a catalyst for driving students to push for change. When students learn that respecting one another leads to healthy relationships and then they see a community where others are disrespectful, the students are faced with a choice: they can accept the status quo or they can challenge it. By choosing to challenge the status quo, students are able to see what works and what doesn’t and they use that understanding in their efforts to further push for a community that, like their classrooms, cares for others and seeks to treat others with fairness.

I want this school to become a place where the idealistic views of the role of principal, teachers, students, parents, and community are a reality. I want this school, and every school, to be a place of fairness, justice, kindness, equality, caring, and learning. I want this school to be an example of how even the youngest members of our society can have a positive impact on the world around them. I want this school to be a place where students feel that their time is valued and their learning is worthwhile. I want this school to become a place where the principal, the teachers, the students, and their parents believe and operate on the understanding that we are all in this together and that everyone needs to know and do their part to foster understanding of the school, of the community, of others, and of self.

I want others to perceive me as dedicated to the goal of education. Education is a process of bring out that which was previously hidden or unused. I am passionate about tapping into the resources of each individual regardless of age or status, bringing these out so that the individual can truly achieve personal greatness and that they can use their own greatness to better the world around them. I want others to perceive that I am willing to listen, to seek consensus on the things that matter most, to value others contributions, and that I am concerned about the learning and growth of everyone in the school.

I will know that all students are learning when I see that they are applying what they have been taught in multiple settings. A student may be able to write a response to a question about a specific text when prompted by a teacher, but it is only when the student starts asking questions on his own about the text and then finding the answers on his own that I will know he has learned how to think critically. A student may know how to follow the sequence of steps in a math problem that is given to her by her teacher, but when she is able to confront a problem, come up with a sequence of steps to solve it, and then check to see if the solution really worked, then I will know that she understands how to solve problems. All students can learn; all students do learn. The goal of education is to direct that learning process so that what students are learning and how they are learning serves the goal of raising the student higher and improving the community at large. When this happens, I will know that all students are not only learning, but learning well.

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