With a navy blue, hooded sweatshirt pulled tight over his head, he slouches down in his desk hoping not to be called on. Flanked by the overzealous, eager overachiever and the caffeine guzzling, text-a-holic, he is one of the many. The athlete who refuses to show his brains to match his brawns. The class clown hoping to gain attention by diverting it from the teacher. Unique to their class, but not unique to the classrooms of America. They all are wonderfully unique, yet the same to many teachers. These are the student profiles that teachers encounter on a daily basis in 21st century American classrooms. Full of hope, promise, fear, trepidation and brilliance – all of them. As a teacher it becomes essential to find a way to reach all of them – to make education relevant to each and every one – while not using gimmicks or tricks. This can only be achieved through a solid foundation; it can only be achieved through developing one’s educational philosophy.
As a teacher, if one does enough research, he or she can find educational pedagogy or theory to support a wide variety of philosophies. Thus, it becomes even more important to identify the core values or beliefs that I hold to be most important as an educator. I must decipher which theories and philosophies align with my beliefs. To do this, I begin with my own education. As a graduate of Seattle Preparatory School and Santa Clara University, I spent eight years in Jesuits schools. While learning as a student, I failed to realize the pedagogy behind the content I learned in those classrooms. It wasn’t until I became a Jesuit educator myself that I realized how much I enjoyed the Jesuit approach. This pedagogical story began nearly 500 years ago. As a young worker with the Society of Jesus, St. Ignatius of Loyola began opening schools for his new Jesuit recruits throughout Europe. After a request from the magistrates of Messina in Sicily, Ignatius began opening schools for lay people as well. In a letter he wrote about the
St. Ignatius - Founder of the Jesuits
founding colleges in December of 1551, Ignatius wrote, “Finally, since young boys become grown men, their good education in life and doctrine will be beneficial to many others, with the fruit expanding more widely every day” (O’Neal, 2003). Ignatius and the Jesuits saw that with educated men being able to become lifelong learners, they could make an impact on the world. This idea evolved over the years to involved compassionate and service-based education. As a way to move Jesuit ideals into action in the classroom, the Jesuits created the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm in 1993 (JSEA, 1994).
Based upon the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (IPP) involves five steps to education: context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation (JSEA, 1994, p. 298). This approach allows teacher to build upon past classes and learning (context), trying out a new skill or lesson (experience), reflecting and group work (reflection), homework or assignments (action), and evaluating their understanding of material from the previous day (evaluation). While the Jesuits created a model that I can appreciate and look to for guidance in developing my own philosophy, it isn’t the only model with a similar approach. In fact, educational philosophers and experts for years valued the “experience” and “context” involved in teaching a lesson much more than the traditional educational format would have one believe. With the focus on standardized tests and the physical structure of a classroom – involving a lectern and desks in rows – it seems as if education really hasn’t changed since the Colonial era. Yet evidence shows that many educators value the IPP approach or something similar.
American education philosopher John Dewey emphasized experience in his philosophical approach to education. He wrote in his book entitled Experience and Education:
“What we want and need is education pure and simple, and we shall make surer and faster progress when we devote ourselves to finding out just what education is and what conditions have to be satisfied in order that education may be a reality and not a name or a slogan. It is for this reason alone that I have emphasized the need for a sound philosophy of experience (Dewey, 1938, p. 91).
With a focus on experience as the central manner in which to educate young people, Dewey in many ways rejected the old educational model. At the same time, Dewey took special consideration of not blindly supporting experience without addressing the questions that would arise from other educators. Throughout his book, Dewey presents possible questions to using experience as the model in education and continually addresses those concerns. While Dewey valued experience in education, he clearly also finds importance in context. In his Pedagogic Creed, Dewey stated: “Education, therefore, must begin with a psychological insight into the child’s capacities, interests, and habits. It must be controlled at every point by reference to these same considerations. These powers, interests, and habits must be continually interpreted – we must know what they mean” (Dewey, 1897, p. 78). Dewey believed that teachers couldn’t simply teach all children the same way. He believed in not only the experience, but finding out what students’ talents, interests, and habits are in the classroom. Only though combining these two factors could a teacher truly be effective. While Dewey may be considered the giant of educational philosophy, many others came along before or after who agreed with this viewpoint.
Paulo Freire, despite living in a different area of the world, agreed with Dewey on the importance of context and experience in education. While he focused mostly on social movements and ensuring that oppressed people had access to education, Freire accomplished this through this writing on the experience in the classroom and outside as well. In Joy Palmer’s Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education: From Piaget to the Present, she described Freire’s approach. Palmer (2001) states, “Education can help us to understand the world we live in and can make us better prepared to transform it, but only if we deeply connect education to the larger realities in which people live, and to struggles to alter those realities” (Palmer, 2001, p. 130). As teachers it is imperative to not assume prior knowledge or to simply instruct without context. Freire believes that a student will become more knowledge and ultimately a better citizen of the world if they can connect their work in the classroom to the world outside. This can be achieved through an educational approach to involve context, action and reflection. As I review multiple approaches to education, it becomes clear that I value a multi-faceted approach that requires students to not only be engaged but to also reflect upon their involvement in the educational process. I build my philosophy off of the Jesuit approach but alter to fit my personality as well. My approach is “Getting Students up to P.A.R.R.”. In this case, P.A.R.R. stands for prior knowledge, action, reflection and repetition. Through this educational process, the student will then learn skills that will allow them to become a life long learner.
As many educational scholars point to students needing a connection to material in the classroom, I believe prior knowledge to be essential to education. As I begin a lesson, I spend the beginning ensuring that students understand the purpose and rationale for the lesson. Additionally they must be able to relate to the content and apply it to their experience. This can be achieved through accessing prior knowledge. For example, when I teach a lesson on the Stamp and Sugar Acts of the Revolutionary Era in United States history, I can access prior knowledge in students through a variety of ways. I can compare the experience to protesting some rules at school or I can have them review the prior events in American history up to this point. This allows students to begin their engagement in the material and to begin applying it. After this point, I move toward action. While there are days that I will lecture at the front of a classroom, I really don’t believe that learning can take place passively. If students simply sit in their desks and attempt to take in knowledge that I recite to them, then they will never engage the material fully. It is essential that students interact with each other and construct their own knowledge with my assistance. This is the action step of my philosophy. Other educational scholars agree with this approach. Barry Kort and Rob Reilly (2002) wrote about a new approach to education using this type of model in their article entitled “Restructuring Educational Pedagogy: A Model for Deep Change”. They stated: “The focii of attention shifts to the construction of ‘knowledge’ and to the extraction of meaningful ‘insights’ from the ‘big picture’. When ‘knowledge’ is coupled with a personal or cultural value system, ‘wisdom’ emerges” (Kort, 2002, p. 3). Through context and action, the student can begin to gain skills and knowledge that can transform material outside of the classroom and into their daily lives. Yet this process won’t be complete until they reflect on the experience.
Reflecting on the material and the student’s own experience becomes an essential aspect to my educational philosophy. After experiencing the learning process through a given lesson, students are required to reflect on the learning that took place. Too often reflection gets interpreted as journal writing or sharing in small groups. This isn’t my purpose. My aim is to have students be able to identify why the lesson matters to them or to history, what is significant about the lesson, and why they need to learn the material. This allows students to attach meaning to the learning. Instead of simply taking notes on why I think the material is important, I strive to have students identify this key to the process. Often this can be achieved through written assignments, but also can be done more informally through class discussions or small group work. Reflection provides students with the necessary discernment period to capture the meaning of the lesson. Without this process, students would superficially learn the material but would not truly engage in the acquisition of knowledge. After this step, students must repeat the process. This does not imply that students must repeat the same lesson over and over, nor does it mean they should repeat learning the same facts, dates, or names. It does mean that students absolutely must repeat the process and the skill work gained in the process. For example, if my students work on creating thesis statements concerning a topic in the Middle Ages unit in freshmen history, they will follow the whole P.A.R.R. process. They will access their prior knowledge, not only of the Middle Ages, but of creating thesis statements. As they think about their prior work, the students will begin creating these statements and even get feedback from others through the action step. As they complete their thesis statements, they then reflect on how they did in the process. Could they have done better? What would they do differently? As we move to other units such as the Age of Exploration, they practice the skill of thesis statement creation again. This ultimately not only gets students up to par, but creates life long learners in the process.
With an educational philosophy built upon the repetitive process of acting and reflecting students learn to appreciate the acquisition of information rather than going through the motions in school. The more meaning students can attach to their learning, the more they seek opportunities to learn in the future. As Dexter Chapin describes in his book Master Teachers: Making a Difference on the Edge of Chaos, teachers choose their profession in many ways to experience these moments of connection that students experience. He states: “Everybody has moments of success, but teachers see it every time the kids’ eyes light up when they see and understand something never seen and never understood before” (Chapin, 2009, p. 12-13). As students reflect on their action and experience, they attach meaning. Through this process they see that learning is something that they achieve, not something that happens passively. They DO it. Thus in many ways learning becomes a part of life through my educational philosophy. It doesn’t exist solely in a classroom. In traditional African Education, learning and life are not separated. Timothy Reagan points this out in Non-Western Educational Traditions: Alternative Approaches to Educational Thought and Practice. He states: “Education, then, in the traditional African setting cannot (and indeed, should not), be separated from life itself. It is a natural process by which the child gradually acquires skill, knowledge, and attitudes appropriate to life in his or her community” (Reagan, 1996, p. 19). While non-Western educational traditions may differ in many ways, they approach the purpose of education in similar ways to my philosophy – to create learners for life. Our processes to get there may be different, but the end result is the same. Ultimately this should be the goal of any educator at the elementary or secondary level. Hopefully this leads to an adult who will access their prior knowledge, act upon it and then reflect on the meaning. My goal is for this process to begin in high school and to continue for the rest of their lives. It can be best described by Mortimer Alder in Reforming Education as writes, “I would hope that somehow the feast of knowledge and the excitement of ideas would be made attractive to them, so that when they left school, they would want to go on learning. In school they must be given, not learning, for that cannot be done, but the skills of learning and the wish to learn, so that in adult life they will want to go on learning and will have the skills to use in the process” (Alder, 1977, p. 249). Any educator would be pleased with that.
Alder, M.J. (1977). Reforming education: The schooling of a people and their education beyond schooling. Boulder: Westview Press.
Chapin, D. (2009). Master teachers: Making a difference on the edge of chaos. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Collier Books.
Dewey, J. (1897). My pedagogic creed. School Journal, 54, 77-80.
Glassman, M. (2001). Dewey and Vygotsky: Society, experience, and inquiry in educational practice. Educational Researcher, 30 (4), 3-14.
The International Commission on the Apostolate of Jesuit Education. (1994). Ignatian pedagogy: A practical approach. Washington , DC: JSEA.
Kort, B. & Reilly, R. (2002). Restructuring educational pedagogy: A model for deep change. The Media Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
O’Neal, N. (2003). The Life of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Palmer, J.A. (Ed.). (2001). Fifty modern thinkers on education: From Piaget to the present. New York: Routledge.
Reagan, T. (1996). Non-western educational traditions: Alternative approaches to educational thought and practice. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.