Kathleen McKinney

Teaching-Learning Philosophy Statement
(Updated in 2005; my philosophy continues to evolve.)

My teaching philosophy consists of a variety of beliefs about teaching, learning, teachers, students, and my discipline. These beliefs come from my own practical experience and reflection as a teacher and learner, from studying theory and research on teaching and learning in both my discipline and higher education in general, from conducting my own scholarship on teaching and learning, and from my faculty development work with other teachers. Some of those whose theory and research have influenced my beliefs include, for example, Marcia Baxter Magolda on socially constructed knowledge and student development; Parker Palmer and Stephen Brookfield on reflection in teaching; Bob Leamnson on learning and the brain; K. Patricia Cross, Lee Shulman, and Paul Baker on classroom assessment and the scholarship of teaching and learning; and Alexander Astin and George Kuh on student involvement and out-of-class learning. I share six of my key beliefs below. In addition, I offer a brief discussion of how these beliefs impact my teaching.

  • I believe students are ultimately responsible for their learning; yet, learning is the result of a complex interaction among many factors associated with the student, the teacher, peers and others, the content, and the situation or context. The process of learning (and teaching) is socially constructed as “teachers” and “learners” develop, communicate, and negotiate objectives, knowledge and skills cooperatively together.

  • Putting learning at the center of all that you and your students (and their peers, your colleagues, your department, and your institution) do is key to the best teaching and learning. That is, we must always start with an understanding of our learning objectives and when we make a decision or a choice about a teaching-learning issue or requirement, we should ask ourselves “how will this impact student learning and development?” This should be the primary guiding question for making choices and decisions in all units and at all levels of the institution.

  • Meaningful teaching and learning requires both faculty and students to be reflective. Teachers must be knowledgeable, not only about the content of their discipline, but also about the work on teaching and learning in their discipline and in general. Anyone who signs a contract to teach becomes ethically obligated to learn all they can (and practice what they learn) about teaching and learning; that is, to be a scholarly teacher. In addition, the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), ranging from classroom assessment to classroom research to more formal and larger scale SoTL studies, is critical to the teaching and learning process. Good teaching involves taking risks. Finally, we must help our students to reflect on their learning.

  • Just as good teachers are far more than “good” in their classrooms, powerful learning is affected by and takes place outside, as well as inside, the classroom. I strongly believe in the importance of out-of-class learning experiences and a “seamless” learning environment involving the integration of curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular components to enhance student learning and development.

  • I believe that process and outcomes of teaching and learning are greatly enhanced when both teachers and learners are passionately engaged in the material and the behaviors in and outside the classroom. We can and must do many things to enhance students’ engagement, intrinsic motivation, internal attributions, and self-efficacy for our courses and disciplines.

  • Much of what we know about teaching and learning generalizes across disciplines and contexts or situations, but one must also consider disciplinary epistemologies, content, and norms when teaching, reflecting on teaching, and conducting SoTL. In my discipline of sociology, for example, I consider that content to include, at a minimum, theories and concepts, facts and data, and complex skills (e.g., conducting social research). For me, the key idea in sociology would be for a student to develop his/her “sociological imagination” (C.W. Mills), the ability to see human behavior as situated in cultural and historical contexts.

These beliefs, then, impact my teaching-learning practice. For example, I have published a teaching note titled “FACES: Five Components of Quality Teaching.” Though my teaching philosophy has continued to evolve since that time, I find that my philosophy still implies the importance of these five components: fairness, application/relevance, challenge, entertainment/enthusiasm/engagement, and service. In addition, my practice fits closely the Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education as summarized by Chickering and Gamson (active learning, cooperation among students, contact with faculty, prompt and useful feedback, time on task, high expectations, and respect for diversity).

It is also critical to listen to the voices of students about how they believe they learn our discipline. I have attempted to do this via classroom formative assessment techniques and my Carnegie project where sociology majors have reported the importance of five types of connections that plug them in to learning (to the discipline, between individuals--faculty and peers, among related ideas and skills, to student lives and the "real world," and across courses). 

To further live my teaching philosophy, I specify behavioral objectives for my students in each course. My courses are learning-centered. I use diverse pedagogical practices. I offer a great deal of scaffolding (without “lowering the bar”) for students who are willing to climb it. I emphasize active and collaborative practices. I give students some control and choice in the course. I offer and require out-of-class learning opportunities. I have high expectations and make these (and how to achieve them) explicit.  I do all that I can to help students experience passion for the subject and the course, to become engaged and intrinsically motivated. My students and I both reflect on the teaching and learning experience. I use classroom assessment techniques, making changes in response to student feedback and my own reflection as one can always make improvements in teaching and learning practices and outcomes. Conducting work in the area of the scholarship of teaching and learning is a priority for me. The desire and the skills to engage in life long learning is a goal I have, not only for my students, but also for myself.

Site Links
Curriculum Vita
SOC 300 Senior Experience
Soc/Anth Department
American Sociological Assn.