“Know thyself,” said Socrates, inspiring generations of men and women to understand themselves, their motives, and their abilities to locate their role in society (Plato, 1913). This advice is especially relevant for teachers, whose complex and evolving task demands continual improvement and who seek to bridge the gap between themselves and their students in relation to what Baylor professor emeritus of philosophy call “matters that matter” (Baird, 2020).
The first step in improving is understanding one’s current state. As many scholars of teaching have pointed out, instructors vary not only in effectiveness but in goals, perspectives, and styles. Several tools exist to help instructors reflect on these aspects of their instructor identity. For example, the Teaching Goals Inventory (Angelo & Cross, 1993) helps instructors see the hierarchy and context of one’s teaching goals in relation to a range of possible goals. Grasha's Teaching Styles Inventory analyzes one’s views on teaching (Grasha, 1996), as does the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (Pratt & Collins, 2001), with additional parsing of behaviors, intentions, and actions. Such tools are descriptive rather than evaluative, useful for reflection and conversation.
Formal and informal methods of self-assessment can aid in improving one’s teaching and integrating teaching into one’s professional identity.
Formal Method: The Teaching Portfolio
Many institutions require portfolios for promotion and performance reviews (Little-Wienert & Mazziotti, 2018). But portfolios are also a useful process of professional development apart from such external mechanisms. Though the structure of teaching portfolios may differ depending on the instructor and instruction, they are linked by a common thread: documenting the strengths of one’s teaching through artifacts and reports and providing opportunity for reflection and examination (Murray, 1994).
Artifacts and Reports
Any items that document teaching are eligible for inclusion: syllabi, lesson plans, assignments, teaching videos, PowerPoints, and student course evaluations, etc. These selections should highlight the strengths of the teacher and show a range of ability (Kearns & Sullivan, 2011). Some might highlight specific students taught and identify the techniques used to help those struggling (Koskinen & Valencia, 1994).
Instructors should include a personal statement or teaching philosophy (Foote & Vernette, 2001). A strong teaching statement describes learning goals and their alignment to activities and assessment, is tailored to one’s discipline, and considers teaching and learning within one’s institutional context (Kaplan et al., 2007; Kearns & Sullivan, 2011; Coppola, 2002; Pratt, 2005). The statement should demonstrate the iterative process of teaching with reflections on how past teaching experience and feedback informs new choices and one’s evolving philosophy (Eierman, 2008). A portfolio can also include a cover letter or summary framing the selection of documents and articulating the connections between the documentary evidence and one’s teaching philosophy. Additionally, a narrative critically reflecting on student evaluations can help the instructor and others interpret feedback (Franklin, 2001).
Less formal methods of self-assessment can add to one’s self-knowledge and lead to improvements in teaching. Below are some methods taken from the University of Hong Kong’s assessment resources (Chan, 2010):
- Keep a journal for personal reflections to be updated after every class. Ask yourself, what worked and what didn’t? What should be kept for the future, and what needs to be abandoned?
- Ask questions in class or conduct informal surveys or brief classroom assessment techniques (see ATL Teaching Guide on formative assessment) periodically to check students’ experience and comprehension.
- Meet with students. Depending on class size and other factors, this could be done individually or with groups of students. This, like asking questions in class, allows the instructor insight into how the students are doing and whether the instructor’s communication is effective.
- Write personal reflections on student evaluations. Was the praise merited? Were the criticisms fair? Such reflection will aid self-knowledge as well as foster opportunities to think ahead about how to respond in a future job interview or supervisor evaluation.
- Record classes and watch them with a colleague or supervisor; journal about the experience and make notes on ways to improve future classes.
- Form a partnership with a student, who is not in your class, to reflect with you on your teaching (Cook-Sather et al, 2019).
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