5 Steps to Create a Purpose-Driven Teaching Philosophy Statement


What would you say about yourself if you were asked to explain your teaching philosophy as an educator? Do you have a guiding mission statement for your instructional practice?

You may be surprised with the number of educators who either do not have a teaching philosophy or cannot clearly and concisely articulate (without the use of clichés or generalizations about teaching) what their beliefs may be about learning and teaching. When I have been responsible for interviewing faculty for online teaching positions, many candidates I spoke with had not developed a clearly defined philosophy statement or never thought it was needed for their career. While it did not automatically disqualify them from a teaching position, it does not help them provide a true representation of what they believe about their career and teaching practice.

Every educator needs to develop a teaching philosophy statement. This is a summary which allows someone else (especially a recruiter or someone responsible for hiring new faculty) to develop insight into their teaching and instructional strategies, methods, and practices. I’ve seen two different approaches used for educators who have a well-defined statement; one which is researched-based and one that is personal and written in the first person.

If you are pursuing a new position, my recommendation is you chose the latter approach, a personally written statement, and present an overview which represents you as an educator. In higher education, many teaching positions require a mandatory statement as part of the screening process. What follows is a condensed version of philosophy statement I have used, to help you get started, or review what you have already developed. It may also help you further define your personal and professional mission statement with regards to education and teaching adults.

Step One: Conceptualization of Learning

There is a five-part approach that was developed by Nancy Chism, a former Director of Faculty and TA Development at the Ohio State University, which is very helpful for educators. The first part is titled Conceptualization of Learning and it is meant for an educator to describe what they believe about learning based upon their knowledge, expertise, education, and experience.

The following is an excerpt from my Teaching Philosophy Statement:

Since my primary work is focused on distance learning, my view of learning is concerned with how students learn in a virtual environment. For online learning, it is my belief the basic principles of adult education do not change. However, the format of learning has changed and this is the reason why new and updated instructional strategies must be implemented. In a virtual classroom, the process of learning involves the acquisition of knowledge and the development of new skills. For knowledge to be acquired and retained in long-term memory, students must have an opportunity to apply what they are studying and be given a context for learning which is relevant to their lives and/or careers. The same can be stated for the development of new skills; learning occurs when students are given an opportunity to practice what they are being instructed to learn.

In an online classroom, as with any classroom environment, learning is not a one-time event. Learning also does not occur because an online course shell has been created, an instructor has been assigned to teach the course, and students are enrolled in the class. Learning occurs as a result of students receiving and reading materials, processing information received in a manner which prompts advanced cognitive skills, and then is applied to and connected with existing ideas, knowledge, and real-world scenarios so it is retained in long-term memory. The learning process does not stop there as that new knowledge must be recalled later if it is to continue to be retained. This means students will learn only if the subject and course topics are presented in a meaningful manner, one which requires them to do more than memorize concepts and information.

Step Two: Conceptualization of Teaching

The next section of a well-defined philosophy statement is a personal narrative about what it means to teach, the Conceptualization of Teaching. For me, it is a perspective about learning in a technologically-enabled classroom.

The following is an excerpt from my Teaching Philosophy Statement:

There are phrases used to distinguish traditional classroom teaching from online teaching and includes “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side”. I prefer to view online teaching from another perspective. I’ve read three primary words used to describe the role of the online educator and it includes instructor, facilitator, and teacher. I believe an online educator must know how to instruct or implement instructional strategies as a function of classroom management.

An online educator must also know how to facilitate a learning process and teach the subject matter through his or her expertise and experience. Within the online classroom an educator must work to see students individually and with unique developmental needs. They must be responsive to their students, available, and easily accessible. They can teach, guide, and mentor students with every interaction, classroom post, and all communication with students.

Step Three: Goals for Students

The section that follows needs to be a personal perspective about the goals or expectations an instructor holds for their students, titled Goals for Students.

The following is an excerpt from my Teaching Philosophy Statement:

For many online schools, the classes have been developed by someone other than the instructor who is assigned to teach the course. This doesn’t mean an instructor cannot have their own expectations of students, even if they are unable to alter or make additions to the course syllabus. An online educator can state their expectations in classroom announcements and/or through the feedback provided to students. What I expect students to do, and I support their attempts to do so, is to accomplish more than report what they have read.

I want them to work with the course topics, conduct research when needed, investigate subjects of interest them, and when it comes to posting a discussion message or submitting a written assignment, I want them to demonstrate critical thinking. What this means is they do more than state a general opinion or belief and instead, they write a well-researched statement or position about the topic. I encourage students to comprehend what they have read, analyze the information, and then apply it in some manner to their personal or professional lives. I show students I value their ideas, solutions, proposals, and analyses.

Step Four: Implementation of the Philosophy

This next section provides an overview of how the philosophy is put into practice and it shares insight into an educator’s instructional practice, titled Implementation of the Philosophy.

The following is an excerpt from my Teaching Philosophy Statement:

My philosophy of online teaching has been influenced by my work as an online student, educator, and academic leader; and it continually evolves through my interactions with students and other educators. While I may not be able to be involved in the process of developing every course I’m teaching, I can develop instructional practices which influence how students learn. For example, when I am involved in online discussions, I will acknowledge something the student has written, build upon it through my own expertise and experience, and then ask a follow up question which helps to continue to move the conversation forward. When I provide feedback, I see it as an opportunity to teach students and I’ll use the same approach as my discussion posts by implementing Socratic questioning techniques. I want to prompt their intellectual curiosity and encourage them to learn.

With most online classes I have a brief period of time to connect with students and my approach is to try to build connections and nurture productive working relationships. I am aware of the tone of my messages, especially since words represent me as a person and educator in an online classroom. I also demonstrate empathy for those students who have low motivation and may be academically under-prepared. When I observe students, who are struggling or disengaging from the class, I’ll perform outreach attempts to try to help engage them back into the course and address their developmental needs. With every student, I acknowledge their efforts and encourage their continued progress, while always being readily available and easily accessible.

Step Five: Professional Growth Plan

The last component of a well-developed philosophy statement is an overview of how an educator plans to continue their own professional development, titled Professional Growth Plan. Many schools have a professional development requirement and this statement can demonstrate a willingness to continue to learn.

The following is an excerpt from my Teaching Philosophy Statement:

I consider myself to be a lifelong learner and understand my learning did not stop once I completed my last formal degree. I continue to learn through my work with online faculty development as the discourse I have with other faculty allows me to gain new perspectives about learning and teaching. I also continue to research the field I am actively involved in, which is distance learning, along with other topics of interest which include critical thinking, curriculum development, and adult learning or andragogy. I am also a writer and I have authored numerous articles, eBooks, and blog posts based upon my work and research, as a means of making my knowledge contribution to the fields of higher education, adult education, distance learning, and online teaching. 

My work with curriculum development projects has also allowed me to grow professionally, through the growth of my knowledge and skills. As a Modern Educator, I have developed a substantial following on social media, as a means of sharing resources and contributing ideas to an international pool of educators. Finally, I continue to work to as a scholar practitioner. The two milestones reached to date include publishing a journal article and presenting my research at an international conference for distance learning. Overall, I have a potential to continue to grow and learn, building from my strengths and working to strengthen my teaching practice, while also continuing to grow as an academic leader. This teaching philosophy is a personal representation of who I am as an educator.

What is Your Philosophy?

Whether or not you have developed a clear position about learning and teaching for your chosen field, now is the time to consider what you believe and the strategies you use, even if you are not seeking another position. Establishing a well-formed statement allows you to reflect upon your current practice and it will help you identify what is working well and areas that you can develop further. Every educator has a potential to continue to grow and learn, and developing a clear understanding of your beliefs and progress now will allow you to build from your strengths and bolster your instructional practice. A teaching philosophy is a personal representation of who you are as an educator, and something you can use to create professional developmental plans.

About Dr. Johnson

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has 35 years of experience teaching and training adults. The first half of his career was spent in the field of Corporate Training and Development, with his last role as Manager of Training and Development.

Then in 2005, he made a transition into the field of distance learning. Over the past 19 years, he has been an online instructor, Faculty Development Specialist, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, and Dissertation Chair.

Dr. Johnson is also an inspirational author, writer, and educator. His life mission is to teach, mentor, write, and inspire others. He has earned a PhD in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement (TPI), a Master’s in Adult Education, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal, and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference, along with presenting at three faculty conferences. He has also published over 230 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and mindset development. Dr. J published three books related to higher education, including two about online teaching.

Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Faculty Who Teach Business.

Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators.

Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs.

Come join Dr. J’s group, Motivation for Transformation:

• Any time of the day, visit this group to find your source of motivation, to be inspired and more importantly, have your mindset transformed: Motivation for Transformation

Dr. J offers transformative resources:

Please visit Dr. J’s Books page on his brand-new website: Dr. J’s Books

You can also find Dr. J on the following social media sites:  Instagram