Educational Philosophy

Educational Philosophy
Dr. Jane D. Steelman
Educational Philosophy



Even though I began my career in education in 1974 my philosophy has not altered significantly. I believe that learning should be enjoyable. I have seen students of all ages become excited about topics when they are made real to the students and the students see that there is relevance for them.

Since I have taught students from first grade through graduate school I believe that it is important to engage students in developmentally appropriate ways. Activities should be provided that not only engage students in the topic taught but also give them a sense of accomplishment. Students should be allowed to explore topics in depth and bring their own background and experiences to the learning environment.

I am a constructivist. This means that I provide structure and information to students to allow them to explore the topic in depth in areas of interest to them. In most cases this also means that students create projects that can be used in the community or in their work. I saw one of the most exciting examples of this in the Multimedia Mania Awards Program of which I am co-director. A middle school group of students in Oak Park, Illinois created a web site based upon community concerns. The students explored the topics and acted upon the information that they found. As a result of their studies, they created a school recycling program and a community program designed to save trees with Dutch elm disease. These students exemplify what I envision as constructivist problem based learning in which they are catalysts to improve their community while learning a great deal about various topics. The group of students also became first place winners in the Multimedia Mania Awards Program due to the connection of the web site created with the curriculum and their community involvement. The link for the web site is http://www.op97.k12.il.us/opep/index.html.

I believe in the education of the whole child. I completed all but 6 semester hours toward a degree in art education and have continued to work in visual arts personally. I believe that students involved in the arts are better able to learn other subjects often emphasized in school, i.e., math, science, and language arts. In the book, Arts with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen, this philosophy is expanded upon. Jensen states that based on what we know about the brain, learning and human development we should be providing students with opportunities to explore the arts and athletics. I support his premise that the arts (musical, visual and kinesthetic including dance and physical education) influence learning and should be a core part of the curriculum rather than eliminated in times of budget cuts. They are as important to students as other core subjects and they feed the soul.

I believe in a strong school community in which students feel safe to explore and are nurtured by caring professionals who are experts in their fields but focused on students. Individual student needs should be kept in mind and even though we help student explore topics or subjects which we find exciting we must always be student centered rather than subject centered. Too many times as students get older they feel unimportant and defeated when teachers become subject centered. There is a delicate balance between being the subject expert, allowing students to become experts in their own right and keeping the focus on individual student needs. Excellent teachers do this.

I believe in a school environment in which teachers help one another, share information and consult about students to help them in their environment. Advisor/advisee programs are extremely important to students especially in middle and high school. Students should feel that there is an adult in their environment who is their advocate. Teachers must take on this role as many times students do not see parents as their advocates (even though they may be).

Since 1982 I have believed that technology can play an important role in helping teachers do what they do best; teach. I have seen students motivated by technology tools and seen teachers light up when they see a better way to help their students. I believe that technology is a tool and should not be the focus of a classroom learning environment. When used well, technology becomes invisible to the process of teaching and learning. Students and teachers alike use it advantageously to enrich the learning experience. The student and the topic is still the focus; not the technology used. Technology should not be used for technology sake alone. It is not there to tantalize students, impress parents or appease board members. It is there to truly make a difference in student learning and teacher productivity.

Finally, I believe in the strength of collaboration. Students in the project mentioned above collaborated to produce the winning project. I ask graduate students to collaborate on projects every semester. The art of collaboration is many times not taught in schools where individual accountability and high stakes testing are paramount. I believe that by giving students opportunities to collaborate they learn life skills that will serve them well in the work place and they also learn a great deal from each other. Constructivism supports students learning from students and the teacher being the "guide on the side" rather than the "sage on the stage."

If we engage in the types of strategies known to be "best practices" we should never see teachers teaching to a test. In a model in which successful strategies are employed students will soar beyond high stakes testing and become problem solvers, thinkers, and productive members of a democratic society in which they can truly participate.

Middle and high school is a time of exploration, of finding one's self and preparing for the next steps in life; preparing for a career. It is vitally important not only to students we teach but to our society. I remain an idealist after all this time in the profession. I know this is because I have seen so many good examples of excellent teachers practicing the art of teaching and students' eyes lighting up as they become excited about what they are learning.