Teaching Philosophy

As a teacher-educator and disability scholar, I strive to create an environment that provides students with tools to function not only as successful teachers, but also as informed citizens and advocates for social justice. Along these lines, I believe that it is essential for my students to take the theories that they are exposed to in my courses and apply them in practical and meaningful ways.

Teaching Philosophy

I am both humbled and honored to be nominated for the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. As a teacher-educator and disability scholar, I strive to create an environment that provides students with tools to function as successful teachers, informed citizens, and advocates for social justice. I believe that it is essential for my students to take the theories that they are exposed to in my courses and apply them in meaningful ways. My teaching philosophy, therefore, is characterized by three main elements: creating an “ethic of caring,” developing an understanding of disability, and advancing instruction through course creation, reflection, and adaptation.

Creating an “Ethic of Caring.” When working with students, I aim to foster an environment premised on an “ethic of caring.” As Noddings (1988) explained, an ethic of caring is grounded in a moral orientation to teaching. Educators who work within an ethic of caring value student voice and recognize the potential for the mutual growth of the student and the teacher. In line with Villanova’s core value of caritas, I draw on an ethic of caring in order to “use knowledge as a kind of scaffolding to help build the structure of love and understanding, which will last forever even after knowledge destroys itself.” I endeavor to create an educational atmosphere where my students are comfortable engaging with—and when necessary, pushing back against—their understanding of teaching, learning, and working with children.

Developing an understanding of disability. As a disability scholar, I believe that working with members of the disability community is as essential for my students as it is for me. Moreover, connecting to the disability community and seeking the truth in their stories directly aligns with Villanova’s core value of veritas, “a common dedication to the truth, [and] a common vision of the dignity of the human person.” Since beginning at Villanova in 2012, I have forged direct connections with groups on and off of Villanova’s campus. Students enrolled in my courses participate in service-learning partnerships that serve to connect course theory to real-life practice. Through these first-hand accounts, I want students to view disability as a difference, not a deficit, and understand how individuals with disabilities are affected by ableism (prejudice toward and discrimination of people with disabilities).

My teaching philosophy and related approach also align with Villanova’s mission to “respect and encourage the freedom proposed by St Augustine, which makes civil discussion and inquiry possible and productive.” Rather than shy away from critical conversation, it is the role of the educator to provide a space where students can discuss difficult topics. I attempt to address these issues head-on in my courses through rigorous discussion and related assessment of student work. In my Introduction to Disability Studies course (IDS; EDU 3264), I ask students to critically engage with their understanding of what it means to have a “disability.” For example, students are asked to go beyond merely discussing what it means for something to be “accessible;” they are expected to actively analyze their community through the lens of ableism.

Advancing instruction through course creation, reflection, and adaptation. Through my engagement within the Villanova community, I found that numerous Villanova students were involved in activities, organizations, and service-learning experiences that connected them with individuals with disabilities. Since the University did not offer a course that could contextualize these exchanges and provide an opportunity for academic discourse, I created and implemented two disability-based courses, IDS (undergraduate level) and Critical Perspectives in Special Education (EDU 8400; graduate level), and I made them available to all students on Villanova’s campus. I constructed these courses to meet the needs of Education majors and non-majors alike, and IDS frequently draws students from the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, as well as those in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences who are not enrolled in Education. Given that all Villanovans will encounter individuals with disabilities, be it professionally or personally, it is my obligation to provide these students with the knowledge and skills that will prepare them to function as allies and advocates in their chosen fields.

When teaching, I attempt to present all course content in a multi-modal fashion, though my pedagogical approach can vary based on the purpose of the course. I also believe that teaching should be interactive. In exchange for my preparation of course content, I expect my students to come to class ready to engage with the given material. My courses involve reciprocal conversations and activities, as I believe they function to further emphasize class content and promote shared learning.

Finally, I consider myself to be a reflective practitioner, as I think deeply about teaching and work hard to strengthen my pedagogy. My ongoing work with Intergroup Relations (IGR) has provided an opportunity to reflect on and enhance my practice. I have attended facilitation training workshops and brown bag sessions offered by IGR and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I also co-facilitated IGR sessions on Gender and Ability. IGR has served as a critical touchstone for me, as it has provided me with theoretical tools and practical activities that I now bring to my classes.

References:

Noddings, N. (1988). An ethic of caring and its implications for instructional arrangements. American Journal of Education, 96(2), 215-230.

2016 Semifinalist for the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Outstanding Teaching, Villanova University.

Associate Professor of Special Education, Villanova University (2019-Present)

Courses Taught:

  • Advanced Trends and Issues in Special Education (EDU 8561)
  • Senior Seminar in Student Teaching (EDU 4292)
  • Introduction to Disability Studies (EDU 3264)
  • Inclusive Classrooms (EDU 7285)

Assistant Professor of Special Education, Villanova University (2012-2019)

Courses Taught:

  • Advanced Trends and Issues in Special Education (EDU 8561)
  • Diversity & Inclusion (EDU 3263)
  • Senior Seminar in Student Teaching (EDU 4292)
  • Psychology of Teaching & Learning (EDU 3251)
  • IGR: Dialogue-Ability (COM 5300)
  • IGR: Dialogue-Gender (COM 5300)

Courses Taught & Developed:

  • Critical Perspectives in Special Education (EDU 8400)
  • Introduction to Disability Studies (EDU 3264)

Adjunct Professor, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania (2009-2012)

Courses Taught & Developed:

  • Teaching Diverse Learners in Inclusive Settings (TFA Special Education Strand)
  • Teaching Diverse Learners in Inclusive Settings (General Education Strand)

CHRISTA S. BIALKA

Department of Education and Counseling

SAC 360

Villanova University

800 Lancaster Avenue

Villanova, Pennsylvania 19085

christa.bialka@villanova.edu