My Teaching Philosophy: Guiding questions

Evidence-based. Brave. Inclusive. Kind. Fun.

After 30 years of teaching in various post-secondary institutions, I have had the advantage of time and vast experience to polish my teaching pedagogy and practices. I have organized my teaching philosophy by listing the questions that I always ask myself when initially designing any new course.

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How can I make online learning exciting? Team-based learning.

I specialize in using a team-based learning model for all courses I teach. I know that especially during this pandemic, learners needed the highly engaging — and fun — learning opportunities that team-based learning affords. Workshop and other eLearn tools made arranging team activities and peer assessments easy.

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How can I practice decolonizing and indigenizing?

Beginning in a good way. During each class my learners and I take turns reading our land acknowledgement. In addition, each reader reflects on one focus concept each term, e.g., “unceded” or “uninvited guest” by telling us a story of a time when they had something stolen or received uninvited guests. I frame this land acknowledgement and expression of gratitude as an honour and duty for us to read at every gathering.

Living in right relationships with Indigenous peoples. I am a person of Settler heritage having immigrated to Canada when I was 10 years old. How can I best do my share of the work it will take for Settlers to come into right relationships with Canadian Indigenous peoples? I know I must keep learning from Indigenous Elders and following their wisdoms. In addition, I must do what I can to be of service to undo anti-indigenous oppression. Over the years, I realized this important work will never be “done.” Rather, coming into right relations with Indigenous peoples is a living day-to-day activity — like breathing.

Breathing out, decolonize. Breathing in, Indigenize. Here is my personal practice for breathing my way into right relations with Indigenous peoples: Breathe out — search for and remove from my classroom colonial tools, methods, and artifacts that may perpetrate oppression of Indigenous ways of being and knowing. Breathe in — search for, adopt, translate, listen to, and innovate ways to include Indigenous knowledge, methods of inquiry, and Indigenous voices and stories.“Breathing through” the work of right relations is how I understand my duty as a teacher.

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How can we teachers and learners benefit our community? Community Service Learning.

I believe it is our duty as teachers and learners to grow awareness of our duty to take what we learn in university and give back to our community. For example, my 4th-year Multiculturalism, Conflict and Social Justice learners all worked a shift a the Vancouver food bank and individual learners volunteered a full day at a community agency of their choice. In addition, my Introduction to Psychology learners:

  • Wrote a diversity-friendly letter to an important person in their life using my required culturally-sensitive format.
  • Trained for Naloxone overdose prevention. In addition to learning the brain science and statistics around opiate overdose, learners took the free BC naloxone training so they can be ready in case of an overdose emergency.
  • Gave a public lecture presentation to teach back what we learned in class.
  • Wrote a mentoring “Letter to Future Learner.”

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How can I reinforce the importance of fact-checking, evidence-based inquiry and research methods?

In every course I teach, I help learners practice and prioritize fact checking, evidence-based inquiry, critical thinking, and research.

Fact-checking journal. Second year Research Methods learners conduct 30 library-derived fact-checks during the term. (Note: It is common for fact-checking to seem like a “burden” at the beginning of the term, but by the end of term most learners find fact-checking easy and indispensable.)

Correlational study. I have developed a carefully scaffolded research experience for second year learners to inquire about an important mental and physical health issue in their lives. Second year Research Methods learners conduct a 30-day study and run correlational analyses examining the relationship between two variables. Each learner presents their research findings — via 4-panel comic — report at the end of term.

Get cape. Wear cape. Fly. wellness project. First year Introduction to Psychology learners choose one daily wellness practice (e.g., meditation, running, or screen breaks, etc.). They also measure happiness, anxiety, or fatigue three times a day for 14 days. Then learners enter their raw data on a Google sheet I have pre-programmed to automatically calculate their averages and graph their results. All along, each learner also creates eight stick figure comics to describe each stage of their research.

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How can I accommodate a range of learning needs? Universal Learning Design.

Not everyone can fully express learning outcomes through text. Other media and modalities are required to accommodate all learning needs. Learners connected weekly course content to their personal lives by creating stick figure comics (see Psyc happens! Fall2021, Psyc happens! Spring2022, and Research happens!). In addition, learners showed their research process via 8 stick figure comics published on an open education (SPLOT) website (See above links. Click “Find by Author Code,” scroll down, and click on any author).

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Conclusion.

Teaching is my passion and a source of unending wonder. I could not have guessed how deeply satisfying I would find teaching. Learners’ consistently high engagement inspires me. Their commitment to honesty humbles me. And their good humour delights me. I feel lucky to have the immense privilege to teach!

About

Dr. Jessica Motherwell McFarlane is a professional education consultant on gender, anti-oppression and social justice issues and a research associate at the Justice Institute of British Columbia. She is also the developer and director of the Life Outside the Box program that uses visual narratives as a way to SEE conflict and injustice from new perspectives. Jessica facilitates groups and schools needing to have complex — and sometimes emotionally painful — conversations. She offers workshops to at-risk children, youth, and adults on: Truth and Reconciliation, transforming bullying situations, and rehearsing best practices for self-care, inclusivity, and kindness.