Working Philosophies in Higher Education


When discussing how to survive emotionally as an instructor, Brookfield (2006, p. 255) mentions that “…any working philosophy can be full of contradictions, unrelated to real life, or just plain immoral. The fact that we have a philosophy does not make that philosophy good, useful, or right”. A working philosophy is an instructor’s collection of values and beliefs in regards to their teaching. Instructors all have working philosophies whether they realize it or not. A valuable exercise for instructors to partake in is to document their working philosophies. During this process, instructors can discover what areas of their working philosophies may be contradictory, immoral, or just plain wrong.


I support the idea of working philosophies but what is the point if my university doesn’t support my values and beliefs? As an instructor that teaches the use of technology in a business environment, I believe that students should be using the latest, cutting-edge technology to support their learning. However, the IT department at my university cannot even supply working keyboards and mice in the labs. Furthermore, the network infrastructure is designed in a manner that makes it very difficult to introduce new software. Another belief I hold is that when learning how to use software, students should use it as a problem solving tool and learn how to use it in this mindset. However, other instructors require their students to follow step-by-step guides to learn the software skills and do not supply students with real-world applications. This conflict in teaching causes student conflicts in my classes because students are expecting the “easy” way out, but in my class they need to think for themselves.


Instead of focusing on what values and beliefs I cannot withhold at my university, I should consider how a working philosophy can help me overall. Brookfield (2006, p. 256) states that an important reason to have a working philosophy is to be able to stay in control as an instructor in the event of chaos and to avoid immoral and harmful practices. The purpose of a working philosophy is to help instructors survive emotionally and not necessarily to support their teaching. Mental health problems amongst university instructors is on the rise due to greater job insecurity, heavy workloads, and the increased marketization of universities (Shaw & Ward, 2014). I would not say I have mental health problems, but I could if things do not improve at my university soon. These improvement are in regards to the marketization of my university. My university’s focus seems to be on increasing revenue and ensuring students graduate with a specific set of skills. However, instructors are often neglected when administration makes serious choices in regards to these agenda items.


The best thing for myself to do right now is to sit down and document my working philosophy. But how could I achieve this? The University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence (University of Waterloo, n.d.) suggests that instructors respond to the following five items to help develop their working philosophy:

  1. Why do you believe your students want to learn?
  2. What are your aims for teaching?
  3. Does your subject matter affect your beliefs about teaching or learning?
  4. Create a list responding to “When I teach I:”
  5. What do you believe about learning?

I believe that responding to these prompts will aid me in my emotional survival in teaching. I may also find that this document may be advantageous to me when my university is trying to force me to work in a way I do not agree with.


Brookfield, S. D. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom (Second ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Shaw, C., & Ward, L. (2014, March 6). Dark thoughts: why mental illness is on the rise in academia. Retrieved from theguardian:

University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Exploring your teaching philosophy: sample exercises. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from University of Waterloo: Centre for Teaching Excellence:


About simoncrothers

I am an Australian who moved to British Columbia, Canada with my family in 1998. After completing my undergraduate degree in mathematics and computing science at Simon Fraser University, I moved back to Australia for several years. During this time I completed a Masters in Computational Mathematics and began my teaching career in mathematics at the University of New South Wales. In 2010, I moved back to Canada and taught computer science at Douglas College for three years. I am currently regular faculty in the Computer Business Systems department at KPU. I have also taught some courses in the Business and Quantitative Methods department at KPU. In my spare time I like to spend time with my wife Jami, who I met in Australia, our three year old daughter Lillian, and our newly born son Aiden. I also like to indulge in the occasional video game and I am involved in various self-employed web development projects.
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