Brian O'Neill
"...standing on the shoulders of giants"

Philosophy of Education

I believe that education is a cornerstone in students’ lives.  Education provides a framework to encourage healthy growth and development as students mature physically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively.  Life does not start after graduation; every student is living it right now!  It is therefore important to understand what else education is and what the roles of the teacher and student are in laying this life foundation.

I believe that education is dynamic.  No two students are the same, and no one student is the same one day to the next.  Though some content may remain the same over time, new circumstances and new strategies are always at our doorstep.  Over the last decade the use of digital technology in the classroom has revolutionized nearly all aspects of education.  Digital technology allows education to occur in new ways, granting immediate access to global resources that were impossible in the pre-digital classroom.  As an educator I remain flexible and embrace what each new day brings as well as the new technologies and pedagogies that come my way.

I believe that education is social.  “No man is an island,” and no student is either.  Today’s students are interconnected in ways that yesterday’s students could not have imagined.  The Web2.0 revolution has demonstrated and reinforced the ability and penchant of this generation’s youth to collaborate with each other.  Students are not satisfied to listen and receive – they want to share and create and they want to do it cooperatively.  In my classroom I give tasks that call for group work and team problem solving as well as activities that pool collective knowledge – with a classroom full of students’ minds, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

I believe that teachers are guides.  “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for the night; teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for the rest of his life,” – the old adage’s truth is not diminished by its overuse.  Students may remember some of the things we say for some amount of time, but activities they actually do will last much longer in their minds.  Much cognitive research supports the conclusion that action and creation help move concepts into the long-term register.  In addition, in our digital age it is becoming less and less important to actually know information and more and more important to know where to find and how to evaluate and use information.  In my classroom students learn the skills of information literacy through research and through using tools to access and manipulate data.

I believe that teachers are role models.  For good or for bad, students watch us and learn about adult behavior.  We have the responsibility to lead by example in our lives.  In and out of the classroom I conduct myself in a manner worthy of imitation – with regards to respect for peers and authority, academic integrity, life-long learning, and the like.  Students know that I am passionate about knowledge and learning, and will begin to adopt this view for themselves.

I believe that teachers are an inspiration.  Ask almost any grown adult about his favorite teacher, and without hesitation he will tell you a name and what that person did that influenced him so strongly.  A teacher’s impact can last a lifetime and can set in motion things that may not have been.  Though I cannot force myself as inspiration on students, I aim to create an environment where students are challenged and encouraged, where they refine their skills and develop new ones, and where they feel confident and capable in their own abilities.  I begin to do this by believing in the students – by modeling enthusiasm for achievement and encouraging them to follow suit.

I believe that students are capable.  It is easy to fall into the trap of treating students as immature and helpless, but given the chance they will often surprise us with their capabilities.  Students will achieve up or down to the level of expectations placed on them.  I create opportunities for students to achieve up by giving authentic assessments that require varied levels of cognition.  Most students think my assigned tasks are hard, but that allows room for students to show their full capabilities.  I support students who truly need help with skills or concepts while encouraging them that they can exceed what they thought were their own limitations.

I believe that students are unique.  Every young man and woman in a classroom has his own story, his own thoughts, hopes, and dreams, and his own academic strengths and weaknesses.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to pedagogy and instruction, and a successful teacher makes an effort to know as much as possible about his students’ unique needs.  In the classroom I work towards this end by careful record-keeping and analysis of student performance as well as informal observation and personal communication with students.

I believe that students are tomorrow’s leaders.  The truth and value of this statement should not be diminished by its perceived triteness.  It really sums my philosophy of education – that education is all about the students: teaching and equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and tools they need now and will need in the future.  Students are our world’s most valuable natural resource, and as educators, it is our job to enrich them with personal care and best practices.