Philosophy of Teaching & Learning

Have you ever visited the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, or some other natural wonder? In 2014, I had such an opportunity during a trip to visit family in Arizona. I visited the grand canyon for the first time. I remember the woodsy evergreen scent of the trees as we approached the canyon. As I looked out over the chasm before me I was filled with a sense of wonder and awe. Immediately, I considered how viewing the grand canyon was a true experience and the photos that I had viewed did not come close to capturing the sense of awe that I felt standing before it. I then realized why many people consider the grand canyon to be a “spiritual” place (Riggs 2020).

The magnificence of experiencing the grand canyon is lost in mere photography.

When I look at the natural world and the complexity of living organisms whether it be human behavior, chimps, rats, or even the activity of a single neuron I am filled with a similar sense of wonder and awe. I am inspired to ask questions like; What is consciousness? How do ultra-social human societies work? Can chimpanzees learn language? Is rat behavior at all comparable to human behavior? What does learning look like in neurons? What does it mean to have a “gene’s eye view” of evolution?

It’s this sense of wonder and awe for behavioral science that I want to communicate to my students. I aspire to engage students intellectually and experientially with my classes. To do this I am crafting a teaching philosophy is an ever-evolving journey, and I relish the challenge of refining my ideas and techniques. It’s both rewarding and invigorating to stand in front of a class of eager students who are eager to learn and experience the wonders of the world around them.

As a specialist in the science of learning and cognition, I recognize that learning is a continuous process and that every student comes to class with a distinct learning history and their own complex biological composition. I am cognizant that the specific details of each individual’s background and behavior may not be readily apparent. As a result, I approach teaching with an unconditional positive regard for my students and an eclectic pedagogical approach that incorporates various educational theories and techniques to cater to the diverse needs and preferences of each learner.

In certain instances, I adopt a humanistic or student-centered strategy (Whiting, 2021) that underscores students’ active participation and engagement with the subject matter while depending on their self-efficacy for resolving issues.  This active learning produces enhanced recall of course materials (Gureckis & Markant, 2012; Prince, 2004). In a similar line of thought, I find it crucial to avoid offering direct advice on personal matters or decisions and instead provide students with access to resources that can help them pursue self-fulfillment.  When faced with such situations, I opt to utilize motivational interviewing techniques to assist the student in achieving their academic objectives or in making needed changes (Clifford & Curtis, 2015; Wells, Jones, & Jones, 2014) .

This previous approach is contrasted with my knowledge-centered approach which includes elements of perennialist and essentialist pedagogical methods (Ellis, 2003).  I realize that students lack experience and knowledge in the subject area and student-centered approaches can have limitations (Wanic & Powell, 2022). As the instructor, I realize that I have the authority, skills, experience, and knowledge to guide them in learning the wonders of behavioral science.  To achieve this, I strive to expose students to primary source materials such as journal articles and original experiment videos that have had a high impact or historical significance whenever possible. Additionally, I help students connect with the material by discussing modern-day events, topics, and applications that may be more tangible and relevant to their interests or experiences.

Ultimately, my hope is that my students will walk away from my class with improved critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as a practical understanding of how psychology can enhance their daily lives. Perhaps even more importantly though, I want to instill in my students a love for the material and a sense of wonder and awe when they look out at the natural world. I want to inspire them to keep asking questions and gaining knowledge, to be life long learners.


Clifford, D., & Curtis, L. (2015). Motivational Interviewing in Nutrition and Fitness. The Guilford Press.

Ellis, A. (2003). Exemplars of Curriculum Theory. Taylor & Francis Group.

Gureckis, T. M., & Markant, D. B. (2012). Self-Directed Learning: A Cognitive and Computational Perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7(5), 464–481.

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223–231.

Riggs, S. (2020) Leigh Kuwanwisiwma: The Grand Canyon Has A Spirit.  Grand Canyon Trust.  Retrieved from

Wanic, R., & Powell, N. (2022). Student-centred education: a philosophy most unkind. Times Higher Education.

Wells, H., Jones, A., & Jones, S. C. (2014). Teaching reluctant students: using the principles and techniques of motivational interviewing to foster better student-teacher interactions. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 51(2), 175–184.

Whiting, J. (2021). Student-Centered Learning by Design. ABC-CLIO, LLC.