Karen Crocco, DMA
Instructional Specialist, St. Lucie Public Schools
If you Google “Teacher Reflection,” you will find endless articles on the importance of reflection for teachers. It improves practice, helps one discover and understand their professional persona, and leads to a sustainable career of effective practice and professional growth. As band directors, we can understand why the heady concept of self-reflection gets lost between rehearsals, mid-term reports, MPAs, concerts, and instrument repair. As summer approaches, however, I am urging every music educator, especially novice educators, to take some time to recharge your batteries, but to also spend some time reflecting and creating a professional mission statement, a vision statement, and a teaching philosophy. These concepts serve as the foundation for our daily practice and guide us along our professional journey.
A professional mission, vision, and teaching philosophy are the roots that keep us grounded when it is easy to get lost in the stress of being an educator in today's school system. As band directors, that stress is only amplified because of our dedication to our discipline, the aesthetic understanding we try to impart, the social-emotional growth bonded to artistic growth, and the demands placed upon us by our stakeholders.
To help keep us focused on why we do what we do, we must answer some very big questions:
This article is designed as a guide to help you create a: mission statement, a vision statement, and teaching philosophy. Each part is closely related, and understanding your mission and vision will help you identify your goals, and inform your teaching philosophy.
Why do music educators need a mission statement? It is important that teachers, as leaders and artists, can express the purpose and primary measurable objectives of their teaching practice, discipline, and class. A mission statement reflects the direction of the individual/class/organization and helps all stakeholders focus on a common mission. A Mission Statement defines the individual’s purpose and primary objectives. The primary function of a mission statement is to define the key measure or measures of success and to communicate purpose to stakeholders. Mission statements are:
When writing a mission statement, consider using language that articulates what you want to provide for your students. For example: “It is my mission to make all of my students outstanding musicians” is not a great mission statement. You can, however, share that same sentiment in this way: “It is my mission to cultivate a learning environment where all students can achieve at the highest levels of their ability.” You can measure and check that you are cultivating the best possible environment. You cannot “make” your students do anything. (Even though we like to make them think differently at times.)
A vision statement describes what you want to achieve in your ideal future. It includes what defines your optimal future and shapes your understanding and actions regarding why you do what you do. Vision statements reflect the ideal image regarding how you will operate and influence your students and organization in the future. The professional vision statement communicates your mission as it fits within the purpose and values of your school or district. A vision statement gives stakeholders direction about how they are expected to behave and inspires them to give their best.
Your vision statement is strategic and written in the present tense. It is inspirational and aspirational. It should be challenging, yet realistic. It is clear, concise, and a reflection of your mission. For Example: “All of my students are happy and play well” does not represent a clear vision. However, “Students in my program are achieving at the highest levels of their abilities and are experiencing social and emotional growth and satisfaction because of their accomplishments” is a precise statement that indicates what “happy and play well” means or looks like.
"Your vision is your mission achieved with excellence." – Dr. Timothy Brophy, University of Florida
Personal and professional growth come from high standards, an open mind, and self-reflection. A teaching philosophy statement is an incredible tool that can help an educator reach their full potential by helping them clarify their thoughts, mission, and vision. A teaching philosophy articulates your understanding of your responsibilities, how you align yourself with other professionals and your learning community, how you serve your students, and why you teach. Be specific in what students will gain from your class and what you gain from teaching. What do you see as the main challenges for you, your students, and your stakeholders, and how will you meet these challenges? When creating your teaching philosophy, be passionate and honest; think about the stakeholders of your organization: they are your audience.
Great teaching philosophy statements are specific. They include examples of how your philosophy is realized in your daily practice, imparted to your students, and shared with stakeholders. These examples demonstrate your range of expertise and illustrate objectives, and approaches. Finally, consider why you believe you can make a difference. What are your goals? Who do you work to influence and how do you achieve your goals? What will you, your students, and your stakeholders look like when you are successful?
Writing your teaching philosophy can be intimidating. Think smaller and more concise rather than broad and all encompassing. Your teaching philosophy is a living document; it will grow and change as you grow and change as an educator. Consider these ideas as you get started:
These elements are not the only things to consider, but a good start. I am not usually a fan of formulaic writing, but when making your first attempt at writing a teaching philosophy, the 1 - 3- 1 format of essay writing is a good start for this massive topic. It helps to keep you focused and from wandering too far afield. Also, try to limit yourself to 1,000 – 1,500 words. This challenge helps you to be precise with your language and fixed on your point.
There are obvious benefits to writing down your mission, vision, and teaching philosophy. It makes them easy to refer to, keeps them at the front of your mind, and helps busy educators guide and focus their decision making. There are also neurological benefits to writing down goals. Here is a little information on that if you are interested:
I hope you are intrigued at worst and excited at best by the information presented in this article. Professional reflection is a requirement for professional growth. This summer, I hope you will take the time to reflect on why you do what you do and put these ideas into words. You may be surprised by how challenging it can be. Turn to your mentor or other colleagues for their thoughts and friendly discussion. Discussing these ideas can lead to some great professional learning about yourself and others.