Guide on the Side or Sage on the Stage

7e908088f13147bb5ddfba64838c62b4When I was a practicing therapist, I would often get asked “what’s your theoretical orientation?” I always felt awkward answering that question since I feel one approach could never apply to everyone.  Now as an educator, I’m sometimes asked about my philosophy on education. Are you more teacher-centered or student-centered?  Do I favor more being the “guide on the side” or “sage on the stage?” I guess it depends. I learned to do both, use what I need based on the needs of the class.  I teach eclectically, I never did like prescribing to a particular group, be it political, religious, or anything too trendy,(OK, I own an I Phone).

Eclectic, as the name implies is an approach that incorporates a variety of principles and philosophies in order to create a program to meet the needs of our students. Instead of insisting a strict adherence to one particular approach of school of thought, being electric allows us to employ elements from a range of techniques with the goal of establishing a course that is personally tailored to the needs of the class.  The primary benefit is not only allowing the classroom experience to become more personalized, but it encourages the instructor to be more creative is class design and delivery.

At one time, most therapists rigidly adhered to a single style, but eclectic therapy today is the most common style used by practicing therapists.  It is a more flexible approach that allows the therapist to adapt to each client’s individual needs. Perhaps I adopted my personal teaching style from my experiences being a therapist, but there seems to be a common tie to this approach.

What is best for the student? And how to we as educators not only identify what is best for our students, but how do we approach those needs in our instruction? It is so much easier to teach every class the same and put the responsibility on the student to adjust to the needs of the instructor, but I found in my 27 years practicing as a therapist, this approach will surely guarantee a lack of investment in outcomes in the learning process.

I’ve known many therapists who were reluctant to call themselves “eclectic” in fear of sounding too wishy-washy or being insufficiently focused. In the early stages of my training, I was told by my supervisor, “Never say you are electric, for you will lose credibility with your peers.”  The truth is that most therapists practiced electric therapy, but never admitted it.

So perhaps the question we should all be asking ourselves is not what our teaching style is, but rather, how do we adapt our teaching to our students? Every class is different. No matter how many PSY 101 classes I have taught, they are never the same. The subject material remains the same, but the students will always be different and so should our approach to how we deliver that subject matter. Perhaps like in therapy, unless we our willing to constantly re-create our teaching and thinking, we set ourselves up for boredom and even burnout.

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