Members of the Education Department at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University share a philosophy of teaching that places values at the heart of the teaching-learning process. Foremost among these is a deep respect and even reverence for the individual person, coupled with a commitment to their development, and pervasive attention to their needs. These Benedictine values (Klassen, Renner, and Reuter, 2001) inspire us to have an overall sense of optimism about humankind, and particularly children, which leads to the strongly-held and fundamental belief that all students can learn. We acknowledge, however, that students have different needs and learn in different ways and at different rates. Therefore, teachers must not only be knowledgeable about the content they teach, but must also value student diversity and be committed to making decisions that involve the use a variety of instructional strategies and approaches appropriate to the increasingly diverse learning needs of their students and prepare them to succeed in an uncertain future.
Embracing the Benedictine values of concern for community and balancing mind, body, and spirit (deWaal, 1984) results in a belief that students learn best in a safe, humane, and welcoming classroom community where their basic needs are met, where they are participants in classroom decisions, and where they can achieve their full potential (not just cognitively, but emotionally, socially, aesthetically, physically, and spiritually as well). This most effectively occurs in a setting where all students are welcomed by a caring and competent teacher who recognizes and values student diversity and various cultural realities.
Although we believe that students typically learn best through holistic, collaborative, and constructivist pedagogies that promote active and self-directed learning, we acknowledge that other, more traditional approaches, such as direct instruction, may sometimes be the most effective way to teach some content and some learners.
A fourth aspect of our philosophy centers on what we believe to be the characteristics of effective teachers. From our perspective, exemplary teachers embrace the Benedictine values of commitment to service, concern for community, social justice (deWaal, 1984) and the integration of a commitment to the common good with respect for the individual (Klassen, Renner, and Reuter, 2001). Teachers, therefore, should not only be knowledgeable and caring, but must have a passion for teaching and improving the lives or their students. This is apparent not only in their enthusiasm for the subject they teach, but also in their commitment to the principle that all decisions and subsequent actions must meet Josephson's (2010) criteria for being ethical in that they generate trust and demonstrate respect, responsibility, and caring .
We understand as well that exemplary teachers must be reflective, lifelong learners who are textually, visually, technologically, and ecologically literate and who have the self-efficacy to be flexible, open to change, and able to adapt to an ever-changing and unpredictable future that is certain to include innovative instructional technologies, increased globalization, changing student demographics, and other challenges that we have not yet imagined.
Finally, it is our steadfast belief that effective teachers must be independent, active, and empowered decision-makers who have the courage and confidence to take charge of their own classroom rather than operating as technicians who merely implement a prescribed curriculum and decisions made by others.