Creating a culture of Philosophy

Philosophy for Teachers (P4T) – As soon as I heard about this initiative I instantly became excited. Regular P4T sessions are conducted in each model school and take place on a weekly basis. They follow the same process as a regular P4C session, in as much as, there is a strong emphasis on the ‘Pillars of Philosophy’: community, reflection, enquiry and philosophy itself. They were designed to offer teachers an additional support network and also give them an opportunity to develop their personal knowledge and understanding of Philosophy as a subject in its own right. The practitioners use these sessions to talk about their personal reflections as well as basing their enquiries on philosophical and educational texts and extracts. It has to be said that the UK teacher led approach to P4C is a global minority. Most if not all other P4C models are driven by people who have examined the study of Philosophy at doctoral level. This undoubtedly shifts the dynamic of teaching P4C but to what extent? I can personally make strong arguments for each approach but the ideal situation would be to have both. This is where the UH Uehiro Academy are incredibly fortunate to have practitioners like Dr Chad Miller and Dr Amber Strong Makaiau who are trained teachers and have doctorates in Philosophy. I too would like to join the ranks of these professionals by undertaking a PhD in Philosophy at some stage but that is another story in itself.

I can see, without a shadow of a doubt, the intense benefit of having the knowledge and understanding of somebody who is well versed in the study of Philosophy. I know from my personal study that the more information I have learnt and acquired, the more I have seen a growth in the sessions I lead. As Ben described it, being well versed in Philosophy gives you a metaphorical map which provides you with a greater insight into the various areas of enquiry you can explore and a richer understanding of the different philosophical lenses you can apply to view situations including epistemology, metaphysics, logic and ethics. However, in my opinion a person who has studied the intricacies of Philosophy is not necessarily going to make a good teacher. The act of teaching is an art in itself that needs to be studied and honed. Yes, being highly knowledgeable helps considerably but it cannot be taken as a given that it will lead to good teaching.

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This is why I am so impressed by the idea of ‘skilling up’ teachers through the use of P4T. Having observed a number of sessions taking place in different settings (Elementary – High School) has left me deeply inspired. I posed a simple question to each group of teachers: How do you benefit from P4C and P4T sessions? The response was overwhelmingly positive and I got a real sense of genuine commitment from all of these teachers who want to become better P4C practitioners. It is something they buy into and want to better for the sake of the children. This notion is ultimately cultivated from a well intended sense of moral duty! The P4C format has also been adopted by some schools to make faculty decisions because it provides a familiarly supportive environment which encourages critical and creative modes of thinking. Some teachers described it as a part of their school culture and sense of identity. They were also grateful for being given an opportunity to network with other colleagues and simply share their experiences. I feel this sense of peer to peer support cannot and should not be undervalued. They talked about having faith in the community and the intellectually safe atmosphere it provides them with to validate their own practice and garner new ideas from one another. The benefits of this approach also extended to dissolving barriers between pupils, departments and year groups and creating a holistic culture of empathy, understanding, sharing and open dialogue.

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