Philosophy of Teaching

My philosophy of teaching is based on my own Jesuit education in the 1960’s and the numerous mentors that I have had over the years.  The educational premises below are taken directly from the Jesuit philosophy of teaching. These premises are directly related to my own activism, social justice commitments and careful discernment on what my life’s work should represent.

I seek to do the following in the classroom:

  1. To promote the development of a commitment to the shared quest for the truth and the expansion of the horizons of both teacher and student in the process.
  2. To elicit in all students, no matter what their talents as individuals, full development as human beings.
  3. To prepare the student to participate intelligently, morally and effectively in the public arena.
  4. To develop students to be conscientious, compassionate and committed “to seek a newer world” and be agents of transformation for good, now and in the future.

A. Philosophy of Teaching and Pedagogical Processes

I have an articulated and evolving philosophy of teaching that guides my pedagogy. My teaching approaches rest on research related to the psychology of learning (Bloom, 1956; Bandura, 1968; Kolb, 1984) and the new advances in classroom technology (Jensen, 1993; Nickerson & Zodhiates, 1988). It is beyond the scope of this brief statement to detail all of the psychological theories and research evidence that guide my teaching. Only the most important points will be made below.

B. Teaching as An Art and Science

From my perspective, teaching can be both an art and science. The art of teaching is being able to develop cohesive learning environments and course content where students can fully explore and express their own ideas. The professor creates an atmosphere where students are challenged to use all of their intellectual potential through disciplined study and active critical thinking. The professor communicates that learning is usually a struggle to grasp knowledge, to integrate ideas, and synthesize both thoughts and emotions for personal- professional growth and to improve the larger society.

The effective professor develops creatively the overall principles of why knowledge is important. Students are shown what they can gain from their investment in serious study. The professor teaches students how to engage the learning process. He/She articulates the positive outcomes and emotional difficulties that can sometimes occur from new learning. Furthermore, the professor sets the specific expectancies for intellectual and personal growth. He/She provides a context for how the knowledge may be useful to the learner. He/She encourages personal transformation from engaging learning with commitment and an open mind.

The classroom is ideally defined as a place where students can transform themselves and transform each other through the learning process. The term “transform” implies renewing and awakening oneself intellectually, professionally, and personally. The talented professor is skilled in developing positive expectancies about learning and facilitating full student involvement in the process. He/She is also skilled at helping students who are alienated from learning, who experience fears about failure, or have academic or learning deficits.

The science of teaching consists of the scholarly development of academic content and media that is concise, current, relevant, and objective. Theory, research data, and diverse points of view are synthesized to activate students’ critical thinking skills. Scientific theories of learning are used to foster retention of course content that can be used by the student in their personal and professional lives. The learning processes are developed by the professor in strategic ways through the sequential development of lectures and academic activities. Both in class and out of class activities are proposed. Careful attention is given to class process and dynamics through assessment of students during the class periods using checklists and questionnaires. This kind of assessment allows the professor to alter the teaching interventions based on the needs of the students. Technology (overheads, videos, music, computers) is used to present content and foster personal and professional reflection. Evaluations of student learning are implemented throughout the entire semester and through questionnaires, exams and written assignments.

C. Teacher as Clinician

I see myself as a “clinician” in the classroom. My clinical teaching role is different than my clinical role with my weekly therapy clients. There are definitely some commonalities between teachers and therapists, but different questions are asked in the two roles. The clinical question for the professor is: “What teaching intervention(s) will be most effective, in what sequence, with this group of students, who are learning this content, under these circumstances, with what expected outcome, evaluated in what measurable ways? Answers to these pedagogical questions broadens considerably the role of the professor to clinician and orchestrator of learning for students. The professor as clinician fosters more direct assessment of students and greater attention to pedagogical process in the classroom throughout the entire semester. I approach my teaching using this clinical perspective.

D. Detailed Course Materials

My teaching approach provides considerable structure and support for students. I provide detailed course syllabi underscoring learning objectives, reading and writing assignments, evaluation deadlines, evaluative criteria for grades, and the possibility for out-of-class conferences. I prepare class manuals that collate most of my notes, activities, and transparencies used in class. These manuals can be purchased by the student and represent the core concepts of the class. These manuals are used in every class and reduce the amount of note taking for students. I want students to be thinking and feeling in the classroom, not just taking notes. The classroom should be an environment where thinking and feeling are the priority, not just complusive note taking. The prepared manuals that summarize the lecture notes and transparencies allow students to relax more in class and enter into the process of the learning without fears of missing the major points.

E. Needs Assessment of Student Attitudes

Effective teaching presupposes knowledge of the learner and different student’s learning styles. In each of my classes, I collect data during the first class to assess the needs and attitudes of the students. These needs assessment data are summarized for the students during the second class and used to shape both the class content and process. Furthermore, students are assessed in the middle of the semester on how they are reacting to both the class content and process. Again, these data are read back to the students, so the process of the class can become part of the content.

F. Use of Media To Activate Cognitive and Affective Domains of Knowledge

I recognized in the late 1970’s that a new, media-oriented, student learner was entering our classes. Clearly, students of the 1990’s have been fully socialized as visual-interactive learners from television, computers, video games, and other technological advances. Many students expect the learning process to include visual and audio stimulation that activates both the cognitive and affective domains of learning (Bloom, 1956; Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1964).

Carefully selected “video clips” from television, movies, documentaries, and music videos are prepared for my classes to accentuate core concepts. (See syllabi in other files). These video clips do not usually replace lecture content, but are used to deepen a student’s knowledge in both the cognitive and affective domains of knowledge. Jensen (1993) describes this kind of instruction as “hypermedia learning” where learning is interactive, nonlinear, and directed at student senses (seeing, hearing, and being emotionally touched). Data collected from students indicate that these video clips deepen student understanding of class concepts. Recently, I was awarded a grant to purchase a complete audio- visual editing console that professionally prepares video clips for classroom instruction (O’Neil & Anderson, 1994). This new equipment will allow the School of Family Studies faculty to produce video clips and other educational resources of high quality that can be used in our classrooms.

G. Use of Experiential Learning Paradigms

My primary paradigm for academic instruction is David Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning model. It is beyond the scope of this proposal to give a full explanation of this model. Only a summary of how I use this model is provided below. Kolb’s model in brief implies that learning best occurs during a cyclical process of : 1) concrete experiences, 2) reflective observations, 3) abstract conceptualizations, and 4) active experimentations. In my classes, I provide all four of these learning processes from Kolb’s cyclical process. Four kinds of knowledge (accomodative, divergent, assimilative, convergent) are the potential outcome of this kind of teaching.

An example of this kind of experiential learning will give you an idea of my teaching process. I might start with a lecture presenting a theoretical construct (abstract conceptualization) and follow it with a four minute video clip from a movie that provides deeper meaning into the construct (concrete experience). Next, students might write out their thoughts or feelings about the video or the construct for five minutes using a prepared set of questions (reflective observation). Finally, a discussion of the students’ written responses (another concrete experience), might occur. Finally, I may suggest some out of class activity for the students to pursue related to the construct presented or their personal experience of the video (active experimentation). In concluding the class, I may provide a summary of the different kinds of knowledge that occurred during the experiential learning cycle. Many times only parts of the model are implemented because of time restrictions or need to review required readings.

This kind of teaching requires much thought and preparation. Yet, it is also very exciting to experiment with different ways of activating student interest and thought in the classroom. Teaching becomes a premeditated and strategic act in both the presentation of content and the class process. I currently have a catalogue of video clips, musical selections, checklists, in class activities, printed discussion questions, and examples to actualize experiential learning in my classroom.

The pedagogical or clinical skill involves preparing the teaching resources and assessing how to sequence them in the context of the naturally occurring events of the semester. Finally, there is the evaluation of whether the sequentially designed teaching interventions were effective in deepening student’s understanding of the content. I assess learning outcomes from direct verbal feedback and written checklists. When the feedback is positive, I usually repeat it again in future classes. When the results are unclear or the process fails, then I devise new ways to order the teaching interventions and/or create new material.

Using this experiential learning approach, the professor becomes the orchestrator of learning, rather just the disseminator of cognitive knowledge through lectures. Both the affective and cognitive domains of learning can be activated through this kind of instruction (Bloom, 1956; Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masi, 1964). Given the limited attention span of most learners, altering the learning process once during a class is usually essential. I have found this kind of “stimulus diversity” (O’Neil & Roberts Carroll, 1988) in the classroom to be the best way to implement Kolb’s model of experiential learning.

H. Longitudinal Evaluations of My Teaching

The most extensive evaluation of this experiential learning paradigm has been in my summer school class that I have offered for the last 14 years: EPSY 325 – Gender Role Conflict Issues for Helping Professionals. I have completed research to assess whether this intensive learning experience has any short or long term term effects. The class is limited to 20 students, taught over a six day period, and organized as a workshop. The lecture materials, experiential approaches, and evaluation data have been published in the literature (O’Neil & Roberts Carroll, 1987, 1988a, 1988b; O’Neil, 1996). The papers and summarize the empirical data documenting the positive effects of the course over a one and three year period.

I. Articulated Models of Mentoring & Advising

Mentoring is another part of my teaching that deserves mention, since much of my teaching with individual students falls into this category. In 1980, I developed my own models of mentoring and have presented these models at the American Psychological Association annual meetings. The models are complex and are beyond the scope of this nomination statement to fully explain. Using these models, I wrote a book chapter “The Mentoring Relationship in Psychology Training Programs” with Larry Wrightsman of the University of Kansas). The chapter was never published because the book publisher went out of business after the book was in press for four years. Nonetheless, the models have been useful to me in learning how to effectively mentor students. These students have wanted to learn to about research or become published, present papers at national conventions, find meaningful jobs, and learn the political “in and outs” of my profession. My mentoring effectiveness is always difficult to assess and evaluate. The best measures of mentoring effectivness are mentee’s evaluations of the quality of the relationship and what the mentor has accomplished with them.

I hope this gives you an overall idea of my teaching philosophy. I would be glad to discuss these teaching issues with anyone interested in developing more effective ways to teach undergraduate and graduate students.

James M. O’Neil
April 15, 1998



Bandura, A. Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall Inc.

Bloom, B.S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals, Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co.

Jensen, R.E. (1993). The technology of the future is already here. ACADEME, 79, 4, 8-13.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning. Englewood Cliffs:Prentice Hall Inc.

Krathwohl, D.R., Bloom, B.S. & Masie, B.B. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals, Handbook II: Affective Domain. New York: David McKay Co.

Nickerson, R.S. & Zodhiates, P.P. (1988). Technology in education: Looking toward 2020. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawerence Erlbaum Associates.

O’Neil, J.M. (1996). The gender role journey workshop: Exploring sexism and gender role conflict in a coeducational setting. In M. Andronico (Ed.) Men in groups: Insights, interventions, and psychoeducational work. Washington, D.C. American Psychological Association Press.

O’Neil, J.M. & Anderson, S. Advancing pedagogical instruction in the classroom through video editing equipment. School of Family Studies, Grant Funded by the University of Connecticut Teaching Institute ($5,941.00), January, 1994.

O’Neil, J.M. & Roberts Carroll, M. (1987). A six day workshop on gender role conflict and strain: Helping men and women take the gender role journey. Storrs, Ct. University of Connecticut, Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling Psychology Program. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. Ed 275963).

O’Neil, J.M. & Roberts Carroll, M. (1988a). Evaluation of the gender role workshop: Three years of follow- up data. Presented at the 95th Convention of the American Psychological Association, New York, New York, September 1, 1987. (ERIC Reproduction Service No. ED 287121.

O’Neil, J.M. & Roberts Carroll, M. (1988b) A gender role workshop focused on sexism, gender role conflict, and the gender role journey. Journal of Counseling and Development. 67, 193-197. 6 5