Blog 24

Why do you teach the way you do?


Barbara Kerr, Teaching Commons

How do university students learn best? What exactly takes place in an effective learning situation? What do you want your students to learn and why? What does successful learning mean in your discipline? How do you conceptualize the respective roles of instructor and students? What do you think good teaching looks like? Why do you teach the way you do? In short what are your teaching beliefs?

Often we do not articulate our teaching beliefs, but understanding our teaching identity is an important component in the teaching and learning process. One way that we can improve our teaching is to critically reflect on our underlying beliefs about teaching and learning. Dan Pratt and his associates (Collins & Pratt, 2011) conducted extensive interviews with instructors in adult and higher education. Based on an analysis of the transcripts and observation notes, they identified five distinct views, or perspectives, of what adult educators do and why they think these actions are worthy or justified. The five perspectives are labelled Transmission, Apprenticeship, Developmental, Nurturing and Social Reform. One perspective is not necessarily better than another. They reflect different aims, values and context. However, “Teaching within each perspective can be improved by focusing on findings from research that are consistent with the perspective” (Collins & Pratt, 2010, p.16).

For the curious Educator, these five perspectives have been operationalized into five scales that incorporate beliefs, intentions and actions related to teaching. The measurement instrument has been tested and refined over the years and now consists of a 45 item questionnaire, i.e. the Teaching Perspective Inventory (TPI). For those interested in the development of this instrument and its reliability, validity and sensitivity to expected criterion group differences, more information can be found in Collins & Pratt (2010).

The good news is that The Teaching Perspective Inventory (TPI) is available at no cost on the TPI website The website automatically scores each person’s answers and immediately provides a profile with explanatory notes. Typically, most people will have one, or sometimes two, prominent perspectives and one notably lower, or “recessive”, perspective. The middling perspectives are the “backup” perspectives meaning that the Educator can draw on the skills and strategies of these perspectives when needed. I first took the TPI early in my career when I taught English as a Foreign Language in overseas universities. Not surprisingly, given that I was teaching adults to communicate in a language that was not their mother tongue, my dominant perspective was Nurturing. A few years ago, I took the TPI again, but this time my dominant teaching perspective was that of Apprenticeship. A reflection – I’m certain – of the many courses I had been teaching in a B. Ed. Program. It was also an indication that it was time to update my Philosophy of Teaching Statement! Taking the TPI helped me to articulate my beliefs and practices and to reflect on why I teach the way I do.

The Teaching Perspective Inventory (TPI) was designed for instructors in adult and higher education. It won’t provide a complete answer to why we teach the way we do, but it does provide a starting point for reflecting on our teaching beliefs, intentions and actions in the classroom.

What do you think? Identifying and articulating one’s teaching beliefs can be challenging. Have you taken the Teaching Perspectives Inventory? How are the five perspectives – Transmission, Apprenticeship, Developmental, Nurturing and Social Reform – described? Are you curious to see what your answer pattern suggests?

Do you know of other tools that can help Course Directors articulate their beliefs about teaching and learning? If so, let us know.


Collins, J. B. & Pratt, D. D. (2010). The Teaching Perspectives Inventory at 10 Years and 100,000 Respondents: Reliability and Validity of a Teacher Self-Report Inventory. Adult Education Quarterly, 61(4), 358-375.

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