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Philosophy of Teaching and Learning: Ursula A. Kelly

Teaching is a gesture of epistemological anticipation and hope.

Teaching is how I connect to and care for the world. For me, teaching is more than a career and more than a series of pedagogical practices; it is the pursuit of a meaningful life. Teaching arises from and fuels my greatest passions. These passions are for a recognition of the dignity and mutuality of all life, the importance of wonder and curiosity, and a gratitude and respect for our gifts and talents expressed through their use for social good and betterment.

I believe deeply in the pursuit of excellence as an ongoing project of fulfilment. This excellence of which I speak is cultivated through a recognition of the uniqueness of each of us and what we offer one another in and through the deep and rich particularity of our own encounters with the world. In this sense of excellence, teaching is a reaching forth to touch the places which harbour our deepest humanity, our most profound dreams, our greatest possibilities. It is from these places, which reside in all of us, that we make our most powerful connections and from where we can care most deeply and best. To be moved is to open oneself to learning and the possibilities it offers. In this sense, teaching is a deeply spiritual practice the contours of which are a rich intellectualism framed by the profundity of mutuality, and for which emotion is its recognized heartbeat and the sociality of all life its unrelenting backdrop.

Learning is an embrace of living as ethical knowing.

Learning is more recursive than linear. Learning is also paradoxical in that is it both profoundly social and, simultaneously, deeply personal. To learn is to make connections. Learning is, therefore, relational, an expression of our connection to the world and to others. In this sense, learning is ethically bound, a practice of obligation and responsibility. Understood this way, learning entails risk and requires a practice of courage, a willingness to be revised, to open oneself to the unanticipated outcomes of other ways of seeing, of other meanings and the meanings of others - so that one may learn, better.

Teaching must reach into this paradox which is learning to engage its connective tissue. To teach is to build upon this character of learning through an examination of the conditions of our own knowing - our personal epistemologies - as a beginning place from which to examine the implications of our perceptions, our ways of knowing, and to reshape them in ethical relation to others. As such, teaching encourages an examination of ways of seeing as forms of meaning, as ways of living which are constantly reshaped by experiences of learning, by learning experiences. Understood in this way, teaching is a profoundly transformative practice, one which aims to build relational communities founded on reflection, reciprocity, responsibility, and respect.

Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet, reminds us, "To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work." In paying attention, we are present to and able to witness the life-altering fabric of the most ordinary moments of teaching and learning. It is such attentiveness that I strive to practice and to encourage in others, as both a way of being educational - that is, attending to learning - and of being in the world - that is, attending to living.

This attentiveness is a sublime space, a space of encounter and wonder. It is the space of the covenant of teaching and learning.

© 2006 Ursula A. Kelly