Preparing to Teach: Exploring Beliefs

Beliefs, Theory, & Practice

There are many decisions faculty need to make when preparing to teach. Whether it is a course developed from scratch or one being revised, common questions include: What content to include or omit? How will student learning be assessed? How will students engage with the content? And most critically, what do I want students to know and be able to do with that knowledge by the end of the course?

Examining what you know and believe about teaching and learning can help in answering the types of questions above. Brownlee and Schraw (2017) recommend asking ourselves about the following elements that inform decision-making in teaching:

  • Beliefs: What do I believe about how learning happens? What do I believe about the nature of knowledge? 
  • Theory: What theories inform my pedagogical practice? What research supports my choices of effective teaching strategies?
  • Practice: What have I witnessed in my own education in my discipline that reflects good teaching? How do my colleagues and others at my institution view effective teaching practice?

Inventories & Surveys

There are several instruments available that can help to identify our often tacit beliefs about teaching and learning. Although educational psychologists caution that measures of this type are difficult to develop and validate (Brownlee & Schraw, 2017), completing even one of the following can be insightful.

The Teaching Goals Inventory was developed by Tom Angelo and Patricia Cross and is used in their text Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers (available in the DCAL Library). This instrument identifies instructional goals clustered under these categories:

  • Higher-order thinking skills
  • Basic academic success skills
  • Discipline-specific knowledge and skills
  • Liberal arts and academic values
  • Work and career preparation
  • Personal development

Once those goals are identified, the handbook can be used to explore dozens of techniques to assess how well you are meeting those goals. The link connects with a version that will score the inventory after completion.

The Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI) measures perspectives and views about teaching across 5 dimensions:

  • Transmission: Delivering content
  • Apprenticeship: Modeling ways of being
  • Developmental: Cultivating ways of thinking
  • Nurturing: Facilitating personal agency
  • Social Reform:  Seeking a better society. (Pratt, 1998, p. 11)

The developers of the TPI state that where one falls within these perspectives is a result of both personal philosophy and one's particular context and discipline. One can teach effectively or poorly holding any perspective, and it is possible to have multiple perspectives at play in different aspects of a single course (Collins & Pratt, 2010)

Once completed, the Epistemic Beliefs Inventory generates a report that places you on a continuum of beliefs about the nature of knowledge and its acquisition between objectivism and subjectivism.

The Online Teaching Survey helps identify the nature of high-quality online teaching and learning. Instructors who teach “blended” courses using a learning management system can use this survey to gauge how well your course design helps students engage with the content as well as with each other.

Teaching Philosophy Statements

Many institutions offer training for graduate students in college teaching. Dartmouth accomplishes this through its Future Faculty Program, offered jointly through DCAL and the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies. The program includes support for drafting a teaching philosophy statement, a document required by many colleges and universities in the application process for faculty positions. A teaching philosophy statement can be helpful at any stage of an instructor's career to document one's philosophy and approach to teaching and learning, and guide teaching decisions.

Visit our Future Faculty page for more information on the program and resources on crafting teaching philosophy statements.


Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (2012). Classroom assessment techniques. Jossey Bass Wiley.

Brownlee, J.L. & Schraw. G.  (2017) Reflection and Reflexivity: A focus on higher order thinking in teachers’ personal epistemologies. In Schraw, G., Brownlee, J. L., Olafson, L., & Brye, M. V. V. (Eds.). (2017). Teachers’ personal epistemologies: Evolving models for informing practice. IAP.