Creating thoughtful and compassionate students by engaging them in the activity of philosophy

by Chad Miller

Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12


Philosophy is about thinking skills; it’s about metacognition. It’s about teaching students how to ask incisive and critical questions and apply those to what they are learning and their own lives.

I teach with a method called the Philosopher’s Pedagogy. This method gives students the opportunity to actively “do” philosophy and make more sense out of the lives they are living.

There are four pillars behind this pedagogy:

-Establish a intellectually safe community where all ideas are valid and accepted.

-Start with student’s questions by using the “Good Thinkers Toolkit.”

-Enthusiastically invite wonder into the classroom.

-Take the time to reflect on the whole process.

Importantly, these four pillars allow this method to be used in any subject area. It’s designed not to be another thing that teachers have to do; rather it’s becomes an integral and seamless way that teachers do teaching.


What I did well…

I am pretty stoked about how well this very short workshop went. My main objectives were to introduce the pillars of the Philosopher’s Pedagogy to my colleagues and to engage us all in one of our flagship activities so they could experience and “feel” this approach to teaching in practice. It would have been unjust (and unengaging) to simply tell the participants about the Philosopher’s Pedagogy and this is why the entire workshop was aimed around “doing” philosophy. Even the introduction was an activity grounded in using the Good Thinker’s Toolkit, which is an important tool to for students and teachers to use when bringing philosophical inquiry to life in the classroom. Furthermore, I always feel in a bit of a hurry when leading a workshop intended to educate others on such a complex and nuanced way of teaching (my entire dissertation was grounded in studying this pedagogy), but I don’t think the workshop felt rushed at all. I attribute this to the collaborative thinking done at the very beginning of the workshop. This allowed virtual strangers to take some initial “low risk” intellectual leaps together concerning images of children doing philosophy.That, in addition to our dedication to the profession, set the foundation for an intellectually safe community to develop over the course of the workshop, which provided the space for us to pose and select a very complex question for inquiry, consider multiple perspectives, and ultimately get to the “deep end” of the thinking pool, together. 

What I would do more of or differently…

My initial response after watching the video would be to recruit more teachers to take part in my session! I wish it was standing room only because the more perspectives we are exposed to the more opportunities we have for growth. Plus, this would have also provided an example on what the Philosopher’s Pedagogy could look and feel like with a room full of students. Well, that and I want more people to experience philosophy as a way of teaching, so more children can experience it in their k-12 schooling experience. Lastly, I wish we had more time. Although I did not feel rushed, we were just beginning to get somewhere really interesting and challenging when we had to pause the inquiry. Participants were offering really insightful questions, as well as examples and counterexamples, which were truly challenging every person in the circle. If we had a bit more time, I think we may come to an even bigger “aha” than we did (and I thought that was pretty big!). However, like inquiries that occur in our schools, the participants carried on the inquiry well into the day, which illustrates how much humans crave this type of intellectual and social interaction.

I still want to grow this practice by…

One of the great things about the Philosopher’s Pedagogy is that it is still evolving to meet the needs of our students. I spent a decade in my high school English classroom developing my practice and over the last five years I have been supporting veteran and pre-service  k-12 teachers who are implementing the Philosopher’s Pedagogy in some way, shape, or form. I realized really early in this transition from teacher to “coach” that this pedagogy will not and, often times, cannot look like how it did in my classroom. My understanding of the Philosopher’s Pedagogy continues to evolve with the more teachers I support, the more classrooms I enter, and the more students I get to think alongside. Each experience illustrates the dynamic nature of the pedagogy’s ability to support and engage students (and teachers) in meaningful and rigorous learning, which will continue to shape a more thoughtful and compassionate society.

About Chad Miller

Dr. Chad Miller is the 2012 Hawaiʻi Teacher of the Year, a National Board Certified teacher, and is currently an Associate Specialist at the Univer...

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