Gitanjali Stevens

Philosophy of Education Summary My Philosophy of Education: A Comparison to a Starling Bird in a Murmuration By: Gitanjali Stevens


My philosophy of education is like a starling bird in a murmuration. As the prominent speaker Don Tapscott tells us in his Ted Talk “Four Principles for an Open World: “…Bees come in swarms and fish come in schools, but starlings come in something called a murmuration…[The] murmuration refers to the murmuring of the wings of the birds… At night the birds come together and do one of the most spectacular things of nature.” This thing that Tapscott is referring to here is that the birds group together and fly around in beautiful patterns in the sky. Scientists that have studied this phenomenon suggest that this bird formation is to protect the birds from predators. A single starling can easily become a victim of predator, but together, in a flock of birds, the starlings are much more intimidating to a potential threat. My philosophy of education has parallels to starlings in a murmuration because all birds are working together towards a common goal – to chase away predators. In this metaphor, I believe that one of the common goals in education is to promote social change by challenging oppression and marginalizing practices (so, in this case, oppression is being personified by the predator who is being chased away). As Paul Russo states in his work regarding social change in education: “What does it mean to teach for social justice? It means recognizing oppression in it’s multiple forms, and then taking action to interrupt the cycles of oppression.” (2004, p.4). How do I plan on enacting this kind of teaching in my classroom? I will challenge the status quo by encouraging students to see ideologies and values embedded in texts, practices, and common discourses. However, passively critiquing dominant discourses is, in my opinion, not enough. Students will be encouraged to enact social change to improve not only their own lives but the lives of others as well. Another common goal that a starling in a murmuration has to my philosophy of teaching is that together, starlings can defend themselves from a threat. Just as the starlings defend themselves from predators, so too should my students be able to defend their own arguments. I seek to foster an environment where students can become critical thinkers. A scholar Thomas Williams suggest that critical thinking is “The ability to construct and defend an argument using reason, applying intellectual standards … and recognizing and countering logical fallacies.” (2013, p. 52) To me, critical thinking is when students question the world around them, make connections, and evaluate whether arguments are rational and relevant. In order to foster critical thinking in my classroom, I will engage in effective questioning that prompts learners to engage in complex, rather than superficial, forms of thinking and bridge knowledge based on student’s previous experiences to make the learning meaningful for them. The third reason a starling in a murmuration is like my philosophy of education is that a murmuration of starlings has synergy. Synergy is when a group of people (or, in this case, animals) work together to create a final product that is more than the sum of its collective parts. When starlings chase off a predator, it is the result of team effort, not any one particular bird. Just as the starlings do not favor any one particular bird when chasing predators away, but rather work collectively, I believe that students as well should come to constructivist understandings with the teacher as the guide and facilitator. I seek to implement a constructivist teaching style in my classroom (i.e., where the teacher is more of a “guide -on-the-side” and not a traditional “sage-on-the-stage”). As I have learned, this constructivist method is not only more engaging than the old transmission model of teaching but has been shown, based on a study by Jon Suk Kim, to be “…more effective than traditional teaching in terms of [academic] achievement… [and] had some effect towards motivation and selfmonitoring.” (p. 7, 2005) What does this constructivist approach have to do with synergy? As I suggested, synergy is when many different people work together; in a constructivist classroom, this is precisely what happens as students are constructing knowledge based on their peer’s ideas and come to new understandings that they may never have found if they were alone. As for classroom implications, I hope to give every student a say in the process of knowledge construction based on their own lived experiences. I also plan to lead students through a process of guided discovery and activities that uncover new learning. The fourth reason a starling bird in a murmuration reminds me of my philosophy of teaching is that starlings consistently share information from a variety of sources – for example, they may communicate food sources, potential dangers, and their location. This information does not come from any one particular bird but rather is a compendium of knowledge that comes from many birds for the collective good of all of the birds who travel together. Similarly, in my classroom I hope to apply this philosophy of using a multiplicity of sources to my own teaching practices. Just like the starlings, who share information from many sources, the curriculum materials and sources I use will be varied in scope and global in nature. My curriculum itself should be integrated and holistic, with no one part being taught in isolation. Additionally, students themselves will also share information amongst each other just like the starlings. This will be accomplished by an emphasis towards cooperative learning and frequent class discussions based topics relevant to the student’s lives. Cherie Carter suggests that students should take part in this kind of collaborative, varied, and open environment by “…sharing experiences… with acceptance and reverence for our human capacities.” (p. 3, 2013) Along with the idea of starlings collaborating with each other to share important information is the idea of the strength of the collective and the fact that starlings will not leave any bird behind. If one bird is hurt, a few birds will stay back with it until it is healthy enough to return to the pack. As such, no starling bird is ever left out in a murmuration. I also strongly believe in inclusive education and celebrating diversity in my classroom. Students with exceptionalities should always feel as though they belong in my classroom, as well as students of all different backgrounds and ethnicities. This sense of student belonging should stems from a space of respect and community. As Katie Green states, “Classroom community is an integral part of providing a safe and supportive learning environment for students… our students values spaces where they are safe to respect each other’s ideas and take intellectual risks.” (p. 18, 2005) In order to promote a welcoming and respectful classroom community, I seek to follow the four agreements of the Tribes system: Attentive Listening, Mutual respect, Right to Pass and Appreciation/No Put Downs. Additionally, curriculum materials should reflect students of all abilities and backgrounds, and accommodations and modifications should be made as appropriate for students that require them without singling them out. The final similarity between my philosophy of education and the starling’s is that ultimately, the starlings produce beautiful designs together. I also hope to produce a thing of beauty; students that can think critically to enact positive social change; a classroom exhibits synergy through constructivism; a collaborative classroom that shares varied sources of information; and an inclusive and respectful classroom environment. I think all of these points mentioned, together, are things of great beauty, just like the starling’s beautiful murmuration.

Gitanjali Stevens

Philosophy of Education Summary References


Carter, C. (2013). Holistic Education: Implementing and Maintaining a Holistic Teaching Practice (Doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto). Green, K. (2005). Inclusive psychology in classroom design (Doctoral dissertation, University of Cincinnati). Kim, J. S. (2005). The Effects of a Constructivist Teaching Approach on Academic Achievement, Self-Concept, and Learning Strategies. Asia Pacific Education Review, 6(1), 7-19. Russo, P. (2004). What Does It Mean to Teach for Social Justice?. Curriculum and Justice, 4(1), 1-5. Williams, T. (2013). Education for Critical Thinking. Military Review in Education, 13(1), 49-54.