“By respecting the unique life experiences that each student brings into the classroom…we empower all students as knowledge makers. We allow each student to assert individualized knowledge that contributes to a collective understanding” (Takacs, 2003, p.28 ).”
Positionality refers to where one is located in relation to their various social identities (gender, race, class, ethnicity, ability, geographical location etc.); the combination of these identities and their intersections shape how we understand and engage with the world, including our knowledges, perspectives, and teaching practices. As individuals and as instructors, we occupy multiple identities that are fluid and dialogical in nature, contextually situated, and continuously amended and reproduced (Alcoff, 1988 ).
Take a moment to think about how your positionality influences all aspects of your course design, delivery, and assessment, including:
- What is taught (content);
- How it is taught (practices and activities);
- What is evaluated and how (assignments, etc.).
We invite you to purposefully share some of these reflections with your students to model reflexivity and intentionality and help foster a diverse and inclusive learning community that signals to students that they all belong, have value, and offer unique perspectives.
One way to think about your positionality is in relationship to the land and to the Indigenous stewards of these lands. We encourage you to resist token gestures by writing a personal and meaningful land acknowledgement that you can include in your syllabus, share in the beginning of class, and engage with at different times during the semester. You can even co-write a land acknowledgment with your students for the course, situating yourselves and the university in relation to the land, settler-colonialism, and Indigenous futurities.
According to Native Land Digital, while a brief acknowledgement may work for some groups, others wish to add more intention and detail to acknowledgements. To thoughtfully prepare an in-depth acknowledgement requires time and care. You may find it helpful to reflect on and research questions such as:
- Why am I sharing this acknowledgement? Why am I choosing this medium/context to do this?
- How does this acknowledgement relate to the event or work I am doing?
- What is the history of this territory? What are the impacts of colonialism here?
- What is my relationship to this territory? How did I come to be here? How did I or my ancestors come to be here? Have my ancestors always been here? What does this mean to me? How do I remain accountable?
- What are your ethical and political commitments and obligations to this land and Indigenous Peoples?
- What intentions do you have to disrupt and dismantle colonialism beyond this territory acknowledgement?
Positionality Statement (syllabus):
Discussing your positionality with your students can be a great way to model reflexivity, especially as it relates to your teaching philosophy, research, and scholarship. Further, as argued by Harrington (2020) “reflecting on your positionality as an instructor can be a powerful strategy for student success, especially if you think about how your lived experiences shape what you do in the classroom and how those actions may or may not be supporting the success of students in your class who often have very different lived experiences.” Your positionality statement can be shared on your syllabus, on OnQ, or verbally during the first day of class. For those of us struggling to find icebreakers, this can be a great way to connect on a deeper level with your students. Here are some prompts that can help guide your statement:
- What social identities—race, gender, sexual orientation, age, social class, religion, ability and so on—do I identify with and how significant is each identity to how I teach?
- What type of training and experiences do I have? How have they shaped who I am professionally, and how might they impact how students relate to me and my teaching style?
- Where do I know from? How was my discipline developed? What role did my discipline play in reifying dominant ideologies or worldviews? What role do I play in this work? In what ways do I challenge or divest from some of these practices? Why or why not?
- What elements of my identity, experiences, and worldviews shape my:
- Teaching philosophy, course design, teaching practices, and content
Inside Higher Ed Article: Reflect on Your Positionality to Ensure Student Success
Teaching philosophy statements are living documents that grow, change, and evolve alongside your teaching practices and experiences. They are integral parts of teaching dossiers used for hiring, as well as tenure and promotion. They can also be shared in syllabi to invite students to know you and your teaching methods better. The primary goal of a teaching philosophy statement is for the reader to understand the intentional choices you make in your pedagogy.
Core components of your own positionality, where you know from, and where you are situated in relation to other knowledges, and in relation to your discipline should be reflected in your teaching philosophy. Some considerations can include:
- Describing your teaching values and beliefs
- Explaining what you hope to achieve in your teaching
- Describing your teaching context, including the elements of your discipline that are most salient to your teaching approach.
- Defining what good teaching is to you, and why you have developed or adopted this style in your own practice.
- Including statements about:
- What your teaching ‘looks’ like; why you do it that way; how well it works
- Values that inform your teaching and how those values manifest themselves in the classroom
- Teaching and assessment methods used and their purpose
- Your own perceptions of your teaching strengths, limitations, and plans for ongoing professional development
For more information on teaching dossiers:
- Teaching Dossier: Queen's University, Centre for Teaching and Learning
- Creating a Teaching Dossier: Waterloo University, Centre for Teaching Excellence
Using the Positionality Exercise with your Students
Using the positionality exercise with your students can be a great way for them to reflect on their social locations and consider how they impact what they know and how they know in ways that would otherwise go unnoticed. This exercise can also be used to show how identities, social locations, and/or how one understands oneself can shift across time and space.
Students can create:
- Mindmaps or social identity timelines of their lives, highlighting what age they may have come to learn about one (or more) aspect of their identity, or when they may have been socially confronted about how they may or may not be perceived (i.e. gender, race, ability, class etc.).
- Entry or exit tickets: a reflection at the beginning and/or end of class, encouraging students to consider how social locations impact their knowledge, experiences, etc.
Please note that these exercises should not be graded as they comprise one’s journey of self-exploration. Alternatively, Educational Developers at the Centre for Teaching and Learning can help you create rubrics for you to assess your students’ process, or for your students to self-assess their own process in fulfilling this assignment.
Mapping Social Identity Timeline
Alcoff, Linda. Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society Vol.13, no.3 (1988).
Takacs, David. How Does Your Positionality Bias Your Epistemology?, Thought & Action Thought & Action 27 (2003). Available at: https://repository.uchastings.edu/faculty_scholarship/1264