Starting A Philosophy Program

Getting Started

PLATO’s core mission is to ensure access to philosophy programs for all students of any age. We provide support and resources for philosophy programs across the country.

If you are considering starting a philosophy program, below are some questions to consider.

What organizational structure will work best?

Philosophy programs can take a variety of forms.  If you work at a college or university, you could create a program hosted by your institution with help from your department or the office of community engagement, for example. If you work in a private or public school, you might offer a class, summer camp, or after-school program. Or perhaps forming a nonprofit organization would work best for you.

Starting a nonprofit organization offers several advantages, including independence and the ability to apply for grants and to solicit and accept tax-deductible donations. However, you must put together a board of directors, apply to the federal government for tax-exempt status, follow federal and state legal requirements for nonprofit organizations, and operate without the institutional support a college or university can offer.

If you have connections to or are affiliated with a local university of college, creating a program hosted there allows you to tap into your institution’s resources. However, university funding is often unreliable, and your work will be governed by the institution’s policies and rules. Your program will also be eligible for grants and private donations (gifts to universities and colleges are generally tax-deductible), though there might be restrictions on your ability to apply for various grants.

Do you want to work with elementary or secondary school students?
If you are new to teaching philosophy to younger students, you may find working with high school students an easier transition. However, it is often easier to gain access to elementary schools.
Click the READ MORE box below for information on different kinds of phllosophy programs for elementary, middle and high schools.

Who should be involved in designing a philosophy program?

Stakeholders include:

Colleages and other institutional staff

Potential Roles: Board of Directors/Advisors, program staff, networking to establish partnerships

Undergraduate and graduate students

Potential Roles: Program staff, philosophy teachers or assistants

Teachers and Educators

Potential Roles: Partners, helping to create curricula, networking to establish partnerships

Parents and Community Volunteers

Potential Roles: Board of Directors/Advisors, program staff, networking to establish partnerships

Key members of your institution’s leadership and administration

Potential Roles: Board of Directors/Advisors, program staff, networking to establish partnerships

The administration and leadership of your partner school(s) or organization(s)

Potential Roles: Partners, networking to establish partnerships

Click on any step below to expand the text.

Create a Program Structure


Forming a Board

A board of director of advisors serves as a key support network as you design, plan, implement, and evaluate all stages of a program.

Board members can help you navigate instructional structures, find and write grants, network to help you find and develop partnerships, and help brainstorm solutions when challenges arise.

 

Aim to have 6-10 people on your initial board, with each person offering a unique set of skills to support your program.

The board should include key members of your institution, people who will be involved in day-to-day operations, and a K-12 teacher or two.

 

Drafting a Mission Statement

A mission statement should be a succinct and powerful statement of the core reason your organization or program exists. Involve your board members and program staff in thinking about the reasons you are creating a philosophy program for young people.

A strong mission statement communicates the “why” and is a single, specific, and memorable sentence. Who are you serving, what are you doing, and why? The mission statement should resonate with everyone involved in and supportive of your organization.

 

What your goals?

When you set goals, consider the population you wish to serve and your desired outcomes.  Setting goals will help you structure the program and inform the partnerships you wish to pursue.

Establish modest goals at first.  Focus on your strengths and those of your board members. 

Identify Program Staff


Who will organize and run your program?

Identify an executive or program director.

The Executive Director or Program Director oversees the program’s day-to-day operations .

 

Consider:

You can compensate the people in these positions by offering a salary, course relief, academic credit, or service hours. 

Think about the program’s sustainability when hiring.  Are those you are considering hiring able to make long-term commitments to the organization?

 

Who will teach in your programs?

The success of your philosophy program relies heavily on the strength of your staff and faculty.
 
University and college-hosted philosophy programs for young people often rely on graduate students to teach philosophy.   Nonprofit philosophy programs often rely on current staff or committed community volunteers.  Every instructor for your program should have adequate training and supervision to serve in this role.
 
 
Training is a vital element of a successful philosophy program.

Learning how to philosophize with young students can take time, but we promise you that it is a rewarding experience! It often helps to read literature on different teaching approaches (see the many resources on this site) and to train with people who have experience leading philosophy classes with young people.

 

Arrange a site or classroom visit (once you have identified your partners).

 

Here are some key tips:

  • Keep your teaching interesting and hands-on
  • Class-management strategies for your age group are super helpful!
  • Don’t underestimate children’s ability to philosophize

Publicity and Outreach


How will you publicize and legitimize your program?

Websites are an easy way to advertise your program and can be very helpful when networking to find partners. Social media is also an accessible means of reaching many people and making your program more visible.

 

Include the following items:

  • Mission Statement
  • Benefits of doing philosophy with students (see our “Why Philosophy?” page)
  • Program offerings (list of activities, events, classes, etc)
  • Staff (if a website: list names with pictures and short bios)
  • Contact information

If you are part of a college or university, your program website should be hosted on your institution’s website to maximize the appearance of legitimacy.

 

 

Colleges and universities often have designated staff for web page management. See if they can create one for your program!

 
What schools and organizations will your program serve?

Since a philosophy program does little good without people to serve, this step is crucial. It can often be difficult to get your foot in the door at a school or local organization.

Use your mission statement and programming goals and offerings to help you decide to what schools and organizations to reach out.

Often the best way to make progress with a local school or organization is to leverage your personal contacts.

 

The key here is to develop a relationship with a teacher or teachers. Approaching schools through school district administrative leaders has the potential to result in teachers perceiving your program as being forced upon them. However, an administrator might be able to suggest teachers who would be interested in having philosophy in their classrooms.

 

Remember that teachers are overwhelmed by the growing demands on them. The appeal of a philosophy class run by someone other than the teacher is that the teacher does not have to develop a new skill and set of lesson plans but can observe his or her students in a new discipline with an outside person.

If you don’t know any teachers, you might start by offering to volunteer in a local school, by tutoring or helping in classrooms in other ways. This is a great way to get to know teachers and students.

Once you have cultivated a relationship with a teacher and are ready to suggest introducing philosophy in the classroom, a successful strategy is to offer to lead a demonstration class. This might be a 45-minute philosophy session with young students facilitated by you, with the teacher and other interested adults invited to observe.

 

If you are just starting to do this work, you should consider volunteering your time. It is a great way to gain experience. If the organizational structure you have chosen makes this feasible, you might consider writing a grant to pay for a year of classes in a particular school or schools.

More and more districts have local community funding sources organized for the purpose of paying for enrichment programs in the public schools. These organizations can be a wonderful source for philosophy programs.

 

How can you sustain and develop your philosophy program?

Now that you have implemented your program, it is time to think about sustaining and developing it. This is where your board comes in: hold a meeting to review what you’ve accomplished and to embark on strategic planning. You will want to discuss expanding existing programs, finding new partners, and identifying additional funding revenues such as individual and corporate donors, grants, and sponsorships.

We wish you all the best in this wonderful new endeavor!





GOOD LUCK AND HAVE FUN!