Journal of Nursing Education

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TEACHER TALK: New Pedagogies for Nursing 

Engendering Community: Learning and Sharing Expertise in the Skills and Practices of Teaching

Nancy Diekelmann, PhD, RN, FAAN

Abstract

Peer review, especially for the new or probationary teacher, often turns on evaluation, rather than sharing and learning. Even when the intentions are to make the experience meaningful for all, describing the practice of another teacher is difficult. Tamra, an experienced teacher, described conducting a peer review for Pbilippa, a new teacher:

None of us particularly like being mandated by the school to do these peer reviews so most of us try and make them as meaningful as we can.. ..I was asked by Pbilippa to do the review, so I said sure and lef s meet in advance and talk about what you have planned. Before I could suggest a time, she said, Tm having a lot of trouble lecturing. The students say I give them too much content and it's over their heads. I really need your help!'* I thought uh-oh. . .it is so hard to help teachers with their lecturing skills... it is never easy. I bet she was doing all the right things to improve... you know how paying attention to lecturing skills can often prevent you from seeing what's wrong.

Pbilippa had trouble pitching her lectures and often was off the mark and over students' heads when teaching a junior medical-surgical course. Tamra realized how hard it is to describe how she reads students' faces as a guide when giving a lecture. She struggled to tell Pbilippa how she prepares herself to "target" every group of students to get "in the right zone":

I told her, well with each group you have to develop a sense of what they like and how they baten... but this is real hard because it isn't like they can tell you. In fact, sometimes when you ask students what they like, they sort of give you the wrong answer because it isn't quite an answer to a question you're after. It's not like, do you like PowerPoint or visuals, yes or no? It's more like what does learning look like in you? Trying to learn this for groups is what you have to do and my classes range from ß to 130 students... and you have to do this right away.. .and first get to know them....

Starting courses is extra hard, so in the beginning I am always overprepared and I make sure and try a lot of different learning strategies to get to know students. Do they like being read a story or should I walk around and be the person in the story and sort of act it out? Or do they want lots of structure and road maps for the class, such as the three major points in the lecture with me going back a lot so everyone knows where I was, and where I am going.. .sort of a journey.

You then try to take all of this in and each week work on fine-tuning what you had prepared from the book and articles or what you had taught the last time and sort of "pitch the lecture" for this specific group. You know what they often miss or get wrong, or all the myths they have in a general sense, but you want to be on target and in the zone with each group of students no matter how big or small. Of course, you never really know where the zone is going to be. It can even change from week to week so you always have to have back-up plans too... lecturing is always living with moving zones and that is just the way it is. There aren't any assurances when…

Peer review, especially for the new or probationary teacher, often turns on evaluation, rather than sharing and learning. Even when the intentions are to make the experience meaningful for all, describing the practice of another teacher is difficult. Tamra, an experienced teacher, described conducting a peer review for Pbilippa, a new teacher:

None of us particularly like being mandated by the school to do these peer reviews so most of us try and make them as meaningful as we can.. ..I was asked by Pbilippa to do the review, so I said sure and lef s meet in advance and talk about what you have planned. Before I could suggest a time, she said, Tm having a lot of trouble lecturing. The students say I give them too much content and it's over their heads. I really need your help!'* I thought uh-oh. . .it is so hard to help teachers with their lecturing skills... it is never easy. I bet she was doing all the right things to improve... you know how paying attention to lecturing skills can often prevent you from seeing what's wrong.

Pbilippa had trouble pitching her lectures and often was off the mark and over students' heads when teaching a junior medical-surgical course. Tamra realized how hard it is to describe how she reads students' faces as a guide when giving a lecture. She struggled to tell Pbilippa how she prepares herself to "target" every group of students to get "in the right zone":

I told her, well with each group you have to develop a sense of what they like and how they baten... but this is real hard because it isn't like they can tell you. In fact, sometimes when you ask students what they like, they sort of give you the wrong answer because it isn't quite an answer to a question you're after. It's not like, do you like PowerPoint or visuals, yes or no? It's more like what does learning look like in you? Trying to learn this for groups is what you have to do and my classes range from ß to 130 students... and you have to do this right away.. .and first get to know them....

Starting courses is extra hard, so in the beginning I am always overprepared and I make sure and try a lot of different learning strategies to get to know students. Do they like being read a story or should I walk around and be the person in the story and sort of act it out? Or do they want lots of structure and road maps for the class, such as the three major points in the lecture with me going back a lot so everyone knows where I was, and where I am going.. .sort of a journey.

You then try to take all of this in and each week work on fine-tuning what you had prepared from the book and articles or what you had taught the last time and sort of "pitch the lecture" for this specific group. You know what they often miss or get wrong, or all the myths they have in a general sense, but you want to be on target and in the zone with each group of students no matter how big or small. Of course, you never really know where the zone is going to be. It can even change from week to week so you always have to have back-up plans too... lecturing is always living with moving zones and that is just the way it is. There aren't any assurances when I go in that what I have prepared will work. But I don't mean you shouldn't prepare because that is bad and a trap, and some of my faculty colleagues fall into that.. .they get so used to giving these lectures, they think they don't need to prepare or they can do all this stuff on their feet. ..well you can a little, but it takes thinking time and careful thought to fine tune lectures... you know exactly how do they learn this.

Embodied Practices of Teaching

Tamra described how she reads student communities, both large and small, to know whether or not students are learning. This is a good example of the embodied practices of teaching that are learned through experience. These practices accompany and are as important as traditionally denned skills of teaching. For example, the skills for preparing visuals, study guides, and handouts are all important in learning to lecture. However, preparing also involves the embodied practices of "fine tuning" and "pitching" a lecture at a level that connects with students' interests and result,, in learning (Young & Diekelmann, in press). There are no assurances that learning will occur when particular skills and practices are used, so Tamra is always reading the context (e.g., students' faces) and adjusting these practices until learning occurs. This adjusting is described as learning to Uve with "a moving target."

Tamra's story also resonates with one of the difficulties in engendering communities of teachers and learners. Rather than viewing teaching as a public practice (i.e., a performance) that can be changed and developed, teaching too often is viewed as a personal attribute. One teacher recently said to another:

If you are having a tanrhing problem, keep it to yourself and hope that no one else finds out. Give the students what they want at least until you're off probation!

Engendering Communities

When teaching is a personal attribute, the role of community and teaching as a public practice become obscure. Perhaps peer reviews, because of their emphasis on personal evaluation, call out the worst in developing communities of teachers. Can peer review be revisioned to engender and call out community? For example, what if rather than going to a peer's classroom to "watch" a teacher, the reviewer went as a student and then wrote a story about what it weis like to be in that class? Would stories of common experiences be a method to gather teachers into thinking about everything present and absent in their practices of teaching? How can teachers move these kinds of partnering efforts away from evaluative (i.e., judgmental) conversations to conversations of possibilities?

Although moving peer review away from the evaluative or fault-finding realm is helpful, there is still a role for evaluation and improvement. Perhaps engendering community begins with faculty members putting their heads together, uniting in a community of reflexive scholarship, to think about what is possible in terms of engendering community given the current school climate for both teachers and students. It is difficult to imagine the meaning of engendering community with students if teachers are constantly at odds amongst themselves or finding fault with one another. Some experienced teachers have lamented, "We go in cycles from being good and decent to each other to incredibly oppressive." Other teachers express resignation, "I have tried everything I can, we all have, to get along.. .and we all give up!"

When engendering community becomes a central concern of a school, the issue of how to improve community life arises (Andrews et al., 2001). Commonly, consultants or group facilitators are "brought in." These approaches can be very effective. However, many of the community practices that discourage or make knowing and connecting and engendering community impossible are subtle, nuanced, and deeply hidden in the cultural practices of the school. Perhaps these practices are always situated and site-specific, and can be found only when teachers put their heads together through community reflexive scholarship and go looking for them. One teacher described what her school attempted:

We all agreed it was better for all of us if we tried hard to get along better although we certainly did not all like each other. I heard [a nursing educator/ researcher 1 once say, what matters is being fair and respectful. I feel that way about some of my faculty colleagues. I have little if anything in common with them and often disapprove of a lot they do, but I can focus on being fair and respectful when I interact with them.. -just like we teach students to do when they don't like a patient's behavior. Well, our dean decided that we should practice telling our stories of the good stuff we do with students publicly, so we started each faculty meeting with a story. And she would pick you and tell you to come prepared so we weren't exactly volunteering... it is hard as it was like "blowing your own horn." But now we wouldn't dare not do it as it gets our meeting off on the right foot somehow. And you know just the little things like that really made a difference. We can all see good teaching, and every one of us does good stuff, actually surprisingly... so we found this practice that seems to help us get along better. I chair the curriculum committee and do this also, just quick little stories that we can laugh at or maybe remember about all the ways we help students learn.

If engendering community were easy, there would be no toxic learning environments in schools of nursing. By attending to increasing teacher talk, revisioning teaching as a public rather than a personal practice, and, through community reflexive scholarship, identifying and working to enhance the small practices that call out and build community, teachers can engender communities of learning. A scholarship of teaching is simultaneously created that reforms nursing education and improves the climate and landscape in schools of nursing.

Questions for Further Thinking

* How would schools of nursing be different if part of every faculty meeting was devoted to teachers sharing something that they are particularly proud of?

* If peer reviews were to become peer partnering, would teachers be able to better document their practices of teaching and share and learn from one another?

* Can "team teaching" or, more precisely, teaching by rotation, be revisioned to teacher-partners?

* Given the challenges facing schools of nursing, such as increasing workload, how can teachers devote time to talking about teaching with other teachers?

* Are there ways to engender community, perhaps small practices, that can become an essential and taken-for-granted part of community life?

REFERENCES

  • Andrews, CA., Ironside, P.M., Nosek, C, Sims, S.L., Swenson, M.M., Yeomans, O, et al. (2001). Enacting narrative pedagogy: The lived experiences of students and teachers. Nursing and Health Care Perspectives, 22, 252-259.
  • Young, P., & Diekelmann, N. (in press). Learning to lecture: Exploring the skills, strategies, and practices of new teachers in nursing education. Journal of Nursing Education.

10.3928/0148-4834-20020601-04

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