As a part of reforming nursing education, many nursing schools are exploring activities that engender safe, fair, and respectful learning communities. For example, schools are using town halls to evaluate the curriculum or holding a Voices Day, which is a day of public storyteliing for students, teachers, and clinicians. However, in doing these kinds of activities, faculty and students often discover things that discourage, as well as encourage, their learning communities to be more inclusive, collaborative, and engaging (Diekelmann & Ironside, 2003).
Tinney, an experienced teacher, described her discovery of how familiar ways of addressing curriculum problems discouraged the full participation of faculty and students in her nursing school:
We discovered that a lot of our curriculum problems stayed with us because we had too small a group working on solving them...it was just the way we always did things...we learned how to include more people in a very doable way. When we had Voices Day [school-wide day of storytelling], we also decided to look at the things that needed changing in the curriculum. We asked everyone to brainstorm... and we found teachers who never ran for the curriculum committee giving great ideas, and students,.. .one who was in his first semester had the best idea we ever heard. ..and we tried it the next semester, and it worked.... I guess what happens is we get so tied into using committees and small groups that seem like they are supe refficient... but we all know that they work hard at coming up with solutions, and then we don't like them, and they have to come up with others. ... It's a bad cycle that sure is not efficient, even though it looks that way sometimes... y ou forget that maybe being efficient like this can be a bad thing, too, because it keeps a lot of people and their ideas out!
Tinney and her nursing school realized that their effective, efficient way of addressing curriculum problems using a small curriculum committee was a practice that actually discouraged school-wide participation. In Tinney's school, changing "the way we always did things" resulted in a more inclusive community approach to solving school curriculum problems.
Zebbie, another experienced teacher, described how her nursing school decided to work on improving their community life by having Voices Day, during which participants recounted experiences of what it meant to be a student or a teacher in their school. The faculty hoped this activity would help students and teachers get to know one another better. During Voices Day, Zebbie and other faculty realized this activity provided students with a forum to share things such as what it meant to their families that they were studying to become a nurse. Students described how faculty sustained them and kept them from quitting. Likewise, faculty talked about what it meant to them to teach students who cared so much about learning and how some faculty worked hard to help the school obtain needed equipment and supplies. Some faculty described trying new things and striving to meet community health care needs while they taught their courses. Zebbie discussed how Voices Day helped her reflect on the importance of learning to live together as a part of nursing education:
We had heard schools were having this Voices Day, and we really wanted to do something to make our school more respectful and a better place for all of us.... We had teachers complaining about studente with attitude problems and students saying they were feeling disrespected in some courses.... Our Dean just thought we needed to find ways to improve our learning and working environment. When we decided to have a day of storytelling, we worried the students would embarrass us or use it as a time to complain. When we talked with them, though, we realized they were afraid we would do the same! So the planning committee made sure that every class and teacher knew we weren't going to do this,. ..both sides agreed for the first time. Honestly, I thought at first, you know, it would be a waste of time, but when I heard students talk about the people in their lives that were helping them so they could go to school, !...well, developed a new respect for what they have to put up with and go through on a daily basis. ..one of the stories almost had me crying.... You know, that day changed my whole view of many of our students. It's not like we don't know in a general way how hard some of our students are working to make ends meet.. .but hearing their stories just made all of us teachers more understanding. Several students told me, they, too, developed a different view...one of more tolerance and respect for both teachers and fellow students. It's like a beginning for us of learning to live together which we are consciously trying to be more understanding and maybe listening better, and it really is working.
Tinney's and Zebbie's stories exemplify ways in which, through Voices Day, nursing teachers and students actively collaborated and engaged in conversations with one another to look for things that either encouraged or discouraged creating inclusive, respectful, fair, and safe learning communities. Some nursing schools are developing their learning communities by holding geminare and faculty meetings in which conversations about diversity and how diversity is experienced in nursing schools is the focus. For example, Mary, an experienced nurse educator, described entering a faculty community as a new clinical instructor. This nursing school holds seminars and faculty meetings addressing cultural diversity. Mary said:
It was a different kind of situation. [The school] is a predominantly White university, and I'm African American. I was the only African American on staff there, and we had a lot of...seminars on culture diversity because I think there were a lot of problems there. [My department chair] actually thought that I would have trouble...with the students.... Either the students relating to me, or me relating to the students. I can remember that semester we had faculty meetings dealing with cultural diversity and how we relate to our students that are different from us. But, I think that all people are different. So, it doesn't have to be a color that makes you different or race that makes you different. We're all different, and we have different abilities. We learn [differently], but you have to treat people the same. I learned a lot that semester. And I learned a lot from my colleagues. I learned how to deal with them. But, I always thought I knew how to deal with, with students... the other universities that I've been to. ..one was predominantly White, and the other was a historically Black university. . . . So, I never saw it as a problem, but White faculty saw it [how to handle students] as a problem. And I had to tell them this in one of the meetings. I said. ..you all make a big issue out of race and how to deal with other race people. But it's not really a big problem. You have to deal with patients that are of other races. How do you deal with them? There's no difference in dealing with a student than in dealing with a patient. So, this whole idea about my being a support person for African American students is, like, it's kind of insulting to me, because you're saying that I cant support a White student, but I can support an African American student! I dont think that I need to be a special person or race to relate to a student. You know, I just need to be an individual that understands and respects differences!
Mary shared her experiences of entering a new faculty community as the only African American teacher and described the meaning to her of being identified as a "support person" for African American students. She challenged the community to explore the common ground of their similar concerns when she said that every teacher in the school "needs to be an individual that understands and respects differences." Perhaps it is not that African American students do or do not need African American faculty as "support people," but rather that all students need faculty as support people who "understand and respect differences." A commitment to enhancing and preserving diversity is a common concern for nursing schools, but as Mary pointed out, a focus on differences can become so strong that similarities are disregarded and common ground is forgotten.
Engendering communities is not an easy task. If it were, there would be better learning communities in our nursing schools (Warnke, 2002). However, when engendering community becomes a focus, school-wide efforts to examine practices that enhance learning to live together can help teachers and students improve learning environments. Nursing schools' efforts to improve their learning communities to be more inclusive, safe, fair, and respectful, knowing that everyone is more alike than different and attending to shared and common concerns can be sustaining.
Questions for Further Thinking 4
* What influence does engendering diverse, fair, safe, and respectful learning communities have on students' abilities to learn how to provide culturally sensitive nursing care?
* Would a focus on practices that engender communities enhance diversity in nursing schools?
* How should diversity among students and teachers in nursing schools be viewed, preserved, and made an important concern?
- Diekelmann, N., & Ironside, FM. (Ede.). (2003). Interpretive studies in healthcare and the human sciences: Vol. IL Teaching the practitioners of care: New pedagogies for the health professions. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
- Warnke, G. (2002). Social identity as interpretation. In J. Malpas, U. Arnswalk, & J. Kertflcher (Eds.), Gadamer's century: Essays in honor of Hans-Georg Gadamer (pp. 307331). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.