I have been a registered nurse for the past 26 years. I began teaching nursing students part time in clinical practice in 1996 and continued teaching as a sessional instructor until I returned to complete a master’s degree with a focus in clinical teaching from the Faculty of Nursing, University of Calgary in 2008.
Having experienced some uncertainty transitioning into a teaching role, I chose to focus my master’s research on the experience of novice educators transitioning into teaching practice. My thesis was entitled ‘Uncertainty as an Embodied Space of Transformation for Defining Clinical Teaching Practice’. I have continued to seek to understand and support nurse educators as they transition from ‘expert’ practitioner to ‘novice’ educator, all the while cultivating my own understanding and identity as a nurse educator. I believe that it is this ‘expert/novice’ tension that is at the heart of the vulnerability one experiences as they take on a teaching role in their discipline.
I teach small groups in both on- and off-campus practice experiences, in addition to large classrooms. My teaching philosophy is fundamentally framed upon the development and nurturing of a positive student-teacher relationship. Being genuine, respectful, enthusiastic, and sharing your passion and experience are significant not only in helping you to connect with students in a real way, but also helps to shape an environment where students can share their learning and growing confidence in their own understanding and lived experience with the material.
Fostering a safe learning environment is also about modeling that it is not only ‘all right’ to question knowledge and understanding, but that it is expected to develop reasoning capacity, and then ‘nurturing’ students through that thinking - which doesn’t mean to ‘do for,’ it means to support through - by building on their strengths and current understanding, and challenging them without overwhelming them. I also express to students that they have accountability for their learning; in that they need to come prepared to engage in learning, and that they need to have a willingness to challenge their current knowledge and grow.
Since the spring of 2012, I have been engaging in co-teaching, which has afforded me another opportunity to learn about who I am as an educator and explore the significance of this pedagogical approach in undergraduate education. Co-teaching in higher education is defined as “two or more individuals who come together in a collaborative relationship for the purpose of shared work…for the outcome of achieving what none could have done alone” (Wenzlaff et al., 2002, p. 14).
My co-teacher Rita Lisella and I have found that this collaborative relationship requires intentionality, but creates new opportunities for different ways to engage in curriculum design, planning and teaching. We have discovered that co-teaching moves beyond the familiar and predictable, and creates an environment of uncertainty, dialogue, and discovery (Plank, 2011). To navigate through this complex uncertainty we engage in debriefing discussions in which we create a space that welcomes each other’s perspective, and through which we build upon our strengths and plan to manage challenges. This approach enables us to remain flexible and responsive to one another, to our students, and to our accountabilities for the curriculum and to the discipline. I always welcome the opportunity to grow in my understanding of teaching practice through conversations with colleagues from across disciplines.
Faculty of Nursing