Guest Contributor: Erin Dolen, MS, RN, CNE*
My career in nursing education has spanned the better part of a decade. For the majority of that time, I taught in an associate’s degree nursing program. At first, I was not sure if nursing education was for me. I was always a preceptor on the nursing units during my time in the hospitals, but that does not necessarily equate to being a good educator. After a semester, I was hooked. I found so much joy in showing my students not just how to do nursing, but how to be nurses. Forget “teaching to the test”! I would teach through experience, stories, relationships, respect, and caring.
Over the years, I thought I was developing into an expert nurse educator. I obtained my MSN, I passed my Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam, and I achieved quite a following among the student body. Until one day, it all changed. I was accused of being too personal, too attached to my stories and experiences, too outward in my sharing. I couldn’t understand why this faculty member was attacking me for being who I am, for valuing my relationship with my students, for giving them a part of me so they know I am human too. The lateral violence (let’s face it, that is what it was) became too much and I decided to move on to where I currently am, a baccalaureate nursing program.
My world has changed. I am now valued for giving my students everything that I have. For sharing not just my experiences but who I am as a person, a nurse, a mom, a friend. I care about them, and they know this. I want them to succeed beyond all ways they could imagine. I want them to learn from me; not just how to be a nurse but how to be someone who cares, who is empathetic, moral, ethical, a life-long learner, and is committed to the profession of nursing. Through my own education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University in the Online Nursing Education EdD program, now I know why. My whole nursing education career I have been guided by the Critical Caring Pedagogy (CCP).
CCP provides a framework for nursing education that, all at once, encompasses ontology, epistemology, ethics, and praxis (Chinn & Falk-Rafael, 2018). This framework consists of seven critical caring health-promoting processes: preparing oneself to be in relation, developing and maintaining trusting-helping relationships, using a systematic reflective approach to caring, transpersonal teaching-learning, creating and supporting sustainable environments, meeting needs and building capacity of students, and being open and attending to spiritual-mysterious and existential dimensions (Chinn & Falk-Rafael, 2018).
Isn’t this what I have been doing all along? All seven?! I have just come to the realization that my own practice as a nurse educator for the last decade has consisted of being in a caring and guiding relationship with my students, the foundation of CCP. I have been guided by a theory I had no formal knowledge of until now. And yet, I was faulted for it. Told I was giving too much of myself to my students. Told that I was to teach the material, not cultivate relationships. Told I made the two students out of HUNDREDS uncomfortable (yes, you guessed it, these students were academically unsuccessful and reaching for reasons for their appeal to be upheld). I almost gave up teaching. I knew I could not work in an environment that did not support my own values and approach to the teaching-learning relationship. Until I moved into my current position, where my foundation in CCP is respected, appreciated, and celebrated. To where my colleagues also practice with the guidance of CCP, whether they know it or not.
Now I can put into words what I have felt all along. Thank you, Peggy Chinn and Adeline Falk-Rafael, for providing the framework and empirics to support what I felt was the right way to teach deep down in my core. Critical Caring Pedagogy has given my teaching practice meaning and validity. I will carry this knowledge with me wherever I go, and I will never give up teaching.
Chinn, P.L. & Falk-Rafael, A. (2018). Embracing the focus of the discipline of nursing: Critical caring pedagogy. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 50(6), 687-694. Doi: 10.1111/jnu.12426
*About Guest Contributor Erin Dolen
Erin is an Assistant Professor of Practice at Russell Sage College in Troy, NY. She is a doctoral student in the EdD Nursing Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has her MSN with a focus in Nursing Education from Excelsior College. Erin has her national certification as a Certified Nurse Educator. Her nursing background is in emergency medicine. She lives in Delmar, NY with her husband and two children.
2 thoughts on “Being True to Yourself: A Career as a Nurse Educator Guided by Critical Caring Pedagogy”
Bravo Erin!! So glad this happened for you earlier in your career. The same thing happened for me when I was about a year or two from retirement. I learned that Helen Erickson’s Theory of Modeling and Role Modeling described how I had practiced for over 45 years, and didn’t know it. It was such a relief to finally feel supported instead of feeling like I had to hide how I practiced.
I also want to support your using stories to teach, since it is such an effective method for learning and healing. I would love to see an ongoing column in this publication, perhaps under Practice Exemplars (?) that would have stories from those who write them up. I’d look forward to seeing some of your stories here.
Writing them up also provides good self care for the aging process when reminiscing is such a vital part of healthy aging care.
I wrote up a number of mine after the owner of a private care management company asked me to do a regular column in our company newsletter with stories from my practice. I entitled the column, “Heart Eyes”. Several of those stories are available in the Practice Exemplars here in Nursology.net in the series on “Using Mandalas — An Holistic Approach to Practice.” I keep writing as I remember them. I now have 33 professional stories and 84 personal stories. The personal ones are providing learning and healing in my extended family.
I’m glad you got out of the toxic environment. There are enough good places to teach and grow. I made the mistake of trying to “save” a toxic work environment and ultimately left, defeated and sad, because of the lateral violence. I learned the hard way that the most prestigious schools do not cultivate the best work environments, and settled for much less money in order to preserve my sanity.
May others be inspired by your story!