Teaching/Learning based on Critical Caring Pedagogy

Contributors: Peggy Chinn and Adeline Falk-Rafael
February 10, 2019

Education/Theory Exemplar (Critical Caring Pedagogy)


View of the “healing labyrinth” from the lobby of the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, Boca Raton, Florida

Peggy Chinn – University of Connecticut (Storrs, CT) and Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton, FL)

Adeline Falk-Rafael – York University, Toronto, Ontario


Peggy has designed her courses using Peace and Power approaches since the mid-1980s. Then, while teaching at the University of Colorado School of Nursing (1990-96) she began to integrate caring theories into her course designs and philosophy, and worked with Adeline as she developed her theory of Critical Caring as an outcome of her dissertation research and in her teaching at York University.  Since then we have collaborated in our experiences designing and implementing courses based on these ideas, resulting in a “hermeneutic circle” of true praxis – focusing on practices of teaching and learning, reflecting on the philosophy and theory underlying the practices, refining the practice, refining theory.

Critical Caring Pedagogy Model (from Chinn, P. L., & Falk-Rafael, A. (2018). Embracing the Focus of the Discipline of Nursing: Critical Caring Pedagogy. Journal of nursing scholarship: an official publication of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing / Sigma Theta Tau, 50(6), 687–984. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jnu.12426)

Description of theoretical framework

This theoretical model grounds nursing teaching and learning in the focus, values, and ideals of nursing as a discipline. The model was formed by integrating Falk-Rafael’s theory of critical caring in public health nursing, Noddings’ philosophy of caring education, and Chinn’s theory of Peace and Power. The development of the model was informed by the authors’ experiences implementing these theoretical constructs in teaching and learning.  Critical Caring Theory provides the conceptual structure that guides essential content and practice experiences. Noddings’ philosophy of caring education guides teacher actions and choices. Peace and Power defines the nature of interactions and group processes in the teaching/learning experience.

The framework is based on the assumption that when nurse educators ground teaching and learning practice in nursing’s own theoretical and philosophic foundation, they teach nursing in powerful ways that show nursing values and ideals through action, revealing deeper meanings of the words that form texts, lectures and objectives set forth in a curriculum outline. (from https://nursology.net/nurse-theorists-and-their-work/critical-caring-pedagogy/)

Description of the courses

Adeline provided a detailed description on the Peace and Power Blog of teaching a leadership course at York University over several years. In her account she explains how ‘Peace and Power’ is consistent with contemporary theories of leadership, while at the same time enacting fundamental values of caring in nursing.

Each time we prepare a syllabus, the course descriptions and objectives are precisely those that have been designed by the nursing unit faculty for their particular curriculum, and each course is designed to demonstrate that students have accomplished the stated course objectives.  What distinguishes the courses we teach is the explicit philosophy of the course design, implemented in the teaching and learning activities, and the approaches to evaluation and grading that reflect the concepts of critical caring pedagogy.  For examples of ways we have actualized the theoretical concepts, see Chinn, P. L., & Falk-Rafael, A. (2018). Embracing the Focus of the Discipline of Nursing: Critical Caring Pedagogy. Journal of nursing scholarship: an official publication of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing / Sigma Theta Tau, 50(6), 687–984. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jnu.12426

Here is an excerpt from the syllabus for a University of Connecticut School of Nursing master’s level course “Nursing Science,” a variation of which is included in each and every syllabus Peggy develops:

Philosophy of the Course Design:

The activities and interactions in this course are planned to enact the philosophic basis of nursing as a human caring art and science. Specifically, this course provides the opportunity for praxis (thoughtful reflection and action) that emphasizes caring, creativity, the unique individuality of each participant, and the value of community. This experience will call forth our human capacities to know what we do, and do what we know. The specific values around which the course methods have been designed are 1) empowerment for all, 2) de-mystification of processes and content, and 3) creating community/unity.

All participants have different and unique experiences and talents; all are valued equally. In order for the ideal of equal participation and valuing to be actualized, all participants assume full responsibility and accountability. All participants are actively valued for their own ideas, experiences, knowledge and talents. All participants identify and share their own learning desires for this experience, and draw on any available resources to address individual goals. All participants engage in the full range of the teaching and learning process, with the intent to build a cooperative community of learners.

The role of the faculty in this experience is based on the desire to address the unequal power relationships that exist within current institutionalized educational settings. The first step is to bring these to conscious awareness; the second is to act in ways that shift behavior from that of “power over” to that of “empowerment for all.” Faculty are responsible for making learning resources available to all, facilitating understanding of the course content, and verifying that each individual has achieved the course objectives. Faculty are also participants and learners along with all other participants, not exclusive experts, judges, or “gurus.” In this course, the faculty-designed plan guides all participants in planning individual and group experiences, including “maps” to assist learning. The faculty is responsible to provide modeling of teaching and learning skills and to provide feedback and constructive criticism for all activities designed to demonstrate achievement.


Student evaluations of courses have been consistently positive and strong. Most students complete the courses successfully; when a student flounders we have made every attempt possible to provide guidance in making self-affirming decisions to withdraw from the course, sometimes assisting them in making a plan to either repeat the course when they are better prepared to be successful, or to turn to a different goal for their educational future.


The challenge in implementing this approach has been to overcome the socialization and habits developed over decades of traditional educational practices.  This is true for each of us as teachers, as well as for students.  Each time we encounter a situation when we are “slipping” into “old power” ways of interacting, we have been dedicated to addressing this in our personal reflections, our discussions between the two of us, and whenever possible, in discussions with course participants as well.


The rewards in teaching guided by Critical Caring Pedagogy are immense!  The greatest reward is feedback of transformation from students – such as this feedback shared by Alma (with her permission), one of Adeline’s students:

“The PEACE and Power (P & P) process turned my life inside out. It was the burning candle which enlightened my way back to believing in active group participation.

In the past, my group work experiences at … [this university were] similar to being forged in fire. Who desires extreme hardships and heartaches? Nobody. As I reflected on it, group work is an injustice that befell the active members of the group. They toiled day and night. . . . In contrast, the passive members were a picture of calmness. . . . In the end, both active and passive members got the same grade.

Consequently, I came to a conclusion that becoming a passive member is the better way to breeze through university. However, . . . . P & P concepts provided me with a different perspective which . . . worked leaving me with utmost gratification.” (Initially posted on the Peace and Power blog)