Professional Ethics

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Photo: A.McKenzie

I work in health care, a field where ethical dilemmas are not in short supply. One of the most recent ethical dilemmas to challenge nurses is that of medically assisted death.

Nursing is a profession that was rated as one of the top 5 most trusted professionals in Canada in 2015. Nurses work with some of the most vulnerable in our population and when a violation of this trust occurs, the effects are catastrophic.

To protect those in their care, Registered Nurses in Canada are bound by a Code of Ethics developed by the Canadian Nurses Association (latest edition is from 2008). While the Code of Ethics is not available for viewing online there are multiple case studies and examples of ethical dilemmas for nurses to read and learn from here.

The College of Registered Nurses of BC states on their web page that the “ . . . public expects competent nurses to provide safe and ethical nursing care. In British Columbia, the public has entrusted the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia (CRNBC), through the Health Professions Act, with the responsibility for establishing, monitoring and enforcing standards of practice and professional ethics for registered nurses and nurse practitioners” (Introduction Professional Standards para 1).

As a practicing Registered Nurse, I have to follow these standards and provide evidence that I am meeting my professional competencies. Complaints regarding care or competencies are investigated by the CRNBC.

To ensure that the care provided to patients meets approved standards, policy and procedures are continually being revised and new ones drafted. These policies and procedures can be found in manuals on the units and on the health authorities’ web staff page.

Unlike nursing which has a very cohesive and national approach, teaching seems to be a bit more piecemeal. The BC Teacher Federation has a Code of Ethics that is available online here. I found it interesting that one of the “rules’ of ethical behaviour for its members is that the member adheres to the provisions of the collective agreement.

There are also Codes of Conduct for employees of institutions like this one from UNBC.

The Ontario College of Teachers, in their ethical standards for teaching, has chosen to focus their efforts on what they see as a vision of professional practice, choosing the words, Care, Respect, Trust and Integrity to focus their statements on. Their standards of practice are not unlike the competency framework we developed. The 5 practice standards are listed as follows (Standards of Practice, n.d):

  • Commitments to students and student learning;
  • Professional Knowledge;
  • Professional Practice;
  • Leadership in Learning Communities
  • Ongoing Professional Learning

When I think of hotly debated ethical topics in education, I think of sex education. A topic that creates issues for younger students, but not for the adult students I teach.

Below is an awesome video from a PIDP student that looks at a situation involving college students and the teacher’s out of classroom relationships. The issue is analyzed using Kidder’s Ethical Dilemmas Framework and resolved using Kidder’s Nine Steps for Ethical Decision Making. It is a framework that I will be using in my practice as teacher.


Introduction Professional Standards (n.d). CRNBC The College of Registered Nurses of BC. Retrieved from:

Standards of Practice (n.d.) Ontario College of Teachers. Retrieved from:


My PIDP Journey in Review

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Photo: A. McKenzie

The 3260 Professional Practice course marks my 5th course in my PIDP journey. At the risk of sounding clichéd I will state that the program has been nothing short of transformational for me.

3250 Instructional Strategies

My first course felt like plunging off a cliff. It was exciting, overwhelming, frustrating and rewarding. I spent the first part of the course getting my head around all of the unfamiliar educational terms and theories while trying my very best not to sound completely clued out on the discussion forums. Setting up my blog was a huge learning curve but gave me a lot of insight into how technology can be used to encourage higher order thinking. The pinnacle of learning for me, the peak learning in all of the mountain of strategies, theories and concepts that I chewed through and pondered, was how truly powerful self-reflection in learning is. I have since incorporated self-reflection into the workshops and courses I teach as a way to increase metacognitive thinking.

3210 Curriculum Development and 3230 Evaluation of Learning

I did these together as part of a face-to-face and online hybrid course at Selkirk College. These courses had me super pumped! I really love doing curriculum development! I was blown away how, when I kept the principles of course alignment in mind, all of the assessments, content and learning activities came together like magic. Now I understand that with proper course alignment, the course will feel rich and satisfying and without it, it will feel disjointed and haphazard. Having well thought out and defined learning outcomes is the DNA of curriculum development.

I also learned about the power of feedback for learning. I have set up weekly assignments in the online course I teach with feedback provided for each assignment (in addition to the rubric) so that students are given lots of opportunity to adjust and reflect on their learning. Learning about test validity made me seriously question the quizzes that I am required to give to the students for one of the mandated workshops I teach for the health authority. Excited by my readings about gamification I followed up on my plan and gamified the quizzes. Students loved it! There was lots of great discussions about the content covered in the course and the collaborative learning was highly valued by the students (as per the feedback instrument). The only problem was that the folks that oversee the course were not impressed with me. They felt that quizzes were the only way to truly assess knowledge. I think I may invite them to join in on one of my next workshops :).

3100 Foundations of Adult Education

In retrospect I wish I would have done this course first as it really does lay the foundation of the concepts and principles of adult learning, but as it was, it gave me an opportunity to deepen my learning and take on concepts like social constructivism with more understanding than if I had only learned about it for the first time. This course helped me to nail down the educational concepts I need to be able to continue to build my practice as an educator.

3260 Professional Practice

This brings me to my 5th course – this one! I have really enjoyed this course so far as it has brought home to me the importance of feedback and strengthened my enthusiasm for self-reflection as an educator. Reading the Skillful Teacher by Stephen Brookfield and reflecting on the concepts in the book has provided me insight into not only how I can be a better teacher but how students can perceive teacher behaviours. I have already included the Classroom Critical Incident Questionnaire into my fall workshops. I am looking forward to what I will discover! Developing the competency model in the face-to-face workshop and having that to draw on as an educator is an important part of ensuring I stay on track.

Well, that is a summary of the journey so far. Thank you so much to my instructors and fellow colleagues who have inspired, challenged and encouraged me along this wonderful journey.

Taking a Closer Look at Brookfield’s Core Assumption #2 : Critical Self-reflection

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Photo Credit: A.McKenzie

For me, Brookfield’s (2015) 2nd Core Assumption “Skillful Teachers Adopt a Critically Reflective Stance Towards Their Practice” ( p 19) hits home; unless you apply a critically reflective stance on your practice as a teacher, you run the risk of not only having students not learn, you could even being doing harm without realizing it, see: Taking a Hard Look at Experience. 

I guess it’s been good for everyone involved that self-reflection is something that I have really grown into. When I took my first course PIDP 3250 my initial self-reflection and evaluation assignment (I had to give myself a mark) felt very awkward and uncomfortable. But the more I learned about learning and the more I practiced it the less awkward it has become. I confess that the discomfort feeling hasn’t gone away but I have learned that those feelings are like road signs that let me know that there is something important for me to learn.

Identifying what it is you want to reflect upon is key. Cox (n.d) states “(t)he first step is to figure out what you want to reflect upon. Are you looking at a particular feature of your teaching or is this reflection in response to a specific problem in your classroom?” (para 7). She then outlines the following ways to get information (para 8):

  • Self-reflective journaling;
  • Video recording;
  • Student observation – feedback from students;
  • Peer observation – feedback from peers.

Finally she suggests analyzing the results by looking for reoccurring themes. To find solutions to these challenges she suggests looking to peers and learning communities.

Here is a great video, called ‘Effective Teacher, Reflective Practice’ by Deb Hill that sums up self-reflective practice this way:

In this video, the author outlines four questions that teachers should ask themselves (1:49-3:50 min)

  1. Is the material worth learning?
  2. Are the students learning what the course or class is supposed to be teaching?
  3. Am I helping and encouraging the students to learn or do they learn despite me?
  4. Have I harmed the students?

The author also encourages teachers to keep a teaching portfolio where they (3:56 – 5:17 min):

  • Keep track of what course learning outcomes are;
  • Reflect on how teaching methods helped foster achievement of learning outcomes;
  • Provide evidence of student achievement/performance;
  • Provide evidence that teaching methods contributed to the learning that took place.

The discussion of how we can use tools to assess how our actions as a teacher are affecting learning also fits under Brookfield’s (2015) 3rd Core Assumption: “Teachers Need a Constant Awareness of How Students Are Experiencing Their Learning and Perceiving Their Teachers’ Actions” (p 22).



Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Cox, J. (n.d.) Teaching Strategies: The Value of Self-Reflection TeachHUB.Com. Retrieved from:

Hill, D. (2013) (YouTube) Effective Teacher, Reflective Practice Retrieved from:

Zimmerman, B..J. (1990) Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Success: An Overview Educational Psychologist, 24(1), 3-17 Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Inc. Retrieved from 

Reflections: Taking a Hard Look at Experience

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

Brookfield (2015) states that “(s)imply having experiences does not imply that they are reflected upon, understood or analyzed critically. Individual experiences can be distorted, self-fulfilling, unexamined and constraining” (p 12).

I had the opportunity of homeschooling my two children for a period of about twelve years. It was during this time that I was able to hone my skills as an educator – in other words I did all the things wrong that you possibly could do because I couldn’t get fired. When I read the quote above I immediately thought of one particularly uncomfortable and miserable homeschooling experience: writing essays. It went like this: I would provide a scintillating and profound prompt and send the kids off to write an equally scintillating and profound response in essay form. When they would come back proudly bearing their work I would ‘mark’ the paper i.e., bleed red ink over all the things that were wrong with it and then I would rewrite the paper to show them how it should be done. (It seems my Apprenticeship Perspective was well established even back then). The kids would cry and hate me for taking over their projects. I felt badly but I certainly didn’t change anything and continued to tell them that this was the only way they were going to get better at writing (being their mother apparently made me an expert on everything).

Brookfield (2015) encourages us to be “experts on our own teaching” (p 11). To do this it means being critically reflective so that we can “unlock . . . experiences and reflect on them in a way that provides problem-solving insights” (Brookfield, 2015, p 11). As I read my own experience outlined in painful detail above I am horrified. What on earth was I thinking? Why didn’t I critically reflect and try to change things up? I mean, it was a pretty ghastly experience for all of us. I suppose now it was because I didn’t have a competency framework to guide my practice. I was simply using trial and error (like much of parenting was for me) and hoped that things worked out.

Without a competency framework I see that I too am prone to continue with strategies that simply aren’t working for learners. Teaching is a profession where there is a power gradient (just like parenting) and without a competency framework to keep me accountable, I am at risk of exerting my power in an inappropriate and destructive way. A competency framework will keep me real, in balance and able to grow as a teacher. Let’s take a look at how I can help my homeschooling self use the competency framework we developed in the workshop to improve the situation.


Communication: Yes, I know that these are your kids but sometimes kids have some really good points to make. Have you taken a moment to listen to your kids about how they would like to learn how to write essays? Think about how you might want to do this. Communication doesn’t have to always be verbal. Hey, great idea! You could get them to write on how they want to learn.

Evaluation: Is bleeding red ink all over a writing assignment really the best way to give feedback? Have you heard of formative assessment? How might you incorporate this into your teaching strategies?

Professional Development

Lifelong learning: What about taking some courses to learn about how to improve your skills teaching?

Evaluation: You have a facilitator that works with you. Have you considered asking her for feedback?

Flexibility: Try out a new teaching strategy!


Personality Traits

Flexibility: Is having your kids be angry and upset going to help their learning? Listening to their feedback could help you grow as a person.

Caring/Empathetic/Compassionate: Yes, you can be like this even when you are teaching your kids.

Integrity: It seems to me that you have been pretty set on continuing to use this approach even though it doesn’t seem to be working. Is this the kind of behaviour you want to model to your kids?



Fairness: Ok, so your kids don’t want to learn how to write essays but you think they should. This sounds like what Kidder (1995, 2005) would define as a short-term vs. long-term ethical dilemma: you feel that if your kids don’t learn how to write essays now their career choices (as they won’t be able to get into university in the future) may be somewhat limited. Kidder (1995, 2005) describes three principles that you can use to resolve this dilemma (p 24-25):

  • Ends-based thinking – doing whatever produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
  • Rules-based thinking – acting in ways that model the highest principles regardless of the consequences.
  • Care-based thinking – taking the perspective of another and encourage promotion of his/her interests.

I would also suggest that you take a look at Kidder’s Nine Steps of Ethical Decision Making to help you resolve this dilemma.

Acknowledging Bias: I see that you have a very strong preference for Apprenticeship. Do you think that this is always the best approach to take? What about the other approaches like Developmental or Nurturing? What about your bias about children? Do you believe that they are unable to tell you what helps them to learn?


Professional Development

Self-reflection: Have you taken any time to self-reflect on this? This article from the University of Waterloo has some great tools to help you with self- reflection. Mmm, yes, I see how doing a Feedback Instrument for your kids would seem a bit strange but maybe a good place to start could be filming yourself as you teach. Seeing how you are communicating with your kids might help you reflect on things you like (Tools for Reflecting on Your Teaching, n.d., para 36):

  • What am I doing well/not doing well?
  • What do the students seem to enjoy least/most?
  • If I could do this session again, what are 3 things I would change?
  • What resources do I need to use in order to change? 

    I am happy to conclude that my kids did eventually learn to write essays, that they both graduated from university ‘with distinction’ and that they still talk to me from time to time.


Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Kidder, R.M. (1995,2005) Overview: the Ethics of Right versus Right. In How Good People Make Tough Decisions: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living (Institute for Global Ethics), (pp 18-29). Retrieved from:

Tools for Reflecting on Your Teaching. (n.d.). Centre for Teaching Excellence Retrieved from:

The Teaching Perspectives Inventory

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Photo source

Much of what I have learned and reflected on in my Blog so far has been on the ‘how’ of teaching – how to create engagement in the classroom, how to help students understand about how they learn and how to improve their learning and how to get them critically thinking see Let’s Get Critical Thinking and Critical Thinking Revisited) etc. For the first time I am now exploring the ‘why’ of how I teach. What makes me chose the teaching strategies, assessments and delivery methods that I do? Are there any discrepancies between my beliefs, intentions and actions about teaching and learning lurking in my unconscious that I am not aware of?

Luckily for teachers there is a tool called the Teaching Perspectives Inventory. The Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI) is the result of over 2 decades of research by Drs. Pratt and Collins and involved teachers from different cultures with varying levels of experience and 7 different educational occupations (Pratt & Collins, 2000). The TPI identifies which of 5 perspectives on Teaching: Transmission, Apprenticeship, Developmental, Nurturing and Social Reform is a teacher’s dominant or co-dominant perspective(s) and what back-up perspective(s) s/he might have.

The TPI also teases out for each teacher (Reflecting on your results. In TPI Teaching Perspectives Inventory, 2014) :

  • Beliefs: beliefs about the teaching and learning;
  • Intentions: what the intentions are for teaching and learning;
  • Action: what actions are taken when teaching.

These sub categories are very useful in identifying states of internal consistency or internal discrepancies within a perspective:

  • Internal consistency: beliefs, intentions and actions all align (scores within 1 or 2 points of each other);
  • Internal discrepancies within a perspective where beliefs, intentions and actions do not align (scores differ by 3 or more points).

Pratt and Collins (2000) define their teaching perspectives as follows (Table 1, p 4):

Table 1: Summary of Five Perspectives on Teaching



From a Transmission Perspective, effective teaching assumes instructors will have mastery over their content. Those who see Transmission as their dominant perspective are committed, sometimes passionately, to their content or subject matter. They believe their content is a relatively well-defined and stable body of knowledge and skills. It is the learners’ responsibility to master that content. The instructional process is shaped and guided by the content. It is the teacher’s primary responsibility to present the content accurately and efficiently to learners.




From an Apprenticeship Perspective, effective teaching assumes that instructors will be experienced practitioners of what they are teaching. Those who hold Apprenticeship as their dominant perspective are committed to having learners observe them in action, doing what it is that learners must learn. They believe, rather passionately, that teaching and learning are most effective when people are working on authentic tasks in real settings of application or practice. Therefore, the instructional process is often a combination of demonstration, observation and guided practice, with learners gradually doing more and more of the work.




From a Developmental Perspective, effective teaching begins with the learners’ prior knowledge of the content and skills to be learned. Instructors holding a Developmental dominant perspective are committed to restructuring how people think about the content. They believe in the emergence of increasingly complex and sophisticated cognitive structures related to thinking about content. The key to changing those structures lies in a combination of effective questioning and ‘bridging’ knowledge that challenges learners to move from relatively simple to more complex forms of thinking.




From a Nurturing Perspective, effective teaching must respect the learner’s self-concept and self-efficacy. Instructors holding Nurturing as their dominant perspective care deeply about their learners, working to support effort as much as achievement. They are committed to the whole person and certainly not just the intellect of the learner. They believe passionately, that anything that threatens the self-concept interferes with learning. Therefore, their teaching always strives for a balance between challenging people to do their best, while supporting and nurturing their efforts to be successful.


Social Reform


From a Social Reform Perspective, effective teaching is the pursuit of social change more than individual learning. Instructors holding Social Reform as their dominant perspective are deeply committed to social issues and structural changes in society. Both content and learners are secondary to large-scale change in society. Instructors are clear and articulate about what changes must take place, and their teaching reflects this clarity of purpose. They have no difficulty justifying the use of their teaching as an instrument of social change. Even when teaching, their professional identity is as an advocate for the changes they wish to bring about in society.


I thought the tool would be a perfect way to begin answering some of my questions. Here are my results.

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One thing to keep in mid when taking the TPI is that you are to have one learner group in mind and answer the questions according to how you teach them. For me, I was thinking about the online perinatal care course I facilitate for post RNs.

Analysis of dominant perspective

My dominant teaching perspective for this cohort is Apprenticeship. Beliefs, intentions and actions all aligned so internal consistency is noted.

The upside

As I reflect on the definitions of this perspective (as outlined above) I see how it fits with a profession like nursing where, (from what I have determined so far in my learning), the concepts of authentic assessments and social constructivism are key. (For more information about both of these concepts please see my previous blog posts: Constructivism – Learning by Constructing Meaning from Experience and Outcomes Based Education: Advantages and Disadvantages).

The perspective of Apprenticeship allows me to break down tasks to into manageable chunks for students so that they can continue to build on the complexity of the learning while the presence of a mentor provides a safe buffer for patients. As students begin to gain competency with the tasks, they are able to take on more and more responsibility.

The downside

 Collins and Pratt (n.d) identify one of the downsides of the Apprenticeship perspective for the teacher is how to articulate exactly how to perform complex tasks that over time have became almost instinctive. While I do find this to be true when I am mentoring students in the clinical area, for the online course I have the opportunity to be able to take the time to think about what is all involved with a task before I post online.

Another downside proposed by Collins and Pratt (n.d) is knowing when the right time is to shift more of the responsibility to the students. Again, I find that for an online theory course, this is not really relevant but certainly in the clinical area it has created some issues for me. For example, there have been times when I thought that a student would benefit from learning by watching but the student felt that she was ready to do the task herself and only wanted me as support. I see now that I need to balance my strong tendency for the Apprenticeship perspective with one of my back up perspectives: Developmental.

Analysis of back up perspectives


Interestingly my beliefs scored lower than my intentions and actions for this perspective. I wonder if my strong views on Apprenticeship coloured my beliefs on this one. I am glad to see, however, that my intentions and actions were aligned as this perspective is something I actually value as a learner and endeavour to provide for my students when I am able to move past the Apprenticeship perspective at least!


While I appear to believe and intend quite strongly to be nurturing to students I see that my actions do not demonstrate this to the same degree. I suspect this is so as while I totally believe in and intend to provide a supportive and nurturing environment, there is a standard level of care that all students must achieve and if the student is not able to meet this standard s/he is not safe to work with patients.

Recessive perspectives


The results of my beliefs, intentions and actions were interesting for this one as I scored the lowest you can for intention, somewhat middle for beliefs but the highest possible for action. I feel that despite me not being a fan of this perspective, it is a health care course I am facilitating and the expectation is that information is conveyed efficiently and logically. I totally agree that the course is heavy on content and not enough on learners’ needs so it does cause me to constantly wonder how I might be able to change up things. As a start, I am working on improving the workshop component of the course where the flipped classroom approach is being utilized.

Social Reform

Beliefs, intentions and actions were a bit all over here – belief was at the lowest score but my intentions and actions were somewhat higher. I feel that this reflects the conservative nature of nursing – being a rebel in nursing is NOT encouraged so I have learned to tone it down. That being said, I also believe strongly that as health care providers we need to examine system and personal biases so that we can provide the best care possible to our patients. As a result there are case studies and questions I have worked into the course that are there to help the students reflect and hopefully make changes in themselves and in their work places.


Taking the TPI has given me a great opportunity to reflect on what I believe, feel and do in regards teaching and learning. I intend on using it again in a few months to assess if my TPI will reflect the Teaching Philosophy that I will be developing later in the PIDP 3260 course.


Pratt, Daniel D. and Collins, John B. (2000). “The Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI),” Adult Education Research Conference. Retrieved from:

Pratt, Daniel D. and Collins, John B. (2014). Reflecting on your results. In TPI Teaching Perspectives Inventory. Retrieved from:

Pratt, Daniel D. and Collins, John B. (2014). TPI Teaching Perspectives Inventory. Retrieved from:

Pratt, Daniel D. and Collins, John B. (n.d) Teaching Perspectives Inventory (Power point slides). Retrieved from:

Professional Practice: PIDP 3260 – Let the next adventure begin!

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The words in this word cloud came from the competency framework developed by my colleagues and I for PIDP 3260


Under the watchful eye of our fearless leader and guide, Alison, our diverse group of 12 educators spent the last 2 days exploring the behaviours, concepts and challenges that shape and define our professional practice. Many post it notes and flip charts later, we developed a competency framework that we will use in our practice to help us navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of adult education, an analogy described by Brookfield (2015) where “(a)ll teachers regularly capsize and all teachers worth their salt regularly ask themselves whether they have made the right career choice” (p 6).

Today, as I reflect upon the last 2 days, I see that teaching and nursing have many parallels. Just like in nursing, teaching has threatened to drown me in the current of dismay after “(e)xperiencing ego-deflating episodes of disappointment and demoralization . . . “ (Brookfield, 2015, p 6). Learning that this is “. . . quite normal” (Brookfield, 2015, p 6), and that I am not alone in this is not only comforting but motivating; if others can survive this journey, then so can I!

Teaching, like nursing, uses competency frameworks to develop the required knowledge, guide skill development and shape behaviours so that teachers can be effective practitioners. Through the work my colleagues and I did these last 2 days, I now have a framework that I can use as a foundation for my teaching practice, and to help develop my own truths about teaching so that I can, as Brookfield (2015) describes, “(grow) into the truth of teaching . . . (and) develop a trust, a sense of intuitive confidence, in the accuracy and validity of (my) judgments and insights (p 9). For example, through professional development I can learn ways to gain competence navigating through issues like inappropriate classroom behaviour. Through personal development, I can better define my own boundaries so that I can respect my students’ needs and be more open to their ideas as we travel down the river of learning together. (I am really liking the paddling analogy so please bear with me :)).

Brookfield (2015) states that “(t)he truth is teaching is a gloriously messy pursuit in which shock, contradiction, and risk are endemic” (p 1). I know that reaching deeper into the muddy waters of self-exploration to discover blind spots, biases and weaknesses as I develop my own truths about teaching will be uncomfortable, but really, what journey worth taking doesn’t have its uncomfortable bits? Teaching really is an amazing adventure. Let the journey of self-discovery begin!


Brookfield, S.D. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

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Photo: A.McKenzie

Reflection: Be Happy and Learn!

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt


Objective: Although “we may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think” (Taylor as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p.170, italics in original citation).

Reflective: I have experienced first hand that I am a creature whose ability to think is directly impacted by how I feel. When I feel relaxed and excited (like when I am in a museum), I love to explore, check out everything and cram in as much knowledge as I can in one day, but when I’m stressed (like when I had to write university calculus exams), I get sweaty, my heart races, my mouth feels like I haven’t had anything to drink for about 3 days and I can’t think my way out of a wet paper bag.

What is going on? Why am I curious and ready to learn in one case and panicked and unable to learn (or think) in the other? Why does calculus still give me the shivers after 30 years (I have yet to take another calculus course) but every time I go to a city I want to check out the museum?

Interpretive: Barkley (2010) states: “despite higher education’s historical emphasis on the purely intellectual, many educators today recognize that the body, heart and mind are all involved in learning . . .” (p 33). Barkley (2010) goes on to state that “(h)ow students feel – about life, about themselves, about what the teachers are trying to teach them – plays a critical role in how they learn” (p 33, italics in original).

Why does how we feel play such an important part in learning?

In response to stimuli like pain, stress and paradoxically, pleasure, our nervous system sends out neurotransmitters known as endorphins, to bind with receptors that are associated with not only pain control but emotion and memory processing (Scheve, 2009). The majority of emotion and memory processing occurs in the limbic system which also “. . . controls the individual’s basic value system, enhances or suppresses the short-term memory . . . (and) determines how the brain will respond to all the information received” (Mackeracher as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p. 169).

Going back to my example, when I am in a relaxed, stimulating, non stressful environment like the museum, I feel happy, my brain releases endorphins, my limbic system decides oh ya, this feels good, I learn more and I remember more.

Noxious stress, however, has a very different effect on the limbic system. When we feel anxious or fearful, our limbic system gets over-stimulated and becomes incapable of processing and storing new information (Willis, 2014). Even the neural pathways to the pre-frontal cortex where higher order thinking like decision-making occurs (Prefrontal cortex, n.d.) are compromised. No wonder I can’t think my way out of a wet paper bag when I am stressed.

Feelings or emotions associated with learning can come from two different sources: “. . . the emotional climate in which learning occurs and the degree to which emotions are associated with the learning content” (Barkley, 2010 , p 35).

As an educator, I direct the environment in which the learning takes place. By creating a positive learning environment I can facilitate an emotional climate that will enable learning to happen. By being in a positive learning environment, students will feel good while they are learning and “ . . . a learning experience that connects with a memory of a positive learning experience will be embraced and seen as positive” (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p. 170).

Decisional: As I waded into the readings about what entails facilitating a positive learning environment I began to realize that there is an almost overwhelming number of factors at play here. Here’s just a few:

In an attempt to condense some of the learning I gleaned from all of my readings, I compiled this table of strategies along with some rationale and a few classroom examples.

                       6 Strategies for Creating a Positive Learning Environment
Strategy Rationale Classroom examples
Allow for self-direction in learning


Adult learners’ need to be respected for their right to chose how and what they want to learn. (Knowles assumption #1) Merriam & Bierema, (2014)

Autonomy has been identified as a key motivator (Merriam & Bierema, 2014).

Have students complete a feedback form about the course – what they liked, what they didn’t like and what they would change after the first week.

Have a suggestion box outside your office or class.

Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Provide a choice of topics for assignments. Motivating our Students (n.d.)

Provide opportunities for enrichment and self-directed learning.

Address the physical comforts of the students

Merriam & Bierema, (2014)



Being uncomfortable isn’t going to help anyone learn. Adjust lighting, heating, etc., as needed.

Encourage students to tell you if they are not comfortable

Provide breaks as needed – if students are looking bored, after an intensive learning session or when bathroom breaks are needed

Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Respect your students! Make them feel valued for who they are and what they know.


Fostering a climate of mutual respect will create a feeling of collaborative learning.

Happy brains release endorphins that make positive memories and more learning!

Experience is an integral part of an adult’s identity (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 50).


Get to know your students’ names.

Be accessible to students – let them know how to reach you and what your hours of availability are.

Value student views and experiences and reward student contributions to the discussion.

Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Glenn Introduces Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Provide positive and timely feedback. Be clear about expectations and model what you value. Motivating our Students (n.d.)

Create a safe place for students to learn. Let them know that it’s ok to make mistakes.

Get to know your students and learn about their experiences.

Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Glenn Introduces Creating a Positive Learning Environment

With permission, share student exemplars with the class Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Learning needs to be relevant and have a purpose Adults need to know the reason for learning something (Knowles assumption #6) (Merriam & Bierema, 2014)

Purpose has been identified as a key motivator (Merriam & Bierema, 2014)

Adults are more problem focused than subject centered in learning (Knowles assumption #4) Merriam & Bierema, (2014).



Use the K-W- L strategy

Provide authentic learning activities for students i.e., engineering, medical or business case studies and/or problem based projects for students to work through.

Help students make connections between current learning and past and/or future learning. Motivating our Students (n.d.)

Teach a skill right before students need to use it Motivating our Students (n.d.)

Foster a sense of community

Motivating our Students (n.d.)

When students feel that others value the learning they will too. Motivating our Students (n.d.)

“An adult accumulates a growing reservoir of experience, which is a rich resource for learning” (Knowles assumption #2 (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 47)

Communities of practice are built on participant experiences and provide the basis for learning Merriam & Bierema, 2014)

Use online discussion forums not only for online course but for large classes where involvement in discussions may be challenging Motivating our Students (n.d.)

For online courses create online icebreaker activities where students can get to ‘meet’ one another

Use audio and video recording for online courses Motivating our Students (n.d.)

Create a facebook page (i.e., the VCC School of Instructor Education)

Facilitate, not dominate classroom discussions Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Deliver a well-designed course.


Adults have high expectation of their learning

Providing a course that is appropriately challenging will encourage the desire for mastery which has been identified as a key motivator.(Merriam & Bierema, 2014)


If possible, obtain an evaluation of teaching effectiveness i.e., TABS Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Apply learning strategies that are proven to promote learning. (David-Lang, 2013)

Assess for evidence of learning, clarity and appropriate difficulty of learning intentions and success criteria David-Lang, 2013, p 12

Offer a variety of learning opportunities like group work, discussion forums, multimedia presentations, blogs, field trips, etc.

Read the cues of your students if they are bored or confused address the issue immediately Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Be enthusiastic in your delivery of the material – enthusiasm is infectious!

Creating a Positive Learning Environment

“Provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know” Motivating our Students (n.d.) para 15

Ensure that there is alignment of the activities and assessments and student learning outcomes.


Bloom’s Taxonomy An Introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy (n.d.) Centre for Teaching Excellence , University of Waterloo Retrieved from:

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (n.d.) The Center for Teaching and Learning Division of Academic Affairs UNC Charlotte. Retrieved from:

Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Creating a Positive Learning Environment YouTube

David-Lang, J. (2013) The Main Idea current education book summaries: Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, Hattie, J., 2012 retrieved from:

Glenn Introduces Creating a Positive Learning Environment YouTube

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Motivating Our Students (n.d.) Centre for Teaching Excellence University of Waterloo. Retrieved from:

Pre-frontal cortex (n.d.) Wikipedia. Retrieved from:

Scheve, T., (2009)  “What are endorphins?” Retrieved from:

Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.) Tomorrow’s Professors Mailing List Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning

Willis, J., (2014) The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning Edutopia. Retrieved from:

Reflection: Integrating soft skills into the classroom

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

Dumant and Istance, as cited in Merriam and Bierema (2014) stated: ““21st century competencies” include “deep understanding, flexibility and the capacity to make creative connections” and “a range of so-called ‘soft skills’ including good team working. The quantity and quality of learning thus becomes central, with the accompanying concern that traditional educational approaches are insufficient”” (p 4).

When I think of traditional educational approaches, the images that come to my mind are those of blackboards, chalk dust and rows of students sitting quietly (asleep) in desks while the teacher drones on and on.

While the portrayal of the teacher in the Peanuts cartoon is obviously satirical it certainly begs us to question what is the purpose of education? Implied in the quote above is the understanding that one purpose of education is for individuals to learn the skills that will enable them to function effectively in the workplace. Traditional approaches that focused on skills acquisition and rote knowledge – like the 3 r’s of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic – worked in a time where access to information was limited, social structure was clearly delineated and change happened slowly. The 21st century workplace environment demands that people from all social levels and ages are able to adapt to rapidly evolving technologies in addition to the far-reaching effects of globalization. As an instructor, I need to be able to move beyond traditional educational approaches so that I can foster in students the development of the competencies required in the 21st century.

Soft skills are in demand. In a 2015 report issued by Workopolis, a lack of soft skills was identified in 29% of potential candidates. (Thinkopolis VIII: The most sought after skills in Canada in 2015, n.d.)

While the development of soft skills can be nurtured and supported by our families of origin, as highlighted by the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth Info Brief, Helping Youth Develop Soft Skills for Job Success: Tips for Parents and Families (2011) which offers tips such as playing games as a family, role playing, providing a wide range of social, cultural and intellectual opportunities and having children help out elderly neighbours, the need to provide students with more sophisticated competencies is also being observed at both the secondary and tertiary levels.

Jenkins (2015) states that the “. . . new three R’s of education are Resourcefulness, Responsibility, and Respect” (para 1) and maintains that these are the most important skills that students need to learn today. California Community Colleges in their 2006 document, Teach SOFT SKILLS, takes it deeper and lists 16 different characteristics that can encompass ‘soft skills’ including “. . . communication, cooperation, social awareness, self-confidence, self-control and a growth mindset” (p 1) and recommends including all of the following into the curriculum (p 2,3):

  • Inspiring curiosity;
  • Cultivating grit;
  • Encouraging optimism;
  • Teaching self-control;
  • Fostering professionalism;
  • Providing real work experience;
  • Fostering a growth mindset
  • Rewarding effort;
  • Evaluating what students can do at the end of the course;
  • Developing students’ sense of purpose;
  • Teaching teamwork.

Brigg’s (2015) 30 Tips to Cultivate Soft Skills in Your Students parallels many of the key recommendations outlined above and underscores the importance collaborative work: “It’s extremely important, then, for teachers to create learning environments where students get to brainstorm, thinking imaginatively, and research big questions on a regular basis, in the company of others” (para 20).

While there are a plethora of articles recommending ways to cultivate soft skills into the classroom there is a paucity of information as to how to measure the effectiveness of implementing a specific soft skills approach into a school based curriculum. The only article I could find was by the RAND Corporation (2014) and it was a “Plan for Measuring Hard-to-Measure, ‘Soft’ Skills”; I was, however, unable to find any evidence that anyone has taken them up on the offer to take on doing the research. Without a tangible way to measure outcomes, I run the risk as an educator of believing that I am fostering these skills in students only to find that I am not.

In my role as a perinatal nurse educator I have the opportunity to teach in a variety of educational milieus including online with graduate nurses taking a post RN specialty, face to face workshops with a variety of health care professionals and informal learning opportunities in the acute care setting. Given the relative intangibility of what exactly defines soft skills and how best to apply the concepts into the classroom I believe that it is important for me to use evidenced based approaches and methodologies that promote learning and foster the development of some of the traits now identified as soft skills.

One of these concepts is self-regulation. “ . . . (S)elf-regulated students are those students who are metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active in their own learning processes and in achieving their own goals “(TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 3: Self-Regulated Learning, 2012, para 5).

Self-regulation includes (TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 3: Self-Regulated Learning, 2012, para 7):

  • Cognitive strategies that promote learning like critical thinking and problem solving;
  • Metacognitive skills that include self-reflection;
  • Motivational strategies like goal setting and monitoring.

I believe that by helping students to become self-regulated I can develop some of the traits that are seen as desirable by employers such as persistence, responsibility, critical thinking, problem solving and self-regulation.

One of the workshops I facilitate is a Neonatal Resuscitation Course. It is a 6 hour workshop that focuses on developing the skills required to resuscitate a newborn. Let’s see how well this course applies the recommendations from the Teach SOFT SKILLS (2006) as listed above in addition to the principles of self-regulation.

  • At the start of the workshop, the intent for the course and learning outcomes are reviewed (developing students’ sense of purpose );
  • Etiquette for the day is discussed and agreed upon (fostering professionalism);
  • Students break off into teams of 2 -3 (teamwork);
  • Skills are reviewed and practiced using low fidelity mannequins and real supplies (providing real work experience);
  • Students identify what they know and what they want to learn about each skill (metacognitive skill);
  • Skills are then practiced and instructor feedback is provided for each students and for each skill (rewarding effort );
  • There is a final testing of all the required skills at completion of the skill stations (evaluating what students can do at the end of the course);
  • There is a final group simulation where students are provided with a challenging scenario that they are required to work through together as a group (teamwork, real work experience, evaluating what students can do at the end of the course)
  • Students then gather and debrief the scenario (self-regulation skill).

Students are also expected to plan, monitor and evaluate themselves as they work through the skills stations, the final test and the group simulation (self-regulation). I have learned that the more I let the students explore and learn on their own the better the learning (inspiring curiosity).

There are also times when I have new learners taking the course. This course requires some very complex problem solving and critical thinking skills. While I try to provide scenarios appropriate for the level of the learner, sometimes even the ‘basics’ can seem confusing. The power of yet/ the growth mindset (Dweck, 2015) is a great thing to use. It is such a powerful tool when used correctly. Having the student focus on what they can learn next to get them closer to their goal is quite helpful.

Last month I ran the workshop and had 2 students that were struggling with some of the flow of the resuscitation algorithm. Unfortunately, they were working together and I did not identify the issues until we came to the testing part. While we were able to sort out the issues and the students were able to pass the course, I realize that one of the weaknesses of having the same team member work together all day was that they may be ‘leading each other down the garden path’. For my next workshop I will have the groups switch up through out the day so that the peer learning can be expanded and not concentrated.

Soft skills are considered a 21st century competency by employers and although there are a wide range of tips based on opinion on how to incorporate this into the curriculum and just as many definitions of what a soft skill is there isn’t any research to guide how to implement them. I feel that the recommendations offered by the California Community Colleges could work in nicely with the strategies that are used to develop self-regulated learners and have provided me with some direction on how to begin integrating soft skills into the curriculums of the programs that I facilitate.


Briggs, S. (2015) 30 Tips to Cultivate Soft Skills in Your Students InformED. Retrieved from:

Dweck, C., (2015) Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’ Education Week. Retrieved from:

Hamilton, S. & Stecher, B., (2014) Plan for Measuring Hard-to-Measure, ‘Soft’ Skills The RAND Blog. Retrieved from:

Info Brief: Helping Youth Develop Soft Skills for Job Success: Tips for Parents and Families (2011) National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth. Retrieved from:

Jenkins, J. (2015) The New Three R’s of Education: Resourcefulness, Responsibility, and Respect edutopia Retrieved from:

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Teach SOFT SKILLS to Increase Student Success Strategies to Enhance Students’ 21st Century Competencies (2006) California Community College. Retrieved from:

TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 3: Self-Regulated Learning (2012) LINCS Literacy Information and Communication System. Retrieved from:

Thinkopolis VIII: The most sought after skills in Canada in 2015 (n.d.) Workopolis Retrieved from:

Weimer, M. (2010) What it Means to be a Self-Regulated Learner Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Practices from Magna Publications. Retrieved from:

Zimmerman, B..J. (1990) Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Success: An Overview Educational Psychologist, 24(1), 3-17 Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Inc. Retrieved from 

Reflection: Self-assessment

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

Objective: “Self-assessment is the act of identifying standards or criteria and applying them to one’s own work, and then making judgment as to whether – or how well – you have met them” (Fenwick & Parsons , 2009, page 111).

Reflection: In one of my previous reflective writing submissions, I identified self-regulation as being the characteristic of adult learners that drives how I design and deliver a course. Taking this course on evaluation got me thinking: Am I ready to walk my talk? Am I ready to ‘allow’ students to self-assess and evaluate their own learning for marks?

Interpretive: Being self-regulated means applying metacognitive strategies – setting goals, self-monitoring, and self-evaluating – to the process of learning (Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes, 2012). Self-regulation is vital when it comes to learning effectively (Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes, 2012).

Self-assessment is metacognition at work. Self-assessment has been shown to be an effective strategy to influence learning (David-Lang, 2012) and has been shown to have a significant impact on student achievement (The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Capacity Building Series Special Edition #4, 2007).

The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Capacity Building Series Special Edition #4, (2007) identified critical thinking skills as a necessary part of self-assessment.

Fenwick and Parsons (2009) stated, “ (s)elf-assessment should be balanced with feedback from an external source to provide different perspectives” (page 113).


The evidence to support self-assessment as an effective strategy to support learning is solid. If I value the importance of self-regulation in my students then I need to let them take responsibility for their learning and this means having them participate in the evaluation of their performances.

In the online course I have redesigned, I have included activities like the ‘muddiest point’, personal journal activities and critical thinking activities and have developed rubrics to help students improve their skills of self-reflection and self-assessment by providing clear standards/criteria for them to measure their work. Including self-assessment for marks should integrate well into the curriculum.

In terms of providing an opportunity for self-assessment for marks, four of the assessments in the course: case studies, discussion forum posts, presentation and patient teaching poster/handout are possibilities. While I see potential for all four of these assessments to be self-assessed for marks, I feel that this may be too much additional work for the students in terms of rational reports so I will begin with one assessment. I will reassess this decision after a year to determine if more assessments should be self-assessed for marks.

The assessment that I would like to start with are the discussion forum posts as they are ongoing throughout the course so this will provide an opportunity for students to make changes as they progress through the course. To provide a balanced assessment from an external source, I think that the mark should be split with 10% coming from the student for a personal evaluation of his/her posts (using the discussion forum rubric as a guide) and 5% coming from the teacher for an external evaluation of the student’s rational for their mark (using the rational rubric as a guide).

I am very excited about the prospect of truly engaging and validating the adult learner as a self-regulated learner by incorporating self-assessment for marks into the course.


David-Lang, J. (2012) Summary of Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning By John Hattie (Routledge, 2012) The Main Idea Current Education Book Summaries. Retrieved from

Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes (2012) TEAL Teaching Excellence in Adult Learning. Retrieved from: (Paste URL to browser then click the PDF, for some reason it won’t link to the server)

Fenwick, T.J. & Parsons, J. (2009) The Art of Evaluation A Resources for Educators and Trainers Thompson Educational Publishing Inc Toronto, Canada

 The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Capacity Building Series Special Edition #4 (2007) Government of Ontario. Retrieved from: