1. Glendon, Kellie MSN, RNC
  2. Ulrich, Debbie PhD, RN

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Dear Florence,


I am a new teacher and most of my students are my age or older than I am. I feel very conflicted about my responsibilities as a nurse educator. On one hand, I know that I need to be strict with students so that they will be knowledgeable and able to practice safely, yet I also feel an obligation to the students to nurture and care for them as individuals. One semester I'm known as the "terminator" and the next semester I become the "Pillsbury Dough Boy"! For some reason, I can't figure out how to give the appropriate feedback to maintain high standards, yet be perceived as caring. I'd appreciate any tips you could give me.


Schizophrenic in Santa Fe




The dilemma you have is one that new teachers often face. You are right to want to maintain high academic standards as we have a responsibility to society to be sure our students are competent. We also want our students to be successful and we must be advocates for their learning. Both the roles of gatekeeper of knowledge and advocate are inherent in your position as an educator. This sets up a conflict for you and results in the natural inclination to choose one or the other approach. Hence, you are the terminator one semester and the "Dough Boy" the next. However, there is a way to accomplish both roles simultaneously.


You now think the only way to maintain high standards is to be strict and inflexible with students. You may have gotten that impression from a few of the faculty with whom you work. The image of the "sergeant" like instructor goes back a long way. Most current faculty are "boomers" who often "made you learn" through fear tactics and routinely drilling to the point of tears. Those days are over; we now know there are better ways to teach and more effective strategies to help students learn. This doesn't mean we throw out the high standards with the strictness. What it does mean is that we maintain our high standards and help students reach for them. This involves nurturing, coaching, and caring for them as people. We maintain standards while executing our advocate role.


Because you are close to the age of your students, you also may be conflicted about maintaining your boundary as the teacher. It is easy to slip into the role of friend rather than coach, making it difficult to set limits and have high expectations. Try to find faculty who model the values of both gatekeeper and advocate. Ask this person to mentor you through situations that arise. You will quickly see that these two roles are not incompatible at all. You don't have to be the terminator to be a good teacher who expects high standards. By having high expectations and helping students each step of the way, both your students and you will be happier.


You asked for a few tips on how to make standards clear and how to give appropriate feedback. First, you need to establish your standards with the students up front, letting them know the rules, what you expect from them, and why. Use grading rubrics, which will help them clearly see the grading criteria for the project. You might also give them specific examples of care plans or written work that meet your standards. You can save examples of previous students' work to show your current students. Also explain to them what "thinking critically" or "communicating effectively" means. These objectives in our clinical evaluation tools often seem nebulous to students. You might make it clearer by describing how a student last semester achieved those objectives. Allow them time to ask you questions so you can clear up any misconceptions they might have. Once you have established the standards and what they really mean, you must adhere to them and expect students to perform accordingly.


Feedback, both positive and constructive, helps students grow in their professional roles. It takes a lot of judgment to know when to give constructive feedback and when to just let something go. This depends on how you view the point at which teaching ends and evaluation begins. Students cannot be under evaluation every second. Novice students need the opportunity to work through their fears about being a nurse in an unfamiliar environment; they cannot be expected to perform at high levels at all times. Part of your job is to coach them through that process and help them develop the confidence and competence they need. Try to remember what it felt like to be a novice. Be present when they are struggling with a first skill. Prepare them by reviewing the steps and offer encouragement and support rather than an evaluative comment. When they seem unsure or paralyzed by a situation, step in and role model appropriate behavior or relieve the pressure by assisting them. Doing so will facilitate their movement toward competency. Praise even the smallest of accomplishments, such as taking a blood pressure, to build their self-esteem and confidence. Believe in them and offer comments to help them learn to believe in themselves, such as "I know you can do this skill." Demonstrating faith in them goes a long way in building positive self-image.


Because communication is an interactive and collaborative process, giving feedback is complicated and affected by numerous variables. For example, the student may be young and immature and still developing his/her own communication skills, working, or dealing with family issues. Cultural issues also may be influencing the communication process. When giving feedback, be specific and avoid generalities. Instead of telling them they need to use critical thinking, ask them a specific question to elicit a critical thinking response. For example, if they are supposed to write a solution to a problem and they merely list one thing they would do, ask them to expand on their ideas and explain the pros and cons of each intervention. Be sure to give them examples of incidents when they were not meeting the standards you expected. For example, rather than say you gave the injection incorrectly, point out the fact that they recapped the needle after giving the injection rather than disposing it in the sharps container. This specific feedback of using an example points them in right direction. Make sure that you give feedback as soon a possible. Daily verbal feedback helps students know how they are doing and alleviates some of the anxiety of feeling continually evaluated. Negative feedback can also be tempered with a positive comment first to lighten the impact of the negative remark. When giving negative feedback, try to sandwich it between two positive comments.


Your tone of voice and the words you choose in giving feedback are important, too. Be aware of how you are perceived by students. Sometimes our attempt to be clear and to the point is often misconstrued as being insensitive, rude, and condescending. Both the comments we give and how they are delivered can make or break a student. Making demeaning comments such as "that was stupid" or overusing "great job" both fail to help students develop. Check your nonverbal behavior, too. If you don't smile very much or place your hands on your hips when addressing the students, you can be perceived as angry. Students can be confused about the message you are sending.


Often the student's behavior affects our responses, too. It is difficult to interact with an angry student, it requires skill and tact. Outbursts or blunt remarks can make you angry. Getting angry only escalates a bad situation so be careful to check your body language, tone, and remarks that you make. Taking students aside, rather than talking about their behavior in front of others, is necessary and prevents embarrassment. Point out their strengths and then comment on what they need to improve. Hopefully, this advice will help you feel more balanced in your role as an educator.


Dear Florence,


Our faculty has been having heated discussions about who owns creative materials that teachers use in the classroom and the clinical setting. Some of the faculty and most of the administrators believe the college owns the material because the faculty are employed by the college. Others believe that their creativity and intellect are theirs alone and not owned by anyone. Our college has no policy related to this, so what are your thoughts on this.


Conflicted in Canton




I understand the conflicting ideas, especially from the side of the administrator who wants to assure that faculty who leave the school do not take everything with them, leaving the college with nothing related to the course to give on to the next faculty who might be new and inexperienced. I also understand the viewpoint of faculty. A person's creativity and innovation is an inherent part of them and cannot be owned by an institution. Perhaps the underlying issue is one of collegiality. Faculty are encouraged to develop innovative strategies that help students learn more effectively. They are also encouraged to publish their ideas, which confirms their real ownership of the material. There are faculty who guard their work, believing that sharing it with others will lessen their worth. However, as colleagues, we need to share ideas, tests, and other teaching materials with each other, mentoring new and inexperienced faculty to, in turn, develop and share their ideas as well. In this kind of environment, we all flourish and our students excel. Remember too that as a part of the accreditation process, we must show the nuts and bolts of our curriculum including syllabi, tests, student's assignments, and creative strategies we are using to stimulate critical thinking in our students. Without this collegiality and sharing, preparing for an accreditation visit would be impossible and could jeopardize the school and, ultimately, the faculty's own positions. You might want to have an open discussion at a faculty meeting where those with opposing views can discuss their ideas related to this issue. In this way, the topic can be fully discussed with everyone knowing the merits of both sides. I'm not sure there is a clear-cut correct answer to this dilemma, but an open discussion, and coming to consensus on possible solutions, is certainly a healthy way to approach the issue.


Section Description

This department addresses common problems related to teaching, curricular, institutional, faculty, and student issues. By collectively addressing common concerns that faculty face as they fulfill their educational responsibilities, we can increase our repertoire of solutions, produce cohesive and consistent ways to manage situations, and decrease burnout. In this issue, Florence discusses conflicting faculty roles and intellectual property.