Developing a Pedagogy of Caring in Higher Education

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Faculty Mentor

Brian Warnick


When students are asked about their motivation to succeed in a course, about whether they enjoyed their instructor, and about their overall satisfaction with the class, answers can often be traced back to an educator the student perceived as caring. Research in the area of teacher care has almost exclusively focused on elementary and secondary classrooms, and advances the theory that caring teachers and caring classroom environments prompt many positive educational outcomes. The application of caring theory invites educators to extend caring actions toward students in order to develop relationships of trust and concern where students feel safe, motivated, and encouraged in their efforts to learn. Noticeably lacking from the caring literature is research focusing on the application of caring theory in post-secondary classrooms. Does caring have as large an impact on college students? Do these students value efforts by their professors to care, and if so, which caring actions are most meaningful to them? A pilot study was conducted by the author in which four students at a major university were invited to document their thoughts and perceptions about caring by their professors, and were asked to pay particular attention to what caring actions their professors took. As a result of the qualitative analysis, five categories of caring behaviors were discovered: efforts by professors to know student names, efforts to display care and concern during office hours, efforts in knowing and understanding students, efforts to create interesting and applicable lessons, and efforts to address student concerns during class. This study will seek through further qualitative inquiry to validate these five caring behaviors and attempt to identify others that may strengthen a caring atmosphere in the college classroom. Twenty students will be interviewed and invited to chronicle impressions of caring principles in their classrooms, with the objective of shedding insight in those caring behaviors that are most meaningful. Ten professors will also be interviewed regarding their perceptions of extending care to students. In addition, four classroom sessions will be observed and analyzed qualitatively and compared with the findings of the student and professor interviews and journals. It is anticipated that results will yield valuable data for further study and assist teachers at the post secondary level in their attempts to display care toward their students. Data gathered may yield results that can be used to develop a scale of caring behaviors that can be used to quantitatively measure the correlation between these behaviors and the extent to which a professor is considered caring by students.

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