Faculty Focus


Reflective Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Autonomy

The two nurse educators who authored the article referenced below begin with a quote from the first page of Stephen Brookfield’s book Becoming a Critical Reflective Teacher. “One of the hardest things teachers have to learn is that the sincerity of their intentions does not guarantee the purity of their practice.”

The example they connect to the quote is teacher authority. “Professional authority is derived from greater knowledge of a particular field. It is harbored in the hierarchical relationship of expert to teacher to students and is further enforced institutionally through the intrinsic power and obligation to assign grades.” (p. 299) Their point is that nursing as a field has experienced a movement toward more student-centered pedagogies. The authors endorse these approaches, seeing them as mechanisms that develop students’ critical thinking abilities, ultimately making them better caregivers. But traditional approaches to teaching make the kind of sharp distinctions between teachers and students that prevent developing the kind of relationships that promote student autonomy. (p. 300)

Their point is that teachers can endorse these more democratic approaches to education and still teach in ways that reinforce traditional hierarchical models. Unfortunately, many teachers are not particularly reflective about their practice. They do not take time to consider the implications of instructional actions—to “view authority from the students’ perspective and suspend our own judgment to come to a clearer understanding of the teaching process as experienced through the eyes of the students.” (p. 302)

Through the process of reflection, “teachers are compelled to confront answers that may reveal we are other than the venerable teachers we perceive ourselves to be. . . . We may discover that we are unwitting accomplices in maintaining, rather than challenging and changing, the status quo.” (p. 302)
Teacher authority is not repudiated in these emancipatory models. But it is understood in more sophisticated ways. The goal is not to empower students in ways that ignore their mistakes or deny their ultimate accountability. “Teaching that is authentic … involves a genuine fostering of student autonomy as opposed to codependence, a teacher-student relationship that is collegial as opposed to friendly, communication that is candid yet caring, and the expectation for personal and professional accountability.” (p. 301)

Even though this article deals with curricular reforms in nursing education, the same kind of changes are taking place in many other fields, and their points about teachers’ lack of insights into what they do, why, and how it impacts learners are relevant to faculty in every field.

Reference: Myrick, F., and Tamlyn, D. (2007). Teaching can never be innocent: Fostering an enlightening education experience. Journal of Nursing Education, 46 (7), 299-303.