Attempting to Implement A Pedagogy of Care during the Disruptions to Teacher Education Caused by COVID-19: A Collaborative Self-Study

August 2021

Source: Studying Teacher Education, 17:2, 208-227

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The self-study was initiated in response to the authors’ concern and challenge of upholding the quality of instruction and care for students in the wake of the forced suspension of in person teaching.
It was their professional judgment that the required move online would greatly compromise the relational aspect of their education practices in the pre-COVID-19 era.
As they believe an essential aspect of teacher education is the relationship we foster with and between students, and the sense of care we feel for and from our students, they felt ill-prepared for what relationships and care might look like in online teacher education.
Therefore, by exploring their own practices through S-STEP, they wished to address the question ‘How can we foster and sustain our commitment to care when conducting teacher education online?’
The study adopts a collaborative S-STEP methodology.
S-STEP ‘aims to understand situated human activity from the perspectives of those engaged in it’ (Berry & Kitchen, 2020, p. 124).
To help the authors conceptualise and conduct their S-STEP, they drew on the four methodological considerations of self-study articulated by LaBoskey (2004).
Their study was self-initiated and self-focused, aimed to understand their teaching and learning practices, was driven by multiple qualitative methods, and they seek exemplar-based validation with the research community.
They approach their study with the intention to share their complex, and sometimes confusing experiences of attempting to enact a pedagogy of care online during the disruptions caused by COVID-19.
They believe strongly in the need to share their vulnerabilities and uncertainties so others may resonate with their experience.
The impetus for their study was the rapid shift to online teaching and the impact this had on Benjamin’s satisfaction with his teaching, specifically, the relational aspect of online teaching, and the role of care or absence of care.
For one of the authors (My), the great transition from a primary classroom teacher into teacher education along with the abrupt need to teach online during the pandemic presented its own challenges.
In this study, they both acted as each other’s critical friend in creating a critical partnership.
They were aware that such a partnership requires humility, honesty and can be risky.
Exposing their vulnerabilities ‘presents a genuine danger, but it is recognised as part of learning, which also involves unlearning’ (Bullough & Pinnegar, 2004, p. 340).

Findings and discussion
Through understanding and analysing their own experiences and practices, the authors presented their experience in three stages: conceptualising care online, prioritizing and enacting a pedagogy of care in the online context and the challenges evident in their attempt to implement it.
Although they have always placed care at the centre of their teaching and understood that the relational aspect of teaching is essential, it was not until the pandemic’s involuntary thrust us into the online mode that they explicitly thought about the practices they used to create a culture of care.
Of course, they are under no illusion that the in-person classroom is perfect, nor that the issues they faced were unique to the online context.
However, presented with the unfamiliar teaching online environment, suddenly the lack of human proximity, made them deliberately think about how they experience care, and how they show care.
Acts that are easy and part of the humanisation of teaching in the in-person classroom, like casual chats, had to be reconceptualised into more explicit strategies, such as sharing videos, conducting polls and finding informal communication channels outside of those readily available through their institutions.
What felt natural and effortless before required proactive deliberation and mindfulness.
Similar questions and challenges have been raised by other S-STEP scholars as they experienced the shift from the in-person to the online classroom (e.g., Dunn & Rice, 2019; Fletcher & Bullock, 2015) and have been experienced by other teacher educators forced online due to the pandemic (Cutri et al., 2020).
This appears to be an obvious area of concern as teacher educators often place care and building relationships as central to their practices and with the online teaching environment feeling so different, it is likely the first thing which teachers notice when they attempt to teach online (Dunn & Rice, 2019).
The authors found that an online pedagogy of care needs to be premeditatively crafted, via textual correspondences and more deliberate strategies and responses, with lesser degree of spontaneity than in-person teaching.
In essence, they need to establish social and teacher presence (Garrison et al., 1999) in order to create a culture of care.
Ironically, while they aimed to create a sense of realness in order to experience authentic care, the lack of spontaneity made it feel less real for them as the ones caring.
This left sessions feeling teacher-centred and formal, at least to them.
Furthermore, they perceived that they did not know their learners as well as they would in the in-person classroom, and this affected how they cared for them and felt care from them.
They attributed this to a lack of data about their students.
The cues they draw on in the in-person classroom to develop an image of their learners and the class were not as readily available.
Additionally, they found the digital replacements such as non-verbal feedback icons still left them with inadequate and incomplete information of their students.
The lack of knowledge was unsettling and added another level of uncertainty, making them feel vulnerable as they did not always have enough information to plan, respond or engage with their learners.
It also meant they could not develop their own sense of social presence as their learners did not always feel fully real to them. In retrospect, however, the use of the group chat on an instant messaging platform was instrumental in helping with this to some degree.
The authors speculate that the sense of uneasiness they felt could also be due to their students conceptualising their ‘role’ differently online when compared to the in-person classroom.
Relationships and care are reciprocal (Noddings, 2003).
Therefore, when teachers do not get any or limited responses from students, this will likely have an impact on the teachers’ perception of whether their care is received or even wanted.
In addition, the social norms evident in the in-person classroom do not easily translate online.
The public and private space is less clearly delineated online, making the class feel more formal.
Indeed, the rich corporeal sense of in-person interaction accessorized by real-time exchanges of facial expressions, physical proximity and emotional connections is replaced online by the sole use of language and requires more effort from learners to manifest their active participation.
Yet, it seems, at least from their case, that students were less willing to participate online.
The creation of an informal space (i.e. an instant messaging platform) proved to help in this regard, but did not fully address the unidirectionality of interactions and lack of participation from some students.
The reciprocity the authors received from each other during the S-STEP provided a form of care for themselves to sustain their effort to provide care for their students during this challenging time.
As a result, their attempt to navigate their transition and upholding their commitment to implement a pedagogy of care was made easier through the S-STEP.
However, they understand that to utilize their partnership as a tool to further improve their practices and foster their professional growth, they need to build on their positive foundations, and continue to develop their ability to critique each other’s practices (Schuck & Russell, 2005).
As with implementation of a pedagogy of care online, their critical partnership is also a work in progress.

Berry, A., & Kitchen, J. (2020). The role of self-study in times of radical change. Studying Teacher Education, 16(2), 123–126.
Bullough, R. V., Jr., & Pinnegar, S. E. (2004). Thinking about the thinking about self-study: An analysis of eight chapters. In J. J. Loughran, M. L. Hamilton, V. K. LaBoskey, & T. Russell (Eds.), International handbook of self-study of teaching and teacher education practices (pp. 313–342). Kluwer Academic.
Cutri, R. M., Mena, J., & Whiting, E. F. (2020). Faculty readiness for online crisis teaching: Transitioning to online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. European Journal of Teacher Education, 43(4), 523–541.
Dunn, M., & Rice, M. (2019). Community, towards dialogue: A self-study of online teacher preparation for special education. Studying Teacher Education, 15(2), 160–178.
Fletcher, T., & Bullock, S. M. (2015). Reframing pedagogy while teaching about teaching online: A collaborative self-study. Professional Development in Education, 41(4), 690–706.
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (1999). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2–3), 87–105.
LaBoskey, V. K. (2004). The methodology of self-study and its theoretical underpinnings. In J. J. Loughran, M. L. Hamilton, V. K. LaBoskey, & T. Russell (Eds.), International handbook of self-study of teaching and teacher education practices (pp. 817–870). Kluwer Academic.
Noddings, N. (2003). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. University of California Press. Original work published in 1984
Schuck, S., & Russell, T. (2005). Self-Study, critical friendship, and the complexities of teacher education. Studying Teacher Education, 1(2), 107–121. 

Updated: Dec. 22, 2021