Teaching with Care

Viewpoints: Teaching with Care primary image

Thursday, Oct 7 | 1PM – 2PM


Dr. Roberta Borgen (Neault), Adjunct Professor, ECPS

Dr. Surita Jhangiani, Assistant Professor of Teaching, ECPS

Tonje M. Molyneux, M.Ed., M.A.


Helen DeWaard, Learning Designer, ETS

Simone Hausknecht, Learning Designer, ETS


Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

In the Viewpoints session “Teaching with Care”, we explored the role of care in educational practice. We welcomed our panelists Dr. Roberta Borgen (Neault), Adjunct Professor, ECPS; Dr. Surita Jhangiani, Assistant Professor of Teaching in the Department of Educational Counseling Psychology and Special Education; and Tonje M. Molyneux, M.Ed., M.A. who is currently working towards a PhD in Human Development, Learning and Culture.

Opening remarks

Dr. Roberta Borgen (Neault)
Dr. Borgen began by discussing her journey to specializing in student care and how there is often controversy over these ideas across disciplines. She comes from a background of studying and working in special education and counselling psychology through which many ideas have carried over into her work.

“I started to institute this mantra of building a culture of kindness, and also the notion of believing the best. I think if you start from believing the best, then you don’t believe that every student coming your way, asking for an extension, is trying in some way to pull something over on you. To be completely frank, even if they are, if I’m helping them achieve some learning goals in a meaningful way, and if they just couldn’t do it, then I would rather accommodate. I’d rather err on the side of believing the best.”

However, she notes that this does not mean being lenient or having low expectations. Dr. Borgen is quite strict in grading and aims for a mastery approach. “If people can produce what it is that I intended to teach, then I feel pretty good about that.”

During the pandemic, Dr. Borgen helped monitor students – by checking in with them about how they were doing, who they were isolating with, and whether they were on their own. She reflected on how care was so important during the pandemic. However, she remarked that:

“There is a great deal of anxiety in the public, and also in our students and in our faculty, so that mantra of kindness and believing the best I think, is now more important than ever. But what’s super important for us to remember in this culture of kindness, or culture of care, [is that], we’re not all in the same boat. We’re coming at this from really different backgrounds in terms of the capacity that we bring, the support that we have in place, and the level of anxiety that we’re dealing with. I may be in a position to handle something quite differently than someone who is navigating life with an abusive partner, or trying to take care of a small child or being concerned about elder care responsibilities, or sending kids off to school. So, you know, just creating that space for people to express what’s going on for them, and then enables us to make accommodations that make sense.”

Dr. Borgen described a range of accommodations she has made, such as allowing people suffering from anxiety who were unable to write well to talk through their assignment. She expressed that it is important to figure out what it’s going to take to maximize the student’s learning in what we would all acknowledge is a really strange time.


Dr. Surita Jhangiani
Dr. Jhangiani focused her views on what she has learned from teaching in the pandemic.

“The pedagogy of care is something that’s really important to me in my teaching philosophy. But I think during the pandemic, I learned just how important this is for our students. It’s something that needs to show up daily.”

She described the importance of building relationships through vulnerability. “Talking to our students about care, showing them care, talking about self-care practices and modeling what that looks like, (…) allowing them to see how important that is. Part of that is in showing them a new lens in learning and education. It’s kind of like breaking down or rewriting a script about what education is, what it is to be a student or a faculty member, for us to be vulnerable and show that we are also figuring this out as we go along. Just sharing that with our students I think is kind of changing us and getting us into different territory.”

She also talked about students advocating for themselves. Students need to be aware of responsibilities to discuss with the instructor beforehand and for instructors to trust that students are telling the truth. As Dr. Jhangiani mentioned, “I talk about my own self-care. And that’s not negotiable. I will talk about why we’re doing things a certain way. I’m lucky that I’m in educational psychology, so I talk explicitly about mental health and learning and how stress impacts you.”

At this point, Surita gave examples of a few students who expressed their appreciation for this approach, including a wonderful email she received from a student recently:

“I want to take the time to express my gratitude for the splendid course this past term. By far, this has been one of the most enjoyable online class that I have taken. The consideration for the learning environment with students was top-notch. I think I could learn anything given this attuned approach to facilitated learning. Further, I want to commend you for implementing mental health into your class and being nimble to address students’ contexts. It’s not often enough that we witness people living by example.”


Tonje Molyneux
Tonje brought an added perspective coming from a background of teaching where she actively implements a pedagogy of care and is currently developing a teaching practice within the post-secondary context.

“Throughout my decades in education, caring has been a very significant part of my practice, whether I’ve been teaching or designing learning, because I think it happens in both places. When I was posed the question ‘what is caring?’ on the application for a UBC certificate program in advanced teaching and learning, I didn’t miss a beat. I thought this seemed like a natural question that you would ask, because to me, caring and teaching and learning just go hand in hand.”

At this point, Tonje defined what caring means to her,

“Caring is an ethical stance and an action. From an ethics of care perspective, caring should form the basis of ethical decision making. Caring for and caring about others is central to human relationships and positive development. Indeed, from our earliest moments, the quality of our care, the extent to which our caregivers care for and about us, determines our attachment relationship. This then has far-reaching consequences for our cognitive, social and emotional development and overall well-being in life. Teaching and learning are fundamentally social and relational processes. When they occur in an environment of care, one in which teachers are attentive and receptive to students’ needs, students are more likely to develop positive relationships with their teachers. This is related to better learning outcomes, which can shift students’ general life trajectory to one with more positive outcomes. Indeed, it has been famously said by Rita Pearson that ‘students don’t learn from people they don’t like’. The basis of any positive relationship is the feeling of being cared for, and caring in return.”

She discussed in more detail about how her approach to teaching and learning has evolved both through the process of being a student, program developer, and teacher. Her mantra has been to “do no harm.” Bringing care to the relationship between teacher and learner is important. Without it, her teaching could be “irresponsible, and without regard for the safety and well-being of students”.

As a result of her program, and conducting a self-study as part of the project, she explored the experience of belongingness. She was struck by the initial interviews and how people used such expressions as “feeling cared for, comfortable, recognized, and seen as a whole human person, rather than a nameless student” to describe an experience of belonging. This has reinforced her ideas of the importance of a culture of care.

Discussion themes

One participant raised the point that she had different experiences about what care meant in the varying contexts in which she has taught and studied (e.g. China, England, UBC during the pandemic), and how sometimes others with whom she worked appeared to be opposed to a culture of care and making accommodations. Dr. Jhangiani mentioned the importance of context and an understanding of care in relation to education. The beliefs about what a meaningful educational experience and environment should be can determine whether a care approach can flourish. Tonje also offered a suggestion that by using examples of your personal experience with a caring approach, it could help students maintain certain expectations and inform those who are unsure about creating a culture of care in the classroom.

Another participant mentioned that there were certain cultures even within different faculties at UBC that view the educational landscape and the role of care differently. Sessional instructors may be limited by what they can and cannot do in terms of accommodations. Overall, there was an acknowledgment that the role of care during the pandemic rose in its priority. One participant highlighted the first high-level guiding principle for Fall 2020: to approach course adaptation decisions with a commitment to compassion and care for everybody. The pandemic seemed to create a situation where there was increased solidarity around the need for care.

Dr. Jhangiani mentioned that sometimes rigor is tied to ideas of care within various educational contexts. This idea was brought up at different points throughout the discussion. Near the end of the session, rigor was discussed when thinking about academic concessions. Giving an extension and other logistical concessions does not equate to sacrificing the level of performance. It is more about understanding individual circumstances. With the return to campus, there have been discussions of accommodations for students, staff, and faculty. Now that people have experienced accommodations during the pandemic, they are resistant to having them taken away. One participant commented that they have not seen the quality diminish with accommodations. Rather, students almost give more when granted the opportunity. The rigor does not drop off, arguably, it is still there.

Another participant brought up the idea that some instructors view being strict as important for preparing students for the real world. Thus, they may not give extensions. Similar to ideas of rigor, there are ideas of discipline versus compassion. One participant acknowledged that many instructors struggled with the balance. Tonje also mentioned that she had similar experiences with teacher candidates but modeling a culture of care in the classroom can help.

There was some discussion around where the hard lines should be and where there can be flexibility. One participant commented that it is about explicitly communicating what these are, such as, a timeline may be flexible (if needed) but the assignment needs to meet certain standards. There is also a specific practicality to deadlines that students need to understand.

Creating an environment of self-care is important, but unlimited extensions for work is not always possible, not because of desire, but because there are responsibilities that pertain to both instructor and students. In the consideration of self-care, all perspectives of the people involved need to be considered. If one party is asking for accommodation at the expense of another’s work/life balance, is that creating a community of self-care? A community of care should be reciprocal between students and instructors. In this way, everyone will feel that they are being heard and taken care of through their learning.

A couple of participants pointed out that at the beginning of the pandemic there seemed to be a culture of distrust between some instructors and students. The camera on/off debate and the inability to feel connected to students face-to-face led to concerns by some instructors that students were trying to ‘game’ the system. This moves away from a culture of care, and can damage students’ trust in their instructors. During the pandemic, it took some time to move away from feelings of academic surveillance back into a position of mutual trust between instructors and students.

One participant commented on the idea of gaming the system and considering how the educational culture is designed i.e. a competitive versus a collaborative learning environment. They suggested that we should examine the culture that creates a gaming attitude; what is the history and mentality behind it? Can we challenge this?

There was some exploration of the idea of teaching the whole person and holistic perspectives. We often think of the separation of body and mind in Western culture. However, there is a whole person in front of you. One participant commented on how teaching and learning should look at the whole person and all aspects that affect the teacher and learner as they affect one another.

Another participant commented on how they noticed that students complained about being online during the pandemic, but now that physical classes are resuming, there needs to be a justification as to why they have to be there in person. The “cognitive-to-cognitive” can easily be done online. What are the affordances of face to face? There could be an important argument for coming back to in-person when we think of an embodied experience. This led other participants to reflect on masks and how they affect the learning space. Instructors never really saw their students until they were on Zoom with no mask. Thus, it is important to examine the affordances and limitations of technology, and what relationship-building looks like online and in-person.

A final point by one participant is that we are dealing with people. Because of that, you cannot take the relationship out of the equation. Another speaker pointed out that care impacts students. We are social beings who are teaching people. Since care is relational, we need to include it in our work as educators. Another participant mentioned that being cared for requires a mutual vulnerability. In teaching and learning relationships, a level of care presents itself as an integral element.

A few resources were also made available prior to the session.

Alhumaid, K. (2019). Four ways technology has negatively changed education. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 9(4), 10-20. DOI:10.2478/jesr-2019-0049 [Journal]

Alhumaid posits that technology has negatively impacted classroom teaching, by “deteriorating students’ competences of reading and writing, dehumanizing educational environments, distorting social interactions between teachers and students, and isolating individuals when using technology” (p. 10). This suggests that technology cannot support or enhance the need for teaching with care.

Bali, M. (2015, April 20). Pedagogy of care – Gone massive. Hybrid Pedagogy. [weblog]

Bali calls on educators to “show the kind of care for the work that only comes when we make ourselves at least somewhat vulnerable.” This requires listening to learners in order to help them acquire the “knowledge and attitudes needed to achieve their goals, not those of a pre-established curriculum”.

Bali, M., Zamora, M., & Caines, A. (n.d.). Equity unbound - Community building activities [website]

The Equity Unbound website, created and maintained by Zamora, Bali, and Caines, provides a rich resource of teaching activities and references to enhance and infuse an ethics of care into course design and learning activities.

Clarke Grey, B. (2020, April 7). Pedagogy of the so stressed: Pivoting to digital with an ethics of care. Hook & Eye. [Website]

With a focus on teaching with digital technologies resulting from the pandemic, Clarke Grey suggests that educational technologists are care workers. This blog post shares a personal story of how the pandemic continues to impact higher education if we approach our work with an ethic of care.

Davidson, C. (2020, May 11). The single most essential requirement in designing a fall online course. [weblog] HASTAC.

Davidson suggests that education “is an excellent way of moving beyond trauma to a place of agency, confidence, control, community, care, activism, and contribution. Trauma is not an add-on. From everything we know about learning, if the trauma is not accounted for (even tacitly), and built into the course design, we fail. Our students fail. None of us needs another failure.” (para. 3)

France, P. E. (2020, April 1). 3 Tips for humanizing digital pedagogy. Edutopia. [weblog]

While this article presents a K-12 perspective, it speaks to the higher education context in ways to humanize and infuse care into teaching with technology. France suggests journaling as a way to move away from an industrialized curriculum, providing opportunities for dialogue and discourse using video technologies, and building opportunities for self-reflection. Depending on how these activities are woven into teaching and learning, these strategies can provide a form of social closeness in a time when there needs to be physical distancing in all educational contexts.

Funk, J. (2021). Caring in Practice, Caring for Knowledge. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2021(1),:11, pp. 1–14.

Held, V. (2006). The ethics of care: Personal, political, and global. Oxford University Press. [Book]

In this book, Virginia Held posits an ethics of care that offers hope for a universal experience of care that rejects violence and domination without the divisive baggage of religious beliefs. This work develops the ethics of care as an approach to moral issues and examines the implications for political, social, and global questions.

Hooks, B. (2014). Teaching to transgress. Routledge. [Book]

Bell Hooks offers ideas about teaching that fundamentally rethink democratic participation. She writes about a new kind of education that advocates the process of teaching students to think critically, while raising concerns central to the field of critical pedagogy, in particular, to feminist thought. Teaching students to ‘transgress’ against racial, sexual and class boundaries in order to achieve the gift of freedom is the teacher’s most important goal. This form of progressive, holistic education in engaged pedagogy places an emphasis on the well-being of students. It is far more demanding but rewarding.

Noddings, N. (2012). The caring relation in education. Oxford Review of Education, 38(6), 771-781. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03054985.2012.745047 [Journal]

Noddings begins by stating that humans begin their lives in relationship and that through this, the human individual emerges. Central to these relationships, within education, is care and trust that is grounded in “listening, dialogue, critical thinking, reflective response, and making thoughtful connections among the disciplines and to life itself” (p. 771). In this work, Noddings examines the history of care ethics “as a recognised approach to moral philosophy, based largely on the experience of women” (p. 771).

Noddings, N. (2005). Identifying and responding to needs in education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 35(2), 147–159. [Journal]

In this work, Noddings emphasizes the need to be attentive to educational needs since “by ignoring expressed needs, we sacrifice opportunities to develop individual talents, intrinsic motivation, and the joys of learning” (p. 147).

Noddings, N. (1988). An Ethic of Caring and Its Implications for Instructional Arrangements. American Journal of Education, 96(2), 215-230. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1085252 [Journal]

Here Noddings calls out “the hypocrisy inherent in a blend of Christian and individualist ideology has created opposition to traditional forms of moral education. What is needed, then, is not a new assumption but a more appropriate conception of morality. An ethic of caring arising out of both ancient notions of agapism and contemporary feminism will be suggested as an alternative”.

We invite readers to continue the discussion in the comment area below. Share your thoughts and experiences in relation to classroom culture and community in online learning.

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