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Teaching Philosophy Statement: Elaine Barnhart

Registered Nurse, U of S

As a registered nurse, I am deeply committed to the nursing profession and I chose nursing due, in part, to a life-changing event. When I was six years old, I became critically ill with polio - a life threatening viral illness. Although the nurses who cared for me remain nameless, the memories of their attentive and vigilant care remain vivid. The premise that I literally owe my life to nursing, as represented by the care given to me by the unknown nurses, kindles my loyalty to the profession today. Nurses promote health and healing, as well as give end-of-life care. For me, the nursing care I received was life giving and this experience contributed significantly to my becoming a registered nurse.

My affiliation with professional nursing associations has guided me in my career, namely the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association and the Canadian Nurses Association. An integral part of a registered nurse's role is engaging individuals, families, and communities in learning, with the ultimate goal of providing competent and safe nursing care. It is the teaching aspect of nursing practice that I particularly enjoy, and I have fulfilled this role as (a) a bedside nurse supporting life adjustments; (b) a clinic nurse engaged in health promotion and disease prevention; (c) a childbirth education instructor; and (d) a health nurse in secured custody for young offenders, teaching lifestyle courses related to alcohol, drugs, and human sexuality.

I began learning my current approach to teaching vicariously as a Post-RN undergraduate in Professor Linda Ferguson's class: The Nurse as a Health Educator. Linda Ferguson nurtured and supported my decision to pursue a Master's program in nursing education. She was, and continues to be, a role model, a mentor, and a research supervisor. She fosters a learning climate with fairness and respect. Simply put, Professor Ferguson "walks the talk," and she has inspired me to pursue teaching in an academic setting. I further cultivated my teaching skills, by participating in both leadership and teaching courses. These certificate courses have added to my skill and confidence, involving nursing students in active learning, using both large and small discussion groups. In teacher/student interactions, I enjoy the challenge of promoting students' critical thinking by building respectful learning environments, and by asking probing questions rather than readily giving answers. In short, I love teaching.

Cultural Diversity

I value cultural diversity, which enriches the "intellectual health" of the classroom, the university, and the nursing profession. A highlight in my graduate program has been tutoring international Asian nursing students over a period of 18 months. I tried to be sensitive to their needs, and to be available for both academic and non-academic consultation. Through socializing, we came to know one another better, and, although the students have moved on from the university setting, I am still in communication with them. The key lessons I have learned from working with the Asian students are: (a) they are not a homogeneous group and they take pride in their individuality; (b)communication takes time and patience; (c) one should not assume anything; and, (d) respectful teacher/student interactions promote learning.

Therefore, I see my role with our culturally diverse student population as both teacher and learner. To teach is to facilitate students' learning, to value the learners' experience and knowledge, and to help students achieve their learning goals they have set for themselves. In addition, I believe it is the teacher's role to promote a "culturally safe" learning environment, characterized by advocacy, respect, and recognition of students' rights. I have adopted this view, based on the New Zealand Nursing Council's model of Cultural Safety. When students feel safe, they are less inhibited about raising questions and comments, and are more open to thinking critically. As well, it is the teacherçs role to be mindful about seeking clarification for mutual understanding. In these ways, the teacher also becomes a learner. I have found affirmation for my teaching style in the feedback from my clinical teaching preceptor Karen Scott Barss. In Appendix 5 -B, on the back of her poem Teapot, Karen writes about our collegial teaching role.

Graduate Work

My thesis work focuses on the nursing education of international Asian nursing students for whom English is a second language. The purpose of this qualitative study is to describe the experiences of five international Asian nurses at the University of Saskatchewan, and to examine what practices were helpful and/or a hindrance to their learning. The results from this study may contribute to better understanding of nursing education for international Asian nursing students, and point to changes that we could make to enrich their learning experiences.

Computer Skills

In my quest for computer literacy, I discovered that I have an aptitude for using computer applications. This discovery began in the early 1990s, when I participated in computing workshops offered to students at the University of Ottawa. My computer literacy has grown to include skills in desktop publishing, having served as a newsletter editor for the Bridge City NeedleArts Guild. Producing the guild's quarterly newsletter for five years has given me skills that will be useful in preparing visual learning materials and handouts. Currently I am using both Corel WordPerfect and Microsoft Word, and I enjoy troubleshooting by sharing my computer skills with students and fellow co-workers. I will use technology to facilitate my availability and interactions with students; for example, using E-mail will enable timely feedback for questions and assignments. Eventually, to promote student interaction and learning from peers, I will create and maintain a class listserv. The development of online course materials complements classroom teaching; therefore, I will endeavour to advance my technological skills in pursuit of teaching excellence. Appendix 5 -C is an example of a presentation package I developed using Microsoft PowerPoint, including a small handout I designed using Corel WordPerfect.

Future Goals

Nursing has opened many doors for me in all four domains: practice, administration, research, and education. As I begin a career in nursing scholarship, I acknowledge that I have much to learn about teaching. Wherever this path leads me, my goal is to write and teach well. Furthermore, I underscore my desire to work with culturally diverse nursing students, not so much as a "knower," but a "guide at the side."


Elaine V. Barnhart, RN, was a student in our first Introduction to University Teaching (GSR 989) class in 2001-2002. Elaine's teaching philosophy statement has been a splendid example for others to read and follow.

Elaine passed away on May 23, 2003. We will miss her intelligence, grace, and scholarship.

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