Nurse 535 discussion question

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Revisit your personal philosophy of teaching. What learning strategies (discussed in chapter 7) that are influenced by your personal philosophy of teaching might you integrate into the curricula? Discuss how the learning strategies you described align with your personal philosophy of teaching. 



Philosophical Foundations of the Curriculum

Theresa M. “Terry” Valiga, EdD, RN, CNE, ANEF, FAAN

Beautiful words. Admirable values. Published prominently on websites and in catalogues, student handbooks and accreditation reports. The philosophical statement of a school of nursing is accepted by faculty as a document that must be crafted to please external reviewers, but for many it remains little more than that. Far too often the school’s philosophy remains safely tucked inside a report but is rarely seen as a living document that guides the day-to-day workings of the school.

In reality, the philosophy of a school of nursing should be referenced and reflected upon often. It should be reviewed seriously with candidates for faculty positions and with those individuals who join the community as new members. It should be discussed in a deliberate way with potential students and with students as they progress throughout the program. And it should be a strong guiding force as the school revises or sharpens its goals, outlines action steps to implement its strategic plan, and makes decisions about the allocation of resources.

This chapter explores the significance of reflecting on, articulating, and being guided by a philosophy, examines the essential components of a philosophy for a school of nursing, and points out how philosophical statements guide the design and implementation of the curriculum and the evaluation of its effectiveness. The role of faculty, administrators, and students in crafting and “living” the philosophy is discussed, and the issues and debates surrounding the “doing of philosophy” (

Greene, 1973
) are examined. Finally, suggestions are offered regarding how faculty might go about writing or revising the school’s philosophy.

What Is Philosophy?

The educational philosopher Maxine

Greene (1973)
challenged educators to “do philosophy.” By this she meant that we need to take the risk of thinking about what we do when we teach and what we mean when we talk of enabling others to learn. It also means we need to become progressively more conscious of the choices and commitments we make in our professional lives. Greene also challenged educators to look at our presuppositions, to examine critically the principles underlying what we think and what we say as educators, and to confront the individual within us. She acknowledged that we often have to ask and answer painful questions when we “do philosophy.”

In his seminal book, The Courage to Teach, Parker

Palmer (2007)
asserted that “though the academy claims to value multiple modes of knowing, it honors only one—an ‘objective’ way of knowing that takes us into the ‘real’ world by taking us ‘out of ourselves’” (p. 18). He encouraged educators to challenge this culture by bringing a more human, personal perspective to the teaching–learning experience. Like Greene, Palmer suggested that, to do this, educators must look inside so that we can understand that “we teach who we are” (p. xi) and so that we can appreciate that such insight is critical for “authentic teaching, learning, and living” (p. ix).

Philosophy, then, is a way of framing questions that have to do with what is presupposed, perceived, intuited, believed, and known. It is a way of contemplating, examining, or thinking about what is taken to be significant, valuable, or worthy of commitment. Additionally, it is a way of becoming self-aware and thinking of everyday experiences as opportunities to reflect, contemplate, and exercise our curiosity so that questions are posed about what we do and how we do it, usual practices are challenged and not merely accepted as “the way things are,” and positive change can occur. Indeed, 119each of us—as a fundamental practice of being—must go beyond the reality we confront, refuse to accept it as a given and, instead, view life as a reality to be created.

These perspectives on “doing philosophy” focus primarily on individuals—as human beings in general or as teachers in particular—reflecting seriously on their beliefs and values. There is no question that such reflection is critical and is to be valued and encouraged. However, “doing philosophy” must also be a group activity when one is involved in curriculum work. In crafting a statement of philosophy for a school of nursing, the beliefs and values of all faculty must be considered, addressed, and incorporated as much as possible. In fact, the very process of talking about one’s beliefs and values—while it may generate heated debates—leads to a deeper understanding of what a group truly accepts as guiding principles for all it does.

Philosophical Statements

A philosophy is essentially a narrative statement of values or beliefs. It reflects broad principles or fundamental “isms” that guide actions and decision making, and it expresses the assumptions we make about people, situations, or goals. As noted by Bevis in her seminal work (

1989, p. 35
), the philosophy “provides the value system for ordering priorities and selecting from among various data.”

In writing a philosophical statement, we must raise questions, contemplate ideas, examine what it is we truly believe, become self-aware, and probe what might be—and what should be. It calls on us to think critically and deeply, forge ideas and ideals, and become highly conscious of the phenomena and events in the world.

We also must reflect on the mission, vision, and values of our parent institution and of our school itself, as well as on the values of our profession.

Figure 7-1
illustrates how a school’s statement of philosophy is related to but differs from these other sources. A mission statement describes unique purposes for which an institution or nursing unit exists: to improve the health of the surrounding community, to advance scientific understanding or contribute to the development of nursing science, to prepare responsible citizens, or to graduate individuals who will influence public policy to ensure access to quality health care for all. A vision is an expression of what an institution or nursing unit wants to be: the institution of choice for highly qualified students wishing to make a positive difference in our world; the leader in integrating innovative technology in the preparation of nurses; or a center of synergy for teaching, research, professional practice, and public service. Institutions and schools of nursing often also articulate a set of values that guide their operation: honesty and transparency, serving the public good, excellence, innovation, or constantly being open to change and transformation.

Figure 7-1 Interrelation of curricular elements.

As stated, a philosophy statement is the narrative that reflects and integrates concepts expressed in the mission, vision, and values of the institution or profession; it serves to guide the actions and decisions of those involved in the organization. Educational philosophy is a matter of “doing philosophy” with respect to the educational enterprise as it engages the educator. It involves becoming critically conscious of what is involved in the complex teaching–learning relationship and what education truly means. The following statements about education, many by well-known individuals, provide examples of different philosophical perspectives:

The secret of Education lies in respecting the pupil.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

If the student is to grow, the teacher must also grow.


I think [education] refines you. I think some of us have rough edges. Education is like sanding down a piece of wood and putting the varnish to it.


Gordon (1991, p. 131)

The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.

—Anatole France

The teacher learns from the student just as the student learns from the teacher with their encounters as examples of mutual openness to each other’s needs.

—Nili Tabak, Livne Adi, and Mali Eherenfeld (

2003, p. 251


Philosophy as It Relates to Nursing Education

As noted earlier, “doing philosophy” must move from individual work to group work when engaged in curriculum development, implementation, and evaluation. Faculty need to reflect on their own individual beliefs and values, share them with colleagues, affirm points of agreement, and discuss points of disagreement.

Table 7-1
summarizes many of the philosophical perspectives expressed through the years, and faculty are encouraged to explore the meaning and implications of each as they engage in developing, reviewing, or refining the philosophical 121statement that guides their work. A discussion of three basic educational ideologies is presented here to point out how differences might arise if each person on a faculty were to approach education from her or his own belief system only.

Table 7-1

Summary of Philosophical Perspectives

Philosophical Perspective

Brief Description


Education focuses on developing mental discipline, particularly through memorization, drill, and recitation. Because learning is systematic, sequential building on previous learning is important.


Because knowledge is key, the goal of education is to transmit and uphold the cultural heritage of the past.


The function of education is to help individuals explore reasons for existence. Personal choice and commitment are crucial.


Because individuals are self-interpreting beings, uniquely defined by personal beliefs, concerns, and experiences of life, education must attend to the meaning of experiences for learners.


Education must provide for learner autonomy and respect their dignity. It also must help individuals achieve self-actualization by developing their full potential.


Individuals desire to live in a perfect world of high ideals, beauty, and art, and they search for ultimate truth. Education assists in this search.


Education challenges convention, values a high tolerance for ambiguity, emphasizes diversity of culture and thought, and encourages innovation and change.


Truth is relative to an individual’s experience; therefore education must provide for “real-world” experiences.


The role of learners is to make choices about what is important, and the role of teachers is to facilitate their learning.


Education is designed to help learners understand the natural laws that regulate all of nature.


Education embraces the social ideal of a democratic life, and the school is viewed as the major vehicle for social change.

Adapted from Csokasy, J. (2009). Philosophical foundations of the curriculum. In D. M. Billings & J. A. Halstead, Teaching in nursing: A guide for faculty. St. Louis, MO: Saunders.

One basic educational ideology is that of romanticism (

Jarvis, 1995
). This perspective, which emerged in the 1960s, is highly learner centered and asserts that what comes from within the learner is most important. Within this ideological perspective, one would construct an educational environment that is permissive and freeing; promotes creativity and discovery; allows each student’s inner abilities to unfold and grow; and stresses the unique, the novel, and the personal. Bradshaw asserted that “this ‘romantic’ educational philosophy underpins current nurse education” (

1998, p. 104
); however, those who acknowledge our current “content-laden curricula” in nursing (

Diekelmann, 2002

Diekelmann & Smythe, 2004

Giddens & Brady, 2007

Tanner, 2010
) would disagree and posit that, although a “romantic” philosophy is embraced as an ideal, it is not always evident in our day-to-day practices.

A second educational ideology, that of cultural transmission (

Bernstein, 1975
), is more society- or culture-centered. Here the emphasis is on transmitting bodies of information, rules, values, and the culturally given (i.e., the beliefs and practices that are central to our educational environments and our society in general). One would expect an educational environment that is framed within a cultural transmission perspective to be structured, rigid, and controlled, with an emphasis on the common and the already established.

The third major educational ideology has been called progressivism (

Dewey, 1944

Kohlberg & Mayer, 1972
), where the focus is oriented toward the future and the goal of education is to nourish the learner’s natural interaction with the world. Here the educational environment is designed to present resolvable but genuine problems or conflicts that “force” learners to think so that they can be effective later in life. The total development of learners—not merely their cognitive or intellectual abilities—is emphasized and enhanced.

Increasingly, education experts agree that development must be an overarching paradigm of 122education, students must be central to the educational enterprise, and education must be designed to empower learners and help them fulfill their potentials. Beliefs and values such as these surely would influence expectations faculty express regarding students’ and their own performance, the relationships between students and teachers, how the curriculum is designed and implemented (see

Figure 7-1
), and the kind of “evidence” that is gathered to determine whether the curriculum has been successful and effective.

There is no doubt that a statement of philosophy for a school of nursing must address beliefs and values about education, teaching, and learning. However, it also must address other concepts that are critical to the practice of nursing, namely human beings, society and the environment, health, and the roles of nurses themselves. These major concepts have been referred to as the metaparadigm of nursing, a concept first introduced by Fawcett in


Central Concepts in a School of Nursing’s Philosophy

Several central concepts are typically contained within a nursing school’s statement of philosophy about which faculty communicate their beliefs and values. These concepts include beliefs about human beings, the societal or environmental context in which humans live and act, health, and nursing. Faculty may also add additional concepts about phenomena they hold to be particularly meaningful to the learning environment they are creating within their programs.

In preparing or revising the school of nursing’s statement of philosophy, faculty must articulate their beliefs and values about human beings, including the individual patients for whom nurses care, patients’ families, the communities in which patients live and work, students, and fellow nurses and faculty. It is inconsistent to express a belief that patients and families want to be involved in making decisions that affect them and then never give students an opportunity to make decisions that will affect them. Likewise, it is admirable to talk about respecting others, treating others with dignity, and valuing differences among people, but when faculty then treat one another in disrespectful ways or insist that everyone teach in the same way and do exactly the same thing, the validity of those expressed values must be questioned. Consider the following statements about human beings that might be expressed in a school’s philosophy, keeping in mind that human beings refers to students, faculty, and administrators, as well as patients:

• Human beings are unique, complex, holistic individuals.

• Human beings have the inherent capacity for rational thinking, self-actualization, and growth throughout the life cycle.

• Human beings engage in deliberate action to achieve goals.

• Human beings want and have the right to be involved in making decisions that affect their lives.

• All human beings have strengths as well as weaknesses, and they often need support and guidance to capitalize on those strengths or to overcome or manage those weaknesses or limitations.

• All human beings are to be respected and valued.

Faculty also need to reflect on their beliefs and values related to society and environment, their effect on human beings, and the ways in which individuals and groups can influence their environments and society. The following statements may be ones to consider as faculty write or refine the philosophy of their school of nursing:

• Human beings interact in families, groups, and communities in an interdependent manner.

• Individuals, families, and communities reflect unique and diverse cultural, ethnic, experiential, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

• Human beings determine societal goals, values, and ethical systems.

• Society has responsibility for providing environments conducive to maximizing the health and well being of its members.

• Although human beings often must adapt to their environments, the environment also adapts to them in reciprocal ways.

Because the goal of nursing is to promote health and well being, faculty must consider the values and beliefs they hold about health. For example, the following statements express values and beliefs about health that a faculty might consider:

• Health connotes a sense of wholeness or integrity.

• Health is a goal to be attained.


• Health is the energy that sustains life, allows an individual to participate in a variety of human experiences, and supports one’s ability to set and meet life goals.

• Health is a dynamic, complex state of being that human beings use as a resource to achieve their life goals; it is therefore a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

• Health can be promoted, maintained, or regained.

• Health is a right more than a privilege.

• All human beings must have access to quality health care.

Finally, it is critical for faculty to discuss their beliefs about nurses and nursing because this is the essence of our programs. In doing so, it may be important to reflect on the current and evolving roles of the nurse, the purpose of nursing, the ways in which nurses practice in collaboration with other health care professionals, and how one’s identity as a nurse evolves. The following statements may stimulate thinking about beliefs and values related to nurses and nursing:

• Nursing is a human interactive process.

• The focus of nursing is to enhance human beings’ capacity to take deliberate action for themselves and their dependent others regarding goals for optimal wellness.

• Nursing is a practice discipline that requires the deliberate use of specialized techniques and a broad range of scientific knowledge to design, deliver, coordinate, and manage care for complex individuals, families, groups, communities, and populations.

• Nurses are scholars who practice with scientific competence, intellectual maturity, and humanistic concern for others.

• The formation of one’s identity as a nurse requires deep self-reflection, feedback from others, and a commitment to lifelong learning.

• Nurses must be educated at the university level.

• Nurses must be prepared to provide leadership within their practice settings and for the profession as a whole.

• Nurses collaborate with patients and other professionals as equal yet unique members of the health care team.

• Nurses are accountable for their own practice.

Box 7-1
provides examples of actual statements of philosophy regarding these components of the metaparadigm. These examples illustrate the beliefs of various groups of faculty, some of which may express vastly different perspectives and some of which express essentially the same idea but through different words.

Box 7-1

Examples of Statements of Philosophy from Current Schools of Nursing

Clayton State University School of Nursing

We believe that nursing is a dynamic, challenging profession that requires a synthesis of critical thinking skills and theory based practice to provide care for individuals, families, and communities experiencing a variety of developmental and health–illness transitions. Caring, which is at the heart of the nursing profession, involves the development of a committed, nurturing relationship, characterized by attentiveness to others and respect for their dignity, values, and culture. We believe that nursing practice must reflect an understanding of and respect for each individual and for human diversity.

Transitions involve a process of movement and change in fundamental life patterns, which are manifested in all individuals. Transitions cause changes in identities, roles, relationships, abilities, and patterns of behavior. Outcomes of transitional experiences are influenced by environmental factors interacting with the individual’s perceptions, resources, and state of well-being. Negotiating successful transitions depends on the development of an effective relationship between the nurse and client. This relationship is a highly reciprocal process that affects both the client and nurse.

Clayton State University, School of Nursing, Morrow, GA. Retrieved from

Villanova University College of Nursing

The Philosophy of the College of Nursing is in accord with the Philosophy of Villanova University as stated in its Mission Statement. While the Philosophy is rooted in the Catholic and Augustinian heritage of the university, the College of Nursing is welcoming and respectful of those from other faith traditions. We recognize human beings as unique and created by God. The faculty believes that human beings are physiological, psychological, social and spiritual beings, endowed with intellect, free will, and inherent dignity. Human beings have the potential to direct, integrate, and/or adapt to their total environment in order to meet their needs.

The faculty believes that education provides students with opportunities to develop habits of critical, constructive thought so that they can make discriminating judgments in their search for truth. This type of intellectual development can best be attained in a highly technologic teaching–learning environment that fosters sharing of knowledge, skills, and attitudes as well as scholarship toward the development of new knowledge. The faculty and students comprise a community of learners with the teacher as the facilitator and the students responsible for their own learning.

Villanova University College of Nursing, Villanova, PA. Retrieved from

Duke University School of Nursing

Duke University School of Nursing is committed to achieving distinction in research, education, and patient care predicated on our beliefs regarding human beings, society and the environment, health and health care delivery, nursing, and teaching and learning.

Human Beings—We believe that the dignity of each human being is to be respected and nurtured, and embracing our diversity affirms, respects, and celebrates the uniqueness of each person. We believe that each human being is a unique expression of attributes, behaviors, and values which are influenced by his or her environment, social norms, cultural values, physical characteristics, experiences, religious beliefs, and practices. We also believe that human beings exist in relation to one another, including families, communities, and populations

Teaching/Learning—We believe that our purpose is to develop nurse leaders in practice, education, administration, and research by focusing on students’ intellectual growth and development as adults committed to high ethical standards and full participation in their communities. We recognize that it is the responsibility of all individuals to assume ownership of and responsibility for ongoing learning and to continually refine the skills that facilitate critical inquiry for lifelong learning.

Duke University School of Nursing promotes an intellectual environment that is built on a commitment to free and open inquiry and is a center of excellence for the promotion of scholarship and advancement of nursing science, practice, and education. We affirm that it is the responsibility of faculty to create and nurture academic initiatives that strengthen our engagement of real world issues by anticipating new models of knowledge formation and applying knowledge to societal issues. This, we believe, equips students with the necessary cognitive skills, clinical reasoning, clinical imagination, professional identity, and commitment to the values of the profession that are necessary to function as effective and ethical nurse leaders in situations that are underdetermined, contingent, and changing over time.

Duke University School of Nursing, Durham, NC. Retrieved from


Purpose of a Statement of Philosophy

Given that “doing philosophy” is hard work, takes time, and may lead to substantial debates among faculty, one may ask, “Why bother?” Perhaps part of the answer to that question lies in a statement made by Alexander Astin, a noted educational scholar whose seminal study (1997) of more than 20,000 students, 25,000 faculty members, and 200 institutions helped educators better understand who our students are; what is important to them; what they value; what they think about teachers; how they change and develop in college; and how academic programs, faculty, student peer groups, and other variables affect students’ development and college experiences. Although Astin’s original research was completed nearly 20 years ago and focused on traditional-age students enrolled, typically, on a full-time basis—thereby not fully reflecting today’s student population—the following comment has relevance for this discussion of why faculty need to “bother” with philosophy: “The problems of strengthening and reforming American higher education are fundamentally problems of values” [emphasis added] (

Astin, 1997, p. 127

Engaging in serious discussions about beliefs and values—about human beings, society and environment, health, nurses and nursing, and education—challenges faculty to search for points of congruence, brings to the surface points of incongruence or difference, and highlights what is truly important to the group. In a time when nursing faculty are struggling to minimize content overload and focus more on core concepts, gaining clarity about what is truly important can be helpful in deciding “what to leave in and what to leave out” of the curriculum.

Such exercises also help faculty minimize or avoid what is often referred to as the “hidden curriculum” (

Adler et al., 2006

D’eon et al., 2007

Gofton & Regehr, 2006

Smith, 2013
) by ensuring that faculty are fully aware of and committed to upholding certain beliefs and values in how they 125interact with and what they expect of students and one another. Such agreement and consistency is likely to avoid having three components to the curriculum: “what is planned for the students, what is delivered to the students, and what the students experience” (Prideaux, as cited in

Ozolins et al., 2008, p. 606
). For example, the plan may be to help students think of themselves as evolving scholars; what is delivered is little more than content about the research process or evidence-based practice; and what is experienced by students is minimal discussion by faculty of their own scholarly activities and how they think of themselves as scholars. When what is delivered to and experienced by students does not match what was planned for them, confusion can reign, due process can be challenged, and the relationships between students and teachers can be irreparably damaged. Thus having clear statements of values to which all faculty agree to subscribe can serve a most practical, as well as philosophical, purpose.

Developing or Refining the School of Nursing’s Statement of Philosophy

Developing or refining the school’s statement of philosophy, while important and valuable, is far from easy. It takes time and effort and is not to be taken lightly. But just how does a group of faculty go about developing a philosophical statement for the school and getting “buy-in” on it? As expected, there are no formulas or step-by-step guidelines on how to go about doing this work, but some examples (

Colley, 2012

Snyder, 2014

Thistlethwaite et al., 2014
) and suggestions for a process may be helpful.

One approach to engaging in this work may include reflecting on the nursing theories that have been developed to determine if any of them capture the essence of faculty beliefs. For example, if faculty are in agreement that human beings are self-determining individuals who want to take responsibility for their own health and need specific knowledge, skills, and attitudes to do whatever is required to maintain, regain, or improve their health, then

Orem’s (1971)
self-care nursing model may be evident in that school’s statement of philosophy. Likewise,

Roy’s (1980)
adaptation model may be reflected in the philosophical statement of a school where the faculty believe that a central challenge to individuals and families is to adapt to their environments and circumstances, and that the role of the nurse is to facilitate that adaptation. Finally, if the concept of caring is essential to a third group of faculty, their philosophy may clearly be congruent with

Watson’s (2008)
theory of human caring.

Whether or not to acknowledge a single nursing theory in a school’s statement of philosophy (and then use that theory to develop the school’s conceptual framework, end-of-program outcomes or competencies, and other curriculum elements) has been debated in recent years. Those in favor of such an approach argue that it provides students with a way to “think nursing” and approach nursing situations in a way that clearly is nursing-focused, not medical model–focused, and that provides an opportunity to contribute to the ongoing development of the theory and therefore the science of nursing. Those against such an approach argue that it limits students’ thinking and engages them with language and perspectives that are not likely to be widely encountered in practice, thereby making it difficult for graduates to communicate effectively with their nursing and health care team colleagues. Obviously, there is no one right answer to this debate. The key question to consider is whether the concepts that are central to a theory—nursing or otherwise—truly are congruent with the beliefs and values of the majority of faculty, because that is what a statement of philosophy must reflect.

The inductive approach can be most useful to faculty when developing or refining their philosophical statement; rather than selecting concepts from existing theories or policy statements or other literature, the faculty themselves generate concepts to include in the philosophy. For example, all faculty may be asked to list no more than five bullet items that express what they believe about each concept in the metaparadigm: human beings, society and environment, health, nurses and nursing, and education and teaching–learning. The responses in each category could then be compiled and faculty—perhaps in small groups—could then engage in an analysis of the items listed for each. These working groups might be asked to note the frequency with which specific ideas were mentioned, thereby identifying those points where there is great agreement and those where only one or a few faculty identified an idea. The fact that only a single faculty 126member or few faculty identify a particular belief or value, however, does not necessarily mean that it should be discarded. It is possible that other faculty simply did not think of that idea as they were creating their own lists, or it is possible that other faculty did identify the idea but did not include it because they were limited to five bullet items. The compilation from each working group could then be shared with the entire faculty. At this point, a discussion about the meaning and significance of the statements in each category could ensue, or faculty could be asked to review each list, select the three to five statements they believe are most critical to include in the philosophy, and then engage in dialogue about why they selected those statements, what those statements mean to individuals, and so on. A draft statement of philosophy—one that has evolved from an inductive, bottom-up process—could then be written by an individual or small group and circulated to faculty for comment and further discussion.

Another approach that might be used combines deduction—or drawing on existing literature, standards, or policy documents—with induction, or generating ideas “from the ground up” by interviewing faculty. An individual faculty member—one who is viewed as a leader in the group, who is respected and trusted by her or his peers, who has good writing skills, and who is knowledgeable about curriculum development—may be asked to talk to faculty about their beliefs about human beings, society and environment, and so on, and use that input to draft a statement of philosophy that incorporates what faculty expressed. This draft could then be circulated to all faculty for comment, editing, and revision. The original writer would then revise the statement based on feedback from colleagues and present the new statement to the group for discussion and dialogue. This back-and-forth process would continue until there is consensus about what to include in the statement.

In either of these scenarios, or when a philosophical statement already exists but is being reviewed for possible updating and revision, “clickers”—simple online, anonymous surveys—can be used to get a sense of faculty agreement or endorsement. With this approach, each sentence in the draft (or existing) philosophy is listed as a separate item and faculty are asked to indicate the extent to which they agree (e.g., Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, or Strongly Disagree). Instead of using the entire sentence as the item to be responded to, it may be more helpful to use phrases or major concepts within each sentence as the item. Regardless of the degree of detail in each item, the anonymous responses can then be compiled, the results shared with the entire faculty, and discussions held to explore the meaning of the data obtained.

Finally, the entire process—whether it involves starting from an existing philosophy or creating a new one—can be prompted or stimulated by the thinking of those outside the school of nursing. For example, faculty may be assigned to review major contemporary documents or reports—for example, the Carnegie study (

Benner et al., 2010
), the Future of Nursing report (

Institute of Medicine, 2010
), accreditation standards, or published articles about employers’ assessment of what new graduates can and cannot do. In reviewing those reports, faculty might identify values that are expressed or implied, beliefs about patients and nurses, or societal expectations related to health, health care, and the role of the nurse. Those values and beliefs could then be compiled and faculty asked to reflect on the extent to which they are aligned with the beliefs of the faculty. Through an iterative process such as one of those described previously, the group could craft its own statement of philosophy, one that has been informed by the larger context in which the educational programs exist.

Regardless of the process used, it is critical that all faculty be involved and that adequate time and safe environments be provided for faculty to disagree, struggle, contemplate, rethink, debate, and “do philosophy.” Ending the process prematurely is not likely to be wise. It also is important to remember that this is an iterative process that will continue, to some extent, throughout all of the subsequent steps of curriculum development. For example, the statement of philosophy may have been endorsed and approved-in-concept by faculty, but as various groups work on developing course syllabi, they may generate questions about “what we really meant” by something in the philosophy. Should this occur, it would be worthwhile to revisit the philosophical statement and make revisions to it, if such revisions will lead to greater clarity about its meaning.


The preceding discussion has focused exclusively on the role of faculty in the creation or revision of the school’s philosophy. It is assumed that school administrators (e.g., dean, program chair) are faculty who also must be involved in this process. Additionally, consideration should be given to including students in dialogue about beliefs and values; however, in the end, the final document must reflect what faculty believe and are guided by regarding human beings, society and environment, health, nurses and nursing, and education and teaching–learning.

The final statement of philosophy should be clearly written, internally consistent, and easily understood, and should give clear direction for all that follows. It should be long enough to clearly express the significant beliefs and values that guide faculty actions but not excessively detailed, as expressions of detail (rather than fundamental beliefs) often are more congruent with the work that must be done in formulating the conceptual framework, end-of-program outcomes or competencies, and curriculum design. Later chapters explore all of those subsequent curriculum development steps in detail (see

Figure 7-1
), so only a few examples of how the philosophy gives direction to the development, implementation, and evaluation of the curriculum are offered here.

Implications of the Philosophical Statement for the Curriculum

If the statements included in the school of nursing’s philosophy reflect what the faculty truly believe—and are not merely words on a page to “get the task done”—then those values should be evident in how the curriculum is designed, how it is implemented, and how it is evaluated. Examples of this influence are presented in

Box 7-2
as if–then statements.

Box 7-2

Examples of If–Then Statements Regarding Implications of the Philosophical Statement for the Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of the Curriculum

If the philosophical statement says…

Then one would expect to see…

We believe that human beings should have choices regarding what they do…

Free, unrestricted elective courses in the curriculum, or choice among several courses to meet a degree requirement (e.g., English)

We believe that human beings engage in deliberate action to achieve goals…

Opportunities throughout the curriculum for students to write their own learning goals and collaborate with faculty or clinical staff to design unique learning experiences to achieve those goals

We believe that individuals reflect unique and diverse cultural, ethnic, experiential, and socioeconomic backgrounds…

Face-to-face or virtual experiences with a wide variety of patient populations and within communities having a range of resources and challenges

We believe that health can be promoted, maintained, or regained…

Equally distributed clinical learning experiences in wellness settings, with patients and families who are managing chronic illnesses, and in acute care settings

We believe that nurses are scholars who practice with scientific competence and intellectual maturity…

Courses and learning experiences that expose students to the concept of scholarship, what it means to be a scholar, and how one develops and maintains scientific competence

We believe that nurses must be prepared to provide leadership within their practice settings and for the profession as a whole…

Courses and learning experiences that help students appreciate the differences between leadership and management, study nursing leaders, and reflect on their own path toward becoming a leader

We believe that nurses collaborate with patients and other professionals as equal yet unique members of the health care team…

Face-to-face or virtual experiences where nursing students learn with students preparing for other professional roles, dialogue with or interview members of other health care professions, or undertake projects that call for interprofessional collaboration to meet the health needs of a patient population or community

We believe that the goal of teaching is to awaken the learner’s natural curiosity…

Problem-based learning experiences where students must identify what it is they need to know to address a problem, seek out that information, judge its quality, ask questions about established practices, and so on

We believe that education involves nurturing students and pulling them forth to a new place…

A program evaluation plan that incorporates open forums with students about the extent to which they feel nurtured, supported, and challenged by faculty; dialogue with graduates about how their educational experience changed them as human beings; and surveys of students and alumni regarding the contributions they have made in their practice settings and to the profession

It is hoped that these examples, combined with the detail provided in subsequent chapters, reinforce the importance of the philosophy. Faculty aim to establish positive relationships with students, clinical partners, alumni, administrators, and each other; one way to achieve that goal is to be clear about the values we share and, more importantly, to “live” those values in everything we say and do.



As noted earlier, “doing philosophy” is hard work. However, it is important and valuable work that has implications for faculty and our practice as teachers, as well as for our students.

“Doing philosophy” may prompt us to attend more deliberately to affective domain learning and identity formation as we design learning experiences and interact with students, a focus that is likely to enhance their educational experience. It may challenge us to ask new questions about our practice as teachers and seek answers to those questions through rigorous pedagogical research efforts, an effort that can contribute to the development of the science of nursing education. It also may direct us to seek out new teaching strategies and evaluation methods that better facilitate student learning, an outcome that may serve to maintain the joy in teaching as we see students become excited about their formation as nurses.

One can conclude that the philosophical foundations of the curriculum extend far beyond mere program designs and course syllabi. Reflections on and clarity regarding those philosophical foundations can help us better understand who we are and how we can best help our students, our colleagues, and ourselves to grow and continue to learn.

Reflecting on the evidence

1. Although faculty share a commitment to the values of the profession, they are likely to have varied beliefs about the implications of those and other values, particularly in relation to how they “play out” in the educational arena. What effect can such differences have on students? How can such differences be resolved?

2. How can faculty “track” congruence of beliefs, values, and significant concepts from mission, vision, and values to philosophy to framework to end-of-program outcomes and competencies and on through specific learning experiences that are designed for students? How can they assess the congruence of these beliefs and values with their own personal beliefs?

3. What are some signs that a “hidden curriculum” is operating where faculty say one thing but do another, or where beliefs expressed in the philosophy (e.g., nurses must be involved in professional associations) are not evident in what students experience (e.g., faculty never talk about their involvement in professional associations)? What implications might such signals have for reexamining the school’s philosophical underpinnings?



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