My research has three strands.
First, my most immediate work is in the role of narrative in the preparation of caring professionals: future teachers, nurses, social workers, and others who will work clinically with the public’s need in high-stakes (and usually low-resource) settings. In my five years on the faculty of the UNC School of Medicine I became interested in how effectively “narrative medicine” was being explored in medical education as a curriculum initiative to increase empathy attitudes, improve team communication (and thereby lower medical errors and increase patient satisfaction), increase cultural sensitivity, and (above all) combat burnout and compassion fatigue, especially among newer practitioners. When I came to Appalachian in 2010, I was thrilled to find colleagues in LES as well as the departments of English, nursing, and social work who shared my interest, and I set to work with them through the support of two Humanities Research Cluster grants.
My research agenda that seeks to establish the intra- and interdisciplinary value of narrative pedagogy in undergraduate professional formation. Most exciting at this point is the receipt of nearly $5000 from the University Research Council in support of a 2013 mixed-methods project across nursing and teacher education to establish the impact of this work on empathy attitudes of future caregivers. My team is looking forward to leveraging the outcomes of that support into an external funding proposal through the NIH R15 (“AREA”) grant mechanism. We are working for the establishment of Appalachian as the national leader in the use of narrative pedagogy in professional education at masters-granting institutions.
Second, this interest connects to a larger thematic of all my work: understanding the challenges of sustainable practice. Since my dissertation, I have been interested in the ways that successful teachers bring “who they are to what they do:” the role of personal engagement in teaching, the ways that teachers decide what of their “real selves” to incorporate into their teaching persona, what to bring in and leave out. This theme saturates my teaching’s focus on autobiography and currere as a method for inquiry toward praxis. It is evolving into a quest to articulate a theory of “sustainable teaching practice” that bridges the curriculum and sustainability discourses as I am learning it on this sustainability-valuing campus.
Finally, I am developing an emerging interest in understanding the role of local solutions in the development of sustainable dispositions. This strand grows out of the American Library Association “Building Common Ground” grant that I secured in 2011 to support a year-long exploration of the issue of food insecurity in the High Country. This programming made the Watauga County Public Library as the center of a collaboration between the University Sustainability Office, the Appalachian Humanities Council, local pay-as-you-can restaurant FARM Café, and a host of other local sustainability organizations (e.g., Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture, Heifer International, the Elkland Art Center). The resulting events drew students and community together in an exploration of the importance of compassion in daily life and our shared interdependence, which in turn fed back into my class discussions and increased the service footprint of ASU students in the community.
UPDATES ON MY RESEARCH:
I am thrilled to announce that I signed a contract last month with Information Age Publishing to bring out my new book The Thing with Feathers: Hope, Beauty, and Sustainable Caring Practice, anticipated summer 2020.
From the proposal:
This book seeks to help teachers confront their despair and sustain their hope through experience with beauty in their lives and work. It will comprise three parts:
• a bringing-together of thinking and research on beauty and education from curriculum theory, arts education, narrative medicine, and expressive arts therapy that gets these areas talking to each other in ways that are relevant and useful for practicing teachers;
• an exploration of multiple examples of how conscious encounters with beauty can work with the inner life of a struggling teacher and help her tap into deep sources of sustainable power;
• a series of invitations drawn from the author’s twenty-five years of experience in
teaching and teacher education that will allow readers to experience the power of beauty to support hope in their own teaching practice.
It will be an embodied and timely response to the specific policy and identity crises
teaching faces in this decade. It will advance a new microparadigm designed to support future and practicing teachers as they take responsibility for the sustainable cultivation of their own inner relationship to despair, beauty, and hope — the better to work for political and social transformation out in the world that confronts them.
Watch this space for updates! More to come!
Scars: An Anthology is in print! We’ll be scheduling a reading or two of its authors in North Carolina in 2016 – more to come.
Working with Sharon Cumbie to write up the results of our University Research Council grant to explore interdisciplinary use of narrative in training of undergraduate “caring professionals.” Looking forward to presenting at the Medical University of South Carolina’s “Narrative Bridge” conference later this month. And no news yet on the publication date of the Et Alia Press anthology on scars that will include my essay, “The Thousand Natural Shocks.”
I have written a few things that I’m working to get into print; this piece in The Intima started as a blog post here. And here’s a working draft of a paper I gave at the Appalachian Studies Association conference here in Boone last month; posted so FARM Cafe can link to it!
Continuing to write with Sharon Cumbie and Wendy Miller in nursing; learning so much from the rich data last semester’s project in HON 2515 yielded. Our American Library Association “Building Common Ground” grant (“Food Security in the High Country: Compassion Comes to the Table“) will wind up this fall, and a writing project about it with a former student is coming together. Also looking forward to presenting a paper on Roman Ingarden’s insights into engagement with student writing at the South Atlantic Philosophy of Education Society (SAPES) in October here on campus.
I am collaborating this semester with Dr. Sharon Cumbie in the Department of Nursing on a research project around my new Honors seminar “Narrative and the Caring Professions.”
Two campus-wide humanities projects of note:
- The Humanities Research Cluster was a fascinating year-long exploration of what “reading together” offers nursing, social work, and teacher education – both within each field and through interdisciplinary, “silo-jumping” work. We presented some of our conclusions at the end-of-semester campus-wide Humanities Day in the spring (see slides below), and are figuring out our next steps now. We have a manuscript underway that highlights the possibilities of interdisciplinary conversation in particular. Still trying to fund a student and faculty group for this year.
- I am really excited about a session I’ve proposed for this year’s Humanities Thematic Series on the pervasiveness of “the grid” in schools. This will build on some of my dissertation work, but will also stretch it into some exciting new areas like film and art criticism. I hope to make that presentation in the spring.
I am also preparing a paper for the American Educational Studies Association meeting in St. Louis in October. It’s on student voice in teacher education classes like the ones I teach – the challenges of enabling students to “talk back” to social and political realities that can feel overwhelming and silencing. It started as a response to Madeleine Grumet’s call to empower our teachers to enter the public discourse about their profession. How exactly shall we do that? My undergrad students are blogging and creating documentary films as part of their work this semester; I hope to be able to explore how those forms of representation contribute to the project as well, though it might be too soon to say.
I am working to place a paper I completed last year on the aesthetics of “attending” in student work. I try to discern what compels teacher engagement with their students’ writing through some important insights of Roman Ingarden.
I also gave this paper at the Journal of Curriculum Theorizing meeting in Bergamo last fall. It begins to work out some of what I am writing for AESA now about student voice through thinking about the career of Harold Rugg. I am still taken with the idea of “cageyness” as an important outcome of teacher education programs, and hope to develop it into something more publishable.
I am most excited right now about a study group I am facilitating among faculty in English, Education, and the Colleges of Nursing and Social Work.
- Funded by a University Humanities Research Cluster grant, we are working to understand the potential role of literature groups in the professional education of health care providers and teachers.
- We are interested in the values and challenges held in common by the “caring professions” of nursing, social work, and teaching and the core social issues of professional formation in those fields (e.g., gender and power, autonomy, perception of self-efficacy).
- We’ll be convening student and faculty reading groups in each of these schools – and among them – next year.