Virginia Johnson - Nurturing Pedagogy: An Intellectual and Moral Endeavor

Virginia Johnson

"Teaching is a moral and intellectual practice with rich tradition,” began Virginia Johnson as she presented to faculty and students. “The importance of a teacher…deserves the spotlight.”

Johnson was the fourth of five presenters in a lecture series on The Moral Dimensions of Education, part of the year long celebration of the 20 year BYU- Public School Partnership. The presentations were facilitated by the Center for Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling.

Ms. Johnson is currently an adjunct professor teaching adolescent psychology classes at BYU. She contributed to education for 42 years before retiring in July 2004 from assistant superintendent of K-12 instruction and supervision in Alpine School District.

Ms. Johnson used educator and researcher David T. Hansen’s definition of nurturing pedagogy throughout her presentation: teachers giving sustained intellectual and moral attention to all students regardless of the subject at hand, or the grade, or the age level. Explaining the significance of the teaching profession and nurturing pedagogy, Johnson stated that society often feels the need to fix itself in schools.

Teaching Profession

Ms. Johnson noted that moral attentiveness is part of the teaching profession’s tradition.

“The moral relations between students and teachers cannot be argued away…the person who is the teacher affects the learner.” Ms. Johnson continued, “Teachers’ knowledge cannot be compared to who the teacher is. Education is inextricably bound to character and conduct; it is how a person regards and treats others.”

To cement her case that moral education is within the traditions of the profession, Johnson also asserted that teaching creates a dialogue across generations, and that what a student learns, adds to who they are.

Moral Sensibility

“Moral sensibility appreciates differences in the points of view…[it] prevents rather than triggers aloofness” said Johnson. She emphasized author Michael Oakeshott’s observations that there is more to learning than acquiring information, and that “how” a person is in the world can carry as much weight as “what” a person is. Thus, moral sensibility plays a direct role on the influence we have on others. Attending to the people around us develops this characteristic indirectly.

Often it takes time for teachers to form connections between what they say and what they do. Educational administration should acknowledge that a teacher is a growing person. If teachers cease to grow as persons, moral, nurturing, pedagogy will also disappear. To be morally sensible and grow as people, teachers and administrators must facilitate within themselves and the profession the following characteristics:

  1. Straightforwardness

  2. Open-mindedness—keep a childlike wonder toward life and learning

  3. Open heartedness—emphasizes emotional receptivity to keep the learning process dynamic

  4. Integrity of purpose—the combining of the three points above, not double mindedness

  5. Responsibility—ability to see something through to the end

Student and Teacher Relationships

“The challenge of teaching children not like us is more complex than saying a few words in the student’s language or designing an activity related to a culture different from the majority,” said Johnson. To illustrate that teaching is a relational role, Johnson told about Louise, a 5th grade student. As the year began, Louise didn’t care about his education. He was failing and knew he was different from other kids. But this year would be different. Louise was placed with a teacher that focused on his interests. She asked questions, wanting to know why he disliked school. Together, Louise and the teacher decided on rewards for times when Louise acted appropriately. At the end of the year, Louise surpassed the normal learning increases made by his classmates by more than 40%.

Louise’s teacher explained, “Louise connected with me. I let him be who he was…I even laughed at his jokes.” When Louise was questioned about changes in his behavior he said he liked the teacher working him hard, that he wanted more from a teacher than just a buddy.

Johnson emphasized that finding “what works,” as Louise’s teacher did, is a characteristic of nurturing pedagogy. “All children need nurturing and support from adults,” she said.

Personalization and professional development

Johnson quoted Milton Mayeroff saying, “To care for another person, in the most significant sense, is to help him grow and actualize himself.” Furthermore, Johnson applauded renowned educator and researcher Dr. John Goodlad for his support of small schools and small classrooms to personalized education. Johnson explained how Goodlad has stated that nurturing relationships between students and teachers are an investment in the school.

Johnson counseled that the BYU Public School Partnership should design organizational patterns that foster caring relationships. This means developing professional development that supports a nurturing pedagogy. Current emphasis in Utah to restructure schools and districts into professional learning communities will support continuous learning and increase the formation of teacher/student relationships. Johnson added that successful mentoring should model nurturing pedagogy, acknowledging that this type of approach will also help retain teachers.

To illustrate the need for professional development modeled with nurturing pedagogy, Johnson related the story of a first-year teacher whose faculty knowingly isolated him as he struggled with behavior problems and curriculum. The teacher quit and had his room cleaned out before the Christmas holidays ended. Peers reported he was selling shoes in the mall and that he would turn away when any approached him. Johnson questioned if the teacher would have stayed if he had been given support? Would he have been able to deliver nurturing pedagogy? Answering her own questions Johnson stated, “No one will ever know.”

Teachers must also be trained in academics, behavior, and conversation. “Improving educators improves education,” Johnson declared, acknowledging the investment of time and money needed to do so. “When teachers are trained, they are less likely to be overwhelmed…Nurturing pedagogy cannot come to fruition without a focus and commitment on the importance of developing a growing teacher,” she concluded.

Virginia Johnson's Biographical Information

Virginia Johnson was raised in Portland Oregon. She taught for eight years at various grade levels in Oregon, California and Germany. She came to Utah to complete a maters degree in educational psychology with counseling certification. At that time, she accepted a position in Alpine School District at a local junior high as both a teacher and a counselor. Three years later she moved to a local high school as a full time counselor. After completing administrative certification and later a doctorate in educational administration, she became an assistant and then a principal at a local high school. She then moved to the District office, holding a number of positions including supervisory and instructional directors, and Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services and Secondary Schools.

Department List Content Types: 
Educator Preparation Program (EPP)