A pedagogy of care (hu)manifesto

UCL ‘Freedom to Learn’ movement (Teams Channel)

Martin Compton & Rebecca Lindner

Teachers who care, who serve their students, are usually at odds with the environments wherein we teach (hooks, 2013)

It is very easy in a modern university to get absorbed with systems, processes, data and results that often de-centre the individuals that work and study within these systems. We hear increasingly of the troubling consequences of student wellbeing issues and of staff burnout, and the pandemic has exacerbated many of the tensions and issues consequent of highly-pressurised ways of working and being that are common in higher education. A pedagogy of care deliberately pushes against these pressurised phenomena. It centres individuals by starting with respect, trust, inclusion and relationship-building as precursors to dialogue and affective development as well as academic development.

even for the majority who do “care” in the virtue sense—that is, they profess to care and work hard at their teaching—there are many who do not adopt the relational sense of caring. (Noddings, 2005)

As a prompt for discussion and as a starting point to help us all (as educators working in HE) interrogate our own current practices, we offer the following ‘pedagogy of care (hu)manifesto’ which draws on core concepts, principles and ideas found in the works cited below. We invite colleagues to consider their own (and their peers’) practices in light of each of these statements, to identify tensions, challenges, objections and potential pitfalls as well as opportunities, examples and affordances suggested by each of the commitments.

By embracing a pedagogy of care, we endeavour to:

1.       Humanise things! Understand the value of connecting at a human level and modelling caring


2.       Challenge conventions of hierarchy and authority


3.       Challenge the narratives and norms of rigour and educational ‘suffering’


4.       Normalise learning through mistakes


5.       Recognise that positive relationships demand trust: Being ‘nice’ does not mean being indirect or dishonest


6.       Appreciate that dialogue is essential to showing care (and listening is at least half of this!)


7.       Accept that humility and normalising vulnerability show strength not weakness


8.       Show and tell students that you care- DO smile before winter break!


9.       Employ flexibility, openness and welcome with office hours


10.    Above all: acknowledge where each student is at and don’t enforce behaviours or punish recalcitrance


In the case of wellbeing interventions in higher education, lesson- learning, sharing good practice and building networks around ideas and interventions are all important, but it is also critical to understand factors that shape HE organisations’ abilities to successfully take this knowledge forward and address wellbeing problems. (Watson & Turnpenny, 2022)


Blake, S., Capper, G. & Jackson, A. Building Belonging in HE https://wonkhe.com/wp-content/wonkhe-uploads/2022/10/Building-Belonging-October-2022.pdf

Denial, C. (2019) A Pedagogy of Kindness. https://hybridpedagogy.org/pedagogy-of-kindness/

hooks, b. (1994) Teaching to transgress. Oxon: Routledge

hooks, b. (2013) Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. Routledge.

Hughes, G, Upsher, R, Nobili, A, Kirkman, A, Wilson, C, Bowers- Brown, T, Foster, J, Bradley, S and Byrom, N (2022) Education for Mental Health. Advance HE.

Larsen, A. (2015) ‘Who cares?’ Developing a pedagogy of care in higher education (Phd Thesis). Utah State University Library

Noddings, N. (2005) Caring in education’ The encyclopedia of informal Education.

Pilato, N. (2018) Pedagogy of care: Embodied relationships of teaching and mentorship. IJEA Vol. 19: 1.9

Watson, D.  & Turnpenny, J. (2022) Interventions, practices and institutional arrangements for supporting PGR mental health and wellbeing: reviewing effectiveness and addressing barriers. Studies in HE.

  1. Great to open conversations in this area. But I wonder if some of these messages are perhaps a bit simplistic? For example, on 2, what about the authority of the discipline, or of existing work in the field? I’d argue we have a responsibility to both care for our field and expose students to its authority – they choose to partake of our course in part so as to be able to access our field (or similar).- and won;t be able to participate in the relevant community without understanding e.g. its norms of rigour (3). For 8, yes, smiling and positive, respectful relationships are great – but you’re there in your professional role, and that means some sorts of relationships are more appropriate than others. For 10, I’m happy to say I do try to enforce behaviours which respect all participants in the class, not just some, and also respect the goals of the class, e.g. for trainee teachers I’d expect professional norms that smooth their pathway into new roles in school – that’s part of my caring for them.

    • Thanks for your comments here Jennie. I think (obviously!) for our puposes (indeed a principle one is to start a conversation) that they need to be broad brush and see it that way rather than simplistic. In the discussion session yesterday were keen to emphasise, as I will do now here, that such discussions will be nuanced locally and according to disciplinary norms and cultures.The the ideas might be adjusted, expanded upon and/ or removed/ minimised. Though I would say that it is not infrequent to find departmental (if not faculty) norms and cultures that are anything but caring and I certainly wouldn’t want to buy into justification of such things if they are potentially damaging. In my view it does none of us harm to reflect on local cultures and their impacts. Having said all this, we would, as you argue, be remiss if we were to fail to prepare our students to the authority of the field. It is not an easy thing to balance and achieve.

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