May 9, 2023

Nursing Roots: Shannon Parker, BPE’96, BN’03, MN’15

Nursing educators at UCalgary Nursing share more on their teaching philosophies in practice
Shannon Parker
Shannon Parker, associate professor (teaching), UCalgary Nursing

At UCalgary Nursing, we recognize and value diverse ways of teaching and learning and how our faculty members use different strategies to engage and impact students that align with their personal teaching philosophies. This new monthly series will feature our nursing educators at UCalgary Nursing and highlight their teaching journeys and approaches.

If you’ve ever taken a class with Shannon Parker BPE’96, BN’03, MN’15, you’ll be familiar with the concept of a good-news check-in. Students share positive non-academic updates with each another and she also chimes in as a way to connect with one another beyond the classroom.

My teaching philosophy is that relationship is the underpinning of everything,” says Parker, associate professor (teaching). “For me, the relationship that the students and I build together is crucial. We can be more genuine and learn better together after we come to know and trust one another.”

Parker’s teaching strategies are very intentional and based on relational practice, universal design for learning, strengths-based nursing in healthcare and, authentic assessment. For example, depending on the season, she often starts her first class of the term outdoors. “I find being outside under the trees, touching the grass, seeing the sun and sky changes how people relate to each other. And I am still learning about this from my Indigenous colleagues.” 

Bragg Creek

One of Parker's favourite contemplative spots in Bragg Creek where she lives.

Shannon Parker

She often asks nursing students to bring an artifact that's meaningful for them to introduce themselves. “I bring something too. The last time I did this, I brought a piece of dinnerware from my grandma’s china to talk about what my grandma had taught me and how she was and still is really meaningful in my life.”

Parker is a self-described ‘farm kid’ born in Calgary but raised on a cattle ranch in Manitoba. She moved back to Calgary to do her Physical Education degree at UCalgary before it became the Faculty of Kinesiology. She worked in high performance sport with varsity and international athletes but made the switch to nursing when she “decided that actually living in hotel rooms and hanging out in gyms and on football fields isn't that much fun over a long period of time.”

Parker started the conjoint nursing program at UCalgary in 2000 and is a nursing alumna from the first graduating class of the accelerated track (BNATs). She worked at the YMCA Calgary during her BN degree. After graduation, she worked at the clinical neuroscience unit at Foothills but then moved into public health as a Tobacco Reduction Project and Policy Coordinator from 2004-2006 during the years Ralph Klein was premier.

“At the time, the first smoke-free hospital property policy in the world was being implemented by the Calgary Health Region. This meant that patients needed support while they were in the hospital and could not smoke on hospital property. I oversaw the creation of system-wide supports for patients who smoked, their families, and medical professionals. This was difficult, sometimes both infuriating and satisfying, and required ongoing learning. I also collaborated with a group to advocate for the creation of Alberta's smoke-free public places law. This resulted in the rules that forbid smoking inside of buildings that are in effect today.”

In 2008, she returned to the University of Calgary on staff working at the Nursing Skills Centre before moving into the role of a simulation clinician as the Clinical Simulation Learning Centre officially opened. She did that for 10 years and then shifted to teaching theory and clinical courses in 2018 and to date, she’ll have taught every term in the Bachelor of Nursing program.

Parker acknowledges her attitude has shifted tremendously from when she was a novice educator to now. “At the beginning, I had this idea that you must keep yourself separate from the students, that you shouldn't be too personal, which I've decided is a load of hogwash. Now, I focus on the students as people, as humans and try to hold space for them to recognize their unique strengths, to learn about themselves and practice how they want to be in the world. That's my relational practice.”

Shannon Parker skiing at Lake Louise

Parker with family downhill skiing at Lake Louise (as she puts it - 'practicing courage again!')

Shannon Parker

Aside from colleagues and mentors she’s had over the years at UCalgary Nursing, Parker says cancer has been her biggest teacher. In 2017, she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She underwent chemotherapy, returned to work but had a relapse and got a stem cell transplant at the start of the pandemic in 2020. “I've learned about how I want to live my life and be with people. That is the gift cancer, my health-care teams, and my family has given me. This has certainly influenced the way that I am now. The learning is important but it's not the most important thing.”

“I want the students to build within themselves spaces where they're comfortable, authentic, and can learn. No matter what is going on in their life, they have an understanding of who they are and what amazing things they can accomplish as people and as nurses.”

Alongside her teaching, Parker’s current research is exploring a new way to teach student nurses psychomotor skills to increase nurses’ performance and decrease patient pain and suffering.  She’s working with Dr. Jeff K. Caird in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, Dr. Joe Causer from Liverpool John Moores University and Ward of the 21st Century.

“From my high performance sport days, I know about a specific way that athletes look with their eyes before they do a movement. It's called the Quiet Eye. This gaze differentiates novices from experts, successful and unsuccessful performance, and can be taught.”

“We have found in our pilot study that nurses do use the Quiet Eye. We also know the most common and complex psychomotor skill for nurses is IV initiation. Experts have first attempt insertion success 98 percent of the time, whereas novices it's about 23 per cent. Hopefully we can successfully apply Quiet Eye training to change how students are taught in the lab. We want them to learn more effectively and efficiently so they are caring for patients, better, sooner.”

She is aiming to pilot Quiet Eye training teaching protocol with Term 7 nursing students once ethics is approved.

Shannon Parker says this poem by David Whyte titled Working Together captures her teaching philosophy.