The Ground of Nightingale’s Pedagogy

A beginning, not a principle:

1.1. One of the cornerstones of modern pedagogy is found in the phrase, “meet the student where they are.” This is isomorphic—i.e. the same shape—to the ground of our psychotherapeutic orientation and practice at Nightingale Counselling and Research, “meet the client where they are.” We start with a strong correspondence of our approach to teaching as we do to counselling: as we counsel, so we teach.

1.2. Why? We begin our pedagogy and counselling from no first principles. We self consciously reject reduction or deduction. Reduction and deduction require first principles, i.e. one cannot reduce what has yet to be established. One cannot deduce prior to an establishing principle.

1.3. “But,” the reader might ask, “is it not your first principle to meet students or clients where they are?” It is true that students and clients are the places (entities? beings?) where we begin. A beginning is not a principle. A person or persons cannot be a principle.

1.4. A ground is the source from which meaning emerges. A ground is a beginning.

1.5. A ground is a question or is an entity about which a question can be asked.

1.6. A principle is an end. It is an answer.

1.7. A ground has a material existence. A principle is conceptual. Principles float while a ground… is grounded.


From the ground up:

2.1. Nightingale’s pedagogy is built from a ground up.

2.2. Have we thus established our ground, i.e. an individual learner or client? No. There are no individuals. Bruno Latour writes, “One equals several.” (Latour, 1988, The Pasteurization of France., p. 160) In this context, we employ Latour’s phrase to point to the fact that there is no such thing as a lone learner, just as there is no such thing as a client without a therapist. This was Descartes’ error when we wrote his famous maxim, “I think therefore I am.” He abstracted (i.e. turned into a principle) his own being.

2.3. If “one equals several,” then the ground of our pedagogy—as is the ground of our counselling—is always found in a relationship. The “one” is a relationship, which always includes several of a therapeutic relationship or many of a pedagogical relationship.

2.4. Thus, the ground has been established. The ground of our content is always a relationship between counsellor and client. The ground of our pedagogy, our practice in this context, is the relationship between the teacher and student.

2.5. The ground of a therapeutic relationship is always pre-modality. Modalities are ways of knowing, i.e. how to categorize, interact with, and interpret material that clients bring in to session. We make no judgments about modalities, because it has been our experience that the efficacy of different modalities can only be judged in the context of their relationship to the practitioner. Even here, the ground remains fundamentally relational: above the relationship to a client and here the relationship with the intellectual and practical history of particular ways of doing counselling.

2.6. One cannot change what is unacknowledged: the courses are not primarily meant to be instructive—i.e. how to—but rather introspective. The ground of change is the recognition of what already is.

2.7. Deep introspection (unconcealment) offers a way towards systemic coherence. Systemic coherence references any and all systems found in the ground of a therapeutic relationship: coherence in the internal system of a Counsellor, coherence in the therapeutic system, and coherence with the discipline.

2.8. Systemic coherence offers clarity, confidence, and ease to the self of the Counsellor > which offers maximal presence and efficacy to clients.



3.1. As in counselling—everything is isomorphic here—pedagogy must do something. Counselling that does not do something is inert: i.e. does not produce change or the conditions in which change occurs.

3.2. Successful pedagogy must similarly produce change in the learner. We are all familiar with the centuries old aphorism, “knowledge is power.” This is insufficient, because it does not speak to what that power does.

3.3. What then constitutes effective “doing” from the standpoint of a pragmatic pedagogy? Fundamentally, our pedagogy must accomplish one or more of the following to achieve the label “effective:” change a learner’s relationship to themselves, their practice, their clients, therapeutic problems, and their discipline.

3.4. Of course, through this introspective orientation, effective pedagogy may also help the learner to affirm those aspects of themselves they already practice, believe, or embody. That too is a doing. It is a deepening or clarification or amplification, which offers the learner a greater sense of confidence and mastery. That sense of confidence and mastery materially effects the ways in which we show up in our therapeutic relationships.

3.5. To reiterate: successful pragmatic pedagogy must do something. It must offer learners the opportunity, via thoroughgoing and good faith introspection, to examine their own beliefs, embodied practices, and linguistic constructions. It is the role of the instructors to develop the topics, discussions, and exercises that provide the ground for this manner of self-examination.


The movement of our pedagogy:

4.1. We began this document with the a contemporary pedagogical truism, “meet the student where they are” (1.1). But how do we operationalize that core principle that is a foundation of any modern pedagogical undertaking?

In the PCS, we will be using small groups as our main vehicle. Why? It is isomorphic to the movement of a therapeutic relationship.

4.3. Therapeutic goals are not achieved by the simple transfer of knowledge, otherwise all therapy would be psychoeducation. And though psychoeducation can be an important aspect of therapeutic relationships, we know as practitioners that the real therapeutic movement is the result of collaborative work. So it is with pedagogy.

4.4. The movement of pedagogy begins with learners.

4.5. Thus, we begin all substantive parts of our courses by first asking learners what they know, think, believe, and understand about a topic.

4.6. By adopting a position of not-knowing—an orientation we will cover in the PCS—we are able to simply ask learners where they are. This helps us to orient ourselves to the needs of learners and allows our instructors to deliver material in ways that are maximally translatable to learners.

4.7. The general movement of our pedagogy is the following:

Introduction of an idea, concept, word, or phrase >

Learners assemble in their small groups and discuss the topic in whatever way feels most productive to the individual group members in the context of the material offered >

The larger group reassembles and representatives from the small group communicate to the larger group something about their experience discussing the topic >

This is what we refer to as “the work of translation” >

    • As with all translation, this particular translational process will be messy, i.e. meaning will be lost and produced in the act of translating itself. Translation can be both frustrating and illuminating.
    • Translation is self-reflexive and recursive both at the individual and group levels.
    • Translation does not produce a singular meaning but offers multiple meanings to learners.

Translation produces clarity and opacity >

The gulf between clarity and opacity produces the impetus for a return the source material and its translations. >

The goal is not to settle on singular meaning but to produce a multiplicity that offers individual learners a route towards their own sense of coherence (2.7-2.8) >

It is not a failure of the individual if their meaning and sense of emerging systemic coherence is not in line with the majoritarian view. We do not seek consensus but leave ultimate meaning making up to the individual. >

There will be multiple avenues open to return to topics throughout our time together in the course.

4.8. The movement of pedagogy does not end with the end of a course but ends with the learner’s movement towards systemic coherence.