A Pedagogy of Selflessness: a Multiple Case Study Exploring the Cultivation and Expression of Student Selflessness in an Ontario Grade 6 Classroom
In a society where self-indulgence is aggressively promoted, sapping the vitality of our youth and adults, educators have a moral obligation to react. This study offers a reaction through a pedagogy of selflessness. A selfless person: (a) realizes the infinitude of their own and others’ inner potential, feeling intimately connected to the world; (b) has the strength to overcome self-interested desires to help another; and (c) can work without expectation of a reward (Kurth, 1995). Selflessness should be a focal point of educational discourse and practice. In this qualitative study I develop a conceptual framework for selflessness in education along with a pedagogy called Learning to Serve through Inquiry (LSI) that blends inquiry, service, and explicit teachings on being selfless. This multiple case study explores: (a) how selflessness is expressed in Grade 6 students of a classroom engaged in LSI, (b) how closely these manifestations of selflessness align with the indicators as informed by the domains of selflessness in the framework, and (c) how LSI operates as a vehicle to promote the cultivation of selfless attributes within and among the learning community. The LSI unit, which was co-planned and taught with the classroom teacher, unfolded over a period of two months. Over 240 hours were spent observing students of one class, with special attention paid to 10 students who agreed to pre- and post-LSI interviews. The classroom teacher was also interviewed. Additional data included daily notes, reflections, a personal audit of the reflections, and student work. Three cycles of thematic analysis led to three themes. The first theme describes how students could better articulate the progression towards selflessness, regulate their emotions, and overcome fears. The second theme highlights how explicit teaching and practice cultivate prosocial behaviour and selfless thinking. The last theme foregrounds this study’s various positive influences on the learning community, including the teacher’s own pedagogy. The resulting themes are related to the conceptual framework and additional indicators of selfless attributes nuanced through the data are highlighted. Finally, the impact of selfless pedagogy through LSI and future directions for further research are considered.