Wednesday, March 25, 2015

engaging innovation in cultural change

As a Uniting College, we have a number of innovation projects that this year are moving from dream to reality.

We have a Certificate in Bible and Leadership for English as a Second Language. This began as a dream at the start of last year. Funding was obtained and by the middle of the year, a person appointed. After research and networking, at the start of this year they offered a trial topic. Seven students, from six different nationalities have begun.

We have a Big Year Out, designed to grow young adults in ministry and mission. Last year it was touch and go, with four students and a lot of learning. This year we have seven students and a much clearer idea of where we are going.

We have a Diploma of Ministry, with a specialisation in chaplaincy. This began back as a spark late in 2012 and since then we’ve offered an annual topic in the Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy. This year we’re about to graduate our first student, who has completed the entire course by distance, from New South Wales. It’s a great story of an innovation becoming a reality.

Together, these programmes are changing the shape of our student cohort. It is younger, more multi-cultural with a greater breadth in conversation, vocation and passion.

Each of these areas are led by a dedicated and gifted leader. They are part-time, so there is a risk of a sense of isolation from the wider Uniting College team. So as part of our team retreat this year, I designed a process that would help the team connect with these parts of our life.

Here’s what I suggested. That each of these dedicated and gifted leaders share, for around 25-30 minutes each. First, in 10 minutes, the individual share with the team

  • 3 challenges they face in implementing their role in 2015
  • 2 things they most need from the team
  • 1 question they don’t currently know the answer too

Second, in 15 minutes the team respond to the one question. Whether in groups or as a whole group, we as a team offer our good minds in working with the challenges these innovations face.  My hope was that as a result of this process, we as a team would be better informed, that individuals would feel heard and supported and that from the brainstorming some constructive ideas might emerge.

The process worked well.  The energy in the room went right up. The discussion was deep, rich and engaging.

But the next day, something unexpected happened.  We were discussing our team values and someone piped up. “We need to add take risk and celebrate failure. You see, we’ve got all these innovations happening and one way to support them is to be willing to risk and learn in our journey together.”  And around the room, the team nodded.

It was a lovely moment to watch. I don’t know many theological colleges that have risk and fail in their team values. One of my goals in becoming Principal was to increase the innovative capacity of the organisation and here it was emerging so spontaneously and naturally, from the team, not me.  Engaging innovation was resulting in cultural change. Simply by creating processes to listen and reflect.

Posted by steve at 09:01 PM

Friday, March 20, 2015

activist researchers and community up research as fresh words and deeds

One of the benefits of being at Uniting College is our connection with Flinders University. This includes their extensive professional development workshops. So yesterday, on a beautiful autumn morning, I found myself learning about models for successful post-graduate supervision.  I currently am involved in supervising 9 postgraduate students- 5 PHD students, 3 DMin, 1 MMin – so it was a morning bound to benefit not only myself, but a number of gifted, competent and hard-working colleagues in ministry.

During the morning, the presenter noted that only 15% of those who gain PhD’s in the United States find academic work. This is partly because of a shrinking job market and growth in PhD candidates. But it is also, according to research, because people study for many reasons. These include those who have no desire for an academic job. Instead, they research because they want to impact a group they are working with, or bring change to wider society.

A word began to rattle around in my head “activist researchers” – those who study in the hope of wider change.

It made sense of my own PhD journey. I was planting a new form of church and it was attracting considerable critique.  So the PhD was a change to think deeply about what I was doing. I deliberately wanted to expose my musings to rigorous processes of thought, both for my sake, for the sake of those who were joining this experiment in mission and for the sake of the church in society today.  Academic work (at that time) was the last thing on my mind. (Ironic now I realise :))

Now I’m not saying that those who find academic work are not activists! (I’d like to argue I’m an activist academic, but that’s for another post). I’m simply noting that this is a very different motivation from say those who study to get a good job, or to become a lecturer.

It also makes sense of the students I supervise.  Everyone of them has a question that has bugged them. They turn to post-graduate study in order to have a sustained period of in-depth reflection. The reward is personal and societal. They want to be better practitioners in their field, they want to be part of making a difference.  They also are “activist researchers.”

The church I serve, the Uniting Church, makes specific mention in it’s founding documents of scholarship.  Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union acknowledges that God gives to the church “faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture.” What is interesting is how these scholars (and presumably their research?) is placed in this paragraph within an activist framework.  “The Uniting Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of scholar, of prophet and of martyr.”  In other words, the Uniting Church does not conceive of the stand alone scholar (or the stand alone theological college). Instead, it envisages partnerships among evangelists, scholars, prophets and martyrs.  (Funny how we have theological colleges for scholars, but not colleges for evangelists, prophets and martyrs).

And the horizons, in the Basis of Union, for all these charisms is activist – “It prays that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.” The task of scholars and research is, in partnership with other parts of the body, to be a pilgrim people on mission.

This then suggests some interesting implications for research methodologies.  How do scholars work on partnership with these wider gifts? How does the thinking and writing serve these missional horizons?

At this point I’d turn to the Community Up framework provided by Linda Smith. In Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, she notes that the “term research is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism.” (4)   She advocates that we stop thinking about research from the perspective of the researcher, and instead consider those researched.  This involves “community up” research, in which the research practices are forms of critical pedagogy. They transform the world. (5)  Researchers “map concrete performances that lead to positive social transformations. They embody ways of resisting the process of colonization.” (12)

So this is activist research. It does not need itself to activate. But it does need to uncover the performances that will benefit the community. Which sounds to me like “fresh words and deeds.” And made me glad of the activist researchers that I know and work with.

Posted by steve at 10:46 AM

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

DIY supervision, DIY spirituality, DIY leadership, DIY church

“There is even less discussion with supervisors about the changes that might be produced by what I see as rapidly expanding DIY doctoral education practices” – books, blogs, webinars, forums, chats – “Much of this socially mediated DIY activity is international, cross-disciplinary and all day/all night … something is happening here and we (collectively) don’t know what it is. … It’s a field which is fragmented, partially marketised, unregulated and a bit feral. But it’s big, it’s powerful, more and more doctoral researchers are into it, and it is profoundly pedagogical. I’m concerned that British universities are generally (and of course there are exceptions, but mostly this is the case) not helping supervisors to think about this DIY supervision trend and what it means for how doctoral education is changing – and crucially, what the implications for their supervision practices might be.” (Some excerpts from a recent blog post on the rise of DIY in post-graduate study.

The links to spirituality, leadership and church are obvious. For many folk, the internet has become a huge resource in sustaining faith.

This is only a hunch, but I doubt emerging church and fresh expressions would have had nearly the impact (for good and bad) without the internet.

It is a place awash with resources for leaders – sermons to hear, places to discuss, people to follow.

I’ve spent the last two days at the Education for Ministry working group. It is a Uniting Church Assembly project. I’ve sat with 9 leaders from across the Uniting Church in Australia, talking about the future of formation for ministry. Our focus was formal training, and all the time, what about the “big,” “powerful,” and “pedagogical” training that is the DIY of living in a world socially mediated? What are those we train learning via the internet? Who are they “following” that is partial, fragmented and unregulated? What does this mean for how leaders are being formed today?

Posted by steve at 10:14 PM

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Diploma of Ministry: New pathway in Innovation and Pioneering

It seems appropriate in the week following Pentecost, to note the recent decision of the Academic Board to approve a new pathway in Innovation and Pioneering.

Dave Male has endorsed this, saying:

“This is a fantastic course that equips missional leaders for the present and the future of the church. I would encourage any leader to consider coming on this. It has some of the best material and teachers in the pioneering world.”

Diploma of Ministry: New pathway in Innovation and Pioneering

A new pathway in the Diploma of Ministry will provide a comprehensive foundation in principles and practices of ministries of innovation and social entrepreneurship shaped by a Christian commitment.

The Diploma of Ministry is nested within the Bachelor of Ministry for those who wish to continue their study. This new pathway would be ideally suited for those wanting to transition to Bachelor of Ministry Practice Stream.

The Diploma of Ministry general structure is 8 units, of which 4 are core and 4 are elective. In this pathway students complete 6 required units (including the four core) and 2 optional units. The Diploma can be completed in one year of full-time study, or part-time equivalent study.

Required units

MINS1002 Introducing the Scriptures*

This unit provides an overview of the OT and NT writings, exploring major theological themes (one being missio Dei). Students in this pathway would have available an assignment focused on pioneering in Biblical texts.

MINS1305 Reading Cultures*

Key themes in this unit include understanding communities, global cultures, and ministry models. Students would have available an assignment focused on pioneering in a new mission.

MINS1601 Spirituality for 21st Century Disciples*

This units assists students to develop the ability to articulate biblical, spiritual and ethical bases for Christian discipleship and reflect on application of these in our own life and others.

MINS1510 Introduction to Formation for Ministry*

In this unit students explore the nature and practice of Christian formation, including learning styles, self-assessment, commitment to ethical practice, to develop an understanding of identity in relation to taking on professional role in ministry and the implications for vocation, faith and life.

MINS23xx Innovation as Pioneering

This new unit explores questions such as: Who is a pioneer? What are their practices? How do they sustain their life? (for more, see here).

MINS2518 Supervised Field Education 1

Students in this pathway would undertake SFE for experience in a pioneering context, either starting something or in observation.

Optional units

Two units chosen from the following:

MINS2318 Mission Then, Mission Now

MINS2314 The Theology of Jesus Christ, Word and Saviour

MINS3339 Missional Church Leadership

MINS2537 Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy

MINS2317 Guided Study in Innovation A

Each of these units gives students the opportunity to explore or reflect on themes relevant to innovation and pioneering:

  • Mission Then, Mission Now explores church history for mission lessons for today;
  • Theology of Jesus Christ explores Jesus with particular attention to boundary crossing;
  • Missional Church Leadership invites reflection on mission to Western cultures with particular attention to the local church’s participation;
  • Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy introduces students to practices, images and theological themes in a practical theology of chaplaincy.
  • Guided Study in Innovation A enables a focus on mission shaped ministry

Rationale for new Diploma pathway

We have, over the last few years, used the specialisation pathway in the Diploma to point to particular vocation paths within our suite of courses. A new pathway in innovation and pioneering continues this focus.

We have a BMin Practice Stream offering and the Diploma provides a clear entry pathway.

The Uniting Church have asked us to train pioneer leaders and this course meets this request.

In a diverse educational market, this continues one of the unique foci of Uniting College around leadership, mission and innovation.

Posted by steve at 12:57 PM

Friday, July 06, 2012

first team meeting

This week has been a endless string of firsts as Principal – first Leadership Formation day, first job contracts to sign, first email as Principal. Yesterday was the first leading of the team meeting, which happens weekly.

I was awake at 5.20 am, unable to sleep, which I suspect is some evidence of the stress being generated, my body needing to process the move from team player to team leader, my awareness of the giftedness embedded in the team and the skills that will be required to lead that giftedness with clarity and grace.

Some of my emotion and anxiety took me back to my first team day at Opawa, back in 2004.

It was my 1st day at my new church (Opawa) today. I asked the 4 other paid staff to gather.

I gave them all an egg – fragile, yet hopeful. I talked about the church as the bride of Christ … beautiful … hopeful … yet fragile and nervous.

I said that I felt a bit nervous and fragile in this new role. I said I thought people at Opawa were probably a bit nervous and fragile about having a new young minister on board. I said I wondered if the staff were a bit nervous and fragile, wondering how they would fit with this new young minister.

And so we prayed for each other, that in our fragility new life would emerge. (Here)

For the record, yesterday I asked each of us to bring a symbol of our work. We began, first, by reflecting on some thoughts from one of our colleagues from a chapel time earlier in the week, about the Kingdom vision which we all share. It was nice to begin with an insight from within the team.

We then read together the gospel reading for the week. Ironically (!!) it was Mark 6:1-13. Ironically, because it has echoes of one of my favourite missional texts, Luke 10:1-12. We shared what struck us, which included the need to let go and travel light, the invitation to recognise what was new, the sense of God calling us on a journey, the realisation that won’t be easy and that should not surprise us. Lots of richness and the realisation again of the uncanny way that Scripture reads us, rather than we read it.

We then shared our workplace symbol, something about ourselves and how our work life is an expression of the Kingdom vision with which we began together. Our practicality, our reality, in the midst of vision.

A good time, a rich time, a privileged time. Which leaves me hoping I’ll sleep better next Thursday.

Posted by steve at 09:55 AM

Friday, May 04, 2012

faith development: more than a guy thing part 2

Yesterday I raised some questions about the place of gender in faith development. I noted the work of Nichola Slee, Women’s Faith Development: Patterns and Processes. Her work emerges from interviews with 30 women, which resulted in some 1500 pages of transcribed interviews. She then read these narratives alongside a number of conversation partners – faith development theory and women’s spirituality.

She suggests these women develop through a three part process,

  • of alienation
  • of awakenings
  • of relationality

She then makes four broad applications, to those in formal theological education, to those involved in any educational or pastoral care context in church life, to women’s networks and groupings.

First, to ground practice in women’s experience. She suggests making a priority of more inductive and experiential approaches to education. She also suggesting bringing to greater visibility women’s lives. (A simple check list I used in this regard, when I used to preach regularly, was check my sermon illustrations and quotes to make sure I had gender balance, as many women examples as men).

Second, create relational and conversational spaces, for “women’s spirituality was profoundly relational in nature, rooted in a strong sense of connection to others, to the wider world and to God as the source of relational power.” (Slee, 173) Slee suggests we look at our environments, ways to create circles not rows, and processes by which everyone speaks no less than once and no more than twice.

Third, foregrounding of imagination, given “the remarkable linguistic and metaphoric creativity of women as they seek to give expression to their struggles to achieve authentic selfhood, relationships with others, and connectedness to ultimate reality.” (Slee, 175). She notes historically how much of women’s theology was embedded in poetry, hymnody, craft forms and popular piety. So we need to find ways to weave this into our “reading” and our talking.

“Yet educators need to go beyond the use of such artistic resources to the active encouragement of learners to engage in artistry as a way of exploring and discerning truth.” (Slee, 177)

Practically, this can include Ignation practices, working with the texts of Biblical women, seeking to recreate their lives “between the lines of patriarchal texts.” (177)

Fourth, of accompanying into silence and paradox. Faith development involves times when we find ourselves in places which have no words. “They require the creation of spaces for waiting, for silence, for apparent nothingness.” (Slee, 178) Helpful resources here can include Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton, Simone Weil.

Slee is aware that these suggestions are not new. But from her experience of (British) theological institutions, there is room for growth.

Posted by steve at 11:57 AM

Friday, April 13, 2012

encouraging better practice in teaching: snapshots of learning

A few days ago, following conversations with visiting family, I was reflecting on teaching. How do we encourage teachers in their teaching? One suggestion was the use of a journal, shared with a peer, in which together regular reflection on practice occurs.

There were some really helpful comments which have kept me thinking during the week. Plus the fact that my (temporary) “study leave” office is close to a classroom, so I get to hear the occasional lecture as I write.

And this week came news of the sale of Instagram to Facebook for 1 billion.

Which got me thinking about snapshots. A moment of time. A visual media rather than a written media. So what if rather than a journal, you invited teachers to take a snapshot? One per class. Not a literal one. But they are given a blank piece of card, perhaps in the shape of a “polaroid”? On which they have are invited to note down the best teaching moment of that class.

And then teachers meet as peers, spread their “snapshots” and reflect together about what they’re learning about teaching.

Which sparked another possibility. What if you invited teachers to take snapshots not of their teaching, but of their students learning?

Let me explain.

At Uniting College, our mandate is to form leaders. What if each teacher was given a “snapshot” (a blank card), one for every student in their class. And at some time during the semester, they were expected to take a “snapshot” (again not an actual picture, but a quote made, an interaction, an essay, a moment of caring) of that student displaying leadership and ministry. This is based on appreciative inquiry, looking for strength, rather than weakness, in a student.

Imagine being given that at the end of the semester. A fulltime student has 4 topics per semester, 8 per year, 24 per degree. By the end of your time, the student has 24 snapshots of them at their best in terms of leader development.

One of my guiding principles is that ministry and leadership are unique. Each person has a unique fingerprint and our task is to work out how our unique personality and experience form us into leaders. So by the end of the degree, the student has 24 “snapshots.” Spread those over the table, reflect with a mentor on your 3 years of study and I suspect you would have a pretty good mirror on who you could be as a leader. There could even be degree topic toward the end in which you enter a process of leadership reflection – on the snapshots, on your life experiences, on your passions.

What do folk think? Might “snapshots” encourage better practice in teaching? And learning?

Posted by steve at 06:47 PM

Sunday, April 08, 2012

encouraging better practice in teaching

practising teachers should be encouraged to use reflective journal writing as part of their daily professional teaching experience. Nooreiny Maarof, “Telling his or her story through reflective journals,” International Education Journal, 2007, 8(1), 205-220.

My brother from New Zealand is staying for the weekend. A trained high school teacher, with a deep passion for education, and a particular focus on outdoor education and life skills, I always enjoy hearing what he’s thinking and wrestling with.

Today, we discussed the place of student feedback. As we were sharing notes, he commented on a new initiative among high school teachers in New Zealand. Teachers are being expected to keep a journal, in which they reflect on their daily teaching.

It struck me as a brilliant initiative and I began to think about it in terms of tertiary education, and in particular for us teaching staff at Uniting College.

I have often reflected how you need no qualifications to be a tertiary educator, other than expertise in a particular field. Which potentially makes for some very, very bad teaching. Sure, in a tertiary institution, we receive feedback from students, in the form of class evaluations. But this is often highly individual, a teacher receives it, but it is up to them if they do anything with this information.

Last month at Uniting College, we added a quality management step, in that we are requiring teachers to, upon receipt of feedback, complete a one page form reflecting on what they did well and what they might like to change.

But that occurs at the end of a course. What if it was supplemented by the use of a journal, in which teachers reflected on what they hope to achieve in each class, what actually happened, and what they are learning about the art of teaching? For us at Uniting College, it could also include linking to our particular focus on forming leaders. How did what we do – in class and informally – help us in the task of leadership formation? How did it build on what students already bring to the class? What “sacred moments” were we part of creating?

This could then be shared with a peer on a regular basis, throughout a semester, for discussion and mutual support. It would not be tied to performance, but simply a way to encourage reflection on practice and with a peer.

Advantages could include a constant reminder of why we exist, reflection on our practice, peer support in our task, and learning from the best practice of each other.

Thoughts? And what other ideas have you come across for encouraging better teaching practice at tertiary/Seminary level?

Posted by steve at 10:34 PM

Friday, March 23, 2012

the task of forming leaders for mission

Here’s some current thinking. I reckon the forming of leaders involves three things and one direction.

The three things are

  • skills – this involves the learning to do things – to preach, to influence, to care, to exegete culture
  • vocation – this often involves increased knowledge, about our tradition as church, about the big tradition of the church in history, the shape of ministry
  • personhood – this involves self-awareness and spirituality – who we are in the process of living and learning

The one direction is that of mission, that in our post-Christendom context, we need skills and vocation and personhood pointed toward a life lived for the world.

Now here’s my current theory, that in forming leaders, we all start in one of these places. Some of us start with skills (for example supervised field education or immersion experiences or homilectics or worship curating). Some of us start with vocation (for example the way many folk teach theology or Christian history). Some of us start with personhood (for example CPE or pastoral care or personality testing).

This leaves a place that forms leaders with four key questions

  • Is the balance right? Some colleges are dominated by vocation type learning. Others are keen to teach skills. If all three are needed, then we need a curriculum that pulls all three into the mix.
  • Is each starting point handing the person on – is skills pointing to vocation and personhood, while is vocation pointing to skills etc? Too often colleges default to a dualism of either practice or theory, when the challenge is to model integration, a spiralling between all three, in an ever deepening circle? Where we start is often shaped by personality and by our learning styles – we learn in particular ways, so we assume that others learn our way. Are we able to get beyond the way we learn?
  • Timing? When in the formation of each unique individual, do they need to be in which sector? Which skills do they need at the beginning and which at the end? Which building blocks of knowledge are needed when and where? When is the best place to invite self-reflection?
  • Is the direction clear? Is all our skills and vocation and personhood being shaped by a life lived for the world?

Thoughts? Have I named the task of forming leaders accurately?

Posted by steve at 05:31 PM