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 | Comments (0)

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 | Comments (0)

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 | Comments (5)

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 | Comments (6)

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 | Comments (0)