Monday, May 18, 2015

growing leaders by growing teachers

Now I know they will be read, I’ll do a better job!

Uniting College exists to grow life-long disciples and develop effective leaders in mission. In order to do that, we must begin by growing ourselves. This includes our skills and abilities as teachers.

Here’s one way this process works for us at Uniting College. Most higher education involves student evaluations. These are completed by students. The results are summarised and provided back to lecturers. Generally this is where the process stops. The feedback is useful. But what happens next? How do you encourage intentional growth as teachers?

First, along with the student evaluations, each lecturer is also provided with a response sheet, which they are invited to fill in. It has four questions.

  • Summarise the positive responses
  • What concerns did students raise about their learning in this unit?
  • What improvements will you make to address these concerns?
  • Any other comments or quality improvements for unit curriculum, teaching and learning?

Four simple questions that invite us as teachers into appreciative inquiry and to think more intentionally about how we can grow as teachers. The four questions that can be answered as simply, or as deeply, as an individual wishes too. The questions invite us as teachers to think about growth. Lecturers are invite to return these to myself as Principal.

Second, I read them. I reply to each one. I affirm the strengths I see, celebrating the commitment to the skill and craft of teaching I see. I provide comment on the concerns raised, sometimes suggesting they are being too hard on themselves, sometimes inviting deeper reflection. I remark on the desired improvements, noting trends I am observing – themes that emerge across the range of topics an individual teaches. 

I am wanting to individualise and contextualise, to let each lecturer know I care about their craft of teaching. Some of these emails replies are over two pages in length, as I engage with their desire for growth.

Third, all these individual email responses that I make to lecturers are de-identified and summarised. This report goes to our Ministry Studies meeting. As an entire teaching team, we consider the report. It is a snapshot of our collective strengths as a teaching team. It is a mirror on potential areas for growth. Together we wonder what we might do as shared and appropriate professional development.

Fourth, this information is fed back to students. They who have taken the time to provide feedback, are informed about actions that are being taken as a result of their feedback. We hope it encourages them by saying something about our commitment to grow as teachers.

It was this process that took up a good deal of my time today. It was this process that generated the comment with which I started this post; “Now I know they will be read, I’ll do a better job!” Because growing leaders begins by growing teachers.

Posted by steve at 09:25 PM | Comments (2)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mission and the Church “more information please”

I’m teaching a 4 day Mission and the Church intensive here in Adelaide, 16-20 June. Someone asked this week for more information, to which I responded:

I will focus the 4 days around 7 disciplines of mission (based on some integrative work by Bishop Steve Croft, former Fresh expressions Director, after he spent 3 weeks with the Catholic Archbishops in Rome talking mission)

1. The discipline of prayerful discernment and listening (contemplation)
2. The discipline of apologetics (defending and commending the faith)
3. The discipline of evangelism (initial proclamation)
4. The discipline of catechesis (learning and teaching the faith)
5. The discipline of ecclesial formation (growing the community of the church)
6. The discipline of planting and forming new ecclesial communities (fresh expressions of the church)
7. The discipline of incarnational mission (following the pattern of Jesus)

So there will be an introductory morning around what is mission. Then a half day each per discipline. I am using this framework in order to focus on mission as practise based, an integration of theory and practice.

The 5th day will be done in the persons own time. This will involve visiting a case study of their choosing, from around their context, in order to explore a grounded example of mission.

The assignments will focus around

  • the preparing of a set of Lenten Bible studies based on the WCC new statement on Evangelism and Mission (2012). This will ensure linkage with the most up to date mission thinking of the global church, in a way that is useful for ongoing leadership in mission in the church
  • a mission storytelling from across cultures. Each participant will be given a missionary from another time/culture and will be invited to “tell their story”. Again, this will provide a relevant resource for those involved in leadership in mission
  • applying learning to a case study, in which the course input and attached reading will be integrated

The classes will be shaped interactively. I will come with some stuff, but will work to ensure that needs of the participants will be a shaper of the direction of the class.

I will be involving two visiting lecturers, in order to broaden and enrich the experience. One  has completed PhD study on congregations and agencies and how those relationships might be enhanced. They will help us explore the discipline of incarnational mission, with particular application to how social justice and mission projects integrate with the life of the inherited church.

The other is doing PhD study on people coming to faith in Australia today. They will use this data to help us explore evangelism, by weaving in their cutting edge research into conversion today.

I want to find a way to reference every single thing I’ve written while in Australia in the last 5 and a half 5 years, so that an integrating thread through the time is my own mission thinking, whether in indigenous communion practices, community gardens, U2 concerts or art and spirituality spaces.

For more information or to enrol, contact the Adelaide College of Divinity.

mission of church updated

Posted by steve at 05:18 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

mission and the church intensive

I’m teaching a four day intensive on mission, June 15-18. It’s placed deliberately just prior to Presbytery and Synod, hoping to make it easier to access as study leave for ministers in placement. I will focus on seven practices of mission, with the use of case studies to ground and enrich.

mission of church updated (Updated 7/5 – After considerable mirth by my colleagues, my title has been updated from Dry to Dr.)

It will be the last intensive I’m likely to teach in Australia in my current season as Missiologist and Principal of Uniting College. So I’m hoping it will be a rich “teaching” swansong and an opportunity to pull together my missional reflection that has emerged in the last 5 years grounded in Australian soil.

Posted by steve at 06:48 PM

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Place-based theology

On Friday I sat listening to a PhD thesis being read. I was outdoors. The sky was cloudless and I was 8 hours drive away from the Uniting College classrooms at 34 Lipsett Terrace.

outdoors I was part of Walking on Country, an experience we offer at Uniting College, in order to ensure our candidates have an immersion experience in indigenous cultures.

But this year we worked to ensure the experience could also double as Towards Reconciliation, a unit in the Bachelors programmes we offer (as part of either the Flinders Bachelor of Theology or Adelaide College of Divinity Bachelor of Ministry). Hence a PhD thesis being read in the outdoors, under blue sky, rather than in the classroom, seated around desks and screens.

The research we were hearing was work done by Tracey Spencer on the history of Christian mission in South Australia. It is brilliant work – exhaustive, incisive and original in offering a post-colonial perspective on mission today. I’ve used it in my own work on indigenous communion practices (in Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific (Postcolonialism and Religions)). And it was being engaged at the exact spot were the mission was enacted. .

It struck me as an example of place-based education. The term developed in the 1990′s and is used to describe learning that is rooted in what is local—the unique history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place.

Place-based is not context-based. Context based seeks to learn within a student’s existing work context. The focus is delivery in situ, which is meant to enhance application and integration. Place-based affirms the local, not the local of the learner, but the local around particular place.

Walking on country from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Place-based theology meant that over the four days we visited place after place. We heard the stories. We walked the land in which the actions had happened. We discussed. We imagined we were one of the people we were hearing about, and then considered the implications for Gospel and culture, for tradition and innovation. Surrounded by reading and assessment, by being place-based, a very different education experience emerged.

As I drove home, I wonder what else in Christian theology could be place based?

Posted by steve at 10:25 PM

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy

I’ve just submitted the following abstract for a theology conference later this year. It emerges from my teaching last year and my participation in a Flinders University Community of Practice during which I did research, seeking student feedback on the changes I was making – in particular implementing flipped learning and making a focus on indigenous Christologies. It’s good to take the next step, from doing research, to presenting research

Revaluing the lives we teach: the pedagogies we employ and the Gospel truths they deploy

One way to “revalue” the worth of the lives we teach is to examine the pedagogies we employ. Educational research reminds us that all pedagogies speak, offering a “hidden curriculum.” What are the truths expressed in the “babble of information” that originates from our teaching? Is e-learning a pandering toward “endless opportunities for self-gratification”?

This paper will explore pedagogical innovation in teaching. Participation in a Flinders University Community of Practice in 2014 provided an opportunity to research student experience when teaching is approached as mobile, accessible and connective.

A core topic (Theology of Jesus Christ) was taught using e-learning technologies, including video conferencing and Moodle. Blooms taxonomy was used as a theoretical frame to negotiate the change with students and the shift in contact time from lecturer-driven content to student-centred small group activities. Changes were made to assessment, shifting participation from face to face to digital, in order to enable connectivity. Indigenous voices were introduced to enhance access.

Students completed a written survey at three points during the course. The results demonstrate that a significant shift had occcured in the class, with students moving from an appreciation of content, to a consideration of how they learn from the diversity inherent among their peers. Students felt the changes enhanced their ability to communicate effectively, appreciate collaborative learning and connect across boundaries.

Haythornthwaite and Andrews (E-learning Theory and Practice, 2011) map the diverse ways students participate in class to enhance learning. This provides a way to theorise my data, including the student who believed they could “now connect [their] own culture and Christ”; because they were asked in a group “by one of my classmates to connect liberation theology to [their] culture.”

This suggests that the pedagogies we deploy do indeed have the potential to “revalue” the worth of the lives of those we teach.

Posted by steve at 03:42 PM

Sunday, January 25, 2015

five year work anniversary

Linkedin congratulated me a few days ago on my work anniversary. Which led to a lovely comment from Aaron Chalmers, Head of School of Ministry, Theology and Culture at Tabor, Adelaide.

“Congrats and well done Steve! You have really made a positive contribution to ministry / theological training here in Adelaide.”

It was five years since I walked in the door at Uniting College. I perched in a temporary office for six months while a colleague prepared for sabbatical. I was given four courses to teach, which I realised after about a month was actually a full years work in the space of six months. It was in a different culture, which I had underestimated in thinking about the transition. In my first class I followed the rules I’d been told, regarding no food in class, which led to a candidate, telling me that while the place had rules, no lecturer had ever enforced that them! The upshot was a negotiation by which they drank their precious cup of coffee just outside the classroom with the door open so they could hear the lecture!

But God was good and the College was in such an exploring, outward space. There was so much room to innovate – the Missional masters, the pioneering stream within the newly worked BMin, the development of mission-shaped ministry, both in Adelaide and nationally through Australia. There were some post-graduate students with really interesting questions they wanted to explore.

A work anniversary in which I’m deeply thankful.

Posted by steve at 10:32 AM

Friday, January 23, 2015

The use of Psalm 23 in the TV series Lost

(This is part of a lecture I gave in Bible and Popular culture, in which I explore reception history, the way Bible texts are re-presented in different cultural forms over time).

Lost ran over six years (series).  In this episode from the second series, titled “The Twenty Third Psalm,” we are introduced to the back story of a character, Mr Eko. It involves his past in Nigeria and a number of times and ways in which he “walks through the valley of the shadow of death.” First, as he acts to save (be a shepherd for) his younger brother from Nigerian guerillas, later as he seeks to use his brother, now grown, and a Catholic priest (a shepherd) to export drugs.

The episode is laced with religious imagery. Both Eko and Charlie carry religious symbolism. Eko has a piece of wood which he has called his “Jesus stick” which is marked with Scripture. Charlie carrys a Virgin Mary statue which is filled with heroin.

So in plot and character, the episode is an intriguing example of reception history, of the search for salvation in the very dark places of human experience. Karl Jacobson, argues that “in the various musical and theatrical encounters with Ps 23, an interpretive and pedagogical force that wrestles the psalm out of any flat or smooth reading and presses it into the service of disbelieving faith, seeking trust.”[1] This is what is happening in Lost. The words on a page are given contemporary relevance.

The episode ends with Charlie and Eko the saying of Psalm 23. Eko is the leader, yet is joined, falteringly by Charlie. Both men have difficult relationships with their brothers, tied together by drugs. Bringing them together allows them to face their failures, to experience “their souls restored.”

When we engage in reception history, is it possible that the pop culture readings might in fact read insight back into the text. We see this in this episode, which starts with a discussion of two brothers – Aaron and Moses. They are brothers in the Exodus story.

As the episode proceeds, we see more brothers. The difficult relationships experienced by Charlie and Eko invite us to consider the relationship between Aaron and Moses, to pull it “out of any flat or smooth reading.” In what ways might the Biblical characters have wrestled with each other?

The ending, as Psalm 23 is said together by Eko and Charlie, involves inter-cutting of scenes with other characters from Lost. The actions and interplay are each an acting out of the Psalm, not as per the Bible but in the contemporary world created in Lost.

The fish, given on the beach, is an offer of peace between people previously estranged. (a table before me, in the presence of my enemies). Lost is a mysterious island, a place of valleys of death. Yet perhaps, if these people act toward each other in forgiving and ennobling ways, is might indeed be a place of “goodness and mercy.” Heaven (the house of the Lord) is as real as these people might want to make it.

By paying attention to plot and character, this Lost epiosode does indeed provide “an interpretive and pedagogical force that wrestles the psalm out of any flat or smooth reading.”

[1]Karl Jacobson, “Through the Pistol Smoke Dimly: Psalm 23 in Contemporary Film and Song,” http://sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=796

Posted by steve at 06:49 PM

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Mission and Community Service Intensive

A course I’m developing this year … Mission and Community Service Intensive

mission and community service

Explore the promise, possibilities and tensions in the relationship between mission, church and social service agencies in contemporary Australia. Can there be a place for Christian faith and historic identities in the contemporary funding climate? Must faith and spirituality live in contradiction? Are words and deeds mutually exclusive? How might professionalism, power and the prophetic be negotiated?

The course will utilise a practical theology model, seeking a critical, theological reflection on lived experience. This will involve a case study approach, through which questions are identified, and a dialogue created with current research.

The learning will occur in three phases:

  • Phase one – Sharing case studies. Four evenings, February 9-12, 7-9 pm.
  • Phase two – Reflecting. Participants will isolate a question emerging from a case study and undertake wider research.
  • Phase three – Workshop days. Participants will present their case study, sharing with one another, insights that have emerged as they have read and thought more widely, May 15-16, 9am-4:30pm (tbc)

Course facilitators will include Dr Steve Taylor, Rev Peter McDonald and Joanna Hubbard (tbc). Case studies presenters will include Dr Bruce Grindlay, Dr Ian Bedford (more to be confirmed). Options for enrolment include professional development, audit and credit.

Enrol at Student Services
P: 08 8416 8400
E: college dot divinity at flinders dot edu dot au

Venue: Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide.

Posted by steve at 11:29 AM

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mission and agencies in community service

A course I’m putting together for Semester 1, 2015.

This programme will explore the promise, possibilities and tensions in the relationship between mission, church and social service agencies in contemporary Australia.

Can there be a place for Christian faith and historic identities in the contemporary funding climate? Must faith and spirituality live in contradiction? Are words and deeds mutually exclusive? How might professionalism, power and the prophetic be negotiated?

The course will utilise a practical theology model, seeking a critical, theological reflection on lived experience. This will involve a case study approach, through which questions are identified, and a dialogue created with current research.

The learning will occur in three phrases

Phase one – Sharing case studies. Four evenings, February 9-12, 7-9 pm. (Venue: Pilgrim Uniting Church, Flinders Street, Adelaide.)

Phase two – Reflecting. Participants will isolate a question emerging from a case study and undertake wider research.

Phase three – Workshop days. Participants will re-present their case study, sharing with each other the insights that have emerged as they have read and thought more widely, May 15-16, 9 am-4:30 pm (tbc)

Course facilitators will include Dr Steve Taylor and Rev Peter McDonald. Case studies presenters will include Dr Bruce Grindlay, Dr Ian Bedford (more tbc). Options for enrolment (through Adelaide College of Divinity) include professional development, audit and credit.

Posted by steve at 07:44 AM

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Doctor of ministry – the hard, hard yards

A few days ago we celebrated the graduation of Bruce Grindlay as a Doctor of Ministry at Adelaide College of Divinity.

The days since have been a reminder of the hard, hard yards that go into these post-graduate research projects. Another of my Doctor of Ministry students, Gary Stuckey is on the final straight in his project. He is exploring the spiritual search, and has undertaken an action research project, launching what (in my opinion) is a fresh expression of new monasticism. (Gary, being a careful scholar, has much critical comment to make about that word “new monasticism.”) A few weeks ago, he dropped in a complete final draft of his manuscript. It is such a significant moment for a student, a complete draft.

dminjourney

Which then requires hours of my careful attention as supervisor. Two hours on Thursday evening, ten hours on Saturday, four hours today. Reading, editing, checking, suggesting.

The post-graduate student is paused until the supervisor is done. They have spent months producing a final draft. And now they wait. Will it be acceptable? How much more work will be required? All the time, the completion clock is ticking. These projects have a time frame.

Today, I gave Gary the manuscript back. Now the work shifts back to him. He has to sift my comments, read my handwritten scrawl, weigh up my suggestions against his levels of energy, what he wants to say. It is his thesis, not mine.

And all the time, the completion clock is ticking. These are the hard, hard yards, that make a graduation so much sweeter.

Posted by steve at 07:06 PM

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Bible and Popular Culture Summer school Intensive

Do you want to explore the ways the Bible and culture come into dialogue and mutually interpret each other? I’m team teaching as part of Bible and Popular Culture Intensive. It will be a rich summer learning experience.

summer school

Flinders summer school

Enrol now for the Bible and Popular Culture Intensive, to be held at Flinders University in January 2015.

Posted by steve at 04:00 PM

Sunday, November 09, 2014

teaching the “flipped” open table of Jesus

My Semester 2, Jesus Christ topic, came to an end this week.  It ended as it began, with food. Every week for 13 weeks, soup has been offered. For two of the classes, the entire lesson was done around food.  One week, as we talked about the open table of Jesus and the final week, as we reflected on our experiences together. In doing so, a very different dynamic has emerged among us. We have become community, shared being human, laughed, shared soup recipes.

christologyclass

The dynamic around soup had reinforced another change in class – a change in teaching methodology. I introduced flipped learning. Class readings and lecture notes were placed online and students were invited (expected) to come to class prepared to engage in activities together.

In order to encourage this, I provided two learning moments. First, a discussion around what type of individual behaviours would enhance our class learning as a group? This generated an informal set of expectations among us. Second, an introduction to how people learn. I offered Bloom’s taxonomy and suggested that the traditional lecture tended to keep class time focused on knowledge and comprehension (bottom half of the circle). However if reading was done prior, this would mean our class time together could be used to focus on analysis, synthesis and evaluation (top half of the circle). In order to help this, every class offered a choice of activities. Students could choose to check their comprehension, or to work with classmates in an activity of their choosing – analysis, synthesis or evaluation.

bloomstaxonomy

The result has been a vastly different learning environment. The class has been pushed in new ways and I’ve learnt a lot as a teacher.

To help us process the semester as we gathered the final time, I suggested reflection around three colours. Green, a moment of growth that had occurred in the class. Red, an emotion we wanted to express. White, any thing else we wanted to share.

It had been an extraordinary class. Alongside the flipped learning, we’ve also had to process tragedy. During the semester, a student in the class unexpectedly died. Healthy one week, fully participating, fully engaged. Then during the week, they suffered an out of the blue heart attack. 

So the class has had to process this sudden gap. In some ways the soup and flipped learning have made the gap larger. We’d become more human, known each other in ways more vulnerable and real. Twenty heads facing a talking head lecturer would not have formed these levels of community. Equally, have formed community, we experienced greater pain. But because we were a community, we drew strength from each other, found a group ready to listen and pray.

Such is the “flipped” and open table of Jesus. More engaged. Perhaps even more painful. Yet more vulnerable, more supportive, more human, more prayerful.

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM

Friday, October 24, 2014

the teaching challenge: theology

I wrote this recently, in response to a Flinders University request to explain why I teach, and how this applies in how I teach theology. (It is a few paragraphs by way of contextual introduction in what was a 5,500 word paper about evidence-based research I’m doing into the impact of flipped learning on the student experience).

Theology students are more likely to be part-time and mature in age. This presents a range of challenges including managing significant diversity within the classroom and working with a range of anxieties as mature age students return to study.

Theology is often closely tied with personally held beliefs. Some students are studying for a vocational role in their religious communities, while others study for interest. This presents some unique learning challenges. Students are being invited to engage critically with beliefs that at times they, or the communities to which they belong, are highly invested in.

In response, I seek to be a learner-centred educator. I believe that each student comes with a unique finger print and deserves space and processes to connect their existing life experience with the subject matter. People learn best when safe space is created, so a classroom of respect and appreciation of diversity is essential. Thinking aloud must be allowed.

Posted by steve at 10:47 AM

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Presbyterian bound

I fly tomorrow to New Zealand for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand Assembly. Apparently last year I was “an inspiring and well received speaker at the Press Go gathering in Wellington in October (2013).” So I was asked back for further involvement with the Church.

I have two roles. First, I’m the keynote speaker at the Assembly. Around their business meetings, I’m speaking three times for around 45 minutes on the theme Hospitality – Your place or mine. I will look at three Biblical texts (Luke 10, Luke 14, Luke 19), weaving in stories of mission and various interaction.

Second, I’m storytelling at Offspring. Offspring is a resourcing stream that runs alongside the business sessions. It’s a brilliant innovation, seeking to allow the church to gather not only around business but also around ministry. I’m be telling some global mission stories, that might help illuminate three local mission stories that are being told.

I phoned the worship leader, Malcolm Gordon, on Wednesday, to confirm a few things. I was astounded to be told that Malcolm has worked with a group of artists and creatives around the Biblical texts I’d said I’d be using. Poets have paraphrased the Biblical texts. Songwriters have written three original songs, one for each Biblical text. Artists have created art pieces, that will hang in the foyer during Assembly. All this creativity will be bound together in a booklet, to be given to folk at the end.

How about that in terms of engaging creatively with Biblical texts in mission?

It made me glad I didn’t change Biblical texts when I began some more detailed preparation last week!

I really enjoyed my time with the Presbyterian church this time last year, so hoping for a similar joy again.

Posted by steve at 11:13 PM