In just over 4 weeks I will be wrapping-up my M.Ed in Teaching and Learning at Saint Mary's University. Two weeks after that I will be ending my role as an online teaching at Landry Academy. As I face both of these journeys coming to an end I am left with the obvious question of, what next? But I as I consider the possible responses to that question I also need to consider what my calling as teacher should look like in the next chapter of my life.
If you are unfamiliar with this word "calling" it is a term frequently used in Christian circles to describe what one feels God has both gifted them in and asked to do vocationally. Dictionary.com offers these words to define calling: 2) vocation, profession, or trade: What is your calling? 3) a call or summons: He had a calling to join the church. 4) a strong impulse or inclination: She did it in response to an inner calling.
As you can see this term "calling" is closely related to both what one does and the feeling of being called to be and do something specifically designed for the person called. For me I believe my calling began in elementary school. It was there that I decided I would be a teacher. Was it because I had amazing teachers, loved school and adored a lot of moments of my academic experiences. Maybe? Or was it that there was a design imprinted on my life from the creator of the world that would guide me to be passionate about education and the relational ministry that can happen in the classroom? (Sounds a lot like the nature versus nurture question.) I am guessing it is a good combo of both. But why ask these question now? Why walk down this introspective path after 10 years in the education world, after 10 years of trying to see my calling through?
I believe re-visiting my calling to teach is important now because as I get older I feel like I waver more and more in knowing exactly what I am called to. In many ways the early years of adult-life are so much easier. Fewer mistakes have been made, less bills have to be paid, the idea that "I can do anything I want" seems like an actual reality, and the zest of life has not been squished by the weight of the pressures that come with sticking with a plan, following through with the hard relationships and the questioning of whether in 10 years I have had the affect that I was hoping for. (Perhaps this is where mid-life crises begins?) To recall my calling is to bring myself back to an understanding and belief that my training in and passion for education are leading me somewhere...but where? I am not sure?
But here is what I am sure of: I have been given some gifts that I can not keep to myself. I have been given the gift of a teacher's heart. I have been given the gift of a bachelor's degree. I have been given the gift of a master's degree. I have been given the gift of a faithful husband. I have been given the gift of three little ones made from my blood and born from my body. I have been given the gift of some amazing teaching experiences. I have been given the gift of rich and life-giving relationships with students and colleagues. I have been given the gift of hard-times. I have been given the gift of these promises from my creator: I will never leave your or forsake you. I am with you always. I know the plans of I have for you. So as I reconsider my calling to be a teacher I can see where this calling has lead me already--to people and places that have changed my life. My experiences have made me even more passionate about providing high quality education to students. And further, given me a desire to help other teachers discuss and share their passion and pedagogy practices used to fulfill their calling as a teacher.
As I ponder the words I have just written I can see that my calling is what it has always been, to teach: when I see the gifts this calling has given me I can not help but be overjoyed and encouraged. I can see that my experiences were intentionally designed to give me a certain perspective and that with that perspective I can continue to live into my calling. From that perspective I can see that I am called to reach out and share my gifts with those around me. What that looks like exactly, I am not sure. But I will rest in the waiting (I will try to anyway: I am pretty good at resting...waiting, not so much!). And I will hold fast to the gift of the promise that there is a design placed on my life. When I wonder and waver and question what I am called to, I need only to return to this post and be reminded that He who is faithful will equip and provide for me to fulfill my calling.
Self-reflection has lead me here and now the journey will continue....
(source of image: http://www.jathangood.com/hallways/)
As we wrap up our last round of Action Research (AR) for my master's class I was really hoping I could veer down a direction that focussed more on personal growth and less on implementing a strategy in my classroom. The reason being that I just don't know that with 5 weeks of class any thing that I choose to implement will have much impact. And to be honest, I think I am just tired and ready to coast into the finish line, rather than sprinting there.
But as I should have guessed my proposed alternate AR was not fitting to the standards and I was encouraged to examine a way to use what I had been researching for my ROL, discussion boards, in some way so that I could stick to the standards and aims of the M.Ed. program. As I talked this through with my instructor I was able to come to an option that I had not considered. Oh, the power of verbal processing. (I am so much a verbal processor when it comes to making plans. Take some time today to appreciate a colleague with whom you cross past frequently and are able to bounce ideas off from--they are invaluable!)
What she helped me to see was that I could take the concept I was working with and narrow it down to something incredibly manageable and to a timeline that would allow for a quick turn around from implementation to data collection and analysis. I think that is the biggest struggle for me when I approach an AR process, I just don't know how to break it down small enough to make it manageable and helpful to adjusting my teaching practices quickly. But I am hopeful the coming process will accomplish these.
So, over the last 24 hours I went from having no idea how I was going to tackle this last AR cycle to having a new AR plan and nearly all the materials I needed to go with it (thanks to 3 hours alone at Caribou): a plan, checklists, rubrics, and 4 data collection tools. And a timeline that is friendly to my life and the progress of the students in my class.
The best part is that it works perfectly into my lessons for the next two weeks, and instead of feeling like I am adding something to things we are already doing I actually feel like I am enhancing what we were already going to be doing.
Here is my plan and I am looking forward to seeing the results:
Writing a Quality Thesis Statement & Helping Other Writers Create a Quality Thesis Statement
I haven't spent a lot of time reflecting on leadership this semester. This is largely due to the fact that I honestly don't feel like I have a position in which to be a leader (when it comes to academic realms, at least). And when one doesn't feel like they are even being seen it is hard to find material to focus on in regards to reflections on leadership.
However, I heard something very interesting at a women's conference that has stuck with me for the last two months. There is an amazing author and speaker from Australia, Christine Cain(seriously, her story and passion will blow you away), who was one of the speakers at a conference I attended in February. In her talk she said the following, There is always a place to serve. There may not always be a position [title or job opening] but there is always a place. Her point being that when we look around for places to lead or serve we often look for an empty position, a job (or volunteer) opening. And if there isn't one we assume that there is not place for us to server or lead. Her challenge was to stop that way of thinking and recognize that there is always someone in need of our service, love or leading. There is a gap that is in need of filling in nearly any church, organization or neighborhood. Instead of waiting for a predefined position to move us toward serving and leading, we should take time to look around and see if there are places to lead and serve that are not a part of holding a particular position or title attached. We should look at the the people around us and the contexts we are set in and find the places of need that are already present and calling for our attention.
I found this very encouraging for the stage of life I am in. I spend most of my "working time" volunteering in my community and church and being the CEO of my home. I hold no predefined positions of great value in the context of the working world. But in my life, I can see that I am leading in a lot of "places" that are not defined as positions nor have titles attached to them. Somehow in two years I have managed to become the "leader" of an annual women's conference, three community small groups, a book club, and planner of neighborhood events, like Easter Egg hunts and bonfires. Not things that will go on a resume if I ever find a way back into the education world. But I am encouraged because I am beginning to see that leadership is needed in those non-working, non-corporate places as well. However, in such places there is little feedback as to if I am actually a good leader or just good at getting people gather together for some common purpose.
As I have pondered her words I have begun to see that my greatest challenge in looking toward the future is that I just want to know what kind of leader I am. But I have never held a defined leadership position so I don't really know how to answer that, or what others would answer if they were asked to describe my as a leader. In addition, if someone would point out my traits (both negative and positive) as a leader I would have hard time believing them because I know they have never seen me actually lead (in the defined position kind of way). The reason I am pondering this is because the paths for my future may be leading to a leadership position that would require the highest quality of leadership skills. And I hesitate to even consider the position because I truly don't know if I want to move away from the "volunteer" leadership role to the actual leadership role and all the pressure and criticism that could come with it.
How does one know when their time has come to step up and lead? How does one know if they have what it takes to be that leader who has what it takes to fulfill the needs of a demanding position?
I think it takes a lot of faith and trust and knowing that the old adage, "you never know until you try" gets truer and truer as life brings bigger and more challenging dreams, goals, and leadership opportunities. I think it also requires me to keep believing that,There is always a place to serve. There may not always be a position [title or job opening] but there is always a place. That regardless of my position or title (or whether I have one or not) I can grow in my ability to lead by looking for places to serve.
Links to all the, Go and See Study, sessions.