The problem with effectiveness

We have become obsessed with effectiveness which, according to Parker Palmer, means that we take on smaller tasks. For the bigger tasks, like love, mercy and peace we need a different measure. That measure is faithfulness.

From effectiveness to faithfulness from Center for Courage & Renewal on Vimeo.

Teaching and hospitality – pause for thought from Henri Nouwen

“When we look at teaching in terms of hospitality, we can say that the teacher is called upon to create for students a free and fearless space where mental and emotional development can take place…. The hospitable teacher has to reveal to the students that they have something to offer. Many students have been for so many years on the receiving side and have become so deeply impregnated with the idea that there is still a lot more to learn, that they have lost confidence in themselves and can hardly imagine that they themselves have something to give, not only to the ones who are less educated but to their fellow students and teachers as well…..”

Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out

Results, relegation and relationships

The football season is virtually over, relegation issues are settled and just a few teams have any further stake in the rest of the season as they fight for promotion through the play-offs. This wool gathering of a northern dean has some useful insights into the mind of the footballing world, particularly exploring the feelings of players who have failed to perform to expectation and feel the responsibility for relegation.

At the same time, our Year 6 children are sitting their tests and are expected to produce the results that, as they say, won’t let themselves down , their parents down, their teachers down, their schools down and everything else down. Are “results” an  obsession of our age? Is the fascination for measurement and standardisation something that has grown through the industrial revolution and our increasing capacity for measurement?

Results measure success and failure. Kenny Dalglish has discovered that not getting enough of them (wins) while managing Liverpool FC is fatal. Results are the stuff of competition, with the result that they set team against team and performer against performer. In battle there is only one winner and many losers, and, therefore, it is best to avoid that result by finding peace. Some are driven by results, but most of us, most of the time work without seeing results for our effort. How do we keep going?

Thanks to Meg Wheatley (Finding our Way: leadership for an Uncertain Time) I have these thoughts to challenge our results culture: the first is from Vaclav Havel, and the other is from a letter written by Thomas Merton to peace activist Jim Forest.

Hope is a dimension of the soul … an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons … It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.

Do not depend on the hope of results … You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness,the truth of the work itself … You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people … In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.

Wheatley’s own comment is that hope and fear are inescapable partners. “Any time we hope for a certain outcome, and work hard to make it happen, then we also introduce fear – fear of failing, fear of loss.” She says that we can live beyond hope and fear, and that all we need is each other.

I couldn’t resist including the photo I found here. I have asked for permission to use it.

Integrity and teaching


organic growth
“A complex web of connections”
Organic Growth from the Internet Mapping Project
posted by jurveston
These lines from May Sarton indicate something of the integrity of the “good” minister, teacher or human being:
Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
worn other people’s faces … (the rest of the poem is here)
I have worn other people’s faces because it’s safe to be in the crowd. I have worn other people’s faces but they have never fit. I have tried to be clever. I have tried to be funny. I have even tried to be effective. But these faces never fit. We live in a world where standards are imposed and where we are trained from the outside in to conform to certain standards. When Jesus breathed new life into his disciples (John 20:19-23) he seemed to be giving them a very different inside-out spiritual direction for their lives. Parker Palmer, who quotes the above lines from May Sarton, talks about the divided self and the undivided self. A self divided is a self dis-membered and lacking integrity. For Palmer “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” They “join self and subject and students in the fabric of life.”
Palmer goes on to say that good teachers are “able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. … The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts – meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self.”
When I reflect on the good teachers I have had I find that they are people who refused “other people’s faces”, who committed time to me and gave me their undivided attention. I also reflect that they have been a rather rare breed, but then I may not have been the right student to help great teaching happen with all the others I have known. The good teachers, though. have been more than enough – thank God.

Ethics of education

“When we deal with ethics in education (and often we ignore it altogether), we approach it as a matter of helping individuals develop standards for personal behaviour. Not only do we stress personal at the expense of communal ethics: deeper still, we ignore the fact that the presence, or absence of communal imagery at every level of teaching and learning can form, or deform, students for life in the world. We underestimate the hidden curriculum of ethics that is being taught in classrooms even – and perhaps especially – when ethics is not the formal topic.”

” A man began to give large doses of cod-liver oil to his Doberman because he had been told that the stuff was good for dogs. Each day he would hold the head of the protesting dog between his knees, force its jaws open, and pour the liquid down its throat.

One day the dog broke loose and spilled the oil of the floor. Then, to the man’s great surprise, it returned to lick the spoon. That is when he discovered that what the dog had been fighting was not the oil but his method of administration.”

A “story meditation” from the ‘Education’ section of Anthony de Mello’s The Heart of the Enlightened