Failing and Failing Better: Teaching Vocation When You Don’t Have Time to Teach Vocation

The academy needs a new journal, and I propose we title it It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: The Journal of Negative Results. Scientists have long argued for the importance of publishing negative results, accounts of experiments that ended up disproving the researchers’ hypotheses. As Mehta Devang explains in Nature, “When negative results aren’t published in high-impact journals, other scientists can’t learn from them and end up repeating failed experiments.”

Attending to what doesn’t work, and why, is no less important in other fields, teaching included. On this blog, Kathleen T. Talvacchia writes that “It takes some measure of courage and self-esteem to reflect honestly on our limitations and, at times, the outright failures in our teaching and scholarly vocations. Often, it is not an acceptable stance in a profession based on the assumption that everyone with a doctorate has the capacity to learn all that they need in order to do the work required with excellence” (See “Reaffirming our Vocational Authenticity with Courage and Humility.”)

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Callings: NetVUE’s podcast series

When I was asked to collaborate with Hannah Schell to develop a podcast for NetVUE, I had two reactions: excitement and paralyzing fear. As a regular consumer of podcasts, I immediately thought about the delight of speaking with so many inspiring and insightful people about vocation. I also had fear of the unknown, of learning yet another new technology, and of being in the public view more than any academic ever imagines. But, as with all vocational invitations, I took the step forward.  

NetVUE’s podcast, “Callings: Conversations on college, career, and the life-well lived,” launched last week. “Callings” explores what it means to live a life defined by a sense of meaning and purpose. It focuses on the process of exploring and discerning one’s vocation, with particular emphasis on mentoring and supporting undergraduate students as they navigate college, career, and a life-well lived. The podcast features music by composer and pianist Dan Kennedy

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Hope as the Will to Turn Things Upside Down

Picasso’s Harlequin (1918).

From an early age we are taught not to discuss politics and religion with others. Why is that?  Is it because we do not want to offend our neighbor, or is it for self-protection? Is it out of respect for other peoples’ views, or is to prevent confrontation? Although any of these reasons can be justifiable, none of them are totally sufficient because, to my mind, they produce the same result: silence. If vocation requires listening we must try to overcome silence and encourage dialogue with respect for difference and dissent. Of course, this is often easier said than done. To authentically listen and to speak our truth sometimes we need to be willing to turn things upside down. Inversion, as a reversal of order, can help us see things anew, give new meaning and perspective even to contradicting ideas and discouraging experiences in order to pursue our callings with hope.  

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Rethinking and Unlearning: Imagining New Ways of Being in Community

A conversation with Nimisha Barton, historian, educator, and diversity practitioner.

Nimisha Barton will lead a workshop for NetVUE members on October 27th on Bias, Privilege and Educational Freedom (see below for more details). As we finalized the details about her workshop, Nimisha generously agreed to be interviewed about her work and career trajectory and how her experiences in graduate school have informed her approach to mentoring. At the end, Nimisha suggests texts and other resources for educators who are committed to supporting undergraduates and unlearning the damaging messages into which we have all been socialized.

Describe the work you do now and how you engage with students, either as a consultant, teacher, mentor, etc. 

I consult with colleges and universities helping faculty and staff around the country find ways to improve their relationships with their entire community. This may look like inclusive teaching workshops for faculty or inclusive leadership development trainings for students. At the end of the day, I seek to highlight existing norms and practices and suggest new ways of thinking that might enhance our relationships with one another. Often, this means thinking through how historical and sociopolitical realities have conditioned the ways we currently relate with one another and imagining new ways of being in community. 

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Vocation Virtually: Path, Goals, and Core Commitments

Part 3 of a series describing an electronic “vPortfolio” (vocation portfolio) developed at Augsburg University and centered on five metaphors for vocation: place, path, perspective, people, story.

A third metaphor for vocation is path. Understanding this metaphor cultivates the sense that “I’m on the right path.” One can be called to a path without knowing the final destination. A powerful biblical guide is Abram, whom God summoned to a journey with no more divine direction than “go… to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). Abram had to depend on God–not Google Maps!–to get where he was going. He trusted God to get him there.

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A Call for Care in the Academy

As self-reports of anxiety and depression are on the rise for our students and suicides continue to impact small and large college campuses alike, we have hit a moment of reckoning: how mental health is viewed, represented, and accepted in the academy. Now, in the midst of a pandemic, administrators, staff, professors, and students are being asked to stretch themselves in new and inventive ways. Uncertainty surrounds us all. The silver lining might be officially recognizing and naming the need to care for ourselves.  

Self-Care: What it is and why you should do it.

As we are being asked to radically accept this new world order of teaching, whether it be over Zoom or behind glass shields in masks, we too must come to terms with the need to stop and care for ourselves. How often have you viewed caring for yourself as a form of professional development? Therapy can be a tool for self-care and an official way to care for yourself. A yoga app that you use at your leisure or a mindful meditation can be your self-care ritual. Self-care can be focusing for 5 minutes on your breathing—just thinking intentionally about your breath in and your breath out. I am extending the invitation to you all to add a small shift in your day, of either extending your care rituals or starting a care ritual (however long or involved) as a way to sustain us on this voyage of teaching and learning amidst a global pandemic. 

If I do not provide deep moments of care for myself, I won’t be able to extend that care to my students. Creating a culture of care for myself also allows me to model that care to my students and encourage them to take time for care for themselves. I have adopted a form of self-care pedagogy where I define, normalize and institutionalize self-care in my classroom. I insert self-care days, so students see that it is as important as the content I am teaching them. We talk of self-care as a form of ritual and practice, a way to center ourselves for the learning before us and to rejuvenate from the learning behind us.  

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Cultivating Dissent as a Tool for Vocational Discernment

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2016 portrait

Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.

– Ruth Bader Ginsburg, NPR interview, May 2, 2002.

This insight from the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has resonated with me in these weeks since her passing. The social movements in the name of justice that characterize our present moment require us to engage in a deeper reflection on the meaning of dissent and its effectiveness in shaping vocational direction. Dissent, used wisely and with integrity, forces us to clarify the deeply held convictions at the heart of our oppositional response. In the process of that discernment and clarification, we can discover greater purpose and meaning in our life.

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Transitions: Navigating Vocations in an Uncertain Present

Photo by Brian Ammons

Faculty and staff have welcomed returning students back to campus and to the virtual classroom, with each week bringing new concerns and challenges. These multiple uncertainties create stress, anxiety, and worry. Students are likely asking significant vocational questions—How do I find purpose amidst new learning and living environments ? How do I take care of myself and others? What is this teaching me about my present and future vocation? NetVUE hosted a webinar on September 22 with three speakers who discussed experiences and strategies of how we can care for students, each other, and ourselves as we navigate this uncertain present.  

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Of Casseroles and Community

Suvi Korhonen, Creative Commons

This fall semester I am teaching a course on theology and suffering. The course is titled “Sin, Suffering, and the Silence of God.” It is a course I teach every few years, so it was on the schedule for this fall long before Covid-19 swept across the world. The students in this class are amazing–they always are. It is a seminar for upper-level Religious Studies majors and it is cross-listed for Counseling students. The students who take it want to be there; the class gives them a space to ask questions they want to wrestle with.

This year, as we have begun the fall semester in a hybrid format, meeting in small groups, once a week only, masked, and socially distanced, a course on suffering takes on a different level of meaning. We began the semester acknowledging our individual and collective losses. We have, in only a few short weeks, lamented and grieved together.

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Vocation Virtually: Place, Roles, Responsibilities

Part 2 of a series describing an electronic “vPortfolio” (vocation portfolio) developed at Augsburg University and centered on five metaphors for vocation: place, path, perspective, people, story.

A second metaphor for vocation is place.  Understanding this metaphor cultivates the sense that “I’m in the right place.”

The metaphor of place is most at home in the Lutheran tradition, reflecting Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) revolutionary argument that God equally values all roles, that of parent as well as priest, that of shoemaker or brewer as well as monk or nun. Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) identifies these roles as “places of responsibility,” where one might serve both God and neighbor. In language prominent in the vocation movement in American higher education, theologian Frederick Buechner (b. 1926) defines vocation: “the place God calls you to is the place where the world’s deep hunger and your own deep gladness meet.” 

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