Soaring Sophomores: A Pilot Course

The start of fall semester on a college campus brings a special feeling of excitement. But sophomore students face new and different challenges in year two of college. How might vocational exploration help sophomores not only persist but soar? I developed a 2-credit hour course called “Exploring Life Purpose and Your Major” to help students dive into their major while asking big life questions.

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Re-Imagining Life Together (Staying with the Trouble)

A series of posts about a collaborative project at Wingate University, resulting in a first-year course called Food and Faith: Health and Happiness Around the Many Tables of Our Lives.

This third blog in our series will explore how our pedagogy reflects our belief in Earth’s entangled banks as a source of wisdom. We model our course design and teaching on our belief that we are all interdependent beings living in webs of relations and education for vocation is a co-creative process. We thrive when we live and learn by re-membering these elements of our identities as individuals and societies. This post will focus on our nature as co-creative creatures and how to teach with co-creativity as a guiding principle.

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Table Fellowship: Re-Imagining Vocation

A series of posts about a collaborative project at Wingate University, resulting in a first-year course called Food and Faith: Health and Happiness Around the Many Tables of Our Lives.

In our last post, we asked was whether a cosmic horizon of meaning for vocation––one inspired by Darwin’s entangled bank––would help navigate some campus challenges in a post-COVID world? Our answer was emphatically “yes.” Why? Because a cosmic horizon reveals that we are caught up in inescapable networks of giving and taking, feeding and being fed. Thus, by our existence we are given a place setting at a great cosmic feast and festival. This worldview appreciates vocatio as James Fowler does: the discovery, cultivation, and integration of rich patterns of our whole lives, including our plates, palates, and tables.

Embracing vocation as calling in this context inextricably grounds it in three central tenets: We are all interdependent, we live in overlapping networks of mutuality, and co-creativity is central to life and flourishing. With these tenets in mind, we have developed a Food and Faith course set to unfold in the Fall of 2022. This posts muses on the cornerstone metaphor that grounds our commitment in this course: table fellowship.

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Deep Work and the Problem with Overcommunication

I remember in the fall of 2020 hearing our provost say, “Overcommunication with students will be a must this semester.” He was thinking about the challenges of remote learning. But isn’t overcommunication just what professors do? Our over-long syllabi aside, we’re always crafting top-heavy email invitations for semesters of meaningful work. Pressing “send” on over-communication gives us a satisfaction akin to what Shakespeare must have felt completing Sonnet 116.

And then, we receive our first email from a student: “Hey prof thx the class will be dank idk is textbk in or do u class need it?!?”

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Transgressive Teaching: The impact of bell hooks

The work of bell hooks (1952-2021) had always been part of my feminist education, in college as well as in graduate school. Many memorials in the last few days have focused on her contributions to women’s studies and black feminist theory since her death on December 15th. It was when I was a postdoctoral teaching fellow in the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts twenty years ago that I came to appreciate bell hooks’ work on pedagogy and the vocation of an educator. Our program’s weekly colloquium on the scholarship of teaching included precious few women authors, and even fewer authors of color, and so when I finally got to read bell hooks and Paulo Freire, I could see the kind of teacher I wanted to become.

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“Good enough” pedagogy: the importance of interpersonal connections

In Spring 2020, I piloted vocational exploration exercises in a 300-level biology course. Through the difficult journey of that year, I learned that vocational exploration served as medicine for a myriad of woes. Guiding students to explore their purpose supported students’ unmet deep needs. 

According to the 2020 Faculty Watch Report, 65% of faculty members surveyed indicated that pandemic-influenced course structure changes had a negative impact on educational quality. Yet, seven in ten faculty believe that hybrid or flex models will continue. I am sure this does not come as a surprise given the Spring 2020 mass shift to remote teaching and learning. This was new territory for which we had little or no time to develop novel pedagogy. Many of us found ourselves in a place where we were delivering what we were able to provide—a “good enough” pedagogy. Did we discover some important components to retain? Did we discover critical elements that had not been as obvious in our previous offerings—either important support structures or course elements that need to be fixed?

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Failing Better, Part II

The one time I tried to teach a course explicitly on vocation, I landed right in column B of Catherine Aird’s famous quote from His Burial Too: “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” The warning I took from my failure was to respect the limits of the physical universe and admit that I can’t teach a decent course in comparative theology while simultaneously doing justice to the literature and themes of vocational studies. On the other hand, it seemed possible to take a micro—or perhaps stealth?—approach to teaching vocation: making small changes that would integrate a vocational perspective into the work the students and I already had to do. 

In an essay on “midrange reflection,” Patricia O’Connell Killen writes compellingly and consolingly that it is the “small, incremental changes in [teachers’] practice” that “cumulatively contribute to mastery and excellence while at the same time strengthening the teacher’s sense of vocation and clarity of purpose.” Gradually, if we persist, those small reflective steps “help faculty develop both self-possession and a fluid freedom congruent with their deepest vocational impulses.” Importantly, this kind of ongoing reflection and strategizing requires a sense of play, as “insights emerge, and events are interpreted differently as alternative possible meanings and missed dimensions are confronted.” 

So here, especially for others who value vocational formation but can’t squeeze one more text into their courses, are strategies that seem to work—or, it might be better to say, are worth playing with.  

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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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Naming Avocations: A Lesson Plan for the Vocation Classroom

Colleges and universities have always been places that espouse lofty values while, increasingly, they attempt to prove their worth to parents and students as places to prepare for paid employment. This bifurcation manifests itself in the area of student services on most campuses. Go in one door for career services and still others for spiritual counseling and community service. And, of course, you not only enter a different door but also a different building to find what most faculty think of as the real work of a university – research and teaching. The dominance of the division into academic disciplines and administrative compartments is hard to shake.

The movement to foster experiences, reflection, teaching, research, and publication on the subject of vocation, however, challenges the separation of different kinds of callings. In doing so, this movement enriches the lives of many. We can start paying real attention to what matters most in our lives and to the gifts we give and receive (inner calling) regardless of who is paying us and how much value others assign to it (outer calling). The word “vocation,” sometimes described as a voice within that resonates with an outer voice, can take us on a journey to places not usually associated with career preparation. We need to foster our avocations as well as our vocations.   Continue reading