Judy Skeen, Ph.D.
Professor of Religion
“Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. “
—Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach
I read Parker Palmer’s work in graduate school and it struck me as insightful and intriguing but it wasn’t until I first experienced a Circle of Trust retreat sponsored by Belmont’s Teaching Center that I began to have a sense of how central the integrity of the teacher is to the creation of an environment hospitable for learning. For 15 years, I have been a participant or a facilitator of the Circle of Trust retreat experiences for Belmont faculty.
I began my teaching work at Belmont in the fall of 1998. I found the challenge of four classes a semester exhilarating, for a while. In addition, committee work, convocation planning and co-curricular projects kept presenting themselves. Soon, I was at Belmont every day and most evenings simply trying to keep up. At that time, the School of Religion culture encouraged individual and group reflection on whether we were living out our calling as teachers. As my colleagues listened to my struggles to manage my curiosity driven overwork, I learned how helpful it was to step back and zoom out the lens of my mind, heart and soul to regain some perspective on what was important. I was learning how to reflect in solitude and in community, which is what the Circle of Trust experience provides.
The retreat experience itself provides the opportunity for participants to slow down and reconnect soul and role. This is crucial as our pace grows exponentially faster and our workload expands beyond the time and energy available. It is counter-cultural and counter-intuitive to slow down in the face of more demand, and yet this deeper listening is central to knowing how to choose and be present to others and our worthy task.
Our students need us to show up and bring our full selves to the important task of learning. Yes, we are preparing them to be skilled workers. But more importantly we are cultivating a place where they can learn how to be mature human beings, who sustain healthy relationships, careers, creativity and meaningful lives.
Maintaining the passion to teach and lead wholeheartedly takes not only skill but inner strength…”
— Marcy & Rick Jackson, Stories of the Courage to Teach