Sabbatical Leaves

In a continuing series on sabbaticals, the Teaching Center will be offering a mini-workshop session:

Post-Sabbatical: Now What?
Wednesday, March 1 from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Ayers (JAAC) 1045

We will hear from several Belmont faculty members who recently completed a semester-long sabbatical leave.  In particular, Natalia Pelaz (Foreign Languages), Judy Skeen (Religion) and John Niedzwiecki (Biology) will talk informally about their experience transitioning from a sabbatical to full-time teaching and other duties again.

Our session from last fall included insight from Dr. Sally Barton-Arwood (Education), Dr. Marty Bell (Theology and Christian Ministry), and Dr. Cheryl Slay Carr (Music Business) who have also recently completed sabbatical leaves.  Drs. Bell and Slay Carr share their thoughts on their sabbatical experiences below.


Sabbatical Reflections
Marty Bell, Ph.D.
Professor of Religion

I have had two sabbaticals in my time at Belmont. I started teaching as an adjunct professor in 1985 and I started on the tenure-track in 1988. I regret that over the years I applied for only two sabbaticals, both of which were granted. I was on sabbatical in the spring of 1997 and in the spring of 2016. Whenever you are eligible for sabbatical, I encourage you to apply. You probably need sabbatical more than you may realize.

In 1997 I was forty years of age when I took my sabbatical. At that stage of my life, I struggled more with what to do with my time to renew myself than I did when I took my sabbatical in 2016 at nearly sixty years of age. This last sabbatical came at a time when I was more willing to engage in self-reflection and when I was more prone to actually find the renewal that comes with authentic rest. I have found myself pondering an interesting paradox related to my two sabbaticals. In 1997 sabbatical came with greater expectations to actually rest, but I found it difficult to adjust to the rhythm of rest. In 2017 sabbatical came with greater expectations to be productive and do something that reflected well on the University, but I found that I needed more time to wander, ponder, and relax. Although I met the University’s expectations for sabbatical, I created for myself a healthy sense of boundaries related to the unique opportunities in the break from the regular schedule of a semester.

I encourage you to dovetail the University’s expectations with your own passions and your need to enter into a more spacious and relaxed daily rhythm.  The scholarly activity that I did during my most recent sabbatical fed my soul and created new energy to return to the classroom with enthusiasm.  One way to integrate the University’s expectations and your own passions is to ask yourself what brought you to the desire to be a college professor.  What do you love about your work? What brings you energy? With a bit of creativity, writing a sabbatical proposal can be a vision that brings you joy rather that a chore that seems like sheer drudgery.

Do what you need to do to make your application for sabbatical strong for consideration, but make sure you plan to actually renew your spirit and your zest for teaching.


Prime Time
Cheryl Slay Carr, J.D., M.P.A.
Associate Professor of Music Business

The sabbatical “road” has many paths.  I envisioned traversing trails leading beyond the proposal I submitted for approval, beyond the academic words I would eventually write and see published as a result of my leave.  For me, that meant creating a guide for the journey, a sabbatical plan.  Though the idea of having a plan may conjure up images of slavish adherence to some inflexible structure, I believed it would work the opposite outcome – freedom to maximize my reflective semester – and for the most part, it did. Just as importantly, it served as an accountability tool keeping me on track.  Since I saw every sabbatical day as a precious, irretrievable opportunity, the last thing I wanted was to reach the path’s end and find I had actually traveled nowhere.  Lastly, my plan reflected my aspiration to understand and live out the “Sabbath” in sabbatical, to leave room for uncharted terrain.


Before sitting down to plan, I did some light research to take a look at others’ experiences within academia generally.  Some faculty had secured grants to facilitate a longer leave, or to permit travel abroad.  Whatever the specifics of the journey, the common thread seemed to be time invested in planning.  I prospectively developed a plan for each month; advanced planning was particularly helpful in terms of making travel plans.  I planned trips for 3 of the 5 months I was off during spring 2016, not including the summer months.  I presented at conferences and traveled for a self-planned, solitary writing retreat that was fruitful and at the same time a dynamic highlight of my sabbatical.

In addition to my monthly plan, I also kept a sabbatical productivity journal; it was more of a log, both in terms of its purpose and the manner in which entries were recorded, but it helped me to derive insights from my productivity, and to set goals that would live beyond the sabbatical period.  For example, I learned what times of day I really write well (very early morning), and also got insights on general productivity.   In retrospect, I am able to return to the journal to examine the average number of hours I wrote per day, as well as insights for improving that productivity.

Sabbatical provides a rare opportunity for academic and personal reflection.  I believed it was important that I return from sabbatical with insights yielded from a purposeful rest, which comes close to a definition for me of Sabbath in the context of occupation.


Purposeful rest — visiting a local artist’s exhibit and buying a little of her art; sitting in on a rehearsal of the Nashville Symphony; taking a special vacation (a cruise) tied with a conference presentation; planning for a summer concert (I’m also a vocalist).  These are but a few examples of ways in which I “sabbathed” during sabbatical.  Yet the essence of any of these experiences was the exploration of a “coming away” time to experience something wholly out of the ordinary, with a view toward being inspired not only to write, but to be renewed and refreshed for teaching and for the most everyday tasks.   I used a book called Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives (Wayne Muller) and scripture to fuel my Sabbath journeying.  Moments of dedicated prayer, journaling, reading, and meditation made my sabbatical experience distinctive.


  • Consider developing a detailed sabbatical plan that lays out the “how” of your sabbatical, after you have submitted the “what” via your proposal.  Consider keeping a productivity or other journal as well.
  • Belmont offers the opportunity to apply for either the semester-long or year-long period.  If you want to take an entire year, rather than just a semester, consider applying for a grant to supplement the reduction in salary.  This means planning in advance to apply for grants.
  • During sabbatical, focus on your sabbatical goals.  My participation in conferences was productive, but at times it changed my focus on writing.  Moreover, the temptation to “get it all in” during sabbatical will loom large and challenge the goals you’ve set for yourself.  Resist that temptation.  Focus on what you have set aside Sabbath to be.
  • Last, but not least, remember to Sabbath during sabbatical.  It is prime time.