Nurturing Connection within the Classroom – Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

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A couple of years in the past, I attended a management building match. The two-day assembly centered at the theme of considerable lifestyles and the way leaders may assist create communities the place considerable lifestyles can flourish.

In preparation for the development, contributors had been requested to learn a e book known as Leading Causes of Life through Gary Gunderson and Larry Pray. In this e book, the authors argue for an method to group that specializes in cultivating what’s life-giving reasonably than looking to defeat what’s death-dealing. To put it differently, Gunderson and Pray urge folks of religion to nurture what is true of their communities, reasonably than spending all their power looking to repair what is improper. It’s an method this is centered extra on cultivating well being than on getting rid of pathology.

Entirely the e book, the authors argue that the considerable lifestyles for which such a lot of folks lengthy is already found in our midst. Our process, then, is to note and nourish it. To this finish, Gunderson and Pray describe what they see because the 5 major “causes” of lifestyles: connection, coherence, company, blessing, and hope. As the authors give an explanation for, “The five causes are not platitudes. They do not represent ideals. [We] are not saying that life should help us connect, that it should have meaning, that it should be hopeful, that it should be a blessing, and that it should lead to action. We are saying that it actually does all five. We have noticed that life happens when these five Leading Causes are present and that their absence contributes to the void so many of us feel.”

Classroom Application

Ever since I learn Gunderson and Pray’s e book, I’ve been brooding about the main reasons of lifestyles and questioning how they could be related within the context of theological schooling—and particularly, in my very own educating. I’ve discovered myself considering questions like:

  • How may my educating alternate if I centered my power on what scholars are already doing smartly, reasonably than on spaces of “deficiency”?
  • How may I extra successfully understand and nourish connection, coherence, company, blessing, and hope in my study room as some way of nurturing considerable lifestyles?
  • How may I invite scholars to note and nourish the main reasons of lifestyles in a study room environment?

As I considered those questions, I started to understand that a few of my maximum pleasant educating stories have concerned deliberately nurturing the reasons of lifestyles—even if, on the time, I did not essentially know that is what I used to be doing. For example, round the similar time that I participated on this management building program, I taught a brand new route within the MDiv curriculum known as Justice and Pastoral Care which handled quite a lot of tricky subject matters like racism, sexism, and displacement. Despite the charged content material of the category, scholars labored extraordinarily smartly in combination during the route. Although there have been disagreements from time to time, the dialog remained respectful and generative.

Nurturing Connection

In reflecting on what contributed to the sure nature of this revel in in the study room, I spotted that I had centered a lot of my power, particularly within the first few weeks of the route, on nurturing connection between elegance contributors. I attempted to try this in quite a lot of tactics; listed here are a couple of that I believe had been particularly efficient:

  • Capping the category measurement at 12 to ensure everybody may simply take part at school discussions.
  • Requiring scholars to paintings in groups of 2 to guide the devotional time for one elegance assembly all through the time period.
  • Making widespread use of pair or small staff workout routines to permit scholars to engage with each and every different extra carefully.
  • Asking all scholars to organize a “learning biography” [1] about their maximum compelling stories of justice paintings. The task was once submitted to me in writing, however was once additionally shared at school with a spouse.

As I believe again in this elegance, I will see that nurturing connection was once central to the luck of the category. Students who took the route shared with me, each all through the category and on their ultimate written opinions, how necessary it was once for them to have a spot to have interaction onerous conversations with one any other. In reality, a number of other scholars discussed in our elegance discussions that they felt that these types of “safe spaces”—areas the place candid conversations about race, gender, elegance, sexuality, and different tricky subjects may happen constructively—had been missing on our campus and within the ministry contexts they serve.

Taking Connection Beyond the Classroom

This perception makes me ponder whether, as theological educators, we must be focusing extra on connection as the important thing “cause of life” for ministers-in-training—no longer handiest as some way of bettering study room finding out, however as some way of contributing to the formation of people who can style and nurture connection within the numerous communities of which they’re an element.

[1] I borrowed the speculation for the educational biography task from sensible theologian Boyung Lee, who writes about it within the following essay: Boyung Lee, “Teaching Disruptively: Pedagogical Strategies to Teach Cultural Diversity and Race,” in Teaching for a Culturally Diverse and Racially Just WorldEd. Eleazar S. Fernandez, Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014.

The Rev. Dr. Leanna Fuller serves as intervening time vp for tutorial affairs and dean of college along with being affiliate professor of pastoral care. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt University (Ph.D.), Vanderbilt Divinity School (M.Div.), and Furman University (BA). She is the creator of When Christ’s Body is Broken: Anxiety, Identity, and Conflict in Congregations (Wipf and Stock, 2016).

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