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TOE TIG Week: Lessons in Grace by Tamara Walser

Hi, this is Tamara Walser. I am a professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington where I coordinate our Evaluation Programs and teach graduate courses in evaluation and inquiry methods. In September 2018, Hurricane Florence made landfall in the coastal community where I live and work. My university closed for an entire month. When we re-opened I realized how unprepared I was for teaching in the aftermath of a natural disaster. The routines, procedures, and pedagogy I had become comfortable with did not serve my students or me well. As a result, I changed. I began to engage grace in teaching and learning, with new intention. My growth in grace continues as we weather a pandemic, racial reckoning, and social and political divisiveness. It is ongoing work for me.

What is grace? Grace is both action and disposition. It is an act of kind assistance, giving honor and dignity, giving thanks. It is compassion, a benign attitude and willingness. Importantly, it is unconditional—Grace is not something one must earn or return.

Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.

–John Updike

I view evaluation as learning, so my teaching and evaluation philosophies overlap and continue to evolve with my growth in grace. I share a few lessons in grace below. What lessons have you learned about grace in teaching…and in evaluation?

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.

–Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Lessons Learned:

Grace in Teaching Is:

  • Responsible: Good evaluation practice includes clear, timely, credible findings and communication, along with commitment to evaluation use. Similarly, treating students with compassion, honor, dignity, and gratitude is built on honest feedback and shared responsibility for learning. This has been a hard lesson in grace for me. Lowering expectations and responsibility can be a quick fix, but it is far from grace. Instead, I focus on lightening load. This can range from flexibility with due dates, to decluttering my course, to counseling a student to withdraw from my class.

I think, to be your best thing is to be exactly who you are, as you are, in any given moment. To forgive yourself a thousand times a day and live in a perpetual state of grace.

–Jessica J. Williams, in an interview by The San Diego-Union Tribune

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating TOE TIG Week with our colleagues in the Teaching of Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our TOE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

6 thoughts on “TOE TIG Week: Lessons in Grace by Tamara Walser”

  1. Love the emphasis on being humanizing while teaching in these times, and the lessons you’ve pulled from Program Evaluation. As an educator I resonate with some of the simple actions you recommend that focus on empathy and grounding students when things are stressful and uncertain. Adding reflection to assignments is wonderful. As a technologist, I also marveled at the way educators found ways to keep sound teaching and learning practices at the center, while integrating technology tools during the pandemic. Building community at a distance is one of my greatest learnings over the past months.

    Though I know these elements are a key to evaluation, I find it is a tricky line to balance between the rigid standards of effective evaluation, and the flexibility required when we’re being humanizing and responsible. Any thoughts on this? Where can evaluators realistically demonstrate grace with the sorts of deadlines and funding models in place with evaluation? Curious to know your thoughts!

    1. Thank you for your comment and question, Renee. You raise a great question about balancing the often rigid requirements from funders of evaluation work and being flexible and demonstrating grace in evaluation practice. I wish I had a solid answer. To start, I’d say that evaluation that is not flexible and humanizing isn’t quality evaluation. Your comment points to the need for the evaluation community to educate and advocate more and better for quality evaluation that is necessarily flexible, humanizing, and learning-focused. Thanks again for the comment and question.

  2. McKenzie Sigurdson

    Hello Tamara,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. As an educator myself, I resonated with this statement in particular: 

    “As evaluators, we know the importance of story and context—that evaluation is about people, not data. So too is teaching. Students are not their performance. Sometimes teachers forget this…building relationships and community is critical”

    A powerful message that all evaluators and educators should be mindful of in their respective practices. Thank you for sharing the importance of ‘grace in teaching’ (and evaluation), as the people we serve are the cornerstone of the profession. 

    1. Hi McKenzie, thank you for you comment. I’m glad the post resonated with you as an educator and evaluator. I find much overlap between these roles. Thanks again.

  3. Tamara, I really appreciated your post about extending grace and compassion to our students. Another “lesson learned” during the pandemic is that we need to extend that same grace and compassion to ourselves, as well.

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