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.
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
Grace in Teaching Is:
- Humanizing. 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; sometimes students forget this. Humans are human, not only in times of national and global crisis. Most of my courses are online with a limited number of synchronous class meetings, so intention in building relationships and community is critical. I have found annotating the syllabus, a flipped classroom, and one-on-one progress meetings beneficial.
- Reflective. I tell my students that reflection is key to learning and is a needed skill for evaluation and inquiry work. It slows things down, supporting mindfulness and metacognition. I build reflection into assignments, class meetings, and one-on-ones. A great source for reflective questions is The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace. Centering reflection helps me meet students where they are and helps students exhale a breath of grace for themselves. It also helps with humanizing (see above).
- 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
- Self-Compassionate: Give yourself grace. Period.
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