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Teachers Are God's Talent Scouts

"We cannot change the world by a new plan, project or idea. We cannot even change other people by our convictions, stories, advice and proposals. but we can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own center".

-Henri J.M. Nouwen


"The greatest gift you can give to another is not to just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own."

-Disraeli

The following notes were written by Bill Graham shortly after Penny's death.

Henri J.M. Nouwen was a Catholic priest, author, professor, and pastor who wrote over 40 books about the spiritual life. One of his books, "Reaching Out" uses the metaphor of hospitality - a gracious host serving the needs of a guest - to describe many different human relationships.

One of the relationships that Fr. Nouwen examines is the relationship between a teacher and a student. He does so in a very profound and effective way that becomes a guide for any teacher who cares to challenge his/her students to reach new heights previously unreached.

I read Fr. Nouwen's book while on retreat at a Benedictine monastery. On the last day of my retreat my spiritual advisor, a very wise Bishop, challenged me to become one of God's "talent scouts" by carrying on the teaching work of my late wife in the Guaymas student community. As I thought about what my priest was telling me, my mind started putting together the thoughts of Fr. Nouwen with the practicalities of encouraging students to new heights. This page abstracts and paraphrases thoughts from Fr. Nouwen's book and puts these thoughts into the context of Penny's views about reaching out to a student by discovering his/her communication styles.

One of the greatest tragedies of modern education is that millions of young people spend many hours, days, weeks and years listening to lectures, reading books and writing papers with a constantly increasing resistance. Students perceive their education as a long endless row of obligations to be fulfilled. They are considered as poor needy, ignorant beggars who come to a man or woman of knowledge. Teachers are perceived more as demanding bosses than as guides in the search for knowledge and understanding.

While the ability to think critically and the opportunity to develop one's talents are far more career defining than any subject matter that is taught, educators continue to define themselves by offering memorized and regurgitated knowledge. The teacher is trained to offer solutions without the existence of a question. Consequently, critical thinking skills are never developed and talents are never encouraged because the student rarely gets the opportunity to argue a question.

If there is any culture that has succeeded in killing the natural spontaneous curiosity of people and dulling the human desire to discover and explore, it is our education systems.

How can we counter this tragic trend and help the student think critically and develop his/her talents to be applied usefully in society? Fr. Nouwen offers a thoughtful solution for teachers that still permit the use of traditional teaching styles.

Hospitality is the creation of a friendly empty space by a host where a guest can fearlessly reach out to fellow human beings and invite them to explore new relationships. Hospitality is much like gardening. We cannot force a plant to grow but we can take away the weeds and stones which prevent its development.

Hospitality can take place on many levels and in many kinds of relationships. One such relationship is that between a teacher and a student where the student is treated like a guest who honors the host's house with his/her presence and will not leave it without having made a unique contribution.

The good host (the teacher) is the one who not only helps guests (the students) see that they have hidden talents, but who also is able to help them develop and deepen those talents so they can continue their way on their own with new self confidence.

Therefore, the teacher has first of all to reveal, to take away the veil covering many students' intellectual life, and help them see that their own life experiences, their own insights and convictions, their own intuitions and formulations are worth serious attention. A good host is the one who believes that the guest is carrying a promise he/she wants to reveal to anyone who shows genuine interest. It is so easy to impress students with books they have not read, with terms they have not heard, or with situations with which they are unfamiliar. It is much more difficult to be a receiver who can help the students to distinguish carefully between the wheat and the weeds in their own lives and to show the beauty of the gifts they are carrying with them.

Teachers who can detach themselves from the need to impress and control, and who can allow themselves to become receptive for the news that their students carry with them, will find that it is in receptivity that gifts become visible.

Then, what is revealed as good, worthwhile, or a new contribution needs to be affirmed by the host. Affirmation, encouragement, and support are often more important than critique.

Affirmation can be manifested in many ways. At the very least, it means the expression of excitement and surprise or a word of thanks. At a minimum, a teacher needs to express affirmation in this way.

But, affirmation can also mean the recommendation of good books, setting apart a time and place where more thinking can be done, or introductions to people with special talents. BUT, it always includes the inner conviction that a precious gift merits attention and continuing care.

A teacher's primary task, then, is to offer students the safe haven where they can reveal their great human potentials to love, to give, and to create, and where they can find the affirmation that gives them the courage to continue their search without fear.

Through the process of providing a safe space and continuing affirmation, the teacher/host becomes a talent scout who helps identify and facilitate the emergence and practice of a student's innate skills and talents.

Once a teacher permits him or her self the humility to be a host, the next step is to gain insight into how the student perceives things by conducting a learning styles profile. For, in understanding how the student perceives, the teacher can establish the communication link that will permit encouragement of interests that will carry him or her throughout life's adventures. The profile quizzes provided in this Web site permit the teacher to take the first important steps of understanding and encouraging each student individually.

Typically, a teacher will use Gardner's learning styles to open communication with each student and to help each student absorb material presented in the classroom. But, the tool is not used to its fullest potential if that's as far as one decides to take it. Remember, the student has far more potential than that of a beggar grasping for knowledge from you. The next level of potential is what separates an average teaching experience from that of having a major impact on the student's life.

That next step is providing the fear free space within the student to explore new ideas and knowledge beyond that which you can offer. Instead of pouring rote knowledge down the throats of your students, you become a host who introduces your student to new knowledge and exciting people. You are then introducing knowledge beyond what you know. You are introducing your student to new and exciting people who have knowledge in specialized areas that interest your student. Through these introductions, you gain new knowledge as well.

Much of this sounds like a gifted student program offered in many schools in the USA. Not so!!! The US gifted student programs typically offer classes in advanced subjects. These programs all pour knowledge down the throats of students - still treating them like needy beggars.

The idea that's being offered in this essay is that each student is an honored guest. The role of you, as the host, is to be a simple and humble facilitator who introduces the guest to others who can benefit the student as he/she discovers and proceeds on a journey of discovery.