|Teachers Are God's Talent Scouts
following notes were written by Bill Graham shortly after Penny's death.
"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."
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
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
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
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
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.