Friday, September 13, 2013

The Importance of "I don't know" in Theological Supervision

Four small groups of new supervisors for Theological Field Education filled the room.  Training day had arrived.  They wrestled with a sample Case Study and discussed how to best engage a student in theological conversation.  From the group in the right hand front corner, a voice spoke out,  “How do we know when to share our own experience with the student?”

Perhaps my response was more truthful than immediately helpful in answering a really good question.  We can’t know for sure.  Navigating a Case Study conversation requires, as Rilke wrote, “living the question.”1  This advise applies equally to students and supervisors.  Embrace your questions.  Enter each conversation in the spirit of mutual exploration.  Decide to risk saying,  “I don’t know.”  In doing so you give your student powerful permission to “not know”, too.  Creativity often has more space to move when we open spaces of “I don’t know.”

Listen deeply.  Lead with the interrogative rather than the declarative

Risk vulnerability.  Students learn more from experiences where we messed up than ones where we got everything right.  We give them permission to mess up and learn from “mis – takes.”  Isn’t it brilliant that movie production has a process for this with language of “Take 1” Take 2” Take 3”….and that big hinged sign that snaps shut to indicate “try again.”

Interrogate the urge to correct or chastise the student.  There is a good chance that some button of ours is being pushed.  This is usually a “stop sign” indicating that we are needful of engaging in another round of our own inner assessment. 

Explore your theological framing for supervision – why are we doing what we are doing?  For me, teaching, supervising, preaching, mentoring – all are about relationship, a theological claim about who we are. It is a theological anthropology of the interconnectedness of being itself.  In Christianity, Trinitarian theology suggests this elemental connectedness. In southern Africa the Xhosa and Zulu languages have a word, “ubuntu”, variously translated as, “I am because you are” and “I am human because I belong.”  Below is a link to a video that speaks more eloquently than I ever can:

With gratitude to all who choose to offer themselves in supervisory relationship,

Trudy Hawkins Stringer


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