By Jasmine Obeyesekere Fernando

The Flourishing Teacher: A Discussion Guide

How do you adjust your expectations in the face of personal and societal crises and grief?  How can teachers practice habits of well-being and bring a sense of well-being to their students? How do you find the solitude needed for academic reading and writing?
 
Christina Bieber Lake offers a rich combination of spiritual insight and practical tips to help you thrive in academia, including these pandemic times. Whether you are a seasoned college professor or just starting out in your career, you will renew your love of teaching. 
 
 
Christina Bieber Lake is the Clyde S. Kilby professor of English at Wheaton College where she teaches classes in contemporary American literature and literary theory. Her most recent books include The Flourishing Teacher: Vocational Renewal for a Sacred Profession and Beyond the Story: American Literary Fiction and the Limits of Materialism. The Pre-school Retreat and Master Class she designed for teaching faculty can be found online. Christina also coaches, consults, and occasionally blogs at christinabieberlake.com.
 
Interested in hearing from the author herself? Listen to our bookclub conversation with Dr. Bieber Lake through our podcast.

Chapters 1-3 (August - October)

1. Who were the teachers who developed in you the passion you have for your discipline? What drew you to them?

2. Dr. Bieber Lake suggests the reason why people teach is the desire to transfer to the students their own passion for their discipline. Her key to reviving passion is to recognize it as spiritual work. 

What spiritual practices are helpful for you to "get alone with God" at the start of the academic year?  

Given the realities of the pandemic, has extended alone time with God been feasible for you?
3. What are your thoughts on developing a subject-centered class (as opposed to both a teacher-centered or student-centered class) where the teacher is a fellow learner who helps students discover what kind of questions to ask and how to ask them?
 
4. How do you relate to the lose-lose situations that Dr. Bieber Lake describes on page 12? How does starting the academic year in the middle of a pandemic worsen such problems and hinder opportunities to transform them?
 
5. How do you respond to Dr. Bieber Lake's approach of "saying yes so that you can say no" with respect to committee work? (i.e. being intentional about which committees, when and how you will serve)
 
6. How can you get involved in positive institutional change (e.g. women serving on important committees) without being overburdened?
How might this apply to women of color who play double duty representing ethnic minorities?
 
7. What did you appreciate about the author’s organization system? What methods do you find helpful to offload your "stuff" so that you can declutter your mind?
 
8. What is the one habit that you can build this month, that if you focus on cultivating will make everything else easier or unnecessary? Use Dr. Bieber Lake's questions to help you.
 
What time of day to I work best?
Where am I when I am most productive?
What are my biggest distractions?
How can I eliminate/minimize these distractions when I am working on my one thing? (page 33)
 
 

Chapters 4-6 (November - January)

 
1. Dr. Bieber Lake refers to 9/11 coinciding with two deep bereavements that she experiences which brings the winter blues earlier than usual. She gives us permission to adjust our expectations in the face of monumental change. How are you adjusting your own expectations of yourself and your students? (Given that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, that race is on the national consciousness, a presidential election is around the corner and all of this might coincide with hard personal situations.)  
 
2. Are you in a season of life where your life situation constricts your career? With the pandemic also in the mix, what are some things that you have had to let go off or need to let go off? How do you feel about that?
 
3. What are your experiences of living in the tension of your Christian culture that values family & relationships and your work culture that idolizes productivity?
 
4a. For women in the early years of your career — how do you relate to the feeling of not being enough or doing enough? What kinds of pressures are you facing "from above" in terms of expectations to deliver?
 
4b. For seasoned career women — how have you pushed back against rules, structures, attitudes and assumptions that support only a straight on career path? What are your stories of changing your department/campus culture?
 
5. In light of Dr. Bieber Lake’s assertion that we cannot have it all, review where you are putting your energies into. Where do you want to put your energies? How has being mindful/intentional/focused helped in making big/small decisions?
 
6. What are you reading, watching, and listening to that stirs your soul and brings joy?
 
 

Chapters 7-9 (February - April)

 
1. How have we been faring with Waiting & Enduring several months into the pandemic? (for personal reflection only)
 
2. What practices have you cultivated/can you cultivate to develop hygge (a sense of well-being), so that you can build endurance as we brace ourselves to our first pandemic winter? What is a spiritual practice you will cultivate?
 
3. What are some ways you’d like to bring hygge to your students as you teach/interact online?
 
4. What are some systems that you can build to make fewer decisions?  (e.g. planning menus weekly, planning weekly writing times etc.)  
 
5. During this pandemic, what are your frustrations in planning rest (i.e. being away from work and your classes), when your work and home spaces have blurred into each other? What are your experiments with trying to find rest?
 
6. How can you give rest to your students?
 
7. How is the pandemic increasing bouts of lethargy and listlessness?
 
8. Which of Dr. Bieber Lake’s tips on getting out of the teaching rut or the scholarly rut is most useful for you? What methods have you used/would you like to use to infuse some new life to "same old, same old"? How can they be adapted to the pandemic teaching environment? In what ways can some of the teaching ideas be adapted to non-Humanities disciplines?
 
9. How does the following assertion by Dr. Bieber Lake affirm or challenge our own practices of Sabbath keeping?
 
“ If you want to be able to help the next generation of students and not just the ones in front of you today, you’ve got to learn how to rest.” (edited) 
 

Chapters 10-12 (May – July)

 
1. Dr. Bieber Lake says “reading is the most vital scholarly work we do” and that good scholarly work takes time and rumination to produce (page 174). How do you respond to Dr. Bieber Lake's assertion that free-range reading is a vital part of being a scholar? How have you been doing in guarding your reading and thinking time? What disciplines (apart from your own) do you enjoy reading?  
 
2. What are your thoughts on Dr. Bieber Lake’s ideas about when and how to deal with student evaluations? What are some methods of receiving feedback that have been effective for you?
 
3. Do you see the writing and the research that you will produce as gifts to others down the road? During the pandemic, are you having as much solitude as you need to write, or are you unable to find the solitude you need for your research?  
 
4. Are you a part of a small group of scholarly companions who sharpen one another’s intellect? How has that helped you? If you are not, what are the barriers preventing you from belonging to one? Consider forming your own peer support group.
 
5. What are your struggles (if any) with imposter syndrome? (for personal reflection only)
 
6. Dr. Bieber Lake says, “The more we believe we have control over our lives, the less likely we are able to understand that we are the recipients of grace.” The pandemic has made us acutely conscious that we have very little control over our lives and so perhaps we are more likely to recognize that we are the recipients of grace. What are some ordinary, seemingly unremarkable things in your life that you can now recognize as grace?
 
7. What did you most appreciate about The Flourishing Teacher? Name an idea, suggestion, or practice that captured your imagination.
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About the Author

Jasmine is from Colombo, Sri Lanka, where she worked for the IFES affiliated Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS) as a national staff worker, briefly as Acting General Secretary and recently as a Board member. She also worked for the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. She has a BA (Hons) in English Literature from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and a MA in International Relations from Syracuse University. Jasmine’s InterVarsity involvement includes leading the Graduate Christian Fellowship at Syracuse University and chapter planting as a volunteer staffworker at SUNY Albany for GFM. She presently volunteers as Staff Development Specialist to South Asian American Ministries. Jasmine has written for The Well and for Mutuality Magazine. She is married to Guy and is mom to Jayathri and Yannik. Jasmine is a WAP Associate focusing on special projects.

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