I describe myself as not simply a “professor,” which has been my title for more than twenty years, but as a group leader. Why? Teaching and learning occur best, I believe, through group interactions and hands-on experiences.
Outside the university classroom
In light of this belief about learning, I enjoy taking ideas beyond lectures to activities outside the traditional classroom. Whether a public space in Missouri, a library in Tuscany, or on the streets of Rome, the subjects I consider are tailored to a group’s interests. As a group leader I have organized and led sessions and educational trips that build from topics central to my work as an author and teacher. Most important, the participants have been adults off-campus–not just university students.
Past group trips to Italy and to England have focused on American Protestant pilgrims and American writers abroad. Whether church reformer Savonarola’s cell in the convent of San Marco in Florence or the Temple Church in London, these sites have intrigued writers and remain relevant today. For example, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote about Savonarola’s martyrdom, and Herman Melville and Dan Brown, author of the popular Da Vinci Code, wrote about Temple Church. To Melville, the church reflected men’s indulgences with food and sex. In Brown’s work, it is connected to mystical practices. All three popular authors were concerned with the power, social control and corruption of religious institutions. Of course, the topic remains relevant today.
Other group experiences
Additional group sessions, sometimes co-led with other professionals, have included:
- women’s roles and self-perceptions
- food & identity
- writing & healing
- beauty & cultural backgrounds
- faith journeys
- food & faith
- sex & communities: Shakers, Oneida, Mormons
Discussion remains key
In all of these sessions, discussion remains key. I lay a foundation with mini-lectures on people, places and literature drawn from my experiences as an author and teacher. In the end, though, conversational-style processing of newly received information contributes to learning.
Are you part of a group that occasionally hosts guest speakers? Does your organization look for outside voices? Are you part of a circle of friends who continue to love learning? If so, contact me about a group learning activity. I would be delighted to brainstorm with you, whether you are considering a workshop or an educational journey.
Soon after I announced this summer’s spiritual formation trip, a full slate of travelers had signed up. (A “full slate” means small–a half-dozen or so, a dozen at the most. ) So we’ll be eleven, myself included, focused on “alternative communities.” We’re headed to the Italian Piedmont and Tuscany.
This past spring I met several times with a group of adults in preparation for a pilgrimage to Italy. With a theme of syncretism, or the blending of faith traditions, I shared with them information about Americans traveling to Italy in the 19th century. Details about popular authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and... More >