Rick Jackson, KNFP-8, President, Center for Teacher Formation
This article was originally published in the June 2003 issue of the KFLA Newsletter.
Rick Jackson Quick Fact: Rick co-directs the Center for Teacher Formation with his wife, Marcy Jackson. Parker J. Palmer is the senior advisor. Rick recently published, ”Courage to Teach: A Retreat Program of Personal and Professional Renewal for Educators,” with Marcy Jackson in ”Stories of the Courage to Teach: Honoring the Teacher’s Heart,” edited by Sam Intrator (KNFP-14). Rick will soon have a chapter in ”Teaching with Fire: Poetry that Sustains the Courage to Teach,” edited by Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner, a project of the Center for Teacher Formation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Jossey Bass Publishers.
How have you, though your leadership, made a difference in one of your communities?
The Center for Teacher Formation prepares facilitators to lead Courage to Teach renewal programs for teachers and leaders in education– those on whom our society depends for so much but for whom we provide so little. Teacher formation is rooted in the belief that good teaching flows from the identity and integrity of the teacher. The formation process makes connections between the renewal of a teacher’s spirit and the revitalization of public education. Since 1997, the Courage to Teach program has grown, with programs now offered in communities around the country.
What sustains you in your practice of leadership and your commitment to change?
The principles and practices built into ”formation work” are the heart of what I find personally sustaining. Namely, it is important to honor and uphold the identity and integrity of individuals, each of whom possesses an ”inner teacher” with insight and wisdom to be tapped regarding life’s most important challenges. It is refreshing to remember that good leaders do not, in fact, need to themselves have alt the answers, and that oftentimes people prefer to be shown respect in the form of attentive listening and the asking of open honest questions rather than be ”set straight” with advice. What sustains my practice of leadership is the belief in this deeper meaning of vocation: drawing out the inner gifts, skills, and knowing inherent in each individual.
What do consciously say to yourself or do that helps you stay on track with your goals?
We follow a ”movement model” of change. Rather than the familiar linear planning inherent in most approaches to ”strategic planning,” the movement model builds upon the acts of integrity taken by responsible individuals. Such individual acts oftentimes begin to attract others (nothing attracts like integrity), and communities of congruence are formed around deeply held values and beliefs. Over time, such communities of congruence gain strength, develop new language and leadership, and ”go public,” when ready, to engage in the rough and tumble of organizational development and democratic change. Through such engagement, tasting change can be initiated and institutionalized.
What is your passion?
Helping individuals, especially young persons, discover their innate gifts and talents; helping individuals, especially young persons, creatively give their gifts and talents to others in the world through service.
How do you practice good self-care?
I lead renewal retreats, and find that these actually renew me as well As I grow older as an extrovert, I notice that I too enjoy more periods of silence and solitude, so I carve more time for such occasions into my schedule. Best for recharging my batteries is to spend time with young adults. I love the caring and can do attitudes so many of them possess.
How do you measure success?
I measure success in terms of faithfulness to one’s personal gifts and vocation in the world. While I value some ”quantifiable outcomes,” I believe too much is made of measures, and the tests upon which they are often based. Good people doing work that is right and timely for them to do are inherently dedicated, committed and powerfully responsible to achieving results. I look for ”aliveness” on the part of the people. In any organization– creativeness within individuals and among colleagues in relationships. That is the first and, in my book, most important measure of success.
If you had to give an aspiring leader one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t trade short term rewards for long term integrity. Stay true to yourself.
How are you different or what do you do differently as a result of your experience as a Kellogg Fellow? Why?
I’ve always had a deep sense of personal responsibility for my work. My Kellogg Fellowship supported the increase in the scale of efficacy–what I should reach and could actually accomplish. At the same time, it reinforced my belief in the power of well aligned individuals doing the work of their head, hands, and heart.
Are you a better leader than you were five years ago? How do you know?
Yes. Mostly because what I am doing now is an even closer fit with my own skills and abilities. I’m doing fewer things, but with more forethought, greater choicefulness, and more wholeheartedness. Guess you could call it both “working harder” and “working more deeply.” There is a line in “The Woodcarver,” a 2,500 year-old poem by Chuang Tzu, that expresses it well. I am “guarding my spirit, and not expending it on trifles that re not to the point.” For me, this is a combination of acknowledging my age (53) and stage in life, and also my growing belief that the best work, for all persons, arises when our inner work of mind and spirit is aligned well with our outer work of service in the world. Another way of saying this is my identity and integrity are now more fully in “plumb line” with my professional work, which is itself about helping others name and claim greater “soul/role” alignment.
Can leadership be invisible? How and why have you practiced invisible leadership?
Yes, some of the best leadership goes hardly noticed. I think of the image of a great theatre or film director, a person the audience never sees. Yet it is their capacities to envision, and to see abilities embedded within the talent they have to work with, that makes for a great outcome. Good youth workers are like this as well, seeing capacities in youth long before young people see them within themselves. Good teachers do this all the time, namely, see the birthright gifts in their students and bring them to light. And good leaders combine passion and humility, often in quite invisible ways.