August 28, 2014

Strategy

It's Thursday, and I am reeling from my week. Yes, it has been a good week. I have accomplished a lot, and I am confident that I will finish out the remaining two days with strength. Yet, there is a part of me that feels overwhelmed at the lack of a good plan, at the feeling that I am walking into the unknown without a good plan of attack. Let me explain...

I am a strategist by nature. By this I mean that in everything I do, I plan, I prepare, and I purpose my way so that I will accomplish the goal or task set before me. I scope out the best way to go, and for me, planning/purposing, the action of planning or designing that way, is what brings me the "sense" of control I need to be confident in the outcome (the possibility of good success). It is not that I have to be in control, per se, it is more that I need to believe that in every situation I am moving forward, I am moving toward the goal. If I sense that I am spinning my wheels, running in circles, or standing still, then I will feel as though the effort expended is not worth my time. In short, I will stop what I am doing, turn around if necessary, or head in a new direction. Therefore, to feel successful, to feel as though I am directed, I have to believe that the steps I am taking every single day are purposed, are planned, and are leading me toward the final accomplished goal.

From Wikipedia:
Strategy (from Greek στρατηγία stratēgia, "art of troop leader; office of general, command, generalship") is a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty.

Strategic planning is an organization's process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. It may also extend to control mechanisms for guiding the implementation of the strategy.

Strategy has many definitions, but generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions. A strategy describes how the ends (goals) will be achieved by the means (resources). 

Strategy includes processes of formulation and implementation; strategic planning helps coordinate both. However, strategic planning is analytical in nature (i.e., it involves "finding the dots"); strategy formation itself involves synthesis (i.e., "connecting the dots") via strategic thinking. As such, strategic planning occurs around the strategy formation activity.
I am most comfortable when I am planning or designing processes that support outcomes. As an analyst, I enjoyed studying problems and synthesizing the details. The mental energy expended in these activities challenged me greatly, and as a result, I was able to focus and strive for clarity (clear direction) in the task or assignment.

I was happy as an analyst. I enjoyed the work of analysis. I felt good when I figured out how to get from point A to point Z. I believed I was using all my God-given gifts and talents when I was set to the task of figuring out how to solve some problem.

Since I transitioned into teaching a year ago, I have struggled with figuring out how to plan curriculum, plan lessons, and deliver content. You would think that the process would be simple, straightforward, and clear -- but it is not. In fact, I would say that the process in teaching is very difficult because it is not theoretical in nature -- it is practical. While living within my strategic planning brain, I can envision multiple scenarios, test out routes for efficacy, and make decisions in moments -- all with the assurance that no harm will be done. In a classroom, however, the same is not true. I cannot make changes without impacting my students, without causing issues for administration, and without feeling like I am a ship without a rudder (clueless, rudderless). No, I prefer theoretical to practical -- despite the fact that I am a pragmatic person who seeks ultimate fulfillment in life application.

The Nuts and Bolts of It

I am a planner. I love to plan. I love to think about improvement in planning. Yet, I am also practical in that the plans I create, I want to make sure that they prove practical, beneficial, and that they produce good results. I am all about the results!

In teaching college, most of the planning for semester courses is done during the summer months. I had decided early on that I would use my summer to plan out my courses. Unfortunately, I didn't receive curriculum instruction, syllabi, etc. until late August. I was left with very little time to put together a good solid plan. Thus, I have been planning on the go, which to any good Analyst and Strategic Thinker is the absolute worst kind of planning you can do. Momentary planning is something that should happen occasionally, not regularly.  In fact, with a good plan of attack, a good design, instances where momentary planning changes are needed can be incorporated with less disruption, with more ease. It is far easier to adjust a good plan, than to constantly attempt to reinvent a bad one.

As a planner, therefore, I feel the need to know where I am going, to know how I am going to get there, and to know that each day I am checking off the steps, and moving forward to the final conclusion.

Why Teaching is so Difficult For Me

I have thought about this for a while now, and I have come to this conclusion: I am not a natural born teacher. Even though I have desired to be a teacher my entire life (from my earliest memories, I "played" teacher), I do not feel equipped to be a teacher. I know that sounds crazy. I have been told nearly as long as I have been alive that I am a good teacher. I get compliments all the time -- "Carol, you are such a good teacher!" It is true, I do enjoy teaching others. I like seeing student's grow and learn. I enjoy helping them improve. With that said, if I face the truth, though, I do not see teaching as a natural ability for me -- it is difficult for me to do. I am a good teacher because I care about my students. I am a good teacher because I plan well, execute well, and succeed well. Yes, I can teach because I am a strategic planner at heart.

As I consider the plans the Lord has for my life, as I see His plan unfold for me, I cannot help but wonder if I belong somewhere else, doing something else. I do love teaching, I enjoy it. I just feel that because I struggle so much in teaching, that I struggle so much with the uncertainty of the outcome, that there may be something out there that is a "better fit" for me.

Perhaps the issue is that the part of teaching I enjoy most is the research, the academics of it, the scholarly activity of being a professor. Perhaps it is the freedom of the schedule (summers off?) Perhaps what I really want to do is stay in the comfortable zone of research analysis rather than live in the present moment, the practical moment of the classroom. I don't know...

The Lord knows me well. He knows how hard I am working toward my PhD. He knows that I am using this education for two purposes: the first is to lead me to a full-time position as a professor; and the second is to prepare me for His work, for ministry. I am thinking now that perhaps the experience I am getting in the classroom is to provide credentials so that I can find "that job" in research or in administration. Perhaps the Lord is telling me to bide my time, use this time to learn about teaching, about the classroom dynamics, about student-centered instruction, so that I can focus on practical work that involves strategy and planning. I don't know...

It is not that I want to give up teaching. It is more that I feel so constrained by the whole "teaching" process, that I do not understand how to do it, that I struggle against the grain of it. If I could work in a role where I was planning and researching, I would be happy, I would be relaxed. It is a strange feeling right now, a feeling as though I am where I belong, but I am not where I am supposed to be long-term. UGH!

Today, I read Psalm 143:8:

Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.

I thought about this Psalm, and I began to meditate on what it might mean for me. I am trusting the Lord for every provision, every need. I want so desperately for Him to show me where to walk, I want to follow Him, and to go where He leads me. I have given myself wholly to Him, I have laid my life at His feet, and I have committed to living a life of devotion to His Holy Name. Yet, despite all of this, I feel today as if my feet are slipping, as if I am struggling to walk in a way that is slightly off-kilter. Is it me? It is my faulty sense of rightness (not righteousness, but of uprightness, being straight)?

The Lord knows my needs. He knows what I can and cannot do. He has provided for my every need. He knows my school schedule at Regent, and He knows how much I need to focus on my studies. He also knows that teaching is difficult for me (it is draining for me), and that while I love mentoring students, and I love seeing them come to new understanding, there is part of me that struggles with the whole process of teaching. I don't know how to reconcile these two things -- I don't know how to figure this problem out. 

A HA! 

I figured it out! The reason I am struggling so much is that I am faced with a problem that has no solution. There is no solution, and for those of us who are driven toward results, a problem without a solution is a conundrum, and in mathematics, an unsolvable equation is called inconsistent equation. Oh yes! I am faced with a conundrum and an inconsistent equation.

In Googling for inspiration, I ran across this quote:

If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact - not to be solved, but to be coped with over time. ~Shimon Peres, Israeli Prime Minister


Yes, I believe this is true. I believe that this is exactly why I am where I am for this season of my life. I have always said that I didn't view teaching as my "ministry." A lot of people tell me otherwise, and I do understand (and even agree with them). It is just that I know my "ministry" specifically, and teaching is not it. I do minister to students, therefore I am using teaching as a ministry. However, my ministry, my true calling is not as a teacher or as an educator. No, the Lord has called me to study Communication for a reason, and my "ministry" is all about communicating to the church. Of this, I am 100% certain.

So why then am I teaching? I think the reason I am teaching is just as Shimon Peres suggests. I am learning how to be a teacher, not to BECOME ONE, but to take the skills and abilities involved in teaching, and use them for this other thing the Lord has in mind for me to do. Teaching is then a learning ground for me, a place where I go to practice the skills I am learning about in other studies.

So what does that mean for me?

I think the solution to my problem of teaching is this: I need to rest in the fact that I am teaching for this season of my life because the Lord has provided the opportunity for me to do it, and He has a plan to use what I learn for His work. Therefore, while I stress over the practical application of teaching, while I struggle with planning and implementing lessons, the truth is that I am learning valuable knowledge that will be used by Him in some other capacity down the road. I am a teacher-in-training, and I am learning new skills, refining old skills, and coming to terms with the strategy of coping with difficult trials. Yes, I am learning how to cope with the unsolvable equation, the unanswerable question, the conundrum of teaching.

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