Fearless Inquiry and Engagement in the World: The Grace of Great Things
By Dr. Elizabeth Gill
Austin College Vice President for Academic Affairs
invite you to take a moment and think about educators who inspired and animated your life. Each of us has had a teacher, mentor, or coach who stands out in our hearts and memories as a significant influence in the trajectory of our lives. The lessons such outstanding educators teach go far beyond the subject matter of their fields and instill values and a love of learning that shape our educational and career choices, and guide us throughout our lives.
In my many years as an educator and administrator, I have come to realize that teaching is really about inspiration, not information. A learned colleague once told me that the older he got, the less he actually “taught”—this coming from a celebrated professor who had won many teaching awards and transformed countless lives. His wisdom echoes William Butler Yeats’ sentiments: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
Although amazing educators at Austin College differ radically from each other in technique, they share the ability to transform students by creating an exciting community of inquiry that transcends the classroom, connecting their students to purpose, the experience of belonging to something infinitely greater than themselves. Their goal is to spark their students’ imagination, to find a hook in the heart and mind so that students feel a need to learn the material and become even more curious about themselves and the world. The memorable ones:
- inspire and challenge students with their passion for their subjects and their compassion for life and living;
- help students identify and overcome the fears that unnecessarily interfere with their likelihood of success in the classroom and life;
- cultivate compassionate seeing, enabling students to create space for stories and experiences that are different from their own so they can engage in curiosity and wonder toward other people and experiences;
- create space for not knowing, and courage and curiosity for finding out that failure is always an option along with the rich educational opportunities afforded by imperfection; and finally,
- encourage the development of responsible, open-minded, empathetic, and engaged leaders who recognize and act on the responsibility to contribute to a larger community.
What I have found at Austin College is education at its best, where the profound human transactions of teaching and learning are not just about acquiring information or getting jobs. They are about wholeness, empowerment, liberation, transformation, and transcendence. They are about connecting a student to what Rilke called the grace of great things.
Dr. Gill joined the Austin College senior leadership team in August 2018 after two years as Dean of Arts and Sciences at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. The sociologist had previously spent 20 years at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. She has Texas roots, receiving a bachelor’s degree at Trinity University before earning a master’s degree at Yale University and a Ph.D. at The University of Texas at Austin.
Palmer, Parker J. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998.