A New Horizon

Looking Backward, Living Forward

by Martin Conway

[4 minute read]


“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14


As a teacher, holidays have punctuated life over many years for me and my family. Holidays provide the opportunity to find a place away from home to experience the wonders of creation and perhaps more importantly, holidays gift us with time, afforded away from the cycles and routines of work.

At this time of year, re-surfacing from the summer holidays I’m once again, grateful for the time and the restorative space to replenish the emotional stores in readiness for a new year. As I seek out the moments to reflect, I am reminded of Søren Kierkegaard’s timeless provocation for reflective practice, ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’

Teaching, like so many other vocations, is a position that requires constant renewal of mind, heart and spirit if we are to engage with intent to the responsibilities and commitments of work. Renewal is necessary to prepare us to navigate the challenges that might lead to stress, strain and the possibility of burnout. As leaders, we share a common aspiration to seek joy in our work and grow in our service of others. To achieve this, we are challenged to seek renewal through reflection.

In his classic work, ‘The Courage to Teach[1]’, Parker J Palmer captivates and challenges the reader to bring the threads of so much that is separated by personal determining, into one. He speaks of good teaching (and leading) as moving far beyond technique to finding its roots in the identity and integrity of the teacher. Palmer challenges teachers to grow by flying in the face of academic culture, to take risks to engage in conversation about our inner lives. He speaks of relational trust built on the movements of the heart where teachers find connection through empathy, commitment, patience and the capacity to forgive. He speaks of hope, faith and love transcending the personal.

My time participating in the Arrow Leadership Executive Leaders Program provided me with an ever-present reminder to seek the time to step out and look in, to set a course to find the connections and congruence in work and life. Congruence found in an awareness of the ‘inner landscape’. Through developing this awareness, I have developed a means by which I might grow in my understanding of the qualities of self and how, by grace, I am positioned to impact the lives of those with whom I work alongside every day. Through reading, learning, connection, reflection and ongoing searching, I have a sense of discovering the inner life of the teacher and the leader that I am called to be, in a way that I know has been transformational.

One of the integral elements in the work of the Arrow Leaders Programs (see links for more information), is the scripting of participants’ personal vision statement. The personal vision statement, provides a wonderful and deeply personal definition that forms a keystone in the development of the heart to learning leadership.

You may have had a similar experience in developing reflective practice and mindset. If you have or even if you haven’t here are some ideas for shaping reflective practice; Revisit your leadership credo, purpose statement, personal mission, or Arrow Personal Vision Statement - that personal statement that expresses what is at the heart of your life as a leader. Consider the following questions:

Why did I become a leader?

What do I stand for?

What are the gifts that I bring to my work as a leader?

What do I want my legacy as a leader to be this year?

What can I do to keep track of myself, to remember my own heart?

How will I look to Jesus in practice, to walk in faith in the privilege to be involved in leadership during the year ahead?

As you consider the horizon of 2020, I pray that you might accept Jesus’ invitation to leave the heavy labour of the year past and drink of the water, replenishing the well in readiness for the New Year. In seeking Jesus, I trust you might know his gentleness and find a way of deep soul rest, to be faithful to the process of spiritual formation in Christlikeness in readiness for all that lies ahead.

[1] Palmer, Parker J. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass, 1998