Remembering and treasuring an appreciative teacher
Two weekends ago I attended a memorial celebration of my dissertation mentor’s life at Fielding Graduate University. Two other graduates who were slightly behind me, Linda Blong and Kate Creede (also his mentees), and one faculty member, Frank Barrett, who was also on my dissertation committee, planned and facilitated the wonderful two hour meditation, small group exercise, and witnessing to W. Barnett Pearce’s life and accomplishments.
So many graduates spoke of his listening capability. He gave his whole being to a conversation and was open and curious about his student’s lives, worldviews and work. He was a rigorous scholar. It took me a long time to dare to work with him as I thought I’d never live up to his expectations. In my defensive first approach to Barnett, I said I wasn’t really sure I wanted to work with him. He was unruffled. He shrugged and said he had plenty of good work to do and didn’t need to convince me to work with him. That, of course, was all I needed to want to work with him.
When I cried all the way through my first committee meeting (I was afraid I couldn’t write a dissertation), Barnett was kind but not patronizing. I said I could cry and think at the same time. He took me at my word.
Toward the end of my Fielding journey Barnett asked me at a national meeting how I was doing . I said that it always took me a few days to feel like I really belonged at Fielding. His response: “I wonder why you construct yourself that way?” Throughout the day I noticed all the ways in which I DID belong, and was a valued member of the community. His question expresses what we call in Appreciative Coaching, the Simultaneity Principle. This principle tells us that a question, all by itself, can send us down a path of change and insight. It certainly helped me to see my own worth.
At his retirement celebration, the committee chair asked me to “roast” him. At first I thought, “Who wants to go to Kansas City (site of the meeting) in August?” Then I thought, “I’m not THAT funny!” But I did the roast with love and that seemed to be OK. He and his wife Kim did a skit about Barnett the house-husband after his retirement. This was not to be, however.
About a month after his retirement Barnett announced via his website that he had cancer. Although the doctors never found the origin of that cancer, it took his life in November of 2011. He had been the soul of appreciation for so many of us, and the encourager of scholarship and self-esteem for many more.