In my backyard, there stands a gigantic sugar maple tree. Our family has lived in our house for almost 25 years, and the tree predates our arrival. When we moved in, an elderly neighbor stopped by to introduce herself. She wanted us to know that she grew up on the street ninety years ago and that our tree stood in our yard even back then. She stressed to my wife and I that buying our house and the accompanying yard meant that we were now the stewards for this tree. She explained that if we were good stewards that tree would continue to stand in the yard for next homeowners and probably the ones after that. The tree was now our responsibility, she said. And we had to accept our stewardship role with great care.
I’ve been thinking about stewardship a lot this past week. My podcasting partner, Scott McDonald, suggested we dedicate an episode on our teaching values. After spending some time thinking about the different values that inform and guide my teaching, I couldn’t get the concept of “stewardship” out of my head. A quick Google search landed me on the following definition of “stewardship”
stewardship (n) – the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care
It’s clear that teachers are entrusted with a responsibility to care for their students, but that’s not the only way I’m thinking about teachers’ stewardship roles. Beyond our “responsibility management” of our students, we’re also charged with bigger stewardship responsibilities, too. Many of us work for institutions that, like the tree in our yard, have been around for generations. While we work for the institution, we’re also caretakers for it. We’re responsible for maintaining its reputation, for supporting its mission, and help it thrive. As a teacher educator, I’m also a steward of the larger teaching profession. As I’m shepherding new teachers into the field, I’m also working to cultivate the best environment for them to be successful.
As I’m working through this stewardship connection, I feel the need to articulate that my conceptualization of stewardship doesn’t mean that I work to maintain the status quo. Sometimes, being a good steward means being an agent of change. When my wife and I moved into our house, we decided to do some landscaping so that our tree had more room to grow. We’ve also had an arborist come out to cut down some branches so that the tree could be healthier. That’s where the “careful and responsible management” part of stewardship comes in. Good stewardship doesn’t mean that we work to keep things static. Instead, we’re charged with making decisions and initiating change so the thing that’s entrusted in our care can continue to exist and grow.
And maybe that’s the hardest part of our roles as stewards. We don’t always know which decisions are going to be supportive. Right now, my university is considering a major change in its general education curriculum and I’m on the task force that is developing the new curricular proposals. I wrote about this several months ago. As we review the final curricular proposals, it’s not certain whether a proposal will lead to “careful and responsible management” or not. We can only trust that our motivations are sound and come from a place of care.