Applying Ignatian Principles and Group Work to Teach About Love

Submitted by Nina M. Riccio on November 19, 2012

Dr. Diana Hulse, professor of counselor education, was honored as Graduate Teacher of the Year in 2012 and in that role spoke at the Alpha Sigma Nu Induction ceremony in October. Here, her remarks to the inductees, their families and friends.

 

Dr. Diana Hulse with University President Jeffrey von Arx, S.J.

I am delighted to be here with you to participate in today’s induction ceremony as the 2012 Alpha Sigma Nu Graduate Teacher of the Year and to offer a few reflections on my evolution as a teacher in counseling graduate programs over the past 30 years.

I take to heart Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s words, “The real measure of our Jesuit universities lies in who our students become. Tomorrow’s ‘whole person’ cannot be whole without an educated awareness of society and culture with which to contribute socially and generously in the real world.” I also resonate to Fr. Jeffrey von Arx’s statement that educators in the Ignatian tradition are “to teach students about love.” The dynamic of love lies at the core of educating the whole person.  My journey as an educator has brought me to the conclusion that one way to foster competency, generosity, and love, is to build relationships in the classroom because the classroom remains as a significant vehicle for making the goal of social action a reality.  How did I arrive at this conclusion?

During my doctoral training at Indiana University in the late 1970s I immersed myself in the study of group dynamics and therapeutic small groups. At this time I was introduced to the writings of Irvin Yalom who elegantly describes the concept of process, which refers to the relationships between and among members of groups. Yalom views process as the critical variable for activating therapeutic factors that aid group members in learning about themselves and their interactions with others.

Equipped with my extensive training, I met my first graduate class in 1981 at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, for a course titled, “Theories of Counseling.” You can imagine my shock as a new teacher when I entered a crowded classroom to find 38 rather unhappy looking graduate students. After I quickly took note of the situation, while catching my breath, I realized that this class could go one of two ways: it could be a success or it could be a monumental failure. As I looked around the room, I silently asked myself, “What have I learned from Irvin Yalom that will save me now?” I could almost hear his voice: “Diana, pay attention to process and build relationships in the class.”

I am happy to report that with the benefit of my quick reflection on Yalom’s words, and perhaps some divine intervention, my students and I were able to work our way through that first meeting; together we got to know each other, to create a community of scholars which in turn helped my students engage in meaningful dialogue; learn the course content, express similar and divergent views in a climate of respect and support, and forge lasting personal friendships.  Through interpersonal learning they also gained skills to participate as effective citizens outside the classroom setting.  My first teaching experience illuminated a principle that guides my work today: people learn in part through their relationships with others.

Over time with continued practice, reflection, and feedback from my students I have refined my teaching methodology and increased my proficiency in effectively applying group concepts in the classroom. As a result I have noticed the following: Students not only demonstrate a keen grasp of the course content, they skillfully articulate how interpersonal learning in the classroom contributes to their growth and development as counselors. Students also recognize a link between what they experience in the classroom to life outside. This awareness propels them forward to implement change in their communities; to, in effect, operate in a loving manner towards others in their world.  And as one of my former students shared with me, “Teaching about love does not stop at the door. It occurs not only in interpersonal learning but also in the relationship between student and teacher that extends beyond the classroom walls.”

One of the great joys for me in teaching here at Fairfield University over the past five years has been the opportunity to purposefully examine Ignatian principles and to explore ways to align those principles with humanistic and group work models.  I continue to ponder the manner in which I teach. My questions are: if my challenge is to teach students about love, how do I manifest a classroom environment which reflects teaching from love? If I am to change the world from love, what does that mean for me and my students in terms of who we are as social justice advocates? I have decided that changing the world from love is not solely about what we do; rather, more inclusively, it is about who we are as individuals and communities.  I now see the seamless connection in my teaching to questions that invite students to answer, “Who am I? Who am I with you? And who are we together?

I am honored to be here today as the recipient of this distinguished award and as an educator in the Ignatian and humanistic traditions who has a responsibility to prepare the next generation of citizens and leaders to change the world from love. While I am often dismayed by the presence of divisiveness and exclusion in our world, I am encouraged by the thought that if we are able to prepare our students to contribute socially and generously and live their lives from love, we increase the likelihood that they will go forth and change the very fabric of our society. Group work concepts, when grounded in love and social justice, are rich tools for creating meaningful learning experiences… and for changing the world.

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