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When I published The Courage to Teach in 1997, I hoped it would contribute to the growing national conversation about reforming education, especially teaching and learning. Over the past two decades, that hope has been fulfilled to a greater degree than I ever imagined possible. Now, in 2017, with the publication of a 20th anniversary edition of The Courage to Teach, my hope is that the book will continue to contribute to a conversation that has become wider, deeper, and more persuasive as the years have gone by.

That the book has been a best seller is gratifying, of course. But far more important to me are the messages I receive from educators who tell me that The Courage to Teach speaks their truth—and that they are acting on some of its ideas. Today, twenty years after publication, it seems clear that the book has contributed not only to a conversation but to a movement for education reform, animated by research, publications, workshops, and conferences, and sometimes resulting in transformed institutional policies and practices.

The fact that Courage has attracted many readers from worlds other than education—including medicine, ministry, law, politics, philanthropy, and nonprofit leadership—has both gratified and surprised me. And yet, looking back, perhaps I should have expected this. Ever since the book came out, people have asked me, “Why not a book called The Courage to Lead, The Courage to Serve, or The Courage to Heal? So many insights in The Courage to Teach apply to other fields.”

The serving professions attract many people who are animated by imperatives of the heart. Their work is challenging, and frequently housed in dysfunctional institutions. So teachers, physicians, clergy, and the like often suffer from losing heart—and the quality of their work suffers with them. Many of them seek some sort of personal and professional renewal, asking, “How can I take heart again so I can give heart to others—which is what called me to this work in the first place.”

As a writer, I've always wanted to do more than put ideas on the page. I've wanted to “put wheels” on those ideas, creating programmatic “vehicles” that readers can ride toward destinations of their own choosing, including renewal. That's why, in the 1990s, while I was writing The Courage to Teach, I planted the seeds of what became the Center for Courage & Renewal—a nonprofit that's still going strong today, with some 300 well-trained facilitators around the world, who offer retreats and workshops for people in many walks of life. Put simply, the Center helps people “take heart” so they can “give heart” to those they serve—students and patients, parishioners and clients, staff and other stakeholders. (Information about the Center and its programs can be found in Appendix D and at Please think of this Guide as yet another way of “putting wheels” on the ideas related to The Courage to Teach.

With this edition of the Guide you will find a link to an online series of audio and video interviews with me, and a video tour of a retreat program for personal and professional renewal—also called “The Courage to Teach”—that has developed over the past twenty-five years. (The online contents, as listed in About the Companion Media in this book, are available at More information about “The Courage to Teach” program, which is now up and running across the country, will be found in Appendixes D and E and at We hope that the online videos will make it even easier for individuals and groups to be in dialogue with the ideas in the book.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” I am grateful to the Jossey-Bass staff for understanding those words, for wanting to help people in many lines of work live into their meaning, and for doing the hard work necessary to create this Guide and get it into the right hands.

Special thanks go to Jossey-Bass editor Kate Bradford, who was instrumental in updating this edition of the Guide. Thanks also to four treasured colleagues who are no longer at Jossey-Bass: my long-time editor Sheryl Fullerton, production editor Joanne Clapp Fullagar, editor Carol Brown, and the late Sarah Polster. Sarah brought me to Jossey-Bass, and I will always cherish her memory. Thanks also to Rachel Livsey, who wrote the first draft of the original Guide and provided a solid framework for it; to Judy Brown, Janis Claflin, Debbie DeWitt, Sally Hare, Marianne Houston, Marcy Jackson, Rick Jackson, and Penny Williamson—my friends and colleagues from the Center for Courage & Renewal—for providing materials from their own work with teachers; and to Marcy Jackson, Rick Jackson, Sharon Palmer, and Sarah Polster for their help in editing the first edition of the Guide. And thanks to David Leo-Nyquist for his thoughtful reflections on how the Guide could help readers understand that the phrase “the courage to teach” now names not only a book but a program for personal and professional renewal and a growing movement for institutional transformation.

Last, but far from least, my heartfelt thanks go to my dear friend and colleague Megan Scribner for helping to create this Guide with her typical skill, speed, and savoir faire. Without Megan's good work, the Guide would not be.

Parker J. Palmer

Madison, Wisconsin
May 2017


This book is for teachers who have good days and bad,
and whose bad days bring the suffering that comes
only from something one loves. It is for teachers who
refuse to harden their hearts because they
love learners, learning, and the teaching life.

Those words, from the first page of The Courage to Teach, also describe the kind of teachers for whom we wrote this Guide for Reflection and Renewal. Designed to support both solitary reflection and group dialogue, the Guide offers a variety of approaches to “exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life.”

Why embark on an inner journey in the first place? Be­cause teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one's inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge—and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.

Of course, this focus on the teacher's inner life is not exactly a conventional approach to problem solving in education! We normally try to resolve educational dilemmas by adopting a new technique or changing the curriculum, not by deepening our own sense of identity and integrity. We focus on the “whats” and the “hows” of teaching—“What subjects shall we teach?” and “What methods shall we use?”—questions that are obviously worth asking.

But rarely, if ever, do we ask the equally important “who” question: “Who is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form, or deform, the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? And how can educational institutions help teachers sustain and deepen the selfhood from which good teaching comes?”

This Guide, like the book to which it is kin, invites us to explore the inner landscape of a teacher's life along three distinct but related pathways: intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. By intellectual, I mean the way we think about teaching and learning, about our subjects and our students. By emotional, I mean the way we and our students feel as we teach and learn. By spiritual, I refer to the diverse ways we deal with our eternal longing to be connected with something larger than our own egos.

In The Courage to Teach, I wrote, “Intellect, emotion, and spirit de­pend on one another for wholeness. They are interwoven in the human self and in education at its best, and I have tried to interweave them in this book as well.” I have also tried to interweave them in this Guide for Reflection and Renewal.

The Guide raises questions, examines ideas, explores images, and suggests practices that emerge from the insights offered in The Courage to Teach. Because the Guide is focused on the teacher's inner life rather than on techniques specific to certain teaching situations, it can be used by teachers at every level and in every setting: university professors, pre-K–12 teachers, community college faculty, adult educators, corporate trainers. Though our society tends to segregate and even rank teachers by “type,” the underlying dynamics of teaching cut across these differences, giving teachers of all sorts common struggles and joys.

This Guide includes references to companion videos, including a seventy-minute interview I did to explore various themes related to the book called The Courage to Teach and to the retreat program of the same name. You can read more about the program in Appendixes D and E at the back of this Guide and take an audiovisual tour of it in the videos. The videos can be found at, courtesy of the Center for Courage and Renewal. You may also download all companion media files at You can view the videos in order from start to finish, of course, and use them in any way you see fit for personal reflection or with a book study group. But to make their use a bit easier, scattered throughout this Guide are references to particular segments of video that may enhance and enliven your exploration of particular themes from the book. Again, those segments will be found at

Part One of this Guide, “Guidelines for Individual and Group Study,” deals with the process of reflecting on The Courage to Teach and with getting ready for that process. Most of the suggestions are about creating “space”—physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual space—that is safe and trustworthy, conducive to honest self-exploration as well as corporate inquiry. Whether you are reflecting in solitude or serving as a group facilitator, these suggestions can help create a hospitable context for the work you want to do.

Part Two, “Questions and Activities for Each Chapter,” follows the flow of topics in the book, lifting up substantive issues about self and colleagues, students and subjects that can help teachers reflect on their vocation. These questions and activities reach across a wide range of possibilities—from conceptual challenges meant to provoke thought to emotional probes meant to evoke feeling to spiritual queries meant to illumine the foundations of one's life and work. We have tried to design this section to give you a wide range of choices as you seek the approaches that are most appropriate to your own needs or those of your group.

At the back of this Guide, we have assembled a variety of resources and background materials that we hope you will find helpful:

The journey to deepen our understanding of “the teaching self” is long, usually lifelong! Like any journey, it has its difficult passages. But the more familiar we are with our inner terrain, the more sure-footed our teaching—and living—becomes. By taking the inner journey, alone and together, we can contribute to the renewal of our individual vocations, to the reform of education as a whole, and to the well-being of the students we serve.