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Table of Contents

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About This Publication

Since 1980, New Directions for Teaching and Learning (NDTL) has brought a unique blend of theory, research, and practice to leaders in postsecondary education. NDTL sourcebooks strive not only for solid substance but also for timeliness, compactness, and accessibility.

The series has four goals: to inform readers about current and future directions in teaching and learning in postsecondary education, to illuminate the context that shapes these new directions, to illustrate these new direction through examples from real settings, and to propose ways in which these new directions can be incorporated into still other settings.

This publication reflects the view that teaching deserves respect as a high form of scholarship. We believe that significant scholarship is conducted not only by researchers who report results of empirical investigations but also by practitioners who share disciplinary reflections about teaching. Contributors to NDTL approach questions of teaching and learning as seriously as they approach substantive questions in their own disciplines, and they deal not only with pedagogical issues but also with the intellectual and social context in which these issues arise. Authors deal on the one hand with theory and research and on the other with practice, and they translate from research and theory to practice and back again.

About This Volume

The work done in higher education is sometimes seen as dry, boring, and even dusty. Even though most in higher education started with feelings of hope and passion for their subject and for teaching, these feelings can sometimes be lost over time as political battles, accreditation issues, state mandates, and problems with people take center stage. This volume of NDTL helps to remind us that the connections we have with ourselves, our students, our colleagues, and our disciplines are truly important and meaningful—and should take precedence over these other smaller issues. By taking the work done by Parker J. Palmer and the principles and practices of the Circles of Trust approach, those in higher education can be reminded of the courage that it takes to teach and the renewal that can be generated when we live and teach more authentically in our lives, our classrooms, and in the world.


is the assistant provost for Institutional Effectiveness at Texas Christian University.


Providing Space for the Heart: A Structure for Transformational Teaching and Learning

Transformational teaching and learning are possible only within a space that encourages participation of the whole self—our hopes and dreams, as well as our doubts and fears. They require a space where vulnerability is valued and not knowing is embraced as an essential step on the learning journey. This issue explores a variety of educational initiatives that incorporate the principles and practices of a Circle of Trust® approach as developed by Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal, an approach that acknowledges both the inner and outer realities of the human condition.

At the heart of each initiative described herein is the understanding that without a pedagogy that provides for both dimensions of the human experience, the value of the educational enterprise is severely diminished. We begin our exploration of these initiatives with Terry Chadsey, executive director, and Marcy Jackson, cofounder, of the Center for Courage & Renewal. They discuss how the principles and practices of a Circle of Trust® approach provide a structure for faculty and students to engage in teaching and learning that awaken both heart and mind. Each subsequent chapter illustrates these principles and practices in action through the lens of a different subject, project, or program designed to transform individuals and institutions from the inside out.

Bonnie Allen and Estrus Tucker describe how a community recovery and democracy building project in Mississippi offers a new approach to social change, one that addresses the root of human suffering. Paul Michalec and Gary Brower tell the story of creating an intentional community at the University of Denver, where faculty and staff embrace the tensions inherent in academia to remain vibrant members of their learning community. Judy Goodell, who teaches in the marriage and family therapy program at the University of San Francisco, describes the principles and practices as a “hand in glove fit” with the counselor training program there. In a teacher preparation program at Portland State University, Karen Noordhoff examines how these principles and practices help aspiring teachers appreciate the ambiguity inherent in teaching by developing an understanding of life’s paradoxes. Similarly, Michael Poutiatine and Dennis Conners analyze the role of identity development in a transformational leadership program at Gonzaga University. Applying the Circle of Trust pedagogy to a professional development program for K–12 educators in Texas, Twyla Miranda considers its impact on school culture and teachers’ commitment to student achievement. Finally, Janet Smith evaluates the impact of the Circle of Trust® approach on the personal and professional lives of participants from a variety of programs, and Chris Love uses the novel approach of creating found poems from participant interviews to evaluate a distance-learning model. Although the context for each of these initiatives varies greatly, each consciously seeks to create a space that takes seriously what is held in the human heart, a space necessary for real transformation.

Margaret Golden, Ed.D.
Associate Professor
Director of The Courage to Teach Initiative
School of Education and Counseling Psychology
Dominican University of California


Principles and Practices of the Circle of Trust® Approach


This chapter describes the history, rationale, and core content of the principles and practices that define the Circle of Trust® approach as developed by Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal. Courage to Teach®, Courage to Lead®, and other Courage & Renewal programs are built upon this distinctive approach.

In every discipline, knowledge is generated through a communal process. This requires habits of mind and heart that allow us to interact openly and honestly with other knowers and with the subject to be known—such habits as a capacity to care about the process, the willingness to get involved, the humility to listen, the strength to speak our truth, the willingness to change our minds. The more closely a pedagogy can emulate this communal process, cultivating these habits of mind and heart as it goes along, the deeper the learning will go.

—Parker J. Palmer, 2005

Teaching and Learning as a Communal Process

Creating a space for engaged teaching and learning has never been easy and is arguably even more challenging today with the variety and volume of external stimulation that often results in a state of “constant partial attention” for both teachers and students. Add to that the variety of teaching platforms available, from large lecture formats to small group seminars to e-courses (and all the iterations and possibilities in between), and it is easy to imagine that our previous ways of engaging minds and hearts in learning about a subject and about the world are no longer relevant.

Yet as Parker Palmer notes, we need to continue to find ways of learning with our whole selves—and in community with others—if we want to move beyond surface learning that is short lived. We need to engage learning and learners in ways that make it possible to deepen and transform minds and hearts. In The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal, Mark Nepo (2010, p. viii) puts this another way:

What does it mean to balance educating the mind with educating the heart? In terms of action in the world, it suggests that a tool is only as good as the hand that guides it, and the guiding hand is only as wise and compassionate as the mind and heart that direct it. The heart of higher education has something to do with connecting all the meaningful parts of being human and the increasingly important challenge of how we live together in our time on earth.

Through the Center for Courage & Renewal we offer personal and professional retreats and programs designed to explore vocational and life questions, offer renewal and encouragement, and deepen engagement in professional practice. Using what we call the Circle of Trust® approach, we invite groups into a communal process based upon a set of principles and practices through which we engage our deepest questions in a way that welcomes our inwardness even as it connects us to the gifts and challenges of community and to the larger world.

To date the majority of our participants have come from K–12 and higher education settings. And although conducting our retreats is not the same as creating learning spaces for academic subjects, through these participants we have seen evidence of how elements of the Circle of Trust® approach have broad applicability to many kinds of pedagogical settings. Indeed, participants in our circles eagerly take these practices back into their classrooms and workplaces, having found them to be powerful in their own lives. In a survey by Jackson (2010), those who come from higher education settings—including many who have become Circle of Trust facilitators—regularly express how these principles and practices continue to inform and transform their teaching and leading:

For professors, Courage & Renewal programs offer a framework for effective instruction that emerges from the heart/passion of the instructor, instead of more technical sources. Elements of Courage work is also helpful for facilitating and framing discussions in college classrooms. Courage work [also] offers a frame for hosting conversations about navigating the conflicted space between institutional imperatives (policies and protocols) which are often impersonal and the inner heart-soul of faculty and staff working in service of the institution to make it a more humane place to work and learn.

—Paul Michalec, clinical associate professor, University of Denver

Especially in these times, encouragement and renewal are deeply needed. In teacher preparation I think the work [in Circles of Trust] is a way of providing hope and insight for new professionals. In the areas of professional development I feel that it provides teachers and administrators with opportunities for new ways of thinking about their careers and ways of mentoring others. Overall the work offers ways of sustaining the professions and the professionals. It touches the future in imaginative ways that no other work does.

—Rebecca Blomgren, dean of professional and graduate admissions, Greensboro College

Persons in universities and colleges—whether they be faculty or students—experience the same issues around identity, integrity/wholeness, and sustaining heart that [the Circle of Trust® approach] has always spoken to. In such institutions, it is often a challenge for us to remember who we are in the work we do and roles we hold.

—Karen Noordhoff, associate professor, Portland State University

In Circles of Trust our focus is on drawing out that which is found within. Although much of education is focused on transmitting information and acquiring knowledge, the intersection of that knowledge with the human heart—with one’s values and life experience—is what makes learning come alive for both the teacher and the student.

In a Circle of Trust, we are invited to slow down, listen, and reflect in a quiet and focused space. At the same time, we engage in dialogue with others in the circle—a dialogue about things that matter. In large groups, in small groups, and in times for individual reflection we explore the intersection of our inner journeys and our outer lives, our work in the world and our relationships with ourselves and others.

Of course calling something a “circle of trust” does not make it so. As we have led programs and retreats for the past fifteen years we have learned something about the conditions that support the kind of inner and outer exploration noted previously. We call these the principles and practices of the Circles of Trust® approach. Together, they create the foundation for a process that is not only trustworthy but also hospitable and demanding, respectful and generative, transformative and real.

Origins of the Principles and Practices

Some of what we love
we stumble upon—
a purse of gold thrown on the road,
a poem, a friend, a great song.
And more
discloses itself to us—
a well among green hazels,
a nut thicket—
when we are worn out searching
for something quite different.
And more
comes to us, carried
as carefully
as a bright cup of water,
as new bread.

—Moya Cannon, The Parchment Boat, 1997

This may seem like an odd introduction to talking about the origins of these principles and practices, but in truth they have emerged over the years through a process of listening informed by love—love of learning and love of learners—and experiments in a pedagogy that invites the “whole person” to show up.

They have also come through experiences in communal inquiry and discernment where deep listening to one’s own truth as well as that of others is valued and encouraged. This can be found in many wisdom traditions and also in particular faith communities. In this regard, a Quaker practice called the Clearness Committee—a microcosm of all that is involved in creating a safe space for one’s inner truth to emerge—has been especially significant in the development of these principles and practices. Parker Palmer, in his tenure as dean of studies at Pendle Hill, a Quaker adult study center, came to understand the value of these practices and their potential for fostering deep and authentic inquiry. He began writing about their use in secular settings—highlighting the conditions necessary to safeguard and encourage such inquiry. These have become some of the core elements of the Circle of Trust® approach.

There have been various articulations of these principles and practices but the current version was crafted in 2010 by a group of Circle of Trust facilitators and Parker Palmer. Our goal was to create a clear and compelling expression of what is at the heart of this approach. In looking at them in their entirety, you will notice that any one of these principles and practices can be found in other kindred approaches. However, it is the way in which they are held together—in the hands of a skilled facilitator—that make this approach distinctive. What follows is a discussion of a few core principles and practices that have broad applicability in teaching and learning.

Principles for Exploring Our Inner Lives in Community

What follows is a partial list and explication of principles taken from the Principles and Practices of the Circle of Trust® Approach document found in .

Everyone Has an Inner Teacher. 

Every person has access to an inner source of truth, named in various wisdom traditions as identity, true self, heart, spirit, or soul. The inner teacher is a source of guidance and strength that helps us find our way through life’s complexities and challenges. Circles of Trust give people a chance to listen to this source, learn from it, and discover its imperatives for their work and their lives.

Creating the conditions that encourage the “inner teacher” to make an appearance or to be invited into dialogue in classrooms, lecture halls, and even small group seminars is not the usual fare—for students and teachers alike. In fact, in many settings such a thing would be suspect and seen as taking away from the rigor and focus on the mastery of knowledge. As teachers it asks us to trust that students have some of their own answers inside, waiting to be discovered.

An Appreciation of Paradox Enriches Our Lives and Helps Us Hold Greater Complexity. 

The journey we take in a Circle of Trust teaches us to approach the many polarities that come with being human as “both–ands” rather than “either–ors,” holding them in ways that open us to new insights and possibilities. We listen to the inner teacher and to the voices in the circle, letting our own insights and the wisdom that can emerge in conversation check and balance each other. We trust both our intellects and the knowledge that comes through our bodies, intuitions, and emotions.

We hold open the possibility that when looked at more deeply some things that appear to be opposites hold something in common that connects them to a larger whole. In this way, we enlarge the territory of exploration and inquiry. By creating the opportunity to explore such things in dialogue with ourselves and others, we help students develop the capacity to hold the tensions inherent in their current understanding of a given subject or of our world with creativity and compassion, rather than cynicism and fear. We learn to create bridges between and among disparate ideas rather than fanning the flames of increasing polarization that is so prevalent in our world.

We Live with Greater Integrity When We See Ourselves Whole.

Integrity means integrating all that we are into our sense of self, embracing our shadows and limitations as well as our light and our gifts. As we deepen the congruence between our inner and outer lives we show up more fully in the key relationships and events of our lives, increasing our capacity to be authentic and courageous in life and work.

Living with greater integrity is a lifelong journey marked by significant events and experiences that call us to act and live out of our fullest potential while also inviting an honest look at our limits, fears, and failings. Wendell Berry (1987) posits that “[t]he thing being made in a university is humanity … [W]hat universities … are mandated to make or to help to make is human beings in the fullest sense of those words—not just trained workers or knowledgeable citizens but responsible heirs and members of the human culture” (p. 77). Educating our students as whole people, as well as evoking their scholarship and their gifts, requires that those of us involved in guiding and instructing them work toward our own wholeness and integrity.

Practices That Encourage Shared Exploration of Self, Other, and World

What follows is a partial list and explication of practices taken from the Principles and Practices of the Circle of Trust® Approach document found in .

Creating Spaces That Are Open and Hospitable, But Resource Rich and Charged with Expectancy. 

In a Circle of Trust, we are invited to slow down, listen, and reflect in a quiet and focused space. At the same time, we engage in dialogue with others in the circle—a dialogue about things that matter. As this “sorting and sifting” goes on, and we are able to clarify and affirm our truth in the presence of others, that truth is more likely to overflow into our work and lives.

The key here is the combination of slowing down and creating a disciplined space for listening and learning, while also welcoming the richness and dynamic energy unleashed in a lively conversation that plumbs new depths or expands existing frontiers. This interaction between examining our own understanding and beliefs, and then testing those understandings in the crucible of an open yet focused classroom dialogue, invites and involves our whole selves in the learning exchange.

Committing to No Fixing Advising, “Saving,” or Correcting One Another. 

Everything we do is guided by this simple rule, one that honors the primacy and integrity of the inner teacher. When we are free from external judgment, we are more likely to have an honest conversation with ourselves and learn to check and correct ourselves from within.

In order to create the kinds of spaces named earlier—where there can be a free and open exploration of a subject or a great truth—we need to let go of some of the knee-jerk reactions of academic life that can suppress deep learning. We need to learn the difference between debate and open dialogue that is receptive, not punitive or competitive. As teachers we need to find that openness first in ourselves and recognize that although we have a great store of hard-won knowledge in a particular subject, we do not have the specific answers for someone else’s life. This is not only difficult to put into practice, but it is also “countercultural” to most academic (and many other) settings.

Asking Honest, Open Questions to “Hear Each Other into Speech.”

Instead of advising each other, we learn to listen deeply and ask questions that help others hear their own inner wisdom more clearly. As we learn to ask questions that are not advice in disguise, that have no other purpose than to help someone listen to the inner teacher, all of us learn and grow.

The practice of asking open, honest questions is at the heart of how we interact with others in a Circle of Trust. In many aspects of our lives we believe we need to be the one with the answers. We are often carefully trained to ask questions in a certain way—to be diagnostic, strategic, focused, and directive in our question asking. That way of asking questions has its place, but there is also a place for asking questions in such a way that we invite a person to voice and then listen to his or her own ideas, reflections, and formulations on the topic at hand.

The Principles and Practices at Work in the World of Education

This chapter began with Parker Palmer’s premise, “In every discipline, knowledge is generated through a communal process. This requires habits of mind and heart that allow us to interact openly and honestly with other knowers and with the subject to be known.” Our own experience in retreat programs and the experience of our participants suggest that the application of these principles and practices can help create such a process in higher education contexts.

Most of us have our own experiences of what Palmer describes: memories of shining moments in our own learning as students, where the integration of ourselves with the content of our learning was palpable and real. And we have memories as faculty of shining moments in facilitating the learning of others when the separations between teacher and student, researcher and subject fell away and the experience felt rich and alive. We know this happens but for most of us it is painfully rare. Too often we lose sight of the fact that teaching and learning are first and foremost deeply human processes.

Returning to the challenge to pedagogy quoted at the beginning of this chapter, “The more closely a pedagogy can emulate this communal process, cultivating these habits of mind and heart as it goes along, the deeper the learning will go.” Principles and practices that are at the core of a Circle of Trust can also inform higher education settings within and between classrooms, helping faculty, student affairs professionals, and students to develop and practice those habits of heart and mind that power significant engagement and learning.

Through countless generations, human beings have been finely tuned to the rich social contexts in which learning and growth take place. We believe that the principles and practices developed in Circle of Trust programs can inform further development of pedagogy in higher education that will use and amplify the power of communal teaching and learning.


 To see the full list of principles and practices of the Circle of Trust® Approach, see .


Berry, W. “The Loss of the University.” Home Economics. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1987.

Cannon, M. “Introductions.” From The Parchment Boat by kind permission of the author and The Gallery Press, , 1997.

Jackson, M. “Higher Education and Circles of Trust Survey.” Bainbridge Isle, Wash.: Center for Courage & Renewal, 2010.

Nepo, M. “Foreword.” In P. J. Palmer and A. Zajonc, The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Palmer, P. J. A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.

Palmer, P. J. “Connected Teaching & Learning.” Self-published 1-page workshop handout, 2005.

is executive director of the Center for Courage & Renewal.

is cofounder and senior fellow of the Center for Courage & Renewal.

Appendix 1.1

Principles and Practices of the Circle of Trust® Approach of the Center for Courage & Renewal

When people connect who they are with what they do, the seeds of transformation are planted in their lives and the lives of those they touch. When those people join with each other, transformation becomes a possibility in the larger world. Circles of Trust® support such movements toward positive personal and social change in venues ranging from the family to the workplace to the larger community.

The Circle of Trust® approach is distinguished by principles and practices intended to create a process of shared exploration—in retreats, programs, and other settings—where people can find safe space to nurture personal and professional integrity and the courage to act on it. These principles and practices are grounded in the center’s core values, which spell out the foundational beliefs and intended purposes for our work with individuals, groups, and organizations.