Introducing Dr. Deborah Colwill, Associate Professor of Educational Ministries

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Dr. Colwill is one of the newer additions to the TEDS faculty. We caught up with her in her office; this interview has been edited for clarity and space.

Tell me a little bit about yourself – where were you before coming to TEDS, and what are your responsibilities here now?

Before coming here I was at Asbury Theological Seminary, in Kentucky. I was a professor in the practical theology school and taught in the department of leadership. I was also the director of institutional research and evaluation for the entire seminary, which included the online, Kentucky, and Florida campuses.

At Asbury I taught master’s courses, and here [at TEDS] I teach PhD courses in the areas of organizational development, organizational leadership, and teams. Many people in the PhD-Educational Studies come from around the world; they are often in teaching faculty roles as well as wearing one or two other hats, such as administration. So there’s a need to understand how adults learn and how to create effective and significant learning environments as well as culturally appropriate ways of learning. With their multiple hats, they need both an understanding of how how to create significant learning environments but also how to help an organization learn and develop.

Are you from Kentucky?

My mother is, but I’m originally from Colorado.

I understand that you have two PhDs – what are they in?

Education and organizational development.

The PhD EDS and the MA EM were recently redesigned. What’s the significance of this?

Yes; we’re trying to retain the historic values & ethos of the program, both honoring the past and also giving them a fresh look, incorporating new theory and practice. We’re now into the first iteration of the actual curricula. It’s been a lot of fun.

What have been some of your primary areas of research?

My areas of interest are leadership development, teams, and organizational leadership. I’ve done research in the area of the scholar-practitioner—the equivalent you might hear about is science-practitioner, or pastor-scholar. A scholar-practitioner is a person who’s up to date in the theory base but also is active in the practitioner realm. I’ve studied how people bridge those worlds. Many of the people who are attracted to an education degree, or a leadership / organizational development program, are scholar-practitioners. You have to stay current in the theory, but you aren’t a full-time scholar because you have a lot of responsibility in your organizational leadership role. So I’m interested in how to help those types of people thrive.

Another area of interest is the world of metaphor. I wrote a chapter in an organizational development consulting text on tracing the evolution of organizational theory; it looked at organizations through the lens of metaphor, from the time of the Industrial Revolution into postmodernity, using four metaphors that capture philosophically the evolution of that space. As you trace the history, you can almost lean forward and see what might be next. If you can do that ,you can build towards the competencies that might be needed for tomorrow. You look back to look forward.

The average local church pastor probably is not very well trained in the area of organizational leadership or organizations theory, but I imagine they could benefit from some of these insights. If you had to give one or two pieces of concrete advice to a local pastor, what would you give?

I think the two areas most helpful right now are, as a leader, self-awareness and building competencies in emotional & social intelligence. Emotional intelligence is how you manage your internal world and how you dial down anxiety, how you have self-control as a leader. Social intelligence is how you interact with and persuade others toward the common good: doing it in an authentic manner, not in a way to manipulate people. A second major area is systems thinking with regard to organizational change and development.

What have been some things that have very powerfully shaped your faith?

Throughout my journey as a Christian I’ve had really good mentors. Because of that, I’ve also actively sought out really good mentors. God has been very good to me to bring a lot of amazing people into my life.

Earlier I asked you about a couple key takeaways for pastors, and you mentioned emotional intelligence and the pastor’s networks. What are some books you’d recommend for pastors interested in those areas?

Regarding emotional and social intelligence, Daniel Goleman and Richard Bogatzis wrote Resident Leadership. The Leader’s Journey, by Herrington, is also very helpful. In terms of leadership and systems thinking, I really like Heifetz; he talks about the difference between adaptive challenges and technical challenges in leading organizations. If you haven’t read anything by him, he’s really helpful. In terms of actual systems theory in organizations, Peter Senge is the one who moved systems thinking into the organizational theory literature. His seminal book is called The Fifth Discipline, and that was written I think in the nineties. He’s moved on a bit, but people still find that very helpful in terms of applying a systems view to organizations. There’s so many, so it’s really hard to narrow it down!

When you’re not doing research, what else do you like to do? What do you enjoy?

When I get the chance I like being outside and playing sports. I also enjoy reading and traveling ot new places. One of the reasons I moved back to Illinois is that I have three daughters who live here; two are married, and [points to pictures on her desk] this is grandson 1 and grandson 2, and they’re ten months and three months. So pretty much any discretionary time I have I’m hanging out with my family.

 

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