August 1, 2008 Volume 22, Number 10
Learning helps women discover their passion
Education the philosophy by which Lynn Smith lives
By Patricia Paddey | Special to ChristianWeek
Lynn Smith believes true education results in transformation.
At 72, Smith's opinion is backed by a lifetime of experience. She says education has changed her.
In the late 1960s Smith was a young mom caring for a home, a husband and three children. Three decades later, she was dean of students and vice-president of student development at Tyndale College and Seminary.
Smith taught primary school for five years before her children were born. For the next 10 years she stayed at home with her family.
It was a time when society still exerted considerable pressure on wives and mothers to give up on their own aspirations, but Smith recognized a hunger within herself to continue her formal academic learning. "My mother gave me the permission I needed to go back to school," she recalls. "She said, 'You will be a better mother if you are being fulfilled yourself.'"
At age 33 Smith returned to the role of student and found she loved the challenge. She also found she needed an outlet for all she was learning, and sought opportunities to put into practice what she gleaned from the classroom. While studying speech therapy, Smith volunteered at a local school, working with children who needed additional help.
Studying French led her to a part-time job as a French tutor. The combination of academic learning and practical application worked. "It started to give me an identity apart from being a wife and mother," she says. "That was the beginning of some self-awareness and self-development."
Input, action, reflection
It was also the beginning of Smith's own philosophy of education. Education requires "input, action and reflection," she says.
"The academic part of it is the input," she says. "But if you don't have the action, if you don't apply what you're learning... it doesn't change you. And if you don't reflect on what you've learned or done, then you're basically on automatic pilot."
Those three elements make up meaningful education, which prepares us to live lives that fulfill the purpose for which we've been created, says Smith. She believes people are made in the image of God to be spiritual, creative, healing, connected peacemakers, transforming our world.
She's shared these convictions with countless others during her life, inspiring and motivating them in their educational pursuits.
Although she's now retired, Smith is director of leader development at NextLevel Leadership, an organization she helped found in 2001. In this volunteer position she develops curriculum and travels in Canada and Germany giving seminars and leading workshops. It is work she describes as "pure passion."
"My desire is to see women equipped, not just to be fulfilled, but to really understand that we have spheres of influence and that we are responsible for how we exercise influence within that sphere," says Smith.
NextLEVEL Leadership (www.nextlevelleadership.ca) is a Canadian leadership development organization for Christian women. It offers training and networking programs for women with leadership gifts who have a sense of God's call on their lives.
NextLEVEL Leadership works to close the gap between what men and women have traditionally received in the area of leadership development, in order to give women the confidence and credibility to lead alongside men.
The education women receive through NextLEVEL gives them the language to understand themselves as leaders, says Smith. Learning in community gives them a forum in which to discover their voice.
Education is in Smith's blood. Her mother was a teacher, and Smith's earliest memories of school are of being in her mother's classroomat the age of fivea year before she was actually required by law to be there. It was a one-room class, with 10 grades. Smith had the freedom to wander and listen to whatever interested her. "Having that kind of freedom just made school a wonderful place," she says.
In 2006 her life's work was recognized when Smith received the Leading Women Award for Education, Training and Development.
In her book, MentoringLeaving a Legacy (2007), Smith cites the apprenticeship model once so common in our culture as an example of the way in which mentoring used to happen quite naturally. But as our society has become increasingly individualistic, she says, mentoring today has to be more intentional.
"Our gifts are given, not for ourselves," she says, "but for the benefit of other people." Education is at its best in the context of relationship.
"I really believe that we need to carry out education in the name of Jesus and with the mind of Christ," she says.
"And if we're to do that, it has to cultivate the inner spiritual life, and be lived out in a reconciling community. All of the relational pieces need to be a part of that education. And if they are, then education has the potential to be the single most effective agent of transformation."