College of Education – James Madison University

What Sustains Me Project


I have found that the greatest help in meeting
any problem with decency and self-respect and

whatever courage is demanded is to know where

you yourself stand.  That is, to have in words
what you believe and are acting from.

William Faulkner (1956)

Personal Letter to Mr. David Kirk

Collected here are the reflections of select members of our collaborative learning community regarding what they rely upon to guide and sustain them when compelled by the need to take a stand, to speak out, or to take action.  What deeply-held beliefs and convictions have they constructed on the basis of past experience and memorable relationships which inspires them to give voice and upon which they confidently draw for guidance when the need arises for making a decision of some consequence—especially when the fairness or righteousness of that decision is not readily apparent?  What echoes from the past continue to resonate vividly and timelessly in their lives and help sustain them when Fate visits upon them matters infused with moral dilemma and/or ethical uncertainty?

We are at our best when we are successful in un-tethering ourselves from self-possessed impulses and permit ourselves instead to be held in sway by the power of our individual consciences.  Enchantment of being lies in the channeling of decency and self-respect and courage of which Faulkner spoke when conflicted individuals arouse themselves and rise to the challenge of fostering engaging, uplifting, other-oriented personal and professional relationships; thus are healthy and sustainable communities created and maintained.  What this collection attempts to capture are accounts of specific aspects of select individuals’ experience which accord them a sense of inner strength, a sense of purpose, and a sense of direction—in other words, which sustains them.

In the same manner that each artist has a muse, so it is that most of us have had at least one memorable, life-altering experience, have felt bonded by a cherished relationship, or have taken some less-traveled path which has helped (and continues to help) orient us to our personal true north whenever we are tested.  These narratives (and others like them that will follow) are published with hope that by sharing these personal reflections we may come to know and appreciate our colleagues and friends a measure more intimately.  It is also hoped that these literary gifts will help stir in students, colleagues, and others recollections of an experience or an encounter—perhaps long past—that once graced their lives, and that may continue to do so should they have the need or desire to summon them.

Phil Wishon
Dean of the College of Education

The College of Education’s “What Sustains Me” Project is a series of personal essays and/or artistic contributions about the heart of teachers and teaching.  JMU College of Education faculty, faculty from other areas of the University, and teachers from surrounding area pre-K through 12th grade schools share their stories for the purpose of better understanding each other  as educators and our potential as a community. We invite you to read these stories in the hope that they will build a bridge that connects us all.

Advisory Board

Carlos Aleman
Edward J. Brantmeier
Mary Beth Cancienne (Chair)
Cheryl L. Beverly