M.Div. Contextual Education
M.Div. Field-based Learning Completion Requirements
First Year M.Div. Student Timeline
|November/December||First year (including January entrant) student orientation. Program overview and introduction to a site selection process takes place at a plenary session.|
|Late Fall/Early Spring semester||Students review field-based learning site information available on the Office of Contextual Education (OCE) website in relation to their educational goals. BU School of Theology approved sites are listed in the Ecclesial Organizations and Community Agencies sitebooks on the right hand site of this webpage in the Forms section. Any questions should be referred to academic advisers and to the appropriate Director of Contextual Education. Anyone wishing to initiate a placement at a non-affiliated or accredited site should begin working on this since all such settings require advance approval.|
|Late January/Early February||Students having trouble finding a setting for the second year should consult with the appropriate Director of Contextual Education as early as possible in the spring semester. All students planning summer internships must follow the procedures outlined in the “Other Completion Options” section.|
|March 1||Students should submit to the OCE the Basic Information Sheet on their prospective placement site. The OCE then reviews this information, consulting with students, faculty advisers, and potential sites as necessary.|
|March 31||Completed Field-Based Placement Covenants are due in the Office of Contextual Education.|
|End of May||Registration for TC 801 Supervised Contextual Education is due with the registrar.|
|Early September||Contextual education assignments begin in conjunction with the beginning of classes. Orientation sessions for supervisors, internship committees, and students will be held in early September.|
Students, with the exception of January entrants, may enroll in field-based learning upon completion of their first full year of study. Students beginning in January are expected to commence their field-based learning in the fourth semester, generally the second Fall semester following entry into the program. All M.Div. students planning to complete their program of studies in three years must enroll in supervised field education by the beginning of the Fall semester of their second year.
Academic Year Parameters
- Two (2) semesters’ worth of field-based learning (TC 801 and TC 802) are required for completion of the M.Div. degree. Both semesters’ worth of engagement should be completed at the same site.
- Credit is earned on a pass/fail basis.
- Each semester’s work earns three (3) credits for a total of six (6) credits overall.
- Students participate weekly in an Integration of Theology and Practice group (ITP). These groups are led by STH faculty members and are designed to enhance students’ overall growth through the use of case studies, peer-group action-reflection, and discussion.
- The time commitment involved in field-based site learning is expected to be approximately: 20 hours/week x 13 weeks/semester = 260 hours each semester or 520 hours for the academic year. This 20-hour per week commitment includes 1 hour/week of travel time; 1-1/2 hours/week for ITP participation; 2 hours/week for preparation of case studies and reflection papers; and 2 hours/week for Sabbath keeping.
- An additional six (6) credits of contextual education may be earned for a maximum total of twelve (12) so long as all other core and distributional requirements are met.
- Students will receive a minimum stipend of $750 per semester from their contextual education site. If the site is unable to contribute this stipend, please contact one of the Directors of Contextual Education.
- A background check will need to be completed prior to the start of the contextual education placement. Information about this will be sent from the Academic Dean’s office.
Under extraordinary circumstances requiring the permission of at least one of the Directors of Contextual Education, a student may complete the field-based learning requirement at a rate of two (2) units/semester over a total of four (4) semesters. In this case, the time commitment would be approximately ten (10) hours per week.
Policy on Contextual Education Fellowships
The purpose of contextual education fellowships is to assist students doing a full academic year of contextual education, and for whom, therefore, employment is difficult for that entire year. In order to receive the minimum stipend of $750/semester, the student must be a duly enrolled, tuition-paying Master of Divinity student in a two-semester sequence of contextual education at Boston University School of Theology. MDiv students fulfilling their contextual education otherwise (during the summer, at another school, or through CPE, for example) may petition the School for a stipend through the STH Office of Financial Aid. Such requests will be considered on a case by case basis through the normal channels for financial aid appeals as funds are available.
Selecting a Learning Site
Students are expected to locate their own sites in consultation with one of the Directors of Contextual Education. To be eligible for credit, field-based learning sites must be approved by the Office of Contextual Education. Students cannot begin the classroom component of TC 801 until they have secured an approved site. In consultation with their academic advisers and the Office of Contextual Education (OCE), students select field settings compatible with their overall educational goals. Students seeking a congregational placement cannot use their home churches.
The field setting is responsible for ensuring the availability of a certified on-site supervisor and (in the case of ecclesial settings) an internship committee made up of representatives of those affected by the student’s service. The provision of internship committees in non-ecclesial sites such as agencies and parachurch organizations is not uniformly mandatory but is determined on a case-by-case basis.
Supervisory sessions typically take place weekly between the student intern and the field supervisor. In some instances, off-site supervision may be used with the approval of the appropriate Director of Contextual Education. Monthly meetings should also take place between the student intern and the internship committee.
Students may select learning sites from the following categories: STH Partner Sites, Student-Initiated Placements, or Boston Theological Institute Sites.
STH Partner Sites
A list of field settings closely affiliated with the Boston University School of Theology is provided through the Office of Contextual Education. These are found in the Ecclesial Organizations Site Book and Community Agencies Site Book . Most students enrolled in the M.Div. curriculum who are anticipating ordination must satisfy their required field-based learning experience in a local church community. Students should check denominational requirements prior to selecting their contextual education placement site to ensure they are in compliance with their ordination requirements. Students who are not seeking ordination may fulfill their field-based learning requirements in a setting other than a local church.
Students may develop field-based placements to meet special needs or interests. Since there are several detailed steps involved in the process, students should begin working on such arrangements early enough to meet all requisite deadlines. These settings must meet the criteria for learning and supervision for all contextual education placements as outlined here and they are subject to the approval of the appropriate Director of Contextual Education. For those seeking placement in a community setting, a number of good websites can provide inspiration for investigation. See, for example, bostoncares.org, idealist.org and volunteermatch.org.
Note that approved student-initiated sites and supervisors do not need to be previously accredited by STH. The supervisor will, however, need to receive training by STH if he/she has not already received such training by STH or another BTI school. New supervisors must complete and submit the Application for Supervisor Certification by April 15. The Field Site Application Form for a new site will also need to be turned in to the Office of Contextual Education by March 1. We recognize that there can be circumstances that interfere with the meeting of these deadlines. However, all applications for student-initiated placements must be received by May 1 or the student will need to secure a placement at an STH or BTI approved site.
A student wishing to propose a self-initiated placement should meet with one of the Directors of Contextual Education to discuss the idea. If the placement is approved, the standard field-based learning documents must be filed: Basic Information Sheet, Field-Based Placement Covenant, Learning Agreement, Mid-Year Evaluation (summer placements exempted), and Final Evaluation.
Boston Theological Institute Sites
Students may complete their Supervised Field Education in a setting affiliated with another BTI (Boston Theological Institute) institution. Check the BTI website for access to sites affiliated with all the BTI member institutions. Pursuit of a BTI-affiliated site should only be undertaken in consultation with one of the Directors of Contextual Education. Each school within the BTI welcomes students from other schools to engage in field-based learning at one of their sites when the site is not filled by one of their own students. All approved placements must meet the standards of competent supervision as set out elsewhere in this document. This includes one-on-one weekly supervision sessions. Supervisors must also be available for regular consultations and meet the requirements and deadlines for Learning Agreements and Evaluations at their respective schools.
Students must adhere to the BTI policies detailed below and coordinate fully with the sponsoring school. To receive full credit, the student must submit copies of all required paperwork to the sponsoring school and to BUSTh.
Assumptions about Sites and Supervisors shared among the BTI member schools:
- Affiliation: Indicates a field education site and/or supervisor has had a relationship with a particular BTI member school’s field education program. That affiliation includes:
- The site has been available to that BTI member school’s students and has provided supervision for those students.
- The site abides by the policies of the BTI member school’s field education program.
- The supervisor has received training and support (e.g., library access, course enrollment) from the BTI member school.
The status of affiliation means the BTI member school can presume to count on that site and supervisor for students in future years, while there is no guarantee that a student will be available in a given year or that the site must work exclusively with that school’s students in future years.
- Switching Affiliation: Sites are encouraged to affiliate with the BTI member school that best meets the site’s organizational needs and mission. If a site wishes to switch affiliations from one BTI member school to another, it must contact both the school with which it is ceasing affiliation and the school with which it wishes to partner. This is for the benefit of transparency and information sharing; it is not for the purpose of seeking approval for the switch.
- Supervisor Training: Each person who wishes to supervise field education students must satisfy the qualifications of the affiliated school. That typically includes enrolling in a basic supervisory training offered by that BTI member school. While all undersigned BTI schools agree to recognize completion of supervisory training at any undersigned BTI school, it is assumed that supervisors will pursue the training at the school where their sites are affiliated except in unusual circumstances.
- Student compensation: BTI member schools vary in practice and policy on compensation of field education students. Each field education site arranges student compensation according to the guidelines of its affiliated school. It is understood that not all of these arrangements will be suitable for students from other BTI schools so must be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.
- Communication: Each BTI school manages communication and placements in its own way, which students can and must learn through direct communication with the appropriate field education offices.
Required Procedures and Student Responsibilities for Sharing Sites
- Student communication responsibility: If a student is interested in serving in a field education site of another BTI member school, the student must receive approval from those in charge of field education in his/her home school, the director of field education at the site’s affiliated school, and, of course, the site. The sequence in which these steps are taken will vary from student to student, but communication is essential.
- Manner of communication with affiliated BTI school: Students may contact the director of field education from the affiliated school via phone, email, or in person. In most cases, it is advisable for students to make first contact via email, with the understanding that different field education directors will express different preferences for follow-up communication.
- Site Expectations: The student is responsible to learn what expectations the site may have that are different from field education sites at her/his home school (e.g. written work, relationship with teaching committees, and hours).
- Curricular Expectations: If the student’s school field education program demands writing that is used in the supervisory process (e.g., theological reflection paper, verbatim) the student is responsible for informing the supervisor and fulfilling those curricular obligations.
- Notification of agreement: If the student and the site decide that they will work together, they must notify the field education programs of both schools of that decision.
- Site-Related Documentation: It will be determined between the student and supervisor as to which school’s site-related documentation (e.g., contract/covenants, learning agreements, and evaluations) will be used. Having determined that, the student is responsible for ensuring that all site-related documents are sent to both the student’s school and the site’s affiliated school.
- Tuition: The student incurs no additional tuition liability in serving in another school’s field education site. All tuition is paid to the student’s home school.
Some BTI schools do not have formal affiliation with the sites and/or supervisors at which their students regularly serve. If a student from another BTI school wishes to serve in such a site, the student and those in charge of field education at the student’s home school will decide on the procedures to follow.
BTI member schools affirming this policy, 2017:
Boston College, School of Theology and Ministry, Chestnut Hill, MA
Boston University, School of Theology, Boston, MA
Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA
Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Brookline, MA
(First adopted by BTI field educators, February 16, 1990; amended April 2007; amended February 2017.)
BTI Schools Contact Information
Andover Newton Theological School
210 Herrick Road
Newton, Centre, MA 02159
Contacts: Susan Suchoki Brown
Boston College School of Theology and Ministry
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
Contacts: Theresa O’Keefe, Melissa Kelley, Marcia Ryan
Boston University School of Theology
Office of Contextual Education
745 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
Contacts: Wanda Stahl, Cristian De La Rosa
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
130 Essex St.
So. Hamilton, MA 01982
Contact: Katherine Horvath
Center for Urban Ministerial Education
363 South Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02130
Phone: 617.427.7293 ext 1640
Contact: Virginia Ward
Harvard Divinity School
45 Francis Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
Contacts: Emily Click, Laura Tuach
Holy Cross School of Theology
50 Goddard Avenue
Brookline, MA 02146
Contact: Philip Mamalakis
To pass the contextual education requirement, students must complete all the steps of the placement process as outlined in this document, including the following:
Spring Semester Prior to Start of Fall Placement:
- Submit Basic Information Sheet describing the prospective site by March 1.
- Field-Based Placement Covenants are due in the OCE by March 31.
- Register for TC801 Supervised Contextual Education by May 31.
- Completion of a background check through Viewpoint Screening by August 1.
During Academic Year Placement Experience:
- Submit an original completed and signed Learning Agreement to the Office of Contextual Education. Due dates for Learning Agreements will be distributed to students early in the fall semester. Typically, Learning Agreements are due in late September and Revised learning Agreements are due in late January.
- Submit all mid-year review and evaluation material, together with the accompanying signature sheet, to the Integration of Theology and Practice group leader on or before the specified due date. The Mid-Year Review is submitted with the Revised Learning Agreement in late January. Final Evaluations are due one week after the final spring semester class session.
- Participate in the weekly Integration of Theology and Practice (ITP) group that runs concurrently with the field placement, and complete writing and reading assignments required by the class.
- Completion of required site hours and responsibilities as detailed in the Learning Agreement and the course syllabus.
Each of these requirements will be detailed further in the course syllabus distributed at the first ITP group meeting.
Dual Degree Contextual Education
Students enrolled in the M.Div./MSW program or MTS/MSW program may use one of their required SSW internships to meet their contextual education requirement at the School of Theology. Typically, the second internship in the final year of the student’s program is counted toward STH contextual education.
Students in the M.Div./MSW program must register for TF 821 in the Fall and TF 822 in the spring. (Dual Degree Contextual Education) for 1 credit each semester. Students in the MTS/MSW program must register for TF 821 only.
Students in these courses will participate in Integration of Theology and Practice groups along with other M.Div. students in TC 801 and TC 802. Dual degree students are required to complete all written and reading assignments given to all contextual education students. MSW students may submit copies of the placement covenant, learning agreement, mid-year review and final evaluation required by the School of Social Work to fulfill the completion requirements for these documents for STH contextual education.
Other Completion Options
Normally, contextual education in the summer is undertaken only after TC801 and TC802 have been completed. However, opportunities may arise which necessitate either TC801 or TC802 being done in the summer. Both cannot be done in the summer except in special circumstances. For any of these arrangements, students must consult and receive approval from the appropriate Director of Contextual Education and the Academic Dean.
In order to meet the requirements for TC801 and TC802, summer contextual education placements must total 260 hours for either TC 801 or 802. These hours include 10 hours for each of the following elements for each TC 801 and 802 (or 20 hours total for each element if both TC 801 & 802 are being completed in the summer):
- Meetings with the on-site supervisor
- Meetings with the on-site reflection group
- Travel time
- Preparation time for completion of reflection papers and other requirements related to completion of the placement (see below)
A tithe of the required time, or 26 hours for each TC 801 and TC 802, will be set aside for Sabbath keeping/spiritual practice. The Learning Agreement will include an objective related to Sabbath keeping.
For elective credit (TC803 and TC804), total hours are variable. Students engaging in a summer placement as a requirement for TC803 and/or TC804 should consider 65 hours as equivalent to one course credit. Please note that students in the MDiv degree program may count only 3 credits of TC803 or TC804 toward the “Theories and Practices of Leadership” 6-credit distributional requirement.
Each student taking part in a summer placement will need to meet the following requirements:
- Approval of site and supervisor by one of the Directors of Contextual Education and the Academic Dean. Site applications must be received by March 1.
- Completion of the Placement Covenant. This is due by April 1 prior to the start of the placement.
- In consultation with the site supervisor, form an on-site reflection group of three to five persons who will meet approximately weekly with the student for theological reflection on their practice of ministry.
- The Learning Agreement for the summer placement will also be due two weeks after the start of the placement.
- If possible, a field visit by one of the Directors of Contextual Education will be undertaken.
- Completion of reflection papers and other assignments to be submitted to the theological supervisor and the appropriate Director of Contextual Education. These assignments will be detailed in the course syllabus.
- At the end of the placement, the student must complete the following:
a. Final Evaluation Report: Due August 31.
b. Exit Interview with one of the Directors of Contextual Education.
Students may seek placements abroad, usually for the summer. Boston University’s International Programs office offers helpful information for many conceptual and logistical questions related to studying and working outside the United States. Additional ideas and contacts may be gained by perusing some of the resources available throughout the University. The African Studies Center and Center for the Study of Asia are good places to begin the search. Outside of BU, the ELDIS website provides links to many international organizations that take volunteers. And, although Christian Connections for International Health deals primarily with internships and jobs in the health field, the resources of their website are valuable as well.
International placements follow the same policies and procedures of other STH placements. At this time, STH has no program funds available to support international placements. Although the OCE can offer guidance and suggestions, students contemplating field education abroad are expected to explore funding possibilities on their own.
The OCE strongly encourages students who are engaging in any sort of cross-cultural contextual experience to do some preparatory work prior to taking up their assignments. The United States government’s Peace Corps program has a good self-training manual that can be worked through at an individual’s pace. Here are some other good reading resources that offer a wealth of thoughtful and practical advice:
American Cultural Baggage by Stan Nussbaum;
Cross-Cultural Connections by Duane Elmer;
Foreign to Familiar by Sarah Lanier;
Survival Kit for Overseas Living by Lawrence Kohls.
The University is also rich in resources for students wishing to learn another language. Information on available courses may be found here and here. The Howard Thurman Center, located in the lower level of the George Sherman Student Union building, offers BU students access to a variety of Rosetta Stone language learning computer programs. If you would like to take advantage of the software, please visit the Howard Thurman center and speak with the staff.
Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE)
Students may elect to pursue clinical training in hospital, prison, social service, and parish settings either locally or in centers throughout the country that are approved by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE). One (1) unit of CPE earns eight (8) credits of contextual education. CPE credits may transfer if they are from an ACPE accredited institution. They may not fulfill the contextual education requirements of TC801 and TC802 except for the Master of Divinity Chaplaincy track or in particular circumstances by petition to the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and the Director of Contextual Education and Community Partnerships.
For a list of CPE sites, please refer to www.acpe.edu.
Occasionally, students choose to spend an entire semester or academic year in a full-time field placement. For example, a student might serve as a full-time college chaplain, away from STH. Students can receive 3 credits for 260 hours per semester and 6 credits for 520 hours per semester. If the planned internship is not at a BU STH-accredited site with a BU STH-certified supervisor, an agency or ecclesial site application must be completed. If the internship is also meeting a denominational and/or dual degree requirement, the student should confer with one of the Directors of Contextual Education on matters of coordinated communications and requirements from respective institutions.
A field-based placement covenant, learning agreement, mid-year evaluation, and final evaluation must be submitted to the OCE in accordance with a mutually-agreed upon schedule. That schedule should conform, where possible, to the normal contextual education calendar.
Students planning internships should consult with the registrar regarding their enrollment as a student at STH during their time away from campus and with the OCE on the matter of theological supervision for the experience.
Guidance and Rationale for Completing Required Forms
STH students are responsible for creating their own plan for learning via the contextual education. This means selecting a site placement and designing and describing learning goals. The Office of Contextual Education (OCE) helps by providing the necessary structure for students to navigate the different stages of the process. At each stage, students, supervisors, and internship committees are expected to adhere to all schedule deadlines and to follow the procedures for submitting paperwork for the field-based assignment. Failure to conform to this schedule may result in postponement of graduation.
Sites affiliated with other BTI schools should follow procedures and deadlines for that school, but submit copies of all forms to the OCE when completed. The one exception is the Basic Information Sheet, which must be completed by all students regardless of site affiliation.
Basic Information Sheet
Once a student and supervisor agree to a field placement arrangement, the student is responsible for notifying the OCE. The student should complete and submit the Basic Information Sheet to the OCE as soon as a site is selected.
Field-Based Placement Covenant
The student works with her/his supervisor and, where applicable, internship committee chairperson to complete and sign the Field Placement Covenant to confirm the placement.
The first supervisory session at the field-based site should be scheduled as soon as possible after the covenant has been filed so that negotiation of the learning agreement can begin. The Learning Agreement should be submitted by the student early in the fall semester. The student, supervisor, and internship committee must negotiate and complete the learning agreement using the forms provided. Learning agreements establish and delimit goals, objectives, tasks, resources, and the supervision process. Serious consideration of this document sets up the learning partnership so crucial in contextual education. Particularly in ministry and service vocations, professionals need to be able to negotiate expectations and commitments to attain clarity, accountability, and appropriate limits. Over the course of the assignment, it is often necessary to refer back to the original learning agreement to clarify what was specifically meant and what was implied at the outset.
Rationale and Plan for Learning Agreements
Learning Agreements are the means by which students, supervisors, and ITP leaders work out the details of field placements or on-site experiences. Each Learning Agreement should be designed in concert with the overall educational goals of the student; the student’s degree track or specialization; and the specific tasks or activities that will take place at the site. A well-constructed Learning Agreement will provide a framework and reference point for all parties involved so that the expectations of the student, site, and school are clear and mutually understood. The Learning Agreement should also help guarantee that evaluations and negotiated changes proceed from a concrete basis.
Learning Agreements should be organized according to the categories contained in this form. Be as specific as you can so that expectations and understandings can be as clear as possible. Specificity now will also help later when you analyze and evaluate how the experience has unfolded in light of initial objectives.
Evaluation is a critical part of capturing and interpreting the learning that has been part of the contextual education experience. Students, supervisors, and internship committees fill out mid-year evaluations (for academic or year-long placements) and final evaluations (for all placements). These are to be discussed with a supervisor before the student submits them to the OCE.
Mid-year Assessment and Goal Revision
In early December, students and supervisors and the internship committee begin preparation for a joint mid-year assessment. At this time, each party should negotiate any revisions to the original learning agreement and prepare a plan for learning throughout the second semester. This mutual aspect of the evaluation process calls for all members of the learning partnership to reflect on how they have built an effective partnership and how they might want to improve the partnership so that better learning can occur. Students, supervisors, and the internship committee are expected to meet to discuss their evaluations before the student submits them to the OCE.
Final Evaluation and Assessment
During the month preceding the end of the placement, the student, supervisor, and internship committee work together to prepare a joint final evaluation of the student’s work at the site. Evaluation is an ongoing process, but the written evaluation is intended to identify and articulate the strengths and weaknesses of the learning experience. The final evaluation should focus on the observable behaviors and competencies demonstrated by the student at the site. Supervisors are encouraged to share insights about possible directions of vocational promise in the student’s future.
As was true for the mid-year evaluation, all members of the learning partnership should summarize how their work together was accomplished and what were the strengths and weaknesses of the supervisory relationship. Students and supervisors must share their evaluations with each other before the student submits them to the OCE on or before the published deadline.