End of the year interesting stuff

It is always exciting to reach this point in the year, to look back, and to consider God’s faithfulness! As we head into summer, we always have high hopes for catching up on our reading and reflecting. So, no guilt if you don’t look at things below, but here are things that caught my eye recently:

UnknownA few weeks ago I finished reading a wonderful book In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity by Jim Belcher, who I learned in the meantime has accepted a new job as President of Providence Christian College in Pasadena, California. His new book has received recognition as Christianity Today’s “Best of the Best” book for its 2013 Leadership Journal awards.

Here is a thoughtful post by Ontario, CA school head Paul Marcus about Christian schools being judged by the behavior of their students - Not Angel Factories

ImageI am just finishing Michael Frost’s new book, Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement.  This is an excellent book for Christian school leaders to read to help them in their task of cultural discernment. Not only does he point out ways that our culture sucks us into excoriation/escapism, but suggests how Christians might better love God by loving neighbors. This book provides excellent guidance for educators who seek to live out an incarnated life with students.

Good videos on vocation/work from Tim Keller:

Work defined - “arranging of raw material for the flourishing of everyone”

Why Work Matters - A Christian understanding of why your work matters and why God matters to your work

On the lighter side:  Video - How to Write a Worship Song( in 5 minutes!)

Fantastic collection of science resources for congregations and educator at The Ministry Theorem.

A very helpful video companion (and great charts also!) to the book Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by Calvin professors Deborah and Loren Haarsma - available here.

Our Children Should Not Have to Choose Between Science and Faith by Tim Stafford

A follow-up to Stafford: Why You Might Have to Choose Between Science and Faith

What do we really tell our boys by saying “Be a man!”? This video trailer “The Mask You Live In” questions assumptions. Warning: Language is realistic, but may be offensive)

What will education look like in the future? Helpful infographic from KnowledgeWorks.

The study habits of today’s students: interesting infographic.

Excellent thoughts, research and resources on the use of lecture from Grant Wiggins.

Quote: “The observer of beauty always gets a passion to share that beauty with others. You always talk about what you love.” Tim Keller

How would you define beautiful work?

One pastor’s observations about the 5 Traits of Kids Who Keep Following Christ As Adults.

“Unsung Hero” video – the difference one life can make in the world – very touching!

Inspiring creativity in schools - relationship between chaos and creativity.

Buck Institute’s PBL project search tool - 500 projects!

This is a truly amazing video - Wonder! TED talk on the hidden mysteries of our world. 

 

Thanks for reading Nurturing Faith again this year! CSI will be discontinuing Nurturing Faith and so this will conclude posts on this site, although previous posts will be able to be accessed at this location.  If you have enjoyed reading Nurturing Faith, I will continue blogging at the following sites:

danbeerens.com - my personal website

CACE - as a CACE fellow, I will blog periodically on this site.

SCS Community - as a convener of these conferences, I will also be blogging on this site.

Blessings on your work and let’s continue the dialogue!

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Filed under Biblical worldview, book, change, classroom, community, creation & environment, curriculum, encouraging the heart, image of God, resources, staff development

Missing the [Question] Mark: Developing the Skill of Curiosity

Thanks to my friend Bryant Russ, Bible teacher at Holland Christian High School, for sharing this blog post. Bryant has started a wonderful blog project called One Hundred Dangeruss Gifts  (love the play on words, Bryant!) He has written posts as gifts to be shared from father to son, and from older men to younger men about what is really important in life. He states: My hope is that by reading these gifts other people will see the value in cultivating a culture of dangerous gift giving, especially from older men to younger men.” Check it out!

 

I once asked a teacher why humans enjoy music. She told me it was because God made us that way.

Needless to say, I was less than enlightened.

After a little bit of digging I discovered that music generates activity in the nucleus accumbens, the region of the brain responsible for releasing chemicals associated with pleasure. Music also wakes up the part of the brain that processes emotion and helps connect experience to meaning, which explains why a well-composed melody can be such a powerfully engaging stimulant. The influence of music has been linked to monumental scientific discoveries, including some of Einstein’s most famous equations, as well as suicides and school shootings, showing just how significant an impact it has on the brain, and consequently, human life.

Because God made us that way.

Asking questions and seeking out answers is one of the most basic human impulses, and is, I believe, directly connected with our being made in God’s image.   In fact, the average child asks approximately 125 questions a day. But do you know how many questions the average adult asks per day? Six.

I can’t help but noticing one of the significant bridges between infancy and adulthood is formal education. Now I am not suggesting that school is solely responsible for the death of curiosity, nor am I aware of any evidence to support this notion, however; I am convinced that schools have not traditionally prioritized the importance of question asking. For understandable reasons, schools are all to often in the business of answer giving, whether students have the corresponding questions or not.

But allow me to ask the question, what might we be missing?

Being a high school Bible teacher, I have discovered that the value of any given class depends almost entirely on my students’ ability to ask questions. It is a fairly common occurrence for my students to be given a biblical passage and 15 minutes or so to read while making a list of questions. The first time we tried the activity they weren’t completely sure what to think. “What kind of questions are we supposed to ask?” one student wondered looking slightly puzzled. “Well, how about the questions you have while reading. Start with those ones,” I responded. It took several rounds of practice, but the more my students developed this stifled skill of question asking, the more prepared they were to engage the biblical drama on a deeper level. Eventually they were able to come up with such ripe questions that I was able to step back and watch as they made some of the same discoveries I was planning to teach anyway. Questions are opportunities for breakthrough, like little maps leading to buried treasure. And I believe this is true for all disciplines.

Though curiosity is often thought of as a trait you either have or you don’t, perhaps it can be better understood and advanced as a skill—something that needs to be encouraged, fostered, and practiced.

How was chess invented? What makes ocean waves? Who decided there are seven days in a week? How far away is the sun? Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25? How does electricity work? Where does your waste go when you flush it down the toilet? These example questions help students reconsider their relationship to the world by attuning young eyes to the mystery of their surroundings, while pulling out from under their feet the rug of assumption, simplicity, and monotony.

Genuine question-asking curiosity is more valuable than a storehouse of knowledge. You could know as much as the Internet, but if there’s no gas in the tank then you’re not going to go anywhere. Curiosity is the fuel of discovery. It’s a spark. It’s a wellspring that never stops bubbling—even when the bell rings. Because the best part is that questions are like potato chips: you can’t have just one. Real questions are always connected to more questions, and more questions, and more questions. I believe chasing these questions is a form of worship. I also believe that a day spent without asking questions is essentially sleepwalking. Part of being an educated Christian in today’s world is having a mind that is fully awake, alive, and eager to engage the world in new ways.

Here are a few questions to get us stared:

What can we do to spark curiosity in our students?

What real questions do you have related to the discipline you teach?

How do we sometimes, though often unintentionally, suffocate curiosity in school?

How can we cultivate an atmosphere of question asking in our schools?

This discussion is well worth our time. There are few things more vitalizing than a school buzzing with the curious questions of invested young people—this is music to my ears.

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Why PBL? (Project Based Learning)

Over the last ten years, I have advocated in writing and speaking that Christian schools move toward project based learning. Why? Well, you can easily find plenty of rationale on sites like the Buck Institute or Edutopia online, but here are a few reasons reflecting a student perspective:

  1. It is more like real life
  2. It is more fun/engaging
  3. It is coherent and makes more sense
  4. It allows me to use and develop my gifts
  5. It sticks with me longer than memorized learning

I have argued that not only is this type of learning “stickier” but also better reflects our belief as Christian educators that learning should reflect the coherence Christ brings to this world, and it allows students as image-bearers to identify and practice gifts and habits of service. I believe it moves us toward the goal of helping students to flourish (link) in their lives.

One person who has understood and advocated for the value of project based learning for a long time is the retired principal of Toronto District Christian HS, and current Ontario Christian School Adminstrators leader, Ren Siebenga. Ren’s son, Nathan, principal at Hamilton District Christian HS, has implemented PBL there, and is also now co-hosting a summer academy for teachers (see below). I had the opportunity to speak with Nathan about what has been transpiring at his school and he shared the following with me.

What has impressed him most is the change in his students: the ability of kids to understand and articulate the mission of the school and to be deeply engaged in learning. He enthusiastically stated: “The kids’ ability to articulate the mission of the school through the project is life changing, kids can’t be the same. Our level of engagement of kids in their learning is incredible! It is kids running in the door in the morning.” In fact, Nathan noted that HDCH had to institute a late bus last year that ran at 5:30 so that kids could get home after their work sessions!
OCTA-2014-PosterNathan indicated that new teachers don’t have a lot of experience in PBL, and so he instituted a summer “boot camp” for training teachers and then opened it up – the result being that 25 teachers from all over attended. At the end of the week of the PBL training last summer, building principals were invited to come and hear the presentations of learning by the teachers. This helped the principals to provide follow-up support throughout the year.  Nathan expects 50-75 teachers to attend this year and the academy will be offering a second level of training. Co-sponsors of the event are Edifide, OACS, OCSA and CCEF (Canadian Christian Education Foundation). It is exciting to see how these four groups are working together to lead Christian education forward in Ontario, thanks to the vision and teamwork of leaders such as Diane Stronks, Jules DeJager, and Ren Siebenga.

PBL is in its fourth year at HDCH and Siebenga notes that at this point all staff are doing one project and are involved in exhibition of learning. The school-wide exhibition of learning is held every semester for the whole community from 6 – 9 p.m.

PBL is also being advanced across Ontario Christian schools by Diane Stronks, Director of Edifide, and OACS’s new Director of Learning, Justin Cook. Justin has done a great job of leading, recording, and reporting the PBL work that has been done with Ontario teachers in four regional training sessions this past year. You can view his summaries here http://www.oacs.org/author/justinc/ to see the work of the teachers he is spotlighting and the excellent presentation Prezis he has put together.

Ontario Christian schools have a legacy of producing thoughtful, biblically integrated curriculum for Christian schools and now through bold leaders, vision, and teamwork are producing excellent models to lead Christian educational practice into the future. Keep up the great work!

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I just need time to think!

Mark Eckel bookI am not really a big fan of “devotional” books. I sometimes find them less substantive than I had hoped for or a bit forced and trite. Despite that reservation, today I am delighted to be recommending a book to you that at first glance might fall into that category, but let me explain. Mark Eckel has put together a wonderful book entitled I Just Need Time to Think!: Reflective Study as Christian Practice. It is a collection of fifty thoughtful essays organized into these ten topics: study, retreat, discipline, holiday, reading, reflection, obstacles, walking, path, and place.  They are written in bite size amounts – perfect for use in a daily reflection time, and rich like cheesecake – even though tasty, you shouldn’t try to eat too much at once, but just savor it instead.

Let me tell you a bit about Mark: he is an outstanding Christian educator and a master weaver as a writer. In fact, the name of Mark’s blog (which I highly recommend you read) is Warp and Woof , which he describes as “the vertical-horizontal weaving of threads that create fabric. The intersection and unification of everything is the tapestry of life under the Lordship of Jesus. Wholeness begins with Him.” One of the beauties of this book is that he weaves together extensive reading he has done and study of the Bible and great books with practical insights about living out one’s faith. He expertly synthesizes historical Christian perspectives and has a knack for finding just the right quotation to underscore his points. He is a bridge builder – helping us to reflect on the accumulated wisdom of the ages to move to concrete ideas that we can implement (not to mention dozens of possible books to read!) His passion is to teach others how to think Christianly and to honor Christ through reflection and learning. We need more thoughtful weavers, bridge builders, and translators like Mark. It is evident that he has made the spiritual disciplines of reading, writing, and reflection a priority in his life – and you as reader get to benefit!

With Mark’s permission I want to share a poem that appears in his reflection entitled: Retreat: Cutting Wood on Sunday. His subtitle for the chapter is “Rest is doing something other than what we would normally do.” As someone who has looked for a good way to describe what Sunday is about, his statement that “we need to rest from our giftedness” struck me.  I know that when I do not do this, I do not rest well and I also violate what God intended for me when he gave me a day of rest. Here is Mark’s poem that he wrote to remind himself that rest is crucial:

Lord, when the alarm clock, stove clock, and time clock demand my presence,

When the pace of life is hectic,

When I wish there were six more hours in a day,

When the traffic light is stuck on red

And my family’s schedule demands I be in three places at one time,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when people expect too much of me,

When the boss has forgotten about the eight-hour day,

When I am constantly at others’ beck and call,

When the cell phone, Twitter, fax, and email all go off at once

And I begin to hate the human race,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when work occupies all my waking hours,

When television commercials say I must have more,

When my neighbors flaunt their newest toys,

When alcoholic does not apply but workaholic does

And I decide to go to the office on Sunday to catch up,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when money means more than people,

When I read The Wall Street Journal more than my Bible,

When overtime becomes my primetime,

When promotions and pay hikes are my ultimate goals

And looking out for number one has become my slogan in life,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, may I refocus my life on you.

May I restore my thoughts in your Word.

May I refresh my schedule by meditating on all your blessings.

May I relax my activity every week to enjoy the life you gave me.

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Eckel, Mark D. (2013-12-24). I Just Need Time to Think!: Reflective Study as Christian Practice (Kindle Locations 585-599). WestBowPress. Kindle Edition.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, book, devotional, encouraging the heart, resources, worship

If we saw God in each face

Do we see God in each face we encounter as we walk through our days?

If we saw God in each face, would we take more time to understand the pain we see in the face of another?

If we saw God in each face, would we pass by needs so quickly?

If we saw God in each face, would we do a better job of listening?

If we saw God in each face, would we see past race? Age? Deformity?

If we saw God in each face, would we speak of kids as problems to be managed, as just names and grades?

If we saw God in each face, would we verbally shred any student in the faculty lounge?

If we saw God in each face, would we accept the bullying or destruction of any person?

If we saw God in each face, would we find a way to bless those we meet instead of rushing to our next task?

If we saw God in each face, would we help them understand who their Father is?

If we saw God in each face, would we want each one to understand how this world belongs to God?

If we saw God in each face, would we desire to help all students understand why they are on this earth?

If we saw God in each face, would we desire to help all students identify and use their gifts to worship?

If we truly saw imagebearers, how would it change us?

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Gut check

Gallup reportThe recent research, out from the Gallup organization on levels of teacher engagement as found in the State of America’s Schools: The Path to Winning Again in Education report, was a “Whoa!” moment for me. While 55% of American students scored high on engagement, about 70% of teachers are classified as disengaged! There are various reasons given for this level of disengagement (which apparently is in line with the rest of the workforce!) and to read more you can access the report:  Gallup Report — State Of Americas Schools or a summary here. I really don’t want to believe that my fellow educators and professionals are that disengaged from what they are doing – whatever the reason.

Part of my disbelief stems from my experience in both the public and non-public sectors with educators who have been deeply engaged in their student’s lives. I have seen fellow Christians going way above and beyond in trying to connect with students and speak into their lives. These teachers attend student activities, sporting events, and write notes of encouragement. They coach, they mentor, they invite students into community. They bring out the best in each student and show them new worlds beyond the small world the student may currently be living in. Sometimes these teachers are the only island of stability and good modeling in a student’s chaotic, confusing, and discouraging environment. Sadly, I have also seen educators in both worlds who are simply putting in their time until retirement, who feel trapped and don’t have the courage to make a change. Some who are pretty cynical about kids, and some just don’t want to expend the energy anymore. We all know who these colleagues are on our own faculties, so I don’t need to go on.

For the past several years, I have been working with a school that has undergone a very significant transition – that of moving from a Christian school to being a charter school. This has meant that, while still being a school of choice for parents, the shared values base of the school has changed. The parent base has shifted from being largely supportive of teacher efforts to a lower level of parent backing and less commonality of values. The student population has higher academic needs and is more behaviorally challenging. As a result, there has been a significant change/turnover in the teaching staff. Some teachers who were effective in the previous environment found themselves overwhelmed with the new student population, and have consequently taken jobs elsewhere. As an objective observer who has had regular interaction with the staff, I have pondered what the qualities are of those teachers who remain and what accounts for their ongoing effectiveness with the new student and parent population.

What I believe is a key ingredient with the veteran teachers, who have been effective with both the Christian and the charter school experience, is their commitment level and desire to love and impact children’s lives in positive ways. They are deeply engaged – they would be part of the 30% in this survey. They have been tested by fire and have in the process re-examined who they are, what they are called to do, and have committed themselves to the mission before them. They are living out their faith, and in the process providing hope and nurturing faith in the lives of the students and adults that are before them each day.

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Shalom and parent teacher conferences

Photo credit: Sean Dreilinger

Photo credit: Sean Dreilinger

During the fall and spring conference time with parents, teachers typically report on the academic progress of students to parents. It should be a time to share celebrations and concerns. Sometimes the student is present or even “leading” the conference. I believe that this time with parents is a critical one as it is one of the few times that there is an intense focus on their mutually shared responsibility – the student. From the school side of the equation, this is a prime time to also communicate the mission of the school to the parents. From the parent side, this is an opportunity to have a significant time to have a conversation with another adult who has worked with their child about their view of the child’s growth.

I have been emphasizing to Christian schools that this precious conference time should be about more than simply academics. Conferences are the best time to discuss the whole child’s progress and, if we are true to our missions, we will take some time to consider the student’s spiritual growth. After all, one of our key distinctives as a school and one of the main reasons parents send their children is so that they will be nurtured in their faith; if we ignore this aspect or give it short shrift, we are missing a great opportunity!

Recently I have been suggesting that we consider the terms wonder, wisdom and work as we consider how to connect our work toward the ultimate outcomes of helping nurture student faith and to move toward shalom. Wolterstorff describes true shalom as harmony with nature, God, man and self. In connecting these words to the K-12 educational experience, I would suggest that wonder is harmony with nature, wisdom is harmony with God, and work is harmony with self and neighbor. I am wondering if this model might work not only for curriculum design, but also for conducting parent teacher conferences. Using this model as a guide for parent teacher conferences our questions/areas of focus with parents might look like this:

  1. Wonder: Is the student understanding and expressing awe about, and delight in, the created order? Do they understand their place in the world as imagebearers? Are they beginning to develop an understanding of beauty, complexity, design, and what excellence looks like?
  2. Wisdom: Is the student understanding and responding to the gospel? Do they understand how the world, including themselves, experiences sin and brokenness? Do they understand the good news through Biblical story, personal story, and teacher modeling. Are they begin to discern good from evil? Are they understanding what it means to embrace and live out their faith? How to live into the grace of Christ and extend it to others?
  3. Work: Is the student understanding who they are and showing a desire to live out the gospel with their neighbor? How have they responded to opportunities and challenges in the classroom to creatively contribute to the learning and life of others? Have they connected personal gratitude for the gospel with external actions? Are they beginning to understand what it means to restore this world to God’s original intentions?

I truly believe that if we used this model for our parent teacher conferences we would have a clearer focus on the distinctives of our school mission, a much more meaningful conversation with parents that goes beyond grades and test scores, and a greater potential impact on the students and parents we are called to serve.

 

 

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Filed under Biblical worldview, early faith, encouraging the heart, parenting, staff development, student outcomes