Monthly Archives: November 2012

Take one step back please!

Watching the thought processes of our one-year-old grandson has been fascinating! I try to guess at what he is thinking as evidenced by his facial expressions, his eyes, and his movements. I marvel at all that I cognitively know is happening – the formation of brain synapses, the sorting out of the huge volume of sounds and letters and facial expressions, and the barrage of environmental stimuli he processes moment by moment. I seem to have missed some of this wonder the first time around with our own children – so busy with work, responsibility, and activity that seemed important at the time. It seems my grandson and I are united at times in wonder – his the wonder of a child experiencing all things as new, and my wonder in re-seeing reality at different levels and understanding the limits of my understanding and God’s complexity.

Could I ask you to take a step back to wonder? I fear that our structures form us and our school structures are especially designed for efficiency, not wonder. It is simply not efficient to engage too long in wonder – yet wonder is a key element of a truly Christian education. Wonder arises from a deep and attentive observation of reality – not through a quick skimming – the survival habit we are currently developing in our fast-paced world. It is the difference between raising kids or teaching students versus really entering into their world and their reality. Quality wondering takes a commitment to time and a willingness to ponder deeply – it must become a habit of our heart and mind. Religious scholar and educator Sofia Cavaletti put it this way:

“When wonder becomes a fundamental attitude of our spirit it will confer a religious character to our whole life, because it makes us live with the consciousness of being plunged into an unfathomable and incommensurable reality. If we are disposed to reflect on reality in its complexity, then it will reveal itself to be full of the unexpected, of aspects we will never succeed in grasping or circumscribing; then we will be unable to close our eyes to the presence of something or someone within it that surpasses us. Even calling it “the absurd”  is also a way of recognizing its immeasurability. But the religious person will break out in a hymn of praise and admiration.” (Cavalletti, Sofia. The Religious Potential of the Child. New York: Paulist Press, 1983.)

One major concern regarding children’s wonder raised by Caveletti is that we run the risk of extinguishing the emotional capacity of the child when we offer children too much stimuli too fast – the child loses the sense of surprise.  In her experience, spending time on worthy objects of attention and wonder such as the Gospel – in particular, the parables of the Kingdom of God, serve “to offer the child’s wonder an object capable of taking the child always farther and deeper into the awareness of reality, an object whose frontiers are always expanding as the child slowly proceeds in the contemplation of it.” In his book Eyes Wide Open, Steve DeWitt suggests that “wonder is what image-bearers feel when they glimpse a reflection of God’s beauty,” and that wonder reminds us of how God designed us to live: in shalom and harmony with God, man, creation, and ourselves. (DeWitt, Steve. Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything. Grand Rapids, Mich: Credo House Pub, 2012)

Our greatest gifts to our students this year may be to help them wonder deeply at how the image of God is made evident in them, to sustain and teach the habit of wondering, and then to teach them where to direct their consequent worship – toward the Creator.

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Filed under early faith, encouraging the heart, student outcomes, worship

Disability Awareness: A gift for your use!

I have been amazed by the amount of progress that has been made during the last thirty plus years in our approaches with special needs students. I feel I can make that statement because, as a student seeking a special education degree those many years ago, I remember when laws such as Public Law 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act), also known as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), had just been passed. We were in the beginning stages of learning how to best educate students in a “least restrictive environment.” I believe that in the Christian education community we are making significant progress with both educating students in inclusive settings and building understanding and appreciation for inclusive students with our entire student populations.

I am delighted to pass along a gift to you and your schools from a former colleague of mine, Dr. Kathleen VanTol, education professor at Dordt College in the areas of Special Education and Teaching English Language Learners. Her students have put together a 24 page Disability Awareness Unit suitable for use in K-8 schools. Each grade will study a different disability and there are devotionals and a 15 minutes a day lessons that include teaching ideas, video links, and interactive activities.

This unit is very timely – below is the introduction the students included with the unit:

Inclusive Schools Week is the first week of December. Inclusive Schools Week is an annual event that celebrates students who have disabilities while encouraging all students to acknowledge that students are more alike than different!  Making our students more aware of disabilities is one way that they can see things from others’ perspectives.  Working to make our schools more inclusive is a constant goal.  Knowing more about different disabilities will help students become more prepared to be inclusive of children with disabilities within their own classrooms as well as through daily interactions outside of the classroom.

Many thanks to Dr. VanTol and Dordt students for sharing this great resource!

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Filed under change, classroom, community, curriculum, devotional, encouraging the heart, image of God, resources

Flourishing – a desire to serve and make a difference

(Second in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

While all schools in North America do some type of service projects with their students, it is in the Christian school that a deeper foundation for service can be laid. At the heart of our beliefs is the truth that, as Jesus’ followers, and out of deep thanksgiving to him for our salvation, we are given a desire by the Holy Spirit to model after him and emulate his life of self-sacrifice (John 21:15-19, Matthew 20:28, Luke 22:27, Phil. 2:7). Simply, if we truly love Christ, we should desire to love others created by him in his image and help to meet their needs. Because we can tie service to our deepest beliefs, we might hope that it has more staying power than something that is done seasonally or as part of high school graduation requirements. Instead, it is our hope that our students seen service modeled and practiced in such a way that it becomes a way of living out one’s faith.

An essential part of helping students learn to serve others is to help them identify the gifts that God has given them. We experience joy when we get to use our “natural wiring.” In order to help students discover more about themselves, they will need to do some projects that flow from their passion areas as well as some that may not be immediately joyful. However, I think we could do a better job of identifying kid’s “wiring” at an earlier age and I commend the listing of the Throughlines concepts (see graphic) as helpful ways of assisting students to see how they are bearing God’s image and how to imagine using that in service to others.

Motivation to serve may be existent in some of our students and not in others. Some children are compassionate and have a high motivation to make a difference because of a personal experience of loss or grief. Others have had parents who built empathy into the life experience of their children or parents who have modeled compassion well. “Feeling-focused discipline” is an approach that turns the child’s attention to the pain caused by the child’s inappropriate behavior. Other specific strategies to build empathy (Johnson, quoted by Stonehouse) include: care for extended family, creation care, connecting hard circumstances of life experienced by people you know, comparing/contrasting different needs/wants of global people groups, and showing hospitality by welcoming others into your home. There are many opportunities for service today and for helping to build that desire into students as a habit.

We must make manifest the vision of Christ for our world in our schools. This vision and our consequent desire to serve is not for profit, for self-advancement, for personal satisfaction, not to win a service award. In the end, a desire to serve and make a difference is rooted in our desire to worship God. Frederick Buechner states it eloquently:

“To worship God means to serve him. Basically there are two ways to do it. One way is to do things for him that he needs to have done – run errands for him, carry messages for him, fight on his side, feed his lambs, and so on. The other way is to do things for him that you need to do – sing songs for him, create beautiful things for him, give things up for him, tell him what is on your mind and heart, in general rejoice in him and make a fool of yourself for him the way lovers have always made fools of themselves for the one they love.” (Cited in May, Scottie. Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2005.)

We have the opportunity to help students flourish by equipping their heads, hearts, and hands to worship God through serving him and a world in need. What an amazing opportunity and challenge!

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Filed under classroom, community, encouraging the heart, image of God, staff development, student outcomes