Monthly Archives: November 2013

Bringing shalom to our teaching

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

When I returned to Christian education in 1993 as a building principal, I was faced with the challenge of articulating the distinctiveness of a Christian education to present and potential parents. To that point, as a student in K-12 schools and as a teacher in two Christian school settings, I had not really thought a great deal about how Christian education was different. I had simply experienced it. I was aware of differences having gone to a public university and having served in public education for seven of my twelve years to that point, but had limited mental models to work from for further work.

My first exercise was to think of as many areas of difference in the experiences I had, to analyze what type of category it might fit into, and then to synthesize the differences into categories of distinctiveness. What I arrived at is the concepts of curriculum, classroom, and community to describe how Christian schools should be distinctive. These concepts appear in the tagline for this blog and I wrote about them in one of the first posts.

One of the reasons I felt we needed to have language around these concepts is to provide a way to discuss and further improve what we were doing in Christian education. Without such language we could basically talk in circles for days and not know where to begin or how to consider in focused ways what we are really talking about, let alone look for ways to improve distinctiveness.

Over the past year I have written in this blog about the idea of flourishing as our desired outcome for Christian school students. I have explored ten possible aspects of flourishing in a series of blog posts. We can work toward these aspects with students in the areas of curriculum, classroom, and community in a Christian school.  While the areas of how to nurture student faith in classroom and community are clearer, I believe that our greater challenge is to consider how we nurture faith and flourishing in the area of curriculum.

I would like to suggest that if we go back to Wolterstorff’s definition of flourishing as a person being in harmony with nature, God, self, and neighbor we can also then use those categories to consider how we might develop Truth revealing curriculum units. I suggest the following correlation of the aspects of flourishing with possible curricular emphases.

Flourishing is accomplished in a curricular emphasis through:

Harmony with nature – I suggest the word “Wonder” to capture this aspect. Here we are helping the student to understand the “ABC’s” of God’s great creation:  A- Awe, B – Beauty, C – Complexity, D – Design, E – Excellence, and so forth.  As we consider the Wonder of nature, we are driven to our knees in worship of the Creator. True wisdom begins in wonder as we creatures consider our Creator and his marvelous creation – “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Harmony with God – I suggest the word “Wisdom.” In this area we consider our purpose for being, what is wrong with the world, and how it has been made right through Jesus’ work. We help students to know the Truth so that in “your light we may see light” and knowing the truth they may discern what is true, lovely, good, and right. We cultivate the discomfort that believers feel as they are in, but not of the world. We encourage students to raise prophetic voices against the brokenness of sin and alienation from God that is present in culture and society.

Harmony with self and man – I suggest the word “Work.” There are two aspects to this word – first of all we must educate in ways that help students identify whose they are, who they are, and what passions/gifts they have been given. Our learning processes must allow students to naturally unfold their “wiring” and help them discover their life call. Secondly, in the area of work we must help them understand that they are part of Christ’s work of the restoration of creation/mankind. Our learning experiences must serve to develop compassion for mankind at both the local and global level. “Work” then involves students understanding their passion to respond with compassion.

I hope these can be helpful terms as we work toward encouraging flourishing students and developing distinctive curricular units. In Christian schools we are able to begin our teaching and learning experiences with worship of the Creator; lead kids toward harmony with nature, God, self, and man; and end with the student’s desire to “offer their life as a living sacrifice.”

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, image of God, staff development, student outcomes

Essential Questions – engaging and mission oriented

I have been working on Essential Questions with Christian schools for a number of years now. Asking questions is a gracious way to invite people into a conversation. Jesus used questions in many different ways, but in each it was a way to cause those being asked to move to a higher plane of reflection, engagement, and dialogue. Jesus’ questions remain with us today and still challenge us: “Who do you say that I am?” Questions show respect for the others in conversation whereas statements tend to shut down further dialogue. Questions demonstrate that the asker is still open to further learning and demonstrates an attitude of humility.

Our best essential questions are shared questions that both the teacher and the student find worth pondering. “What is the difference between needs and wants?” is a question we all should be asking ourselves frequently and at each stage of life. Both teacher and student find a question like that worth their time as opposed to questions that are leading and guiding – questions that tell the learner that I as the teacher of course know the answer and I am just waiting for you to catch up and figure it out.  Sometimes I wonder why, with so many good questions out there, we spend so much of our time in the teaching profession telling students facts – the level of retention does not justify the kinds of time choices we make when we could have kids pondering things that are more essential and more fruitful for deep discussion of life issues.

When teachers are in the process of creating and identifying Essential Questions I am sometimes asked if there are “Christian” essential questions and non-Christian essential questions. Let’s start by acknowledging God’s authorship, sovereignty and his truth that is evident in all things whether it is acknowledged or not. All creation speaks to God’s design, beauty, and truth. Truly, the learning journey reveals God’s truth whether the teacher acknowledges or points to God or not in the process. In a Christian school a teacher has the freedom to point to God’s truth directly and to encourage students to seek to apply a Biblical perspective. In our question above of wants and needs, I can go up to a certain point in a public school and encourage living a stewardly life on the basis of being a good human being and sharing the planet, but I cannot root that in a spiritual belief system. In a Christian school I can encourage students to discover what the Bible says about wants and needs and to help them consider how the choices I make reflect good stewardship, the kind of compassion Jesus modeled, or how to think prophetically about societal issues in the light of Micah 6:8.

Let me give a few more examples. I recently purchased an excellent resource called The Essential Questions Handbook, published by Scholastic. The book is laid out by Big Ideas in the four core areas of ELA, math, science, and social studies and covers grades 4-8. So in social studies, the first big idea is Community. One of the Enduring Understandings caught my eye: “Within a community, we encounter and should respect alternative viewpoints and values.” In both public and Christian schools, we can encourage kids to demonstrate respect and seek to understand alternative viewpoints. In a Christian school we should also be encouraging kids to be gracious because they are interacting with fellow image-bearers, and equipping them with some wisdom as to how and when best to share the truth claims of the Gospel with others in their community. In Math the Big Idea of patterns results in an Essential Understanding of “Order exists in the universe.” In Christian schools we go beyond and ask who is responsible for this order, and what does this pattern reveal to us about God’s character. In Science the Big Idea of Endangered Species may result in an Essential Understanding of “Human activities can have positive and negative effects on the environment” leading us to wonder with students how to value various human activities. How as Christians do we determine whether human need or species survival are the final determining factor? What are the boundaries that need discussion around humans being the crown of creation and having dominion over creation versus stewardship and creation care?

It seems to me that there are many fruitful Essential Understandings and Essential Questions out there that reveal God’s truth. What is different is how a Christian teacher views that concept/question, whether they lead students to understand God’s truth in deeper ways, and ultimately help them to see God’s wonder, wisdom, and sense their own personal call of work in God’s world.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, curriculum, distinctively Christian, staff development, student outcomes

Some sweet tweets for Thanksgiving feasting!

Go ahead – eat till you are full and come back for leftovers at a later time! I have enjoyed the stimulation of Twitter and have benefited greatly from the wisdom of many others. The things that others have learned from, and then shared with me, spontaneously encourage my own learning on a daily basis. I share some of the feast below and if you like a particular Tweet source, sign up to follow them!

Wisdom!

C. S. Lewis ‏@CSLewisU

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

walter kirn ‏@walterkirn

I just finished reading the Internet today. It took a while but I can now report that there’s not much there.

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

I’m all for celebrating war heroes but also want to celebrate peace heroes? Doesn’t peace demand equal if not greater heroism than war?

Pasi Sahlberg ‏@pasi_sahlberg

In the U.S. question is how much education increases private earnings. In Finland we ask how much lack of education will cost to the nation.

Robert Sommers, PhD ‏@RDSommers

I’ve met teachers that use Scantron tests that don’t like state assessments with multiple choice questions. Hmmmm.

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

“There’s never been a sinful heart that’s said I’ve had enough success, enough love, enough approval, or enough comfort.”

Rob Jacobs ‏@RobJacobs_

Leaders must convince people that status quo is extremely dangerous for any organization.

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

For some, most important thing is “What’s your salary” or “Your religion?” For Jesus, most important thing about life is “Whom do you love?”

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

When asked what’s due emperor, Jesus tells what’s due God. Money bears image of its owner: state. YOU belong to God. YOU bear logo of Logos.

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

“Every advancement in science, human learning, and work of art is also God opening his book of creation and revealing his truth to us.”

Karen Duke ‏@krnduke

A word may be all it takes to set somebody’s heart on fire or break it in two. F. Buechner

Marc Prensky ‏@marcprensky

If every teacher asked every kid “What are you passionate about?” & recorded & used the answers, our education would improve overnight.

Mike Morrell ‏@zoecarnate

“Talent is not in short supply. Passion is.”

Marc Prensky ‏@marcprensky

Technology provides tools (nouns) to do things (verbs). FOCUS ON THE VERBS & use the most up-to-date nouns you can.

Miroslav Volf ‏@MiroslavVolf

The first act of God (ad extra) was not resistance, but creation; the first word of God was not negation, but affirmation.

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

“Accepted in Christ, we now run the race ‘for the joy that is set before us’ rather than ‘for fear that comes behind us’.”

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

Do you bear the “Maker’s Mark?” One “mark” of the Maker–do people become better, or feel inches taller, when they are in your presence?

Wonder!!

Shazam for insects – an app that identifies insects by their call!

25 incredible camouflaged insects 

World’s largest archive of wildlife sounds and videos 

Inspiration!!!

Sometimes the “Tough Teen” is Quietly Writing Stories

From the Center for Faith & Work – Humanizing Work: Xu Bing and the Phoenix

Landfill Harmonic- The World Sends Us Garbage… We Send Back Music

So, if you have digested all this in one sitting, move away from the screen and take a good long walk outside! Happy Thanksgiving! @DanBeerens

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