Category Archives: discernment

A few things that caught my eye

Best way to take lecture notes – can you imagine everyone in the hall using this technology? :)

Here’s a RSA Animate style video explaining Common Core State Standards:

For over 180 videos of lesson ideas for teaching Common Core, check out this resource.

Still struggling to “get” Twitter? Are you a “Lurker”, “Participant” or “Author”? Here is a good intro video that explains the stages.

If you have tried Twitter and gone away from it, maybe this video from a University of Alaska professor will be helpful.

I love helpful visual diagrams! Katie Ritter has put together three very helpful ones. The one below that she calls Backwards EdTech Tool Flow Chart starts with the question “What do you want students to do?” and then moves to a guiding question. Depending on the answer you can move to a link to an appropriate web tool for them to use. Click here to access the chart. The other two tools that she created for her teachers at her school are also in PDF’s with clickable links. You can access them here.

Ritter chart

Excellent interview/article: Coming Out in the CRC: YALT’s Interview with Ryan Struyk – for those of you reading this and wondering about the abbreviations – the CRC stands for the Christian Reformed Church – the founding denomination of many schools in CSI (Christian Schools International) and YALT stands for the Young Adult Leadership Task Force.

Image of God – self perception vs. perception by others – does this get at why it is hard for us to accept grace and see ourselves as God sees us – as lovable and redeemed? Dove put together this video that has become the most watched online video ad ever according to this source.

Is this why glass ceilings persist and women are still paid less than men for the same work? Sheryl Sandburg, COO of Facebook, talks about if a businesswoman can be competent and nice in their work.

Here is a link to a commercial demonstrating the double standard that exists, as well as references to the full study done at Harvard.

The influence of grandparents on faith development –   interesting research results from USC sociologist Vern Bengston.

Great perspective piece on what Christmas is all about – A Christmas Apology, and the Seeds of Hope from Rachel Held Evans.

Write your own caption for this pic below from Paul Shirky which he calls School vs. Life! In any case, it speaks to the significance of our task as educators – helping kids make sense out the mess and at the same time connecting things back together in beautiful ways – blessings on your new calendar year ahead!

School vs. life -  paul shircliff @shirky17

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Filed under Biblical worldview, change, curriculum, discernment, encouraging the heart, image of God, resources, student outcomes

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.”


Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, image of God, 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!


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?


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

25 incredible camouflaged insects 

World’s largest archive of wildlife sounds and videos 


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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Filed under community, creation & environment, devotional, discernment, encouraging the heart, resources, worship

Flourishing – Demonstrating effective life habits and practicing spiritual disciplines

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

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

If we desire that our students flourish, we must seek for our students to develop effective life habits and spiritual disciplines. All educators work with students to develop effective life habits, but in Christian education we emphasize with our students that their work is done for God’s glory and not for their own success. Working with students to develop spiritual disciplines can only be done in a Christian school, and is an important part of our work.

We want our students to learn effective life habits so that they may flourish in their lives now and in the future – simply put, people with effective life habits know how to get stuff done! A reasonable goal for our students should be that they know how to manage their time and respect the time of others. Their organizational skills will help them to not feel overwhelmed in their own lives and allow them to effectively give their time to lift the lives of others. The kinds of effective life habits I am talking about have been widely written about in books such as Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and my intent in this post is not to reiterate those but to consider our role as educators in helping to form these habits.

What role do spiritual disciplines play in a flourishing student’s life? Our desire is that our students not only believe in Christ, but seek to become like him – to connect what is in their hearts with how they live out their lives. In that sense, since we don’t know whether our students truly believe, our best opportunity as believers is to model spiritual disciplines for our students and encourage our students to understand the value of such practices to help us connect belief and action. We should consider both individual and corporate ways we could teach spiritual disciplines to our students so that they may become flourishing Christians who are more like Christ.

What spiritual disciplines might we as Christian educators want to model for our students? In Dallas Willard’s excellent book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, he suggests two categories of disciplines that contribute to spiritual growth:

Disciplines of Abstinence – solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement – study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission

Where do we naturally begin when we think about developing a desire to love and serve Christ in students? In James K.A. Smith’s recent book, Imagining the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): How Worship Works, he suggests that story and worship practices are critical to a truly Christian education:

1) Spirit – imagination – narrative – body – heart: “In short, the way to the heart is through the body, and the way into the body is through story. And this is how worship works: Christian formation is a conversion of the imagination effected by the Spirit, who recruits our most fundamental desires by a kind of narrative enchantment— by inviting us narrative animals into a story that seeps into our bones and becomes the orienting background of our being-in-the-world.”

2) Practices focused on worship – communal practices – formation of habits: “Christian education will only be fully an education to the extent that it is also a formation of our habits. And such formation happens not only, or even primarily, by equipping the intellect but through the repetitive formation of embodied, communal practices. And the “core” of those formative practices is centered in the practices of Christian worship.”

Are we up to the modeling challenge this year? Let’s work with students on life habits and spiritual disciplines so that they may flourish.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, student outcomes, worship

Sucked in or hopeful?

It has been said that there are two types of people in the world – those who see the glass half empty and those that see the glass half full. I would like to make the case that, as believers in the good news of Jesus Christ, we should be glass half full people. And if we are not, we can rightly be accused of not living into that good news.  In other words, it would be better for us to be in the starry-eyed optimist camp – we have been given every reason to be there.

What is prevalent is the 24-hour news cycle that now has a global reach and gives more details about every aspect of life. It used to be just hard news, but now we have access to every detail of celebrity relationships, fantasy football/baseball stats, and reality TV plots. The news has not only gone further in bringing us global vs. local/national stories, but also more micro, in terms of vast details about everything on the planet. While we find stories occasionally that increase our wonder and compassion, we most often hear stories that focus on the evil, the tragic, the macabre, and deficits of all kinds. We are sucked into this vortex of glass half empty stories that skew our perspective. As Christ followers, we must certainly tell the truth, but balance the worldly perspective by seeking stories of hope and renewal.Abundance-book-cover-large

A refreshingly optimistic book recently gave me pause to consider a different and more hopeful perspective. Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, examines our current global resource challenges and presents possible solutions through the use of technology, do it yourself innovators, techno-philanthropy (Bill Gates as an example), and the “Rising Billion” – the currently poor of the world who will reach higher standards of living through technology. In the words of the authors: “What all this means is that over the last few hundred years, we humans have covered a considerable stretch of ground. We’re living longer, wealthier, healthier, safer lives. We have massively increased access to goods, services, transportation, information, education, medicines, means of communication, human rights, democratic institutions, durable shelter, and on and on.” Because of the fact that we can now store, exchange, and improve ideas through the use of technology, new avenues of abundance are now possible. Example after example is given to demonstrate how live has not only improved, but how in the authors’ view we can solve many of today’s problems by the year 2035. I suggest reading this helpful review of the book.

While I do not hold the same level of optimism of the authors that we can solve the world’s problems by 2035, I find this book extremely encouraging and inspirational. Focusing on examples of possibility instead of problems for a change is refreshing – I believe it opens up creative thinking about how we can resourcefully use our gifts. I concur with the authors’ view regarding what is needed as our educational focus: “Teaching kids how to nourish their creativity and curiosity, while still providing a sound foundation in critical thinking, literacy and math, is the best way to prepare them for a future of increasingly rapid technological change.” I would add that teaching kids to understand that they are image-bearers and children of God is even more critically important. It is God who has given humans the ability to create technologies that alleviate human suffering and promote human flourishing – we celebrate those gifts in students, all the while giving praise to God for his lavish abundance in mankind and in creation. A book such as Abundance gives reports of God’s gifts of grace and how restoration is happening. Even though the authors do not acknowledge God, we can celebrate how God’s creativity in man is being demonstrated and how restoration and renewal is happening in our time in history.

As Christian educators, responsible for nurturing children,  we should be careful to keep a Christ-focused perspective that is not only based on reality, but a perspective that testifies to the hope that is within us – that victory has been won, Christ is sovereign and will make new this earth and those who believe. We are reminded of this by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” So then, how can any believer really allow themselves to be pessimistic? Christ is King!

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Filed under book, change, classroom, community, curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, kids/culture

Flourishing: The desire to act morally and ethically across all aspects of life

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

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

The global/local news landscape offers up to us almost daily examples of moral and ethical failure. As Christians, we may be more disappointed than shocked because we understand the fallen nature of humanity and the fact that we cannot escape brokenness – the line dividing good and evil runs down the center of each of our hearts. Yet our faith, in the power of a risen Christ redeeming humanity and his creation, inspires us to not stay in despair over this brokenness, but to continue to work toward shalom and restoration. We remind ourselves that each human being is made in God’s likeness, and challenge our students to live lives of obedience and faithfulness, to be like Christ.

It is this challenge to students that I want to focus on. In the process of attempting to teach our students the desire to act morally and ethically we are essentially showing them what goodness looks, acts, and smells like – “a more perfect way” – and asking them to internalize and live out that goodness. It is not just about “being good,” and it is not enough to just not disobey.  We need to show them that following Christ is an above and beyond/different way of living and to call them to that “foolishness” Christ asks of us (Matthew 5, I Corinthians 1:21ff).

Many students each day are taught to “be good” in schools around the world, yet only some are given spiritual foundations as to why they should “be good.” Just being “good for goodness sake” or for personal gain as in good grades-good scholarships-good college-good job-good life thinking will only be so effective when push comes to shove in life situations that students will encounter. The tests and trials of life in big and small situations will reveal what they really believe and their actions will reveal their worldview. The latter part of the saying “Time heals wounds and wounds heels” reflects how we so often see careers and reputations undone through moral and ethical failings – research tells us it is hard to end our careers well. Moral and ethical failings are often the result of pride (“It can’t happen to me because I am above it all”) or laziness (“I can cut this corner or treat someone this way and get away with it”) or magical thinking  (“It won’t happen to me or I won’t get caught”). Lack of discipline, lack of courage, and lack of character development all contribute to these failings. If I do not really regard others as image-bearers worthy of my love because of my desire to show Christ’s love, it is more likely that I will not see the need for ethical and moral behavior toward them. My best behavior done through my own power, if not directed toward worship, is more likely to simply increase my pride and self-reliance. If we do not encourage our students to see their behavior as connected or disconnected to foundational spiritual belief, it is not as likely that their lives will translate into obedience, humility, kindness, love, and other fruits of the Spirit.

How can we specifically work toward this outcome of a flourishing student? The aspect of adult modeling moral and ethical behavior looms large.  We create classroom and school cultures where the desire to live morally and ethically can thrive or be discouraged. We must start with our own hearts, motives and worldview – as adults are we demonstrating spiritual obedience simply out of fear of judgment or out of true love for others and a desire to love God and to do the right thing? Bill Hybels’ book: Who You Are When Nobody’s Looking: Choosing Consistency, Resisting Compromise gives us an immediate challenge just from the title and is a great resource to work through with students or your own children.  We need to both share and examine difficulties in this area and encourage good choices by students. It may be helpful with middle and high school students to make use of dilemmas and case studies so that moral and ethical principles can be applied to real life situations. A book such as Rozema and VanderArk’s No Easy Answers – Making Good Decisions in an Anything Goes World or CSI’s Exploring Ethics texts are very helpful tools.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, mission development, student outcomes

Flourishing: the ability to demonstrate empathy for others

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

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

It has been exciting to see how the concept of empathy has been getting more attention in recent years. I see it as a critical aspect of a flourishing student. After all, the world has seen many brilliant and powerful people, who seem to lack the capacity for basic empathy, make a mess out of our world. Empathy is a deeper emotional experience than sympathy: it is literally the ability “to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.” (Source: We might agree that the best helpers to us in difficult situations are those who are “wounded healers” – people who have experienced similar pain and also healing so that they are able to help us. In Hebrews 4:15 we are told this: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (NIV) If we wish to teach our students to be Christlike and to truly love and be compassionate toward their neighbor, we must attend to the development of their ability to empathize with others.

Surely, to live as Christ asks us to live in harmony with our neighbor demands that we teach our students how to demonstrate empathy. But it turns out that empathy, even from a non-Christian aspect, is being recognized as a critical skill. A recent Forbes article from last week asks if empathy in business is an indulgence or invaluable. The evidence suggests it is invaluable and gives examples of Fortune 500 companies trying to increase this capacity in their employees. If we turn to the arena of education we are increasingly aware of the success of Finnish schools who are based on the premise of cooperation and equity, rather than the American model of competition: “Finland’s experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.” (Atlantic, December 2012)  It should not be lost on us that Finland leads the world in helping its citizens to live flourishing lives – it could be argued that Finland demonstrates a higher level of empathy toward its students, seeing that helping all of them to succeed and thrive is the ultimate goal. In his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman points out how developing the skill of attunement is critical for success in life and relationships. His research shows that interpersonally sensitive teachers and clinicians get the higher job performance ratings. Attunement of salespeople and consultants leads to highest sales and satisfaction levels. About 80% (and increasing) of our jobs are in the service economy, so it appears that good listening and empathy skills are more important than ever.

How can we work on helping our students develop the capacity for empathy? Our ability to empathize is a capacity that, according to scientists, is developed in childhood.  They suggest three categories of attachment – secure, which comprises about 55% of the population, anxious – 20% of the population who are overcome by their own anxiety, and 25% who are avoidant – they lack empathy or are not prone to help others. While there is some reported success with training people to attend to facial micro-expressions (emotional signals that flit across the face in less than 1/3 of a second!) we would all likely agree that empathy should be more a matter of the heart than simply a cognitive skill. Goleman, like Jesus and many before him, recommends that we all become less self focused: He states: “The more sharply attentive we are, the more keenly we will sense another’s inner state…conversely the greater our distress, the less accurately we will be able to empathize. In short, self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands…we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.” (p. 54, Working with Emotional Intelligence)

Empathy in Christian education starts with the Biblical concept that all humans have been created in the image of God and therefore have inherent worth. Empathy is needed due to the fact of sin and brokenness being a part of our world. We hurt and wound each other and are called to help heal these wounds that we see others experience. We do this out of gratitude for having experienced the ultimate empathy of Jesus Christ and we seek to follow his example, walking in the shoes of others, and seeking to love them well. We are wired to experience joy in serving and helping others – there is evidence that that can be seen in children as young as one year old. (see the NY Times article linked here for more  and also see the comments section for additional helpful information) We need to help our students practice doing good and being responsive to Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to help them understand how brokenness has impacted our world, and that they are called as Christ followers to be part of the healing process.


Filed under classroom, curriculum, discernment, encouraging the heart, mission measurement, student outcomes

What Do I Teach That A YouTube Video Can’t?

(Thanks to my friend Bryant Russ, Bible teacher at Lansing (MI) Christian School, for sharing this blog post.)

What do I teach that a YouTube video can’t?

YouTubeThis question has been on my mind since last week when I learned more about the universe in three days of watching educational Internet videos than I had in four years of high school science classes.  No joke.  I made a list of all the things I wanted to know about science—everything from what is a molecule? to Is time really relative?—and hit the web.  Sites such as, TedEd, ITunes U, and Minute Physics on YouTube provided engaging, comprehensive, and understandable lessons that led me through each one of my questions and offered new ones to continue my online education.  Oh yeah, and did I mention that all this was free?

So back to the question: What do I teach that a YouTube video can’t?  This question is important to me because I’d like to know that I couldn’t be replaced by a computer.  Unfortunately, after close inspection I’ve found that much of what I’m doing, and much of what most teachers are doing, can be done—and often better—by the Internet.  If this is the case, why shouldn’t I be replaced by a screen?

Twenty years ago it was the job of a teacher to relay information to the students.  Teach them charts, methods, dates, important people and events.  But has the role of a teacher changed now that students could pass just about every quiz and test we give them if allowed to use their phones?  Has the Internet altered the game?  If the world has changed, and significantly, since this educational structure was conceived, shouldn’t we start considering what we teach that a Youtube video can’t before we’re all swapped out for iPads?

I’m not suggesting teachers abandon relaying information and giving instruction, but perhaps it’s time to shift the focus of education.  Let me propose two things a teacher can do—and must do—to become irreplaceable.

1.  Teachers can inspire interest, ignite curiosity, and kindle a love of learning in students. I would go so far as to suggest this is the primary role of a twenty-first century teacher.  If your students read what they’re supposed to read, answer what they’re supposed to answer, and memorize what they’re supposed to memorize, but do not continue to learn your subject when the year is over then you have failed them—regardless of their report card grades.  Your job is to get them interested.  Why?  Think about it.  If they have an interest in your subject, whether you’re teaching literature or biology, they will continue to learn about it outside the classroom (i.e. more learning will happen) and at a significantly higher level of engagement (i.e. better learning will happen).  You might not be as necessary for the relaying of information as were teachers twenty years ago, but you are just as important for sparking interest in the students so that they will seek multiple available resources for attaining the information.  How can you do this?

  • Demonstrate interest, curiosity, and a love of learning.  If you’re not interested, curious, or in love with learning, please stop teaching.  As a wise mentor teacher once told me, “You teach who you are more than you teach your subject.”
  • Ask big, important questions.  So often I find myself giving answers to questions that students couldn’t care less about.  If they don’t care about the question, why would they care about the answer?  We must be giving students questions—and big ones!  Let your natural curiosity (see bullet 1) help guide what you do in class to the point that your students feel invited into a search for the answers to their important questions.
  • Avoid using grades as motivation or a threat (“If you do this you’ll get an ‘A’” and “If you don’t do this your grade will suffer”).  This is like putting the wrong kind of gas into a car.  I get so annoyed when a student asks, “Is this going to be on the test?” or “Do I have to know this?” or “How many points is this worth?” and yet, I have to admit it’s our fault.  We create these grade-obsessed creatures and almost always destroy natural interest in a subject when we use assessment for something it was never intended to be.  (I can say with confidence that I am more eager and excited to learn than I have ever been in my life.  I told my wife this; she said, “Too bad this didn’t happen about 15 years ago.”  I replied, “15 years ago I was much too busy with school to be excited about learning.”)

2.  Teachers can initiate and facilitate creativity in students.  Put simply, our students shouldn’t just be learning stuff; they should be making stuff.  I have never been more proud as a teacher than when my students make something (or make something happen) that they are excited about and invested in.  In fact, I recently challenged my students with a project that demanded interest, investment, and hard work…then I let them go.  To my surprise, not only did just about every single student get a ‘A’, but they worked so much harder (and learned so much more) than if they had simply been asked to regurgitate what they had memorized on a test.  Our students are itching to do something; to make something.  Unfortunately, it’s much easier to give a test than to offer and assist an opportunity to be creative.  The irony is that when given the opportunity to do something significant it is often the unengaged, ADD kid who surprises you with something great.  So many of our students are itching to just do something!  Not only does this promote a higher level of learning (what is the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy again?) but it allows young men and women to have a purpose for coming to school.  The creative person is the most valuable asset in today’s changing world, so shouldn’t we be focused on making creators?

While I am completely aware of the challenges of actually being this kind of teacher in a classroom filled with 25 rambunctious teenagers, I am totally committed to moving in this direction in order to distinguish myself from a machine that could otherwise do my job.


Filed under change, classroom, curriculum, discernment, leadership, resources, staff development, student outcomes

Identifying “take-aways for life:” using Essential Questions to nurture faith

If one accepts the idea that our main focus in Christian education needs to be nurturing student faith in the educational context, then it is vitally important that we engage students with questions that 1) cause students to stop dead in their tracks with intrigue, and 2) cause the students to deal with a Biblical perspective on issues of life. This is easier said than done! How can we develop such questions?

If I want to drive to a destination, I put into my Google Maps the destination I am hoping to arrive at – beginning with the end in mind. So, we first must ask the question: What kind of students do we seek to produce? My answer to this question is: “A flourishing student!”  and that is why I have been trying to spell out what that means in the series of blog posts that I have been writing in this space on the idea of a flourishing student (list of blog post dates).

If we accept Wolterstorff’s definition of flourishing as being in harmony with God, neighbor, creation, and self then we can begin to see how we must shape the questions we ask in our curriculum and what conceptual qualities they must possess. Our curriculum outcomes must deal with God, neighbor, creation, and self. The things we are trying to do in our teaching relate to one of these four areas. I see the connections as follows:

Curriculum flourishing connections copy

  • Creation and wonder – this is where we begin as learners and we should never lose it! We wonder about the micro and macro aspects of creation and the magnificent design behind it all. To whom should we give the praise and glory? We continue to wonder about creation’s mysteries that we learn have not been unlocked and are intrigued by the wonder and beauty of creation as we seek to live in harmony with it and learn how to use it well. Example questions in science class: Why are trees important to God’s creation? How does the structure of a DNA molecule exemplify order and creation?
  • God/Christ and knowledge and wisdom – all knowledge and truth exists because Christ brought it into existence and continues to hold it together. This is why we marvel at gravity and 2+2=4 and how our bodies work. So our essential questions can be pretty straightforward and need not be simply “God questions” that are painfully superficial, but should include a discussion of a God-centered starting point and a worship ending point. In non-Christian schools, knowledge is presented as if it can stand on its own, or praise is ascribed to man without any reference to a Divine Creator – this is a huge difference. We need to ask our students to apply knowledge in areas of study toward questions of discernment as informed by Biblical perspectives. Example question in math class: Do you think there is such a thing as ‘chance’?  Why or why not? Example question in social studies: Is capitalism in America successful?  Why or why not?
  • Neighbor and compassion – a Christian school should motivate students toward a desire to serve and make a difference in the world. It should produce true empathy as students understand people and situations in the world, and should inspire a compassionate response out of love for other people God has created. The student understands that each person is loved and cherished by God, having been made in his image. The student understands then that life is not just about themselves, but that they have a global responsibility to respond to the needs of our world. There may not be easy answers to questions that juxtapose two competing interests and Christians may disagree about the best ways to respond. Example question in social studies: As a Christian, what is the difference between needs and wants? Example question in English: Does having a shared experience make a person better able to provide true comfort?
  • Self and image-bearing/gifts – how can one be in harmony with one’s self? Harmony with one’s self might mean acceptance of how God has created you – your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual self and an ever increasing understanding through the years of how he has gifted you, wired you, and what makes you “tick.” It also means that you take seriously care of your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit: you eat well, sleep well, exercise well, develop positive habits, virtues, and a generous and gracious spirit. As you grow in Christ, you more and more are able to let the light of Christ shine through you, and to truly bring joy and hope into the world, into the lives of others. Example question in music: Why do we respond to God with music? Example question in art: How can art be used to redeem culture?

This model may help us in our thinking about producing effective “take-away” Essential Questions. As we engage students with questions and help them construct good questions, we may find these categories helpful as a way to balance areas of focus within a classroom setting.

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Flourishing – blooming where planted


Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

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

One of the best gifts we can give our students in their preparation for life is the kind of character and confidence that will help them bloom wherever God plants them. We need to model for our students the quiet understanding that God has a sovereign plan for each of our lives and that we are to make the most of the opportunities that he places in front of us. We are to bloom – to be alive branches that bear much fruit. This speaks to our students needing to be connected, first of all, to Christ the true vine.

In Jeremiah 29 we read that the Israelites, after being carried off into captivity, were instructed by God through the prophet Jeremiah that they were to settle in, to build houses, to plant gardens, to live a normal life. They were also to pray for, and seek the welfare of the city where they were living in captivity. They were not asked to revolt, to resist, to run – they were instructed to trust God and his plan. To not follow their natural instincts was a test of character I am sure. They were to be content, be obedient, and trust God’s sovereignty – this is not easy. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)

This contentment is possible because it is not only about trust, but also about having worked through what is really important in life. Paul pointed out in Philippians 4 that it was not about his being well fed or hungry, having a lot or a little, it was about having the right perspective and full trust in God’s plan. God’s word is filled with examples of individuals who responded to God’s call and bloomed where they were planted. Abraham and his family moved and bloomed, Esther and Daniel bloomed in the land of foreign captors – even the common folk like Ruth and Rahab bloomed as ingrafted members and ancestors of the family line of Jesus.

Blooming where planted is not an easy skill to learn – as we see in the clip below from Facing the Giants, we are not always sure if we are in the right place to bloom and need to trust the advice of those that God puts in our lives. We also need to “plant our fields when there is no evidence of rain in sight.” One of the most powerful ways we can teach this to our students is to share our own stories of faith and the stories of faith of others.

I wonder what the elements are that we need to keep in mind if we are to help produce students who are able to bloom where planted? It might look something like this:

  1. A trust in God’s sovereignty and plan for their life
  2. A foundational sense of belonging to God and a sense of why they exist
  3. An understanding of their gifts and how they might be used in various situations
  4. A genuine love for people based on the view that all people bear God’s image
  5. A radiance from them that demonstrates the goodness of God
  6. An understanding of how to deal with failure and setback and maintain positive emotion, based on faith in God’s sovereignty over their lives
  7. Stepping forward in faith, trusting God for the results

What else would you add as an element?


Filed under discernment, distinctively Christian, mission measurement, student outcomes

A Flourishing Index – Part 1

For those of you new to reading this blog, at the end of last year I proposed that Christian schools consider adopting a Flourishing Index – a list of outcomes that we desire for our students. I also think that this index could provide helpful targets that we could measure ourselves against.  For more information, you may wish to read the two blog posts that were written last year as a way of gaining familiarity with what I am suggesting.

While I did not consciously realize it at the time I was creating a Flourishing Index, I have since discovered two wonderful resources: one from a Christian perspective and one from a secular perspective. I would like to start with renowned Christian philosopher and Christian education thinker Nicholas Wolterstorff this month and discuss the other author next month in this blog.

As someone who has thought a lot about developing distinctively Christian curriculum, I was encouraged to read that Wolterstorff had also puzzled about what makes a curriculum distinctively Christian, and this led him to the idea of flourishing as a unifying concept:

“It became important for me to figure out what holds a curriculum together. You’ve got sciences and arts and my own passion, justice. What holds it all together? It eventually became clear to me that there is a biblical category of flourishing, of shalom. [It is] “peace” in the New Testament, but eirene in Greek is a pretty weak translation of what the Old Testament means by shalom. It means flourishing. That’s what a Christian college should be about. Not just planting thoughts in people’s heads and getting them into professional positions but flourishing, in all its dimensions. Source: Faith and Leadership, 2012

He defines flourishing and elaborates upon the idea of flourishing as shalom in this video:

In a review of Wolterstorff’s book, Educating for Life, reviewer John Shortt highlights this definition of flourishing, which I believe captures the essence of flourishing: “Shalom is not merely the absence of hostility for, as he memorably puts it, ‘to dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in one’s physical surroundings, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy living with oneself’ (p. 101).” I am particularly struck with the Joy aspect of living in harmony with God, neighbor, and self – a deep sense of happiness and contentment.

As we spend the next months unpacking the concept of flourishing through discussion of the elements of The Flourishing Index, I invite you to consider how flourishing is really the ultimate outcome of a truly distinctive Christian education.


Filed under curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, image of God, mission development, mission measurement, resources, staff development, student outcomes

Social networking in education…lol or idk?

Wordle created from words in this post -

(Thanks to my friend Mary Beth Pollema, Spanish teacher at Central Minnesota Christian School, for sharing this blog post.)

Let’s face it—social networking is here to stay! Though some people would argue that it encourages poor spelling and improper capitalization and punctuation habits, recent studies are showing that all the texting, tweeting, blogging, posting, etc. that students are doing is not “dumbing them down”, but is actually contributing to them becoming more literate and fluent in their writing.  The point is– they’re reading and writing. And thanks to social networking it’s quite possible that they’re doing it more now than ever before.  As a language arts teacher, I can get behind that and even be excited about it because I believe there are ways to use social networking tools to enhance education and I have even had some positive experiences in my classroom with blogs, wikis and Twitter.

My favorite tool with my freshmen English class is Blogger.  I haven’t always known how to use this application.  In fact, I haven’t always been an English teacher—I’m a Spanish teacher who writes as a hobby.  But in my first year of teaching at my current school, I found that tucked in among the various Spanish classes on my schedule was a lone English 9 class.  My administrator asked me to focus on teaching writing.  Not a problem, I thought, I love to write!  But it was a definite challenge that year because I found that very few of my students shared my passion for writing.  Yes, they did a lot of writing for me and some of it was of good quality, but I could tell they didn’t enjoy it.  And when they handed in their final drafts to be read by me–their audience of one—as far as they were concerned, the assignment was done.

I knew I needed to try to build some enthusiasm for the task of writing so I integrated Blogger the very next school year with my new batch of freshmen.  The shift in my students’ attitudes towards writing has been dramatically positive though the writing assignments have generally remained the same.  With Blogger, my students now have an online platform through which to share their writing with others and to respond to the writing of their peers.  I believe this gives them a whole new impetus for writing since we all have an innate desire to have our voice be heard and our words be read.

Blogging helps to foster critical thinking, evaluation and creativity skills.  Students not only learn to write, but also to design a blogspot in their own customized style and to provide constructive criticism via posts on their classmates’ blogspots.  Even after the final drafts are published the students are reading their classmates’ writings and responding to them and this is happening both during class time AND outside of class time—simply because they like to interact online   I have found that is a wonderful tool to teach writing.  And best yet—it’s completely free and easy to use!  (I hope to write more about wikis and educational uses for Twitter in future posts.)

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Knowledge or wonder?

If you had to choose, in a Solomonic dream, whether you would like more knowledge or more wonder, what would you choose?

Aristotle – “All men by nature desire to know.” Isn’t that what got Adam and Eve into trouble? They wanted to know what it was like to be God. Didn’t curiosity kill the cat after all?

In reading the work of the most learned people of our day, we discover that the more honest ones admit they know very little about the one aspect that they have spent their lifetimes studying. While our information is doubling at tremendous speeds, we still know very little about our earth and space.

Daniel Boorstin – “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” We know from I Corinthians 8:1b that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” When we feel inflated about what we know, it not only has idolatrous power, but it also shuts down our desire to continue to be curious, to discover, to wonder, to be the sense makers, the inquirers, the delighters that God intended us to be.

Better to share honest questions as educators with our students and reflect, inquire, and wonder together, than to act as if we have it all figured out.  Isn’t this a more truly God-honoring approach?

The inspiration for this blog post was drawn from a wonderful article by Peter Huidekoper, Jr. entitled “The Age of Wonder” that appeared in the October 12, 2011 Education Week.

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Learning for coherence and living

One of the most powerful things we can have students do in a Christian school is to ask them to think deeply about how their faith connects with their life and the real world. It is also one of the most authentic and integrative experiences. I am encouraged by the number of schools who have developed culminating projects and require them as part of  either /both the 8th and 12th grade years.

I previously wrote about culminating experiences in this blog back in December 2007. I believe that culminating experiences are one of the best practices to enhance and encourage faith development and that is why I list it as one of my 12 Faith Enhancing Practices. For those of you who may be interested in developing culminating experiences, let me share a source for more details in setting up this kind of assignment.

Teachers and administrators at the Christian Academy of Japan have been developing and refining their process and have posted their information on their website.  They call this assignment “Senior Comprehensives” and list four assessment components of the work:

1.     Research portfolio

2.     Writing portfolio

3.     Hands on project

4.     Oral presentation

Examples of each of the elements are on the site, including video examples of student presentations. A timeline of expectations and assessment rubrics are also shown.

I encourage all schools to have these kind of learning experiences in place for students. They are engaging, demanding, and rewarding for students and teachers. Culminating experiences are the kind of teaching and learning that we need to do more of in order to effectively prepare our students and meet our missions.

If your school does this kind of experience, would you please consider sharing a link to your information in the comments below so that we can better learn from each other?

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Would Jesus tweet?

My mind has changed about the value of Twitter over this past year. I have to say that Twitter has been a blessing to my learning in very significant ways. Granted, much depends who you follow in determining whether what you are learning may be worthwhile. But I have found much value in connecting with authors and organizations, friends, leading thinkers of the day, as well as new people who I learn of through their connections and retweets. Think of it this way – those of you still reading this post and who have read the Nurturing Faith blog in the past may find things that are of use in this blog – that is why you read it. In a sense you are following my mind and what I am thinking about, what I am discovering, what I am pondering, and understanding what I believe. Twitter allows us to follow the stream of consciousness of others that we want to connect with and learn from on a daily basis. In that sense, it is not at all unlike those disciples who followed Jesus and learned from him daily – we choose who we want to follow and be influenced by.

With Twitter I am able to learn of new things as they come out – new articles, books, ideas that are being formed, events happening in the world, discussions that are going on, ideas that are gaining steam. I don’t have to wait until a book is published by one of my favorite authors or until a blog post appears. It is very egalitarian in that I can connect with anyone who shares a particular interest, with people that in the past I might have been hesitant or intimidated to do so in person. Everyone is learning together. There is also the instant communication aspect – on a recent retweet this thought was expressed by a Twitter user from Egypt as they reflected on the power and use of social media in the uprising: “isteconnects: power of SM: “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world” – Cairo activist #edchat”. Twitter was used as not only an instant way for the participants to connect, but to share out to the world, through individuals such as Andy Carvin of NPR (see below), the raw content and updates of what was happening on a moment to moment basis. It increased my compassion level and prayers for those in this situation.

One of the things that I find to be true about Twitter is that is can be more authentic than other forms of communication like books or articles. By reading someone’s tweets, you can see their heart come through in ways that are not quite as clear in more formal venues such as books or articles. You can understand a bit more of what makes them tick, what they value, what excites or upsets them. Some of this authenticity can get edited out of more formal publishing or the author is more reserved due to the perceived permanence of the printed word. Yes, tweeters should be aware that tweets also have a permanence and can be read later by an interested party. Twitter can also certainly be a channel for self-promotion, but if this is overdone, readers can quickly tire of it and a person can lose respect and credibility.

Twitter definitely is not meant to be a vehicle to be used instead of face to face interactions – while it helps to connect across distances and allows us to form/maintain relationships, we can’t experience the fullness of the actual “presence” of others. Like other technology tools, it has its place and must be used wisely. In the bigger picture, it has been an amazing spur to my learning and curiosity. When I am learning and reflecting back to the source of truth, I believe I am experiencing just a bit more of who God has created me to be as his imagebearer and sensemaker in his world.


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Practicing the craft of the cultural apologist

(As we consider the issue of integrating faith and learning by teachers – so that students may be equipped to be impact culture in transformational ways – I suggest that the following blog post addresses the kind of thinking we need for, as our author suggests,  “the long game of cultural apologetics.” Thanks to Mark Eckel, Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Old Testament at Crossroads Bible College, Indianapolis, IN for his permission to share this article from his blog  Warp and Woof .)

Christians are in a house holding off an incursion of gatecrashers: nudity, sex, profanity, and violence.  Shotguns blast away through open windows, a couch is pushed up against the front door, defenders stand in opposition to attackers coming up the drive.  While we are focused intently on the crassness of a vulgar society capturing our attention street-side, the back door screen is flapping in the breeze.  With little attention or ballyhoo, individualism, materialism, pragmatism, and naturalism assault our unprotected flank.  The home invasion metaphor stands as a general portrait of Christian response to culture today.  Obsessed by obvious lasciviousness, any focus on the insidious, clandestine plan of our adversary attracts little notice.  Why?

We like to categorize problems but do not understand what it means to consider categories of thought.  Seeing life as a series of issues is easy.  The fight against gambling is clear, for instance.  We know what gaming is and, if we do our homework, what casinos may do to a population of people.  Fronting a spokesperson, fundraising, formulating an action plan are all employed to defeat any proposition that allows games of chance in our area. We know the effects upon money and morals in our community and we do not want any part of them.  Poker addictions and casino lifestyles are objective: I can point to a deck of cards or the latest gaming show on ESPN.

Categories of thought, on the other hand, are not often found on our radar screens.  The spirits of our age are nothing new.  Since the flashing sword barred the path to Eden, we have encountered all the mindsets present today.  From where and at what time, as a case in point, did our insatiable thirst for individualism arise?  What ideas fostered the “no one tells me what to do” mentality?  How are the schemes of self-centered thinking represented in our culture?  Why should we respond Christianly to the “go-it-alone” philosophy?  Answers to questions such as these, demand more than the work of organizing a boycott.  We must be committed to reading history and philosophy while critiquing the framework of individualism from a biblical worldview perspective.

Addressing cultural concerns as they show themselves through popular culture is also necessary.  “Have it your way” or “no rules, just right” are advertising slogans which feed beliefs embedded in our behavior.  Perhaps most onerous is the realization that our attitudes and actions must change as we face up to individualism within ourselves.  Confronted by the words of prophets and apostles in Holy Writ and the niggling of The Spirit on our conscience, we Christians must first be transformed individuals against individualism before any letters to the editor may be written.

Why is it that we believers are dedicated to closing the local adult bookstore yet ignorant of the debilitating effects of pragmatism as seen through the latest illegal download of our favorite song artist’s CD?  I suggest that we are averse to playing the long game of cultural apologetics.  Thoughtful engagement takes time.  A lawn sign takes one minute to erect.  Digestion of ideas may take months…or years.  Pickets and protests—which take little time or thought—might be set aside in pursuit of practicing Christian persuasion.  In The Church as a whole and Christian schools—kindergarten through graduate—in particular, we must further the hard work of preparation for an enemy which uses more covert than overt tactics.  While battles against what we know to be wrong are important at times, a visionary strategy to engage the battle for the Christian mind must be drawn.

A plan to create discerning Christians is important.  I might suggest a preliminary five-fold outline which could summarize this competency from a Christian worldview perspective: (1) identification of erroneous powers, premises, and practices; (2) interpretation of pagan belief from a Christian perspective; (3) inductive study of Scripture as a basis for assessment; (4) interaction with current issues and icons; (5) investment in necessary tools for students to make cultural apologetics a lifelong practice.

Becoming a cultural apologist is a pursuit which others have developed in detail.  Denis Haack has been critiquing culture with a Christian lens for over two decades.  Ransom Fellowship interacts with books, magazines, and movies from a Christian point of view. Denis has focused a keen eye on popular culture through discussion questions that make people think about their beliefs.  Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio addresses more of what some would call “high culture.”  Interviews with artists, poets, professors, and authors examine how our world has come to think as it does.  Direct questions for each guest interview help the listener to formulate a perspective on how and why our civilization has developed.  Both Denis and Ken set examples for the process of cultural apologetics.

Understanding that visual images are often the first attack on 21st century minds it is fitting to acknowledge a film every Christian must see to appreciate a Christian approach to the new millennium.  From the opening scene, Crash tells the tale of a seeming random intersection of lives.  Relationships are crucial to understanding.  Consequences of our actions do happen.  Rather than a fortuitous accident, life is us.  How we act toward others does matter.  What we think and believe is worn on our shirt sleeve.  Humans bear responsibility for their dealings with others.  We do what is “good” and “bad.”  Most importantly, Crash more than any other recent movie suggests our rapport with each other matters.  Racial profiling is simply a slice of our humanity.  Crash insists we look at ourselves in the mirror of humankind, seeing ourselves in the characters, stepping onto the stage of life.

Herein is cultural apologetics.  We listen to others who speak in our time and place of history.  We hear what they intend for us to hear.  We obey the internal compulsion to honestly interact with their ideas and the precepts of the God who made us both.  May we not be offended before we understand our own offense.  May we not renounce another’s point of view before we announce our own.  May we not walk out on a movie before we walk with another who behaves as those on the screen.  May we not center only on disapproval before we discover where we can approve another’s perspective.  May we not simply assert our position before we assent to what others have said.  May we reject not the person but the roots of their belief, in love.  And may many believers be found who will defend The Faith not just against the obvious front door attacks of Satan, but bolt the back door infiltration of mindsets that corrupt Christian thought.

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What does good articulation of faith integrated learning look like? (Faith and learning in curriculum, part 3)

We can talk about Christian education all day, but unless we teach in distinctively Christian ways, we might as well close our doors!  My work with schools involves helping them bridge the gap from philosophy/mission to classroom teaching practice and it usually is the area of greatest need in all Christian schools. I would like to share with you some very specific examples of teaching that, I believe, make a real difference in shaping the minds, hearts, and hands of students. I have been given permission by two excellent teachers, Mark Kauk and Janie VanDyke, from Unity Christian High School in Orange City, Iowa to share the ways they integrate faith and learning in their classrooms. They exemplify the kind of teachers I described in Part 1 of this series.  I am grateful to both of them for allowing their work to be shared in this post and I am hopeful that these examples may also be an inspiration to you!

Mark uses questions to focus on four key concepts associated with the aspect of Creation in his high school science units. He states that these questions “really force students to think and get at ideas about God’s world that they never have really thought about much.”

Here are his belief statements and questions in a unit on waves/sound/light that link general revelation and a Biblical perspective:

Creation. God created everything through the Word.  That Word is Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who is the perfect image of the Creator.

Summarize the main thought of each passage:

Genesis 1:1-3

Colossians 1:15-17

John 1:1-4

Hebrews 1:2-3a

Hebrews 11:3

Purpose In Creation. God created everything with purpose and meaning, ultimately to bring glory to himself.

List five examples from the study of waves, light, and sound.  Describe their purposeful function.

Class Discussion:  Why are waves, light, and sound important in a world that functions with God created purpose?

Patterns in Creation.  We see evidence of design, order, and patterns in all that God created.

Explain five observable examples of the design, order, and patterns found in the study of waves, light, and sound.

Class Discussion:  How do these examples of waves, light, and sound show  evidence of the wisdom of a grand design?

Providence in Creation.  God sustains and upholds his creation by his Word.

List and explain any natural laws that describe the behavior of waves, light, and sound.  Include any mathematical descriptions.

What are some of the miracles in the OT and NT of the Bible which are reminders of God’s sustaining power in the physical creation?  Must be specific to waves, light, and sound.

Potential in Creation.  God created the universe with the potential for man to investigate and develop through scientific study and technological development.

Research the historical timeline for the discovery of the  parts of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Include our understanding of at least 7 different categories of waves.

List ten technological developments associated with the electromagnetic spectrum.

Class Discussion:  How have these developments contributed to the benefit or demise of man’s created purpose to glorify God?

Mark mentions that the big picture concepts of Purpose, Pattern, Providence, and Potential work equally well in other units of science that he teaches to assist faith learning integration. In the process I believe he is teaching students a “habit of mind” to consider all four of these aspects as they look at creation. Additionally, and of perhaps even more lasting importance, he has given them a framework for future thinking, so that they can identify Biblical thinking related to conceptual understandings.

Janie VanDyke uses what I would call faith-enhancing practices such as faith stories and reflective writing in her English class to encourage faith development in students.  In an assignment for the online Distinctive class that I teach, Mark listed these ways that Janie integrates faith and learning in her class. (Janie was kind enough to allow sharing of these examples – thank you!)

In Freshman English Janie uses the stories, “Things We Couldn’t Say” by Diet Eman with James Schaap and “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom to teach about faith stories. These people lived out their faith in the context of challenging circumstances. One of the themes she discusses is sacrifice, of how people help others even when they are very different from themselves. She also shares her own faith story. The strategies she uses for this unit are reading the books, discussion in class, writing an assignment of their own story, and also journaling. The journaling is interesting because she will ask them to write about various personal things such as a struggle they may have had or a circumstance where their faith affected their actions.

Another project she does is a genealogy research project where each student researches aspects of their ancestors. The faith of many generations is seen and the faithfulness of God is demonstrated. The strategies include discussion, sharing, and assignments involving writing, composing a poem about themselves, creating a dictionary of terms about common phrases used at home, doing an essay, and conducting an interview of a grandparent.

In Communications class, where students give speeches, they first read a book by Quentin Schultze, a professor at Calvin College, who has written a book on public speaking. In it he emphasizes the idea of being a servant speaker, not an ego speaker. One of his chapters also deals with the fruits of the spirit in public speaking. Her strategy is to have students read this and then discuss it before students even begin composing speeches.

In a senior literature class she has the students read “Night” by Elie Wiesel, about a Holocaust experience. She then assigns a paper on injustice where students must write about some global or national injustice. She also uses information from a former student who is a lawyer and has become involved with International Justice Mission.

Resources: She has collected her ideas and curriculum content over the years from books she reads, people she knows, other teachers, articles she has read, and her own interests. One example is how she read an essay once of Lewis Smedes called “How I Found God at Calvin College” and she took that idea and now has students write an essay on where they have found God.

I think these are some helpful ideas and specific examples of how master teachers who are passionate about their faith are revealing truth, unfolding creation, and integrating faith and learning in their classrooms. Any ideas you would like to share?

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The kind of faith-integrating teachers we need (Faith and learning in curriculum, part 1)

The blank looks are what really scare me.  As I conduct workshops across North America, I inquire what my audiences know about how to integrate faith and learning in curriculum. I probably could sort responses into three categories: 1) know what I am talking about and have thought about it and are doing it to some degree, 2) know what I am talking and know they should be doing it, but aren’t or are doing it very superficially, and 3) teachers who have little or no training, and really don’t know how to proceed. The disturbing trend over the last five years is that I am seeing the numbers in the first category decrease and the numbers in categories 2 and 3 increase. One of my next questions is if teachers have received any training in integrating faith and learning in curriculum, and again, I am seeing that teachers in Christian schools are coming from a wider variety of college settings and lack the background and foundational understandings needed.

I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but if we lose our ability to reveal God’s truth effectively through our teaching and learning, we are, as I state in the post below this, “one short generation” away from just becoming good Christian people who bring a pietistic, but not world transforming learning experience to our students. We must continue to articulate the master story of Jesus Christ and his creation in engaging ways that leads to personal transformation of our students’ lives and challenges them to a life of discipleship and engagement with God’s world! What does it take to do this effectively?

As I have observed master Christian teachers who do the best job of integrating faith and learning, I see several “astutenesses” and passions in their thinking and behavior.

  1. Spiritual passion – they are alive spiritually and their passion for Jesus Christ “oozes” out of them. Their students have no doubts about their commitment.
  2. Theological understanding – they demonstrate a deep understanding of Scripture and have personally worked through their own big picture understandings of how the master story works in our world.
  3. A student of their students – they know well the age of the student they are working with, what matters to them, how they think, what they believe, and what motivates them.
  4. Culturally aware – they understand what is going on in the world, are keen observers of how worldviews are lived out, offer a prophetic voice to challenge students about their passions and idols, and help students to not only interpret and translate culture, but to create alternative culture that reflects Biblical values.
  5. Masters of their discipline – they know their subject area well, are driven to learn more, know the controversies and issues connected with current thinking in the discipline, have reflected how this subject comes under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and know how to demonstrate and help students connect a Biblical perspective to the field of study.

What are you doing to articulate the master story? What are you doing to challenge others to become this kind of master teacher?


Filed under Biblical worldview, curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, student outcomes

A Common Core for Christian schools?

In these past few months, something remarkable happened across the United States: many states adopted a set of national standards called the Common Core State Standards.  (Those states are shown in yellow in the graphic to the right.) The adoption of the standards was sped along by the fact that any states applying for Race to the Top monies were required to have previously adopted the standards.

It is also remarkable that there has been a lot of praise for the content of the standards. Experts have even stated that the standards are stronger and more helpful than the current standards of 80% of the states. The standards are currently completed in language arts and math, with other areas still in the works.

As a “curriculum person,” I am always excited to have greater clarity around what we view as important for students to know and do. Yet, this set of standards lacks the kind of perspective toward wisdom that we are seeking to achieve with our students in Christian schools. I am not arguing with the content of the standards, just their completeness, as they are not wholistic in their current form, nor do they recognize the source all truth.

Would it be beneficial to have an amended Common Core standards for Christian schools that include an articulation of the kind of student outcomes we are working toward with our students?


Filed under curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, image of God, resources, staff development, student assessments, student outcomes

End of the year round-up

I read a lot of stuff over the course of a year and here are some of the more interesting things I found that hopefully are thought provoking, engaging, and just plain fun! I leave you this pile to sort through at the end of the year – a potpourri sort of like those tables of lost and found items we have in our hallways, but hopefully of some value to you.

National standards for the U.S. (for those of you in the States and those who care about such things in Canada!) were released last week for English language arts and math. They have been getting some good press in general, but also some expected critique. It will be interesting what happens from here. Here is one thoughtful Christian teacher’s thoughts about them.

Here is a great video by Dan Meyer about engaging kids in thinking about math from the TED Talks people:

Who are the Ted Talks people, you may ask? They are a bunch of “crazed learners”  (my words) – people who get together to be stimulated by ideas – my kind of people! 596 talks of less than 20 minutes each are available from TED’s annual California and England conferences. Believe me, as a speaker it is tough to boil it all down to 20 minutes or less, but here are the best speakers in the world doing it. Also available in podcasts via ITunes. See the video below of Sir Ken Robinson speaking about educational change as an example.

Sir Ken Robinson gave a popular TED talk entitled “Do schools kill creativity?” and here is the follow-up video entitled “Bring on the learning revolution”:

Living in denial – why is it so hard for us to grasp that our kids may be having sex?

Does going to Sunday School as a child make a difference? David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group states: “…the study shows that most American adults recall frequent faith activity when they were growing up. Moreover, it provides clarity that the odds of one sticking with faith over a lifetime are enhanced in a positive direction by spiritual activity under the age of 18. And it raises the intriguing possibility that being involved at least a few times a month is correlated with nearly the same sticking power as weekly involvement – especially among teenagers.”  Read more here.

Do you have a fixed or growth mindset?  I’d encourage you to read the book, Mindset by Carol Dweck,  to learn more about yourself and how our teachers may or may not view kids – tremendous implications for education.

A very helpful Slideshare (Slideshare is an online, open source Powerpoint that you can download) on CyberBullying –that includes the latest online stats related to teens.

Twittering is not Frittering! Want to do a lot of up to the minute learning? Sign up for Twitter and read what people are reading, thinking, re-tweeting (that’s when they recommend you look at something they found interesting – be it website, article, movie, etc.). Here are a few educators I find interesting to follow: Tom VanderArk, Gary Stager, Wesley Fryer, Scott McLeod, and Dan Pink.

Here is a very useful website by a principal for principals that has lots of forms, surveys, handbooks, etc. that could make your life easier!

A very helpful and well written review of Avatar from a Christian perspective in the March 2010 Christianity Today.

Good stuff from Wired magazine – my new favorite!  Articles: Do You Speak Statistics? and  Instant Karma – How Twitter + Dopamine = Better Humans.

I live in a happy town (here is the article and video)  and right on the heels of that happy announcement  came this– “Holland, Mich., Metro Area Best at Meeting Basic Needs”. Come and join us – it is a great place to live!

Why soda should have no place in a Christian school.

Are incentives a good thing? Maybe you have read Dan Pink’s book, Drive by now (see earlier post) – if not, read it! Here is another recent article on the topic from Fast Company: The Curse of Incentives.

I find this shocking – 40% of our food is wasted everyday!

And hopefully this will leave you laughing! Is immigration just a south of the border issue? This one is for our Canadian brothers and sisters – enjoy!

Thanks for reading Nurturing Faith and recommend it to a friend!

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School/church/home partnering that encourages discipleship – a model that is working!

How to best partner with churches has been a true conundrum for CSI Christian schools in recent years.

Cultural changes and shifts in church membership,  coupled with students coming from a broadening number and variety of churches, have left schools confused about how to keep the home – school – church triangle intact, or even functioning at all. At the 2007 CSI membership convention we attempted to highlight the issue and make some progress on the issue of our common connection – the faith development of the students we share. If you are interested you can go back to earlier blog posts: here is the original post about the work, the report on the work we did at the convention, how it could be used with churches, and a subsequent post about how some schools attempted to follow up. One of the common difficulties in our larger (and even mid-size!) schools is that there are often over 100 churches represented in the student body.  How can a school effectively connect with all of them, let alone do any planning together?

In the light of this persistent challenge, it was my pleasure last week to chat with Len Stob, superintendent, and Ben Dykhouse, Director of Christian Leadership, at Ontario (CA) Christian and to hear about their mentoring/discipleship program.

I will let Ben explain:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, writes that “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” In Growing True Disciples, George Barna gauges the responses of students involved in mentoring relationships. 30% of the students reported the experience as “life changing,” 60% said it was “really helpful,” 10% thought it was of “some value,” while less than 1% decided that it was “not helpful” (pg. 51). At Ontario Christian, we believe discipleship is a primary goal of the church, home and school. Thus, Ontario Christian is offering a Discipleship Program for students that will partner church, home and school to foster these characteristics of a disciple. Ontario Christian’s aim for this program is to give students another opportunity to grow in discipleship. So, what is Christian discipleship? Christian discipleship is acknowledging Christ’s Lordship and following him in all areas of life. Specifically, a true disciple will experience transformation in his/her relationships with friends, coworkers, family, and fellow church members. A true disciple will also embody a distinctively Christ‐ like lifestyle. Another characteristic of a Christian disciple is involvement with Christ’s church. Finally, a disciple has the desire to bring reconciliation, justice, and righteousness to his/her immediate community and to the world at large. One part of this program will be a mentoring relationship. Each student in the program will be paired with a mature Christian who attends the same church and is of the same gender. This mentor must be approved by the student’s parents, and she/he must meet certain requirements (see info via wiki link below.) This relationship will give the student the opportunity to experience spiritual growth in Christian community, dialogue with a mature Christian, and establish roots in her/his church that will last beyond high school. We strongly believe that whole‐life Christian discipleship does not happen without fellowship among other Christians. In other words, it does not happen primarily in personal devotions. This mentoring relationship is outlined in great detail see sections II‐IX on the wiki (see the link below.)

A second component to this Discipleship Program is partnering with the student’s home. With the goal of discipleship in mind, families of students in this program commit to eat a meal together at least three times per week. The family will also commit to have family devotions at least three times per week. Again, this is to emphasize God’s call to families to disciple their children and to put the arena of discipleship in the context of community. Materials for family devotions will be provided as a resource. However, families will not be bound to using these for their devotional time. Parents will also attend two meetings while their student is involved in the Discipleship Program.

Beyond discipleship growth and the forming of cross-generational bonds, Ontario Christian sees a “return” on the kind of positive campus culture that these sophomore and junior student leaders are able to assist in building. They are processing this work with their own staff at the end of each semester and are also hosting a symposium for youth pastors. They report that, due to the mentoring, students get more rooted in their own churches as well. It seems like a very exciting program that has strong promise to not only develop student leaders, but to strengthen church, school, and family ties.

If you are interested in knowing more details about this program you can contact Ben Dykhouse, Bible Teacher and Director of Christian Leadership at Ontario Christian High School. His phone number is 909.984.1756 ext. 39 and his email address is: To see more details about the program including mentor qualities, tips for effective mentoring, qualities of an effective student disciple, contracts for mentors, students, and families, and discussion starter questions, please visit the DC (Distinctively Christian) Tools for Schools wiki.


Filed under church partnering, community, discernment, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, leadership, mission development, parenting, resources, student outcomes

Learning from the stranger

(Thanks to two good friends – David Smith, for once again enriching the Christian education community via his newest book, and to Bruce Hekman, for providing this review of the book!)

In my city of Holland, Michigan, where the annual celebration of Tulip Time celebrates our Dutch beginnings, I was startled to learn recently that fifty-one percent of young people, aged eighteen and under, are Hispanic. What’s happening in Holland is being replicated across North America, in rural areas, cities and towns.

We’re been hearing it and reading about it for years: North America is becoming increasingly multicultural. Some schools, such as those in urban centers and along the coasts, have experienced a steady rise in the number of non-North American students for some time, and have added staff and programs to help them adjust and become full members of the school community (English as a Second Language programs, tutors, new admissions policies for International students, school to school partnerships, immersion language programs.

A number of schools have added out-of-country short-term mission trips to their programs, where students and staff spend a week on projects (often building) through programs such as the Hands program offered and facilitated by World Wide Christian Schools. Other schools, such as Fraser Valley Christian High School and Zeeland Christian School have developed partnerships with schools in other countries.

But many schools have found their attempts to work interculturally to be like building a bridge as they walk on it. They want to find ways to welcome the strangers and to equip their students and faculty to be sensitive to the needs of these new, often non-English speaking members, but it’s often discouraging work and the bridges don’t lead anywhere (as we discovered with the trendy workshops on “diversity training” that proliferated for a decade or more).

Now there’s a wonderful new resource for all schools and churches interested in a deeper, better way to imagine intercultural learning from a biblical, Reformed world view.

In his recent book Learning From the Stranger (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009), David Smith makes a detailed biblical argument that “hospitality, humility, and hearing belong together.” “If they part ways, then the idea of hospitality easily becomes a new form of condescension in which I am always the host and the other is my needy guest.” At its best, intercultural encounters move us from learning about others to learning from them and finally to learning with them.

Smith, from Britain, teaching German at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has thought for a long time about “the need for a framework for thinking in Christian terms about learning other languages and cultures in a way that takes seriously learning from the stranger.” (p. 149) In the seven chapters of the book he lays out such a framework and attempts to ground it theologically in scripture, looking in great detail at the story of the nomad Abraham’s fears and failures, Jesus’ challenges to the teacher of law to learn to obey scripture from an outsider, a Samaritan, and finally at the birth of the early church at Pentecost.

Learning from the Stranger articulates what “culture” is, and discusses the ways in which our cultural differences affect our perceptions and our behavior. His analysis and his stories resonate because virtually none of us interacts exclusively with people who look, talk, behave, and think like we do in our culturally interconnected world.

To be Christian, Smith argues, means first, “that on theological grounds, …to profess Christian faith implies a willingness to grow together with fellow believers whose ethnicities, languages, and cultures are different from my own….to be Christian is to imitate Christ’s open-armed embrace of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, barbarian, Scythian, African, European, Latino, Asian. To be Christian is, furthermore, not to reserve for oneself the role of host, the one who sets the table, but to learn to see Christ in others, to receive correction from them, to be joined to them, to learn from the stranger.” (p. 145, 146).

Smith’s insights into the biblical story are supported by his experiences as a teacher of German language and culture, his experiences as a stranger to North American culture, and his wide travels around the globe. He persuasively argues that learning other languages and cultures is a task for everyone, not just those who hope to serve as cross-cultural missionaries.

I highly recommend this book to any person or organization who is looking for a biblically grounded way to think about the growing multicultural nature of our lives and our work. It’s a challenging, and very helpful book that points us in the right direction as we struggle to understand what it means to “love our neighbor.”

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Did You Know 4.0 – fall 2009 version

Some of you may have enjoyed the previous Did You Know videos . . . well enjoyed is probably not the correct word – let’s see – jolted by them might be more appropriate. They are a helpful visual compilation of the kinds of rapid change happening in our world that has relevance to educators and others.

Here is the latest in the Did You Know series, highlighting media convergence.

In case you missed the first video and remixed versions of that video, the most recent version of the original video is the 3.0 version below.


Filed under change, discernment, kids/culture, leadership, staff development, uncategorized

Timeless truth, different delivery #1

I would like to share some thoughts in the next several blog posts under this title: Timeless Truth, Different Delivery. In my work of writing and staff development with schools, it has been my opportunity to encourage Christian schools to be distinctively Christian in order to better meet their missions and to focus on nurturing student faith. I have attempted to bring a common language and specific methods to this dialogue. I believe this is critical work in a time when Christian schools seem in danger of slipping away due to continuing enrollment problems, lack of clarity around philosophy and mission, or just plain lack of resources or will to do pro-active school improvement work.  How will our schools improve and be faithful to their missions – their reasons for existence?

What is encouraging is that the kind of skills that our students need are the very skills that I believe can be delivered best in the context of a Christian school. This is true because ultimately all truth is God’s truth and all things cohere in Christ. For example, when Howard Gardner from Harvard identifies the kinds of minds our students need in his book Five Minds For the Future and then is asked what kind of mind is ultimately most important, he identifies the “respectful” and “ethical” mind as most important. Isn’t that exactly the kind of mind we are seeking to develop in Christian schools? And, I would add, we are providing the foundation for this kind of mind – we are teaching kids that God’s Word is the basis of truth for having a “respectful” mind and that an “ethical” mind is not based on whatever you and I agree upon, but on the Ten Commandments given by God and interpreted by Jesus Christ in his summary of the law – to love God and love neighbor.

My point is that what our kids need is a firm understanding of timeless truth – that has not changed. We have made strides in our ability to articulate the what – what truths are most important for our students to grasp in order to help make sense of the world? How we move them to an understanding of that truth is what we need to consider given today’s world and today’s kids. We also know more than we used to about why we need to use different delivery methods. Let’s explore what, how and why further.

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Filed under change, classroom, community, curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, student outcomes

What 3 student learning needs will you meet?

michael's post's wordle(Thanks to Michael Essenburg, Christian Academy in Japan, for sharing this post and to for the image.)

You know that when you meet your students’ learning needs, they do better. Since you want your students to do better on connecting what they study and Biblical principles, you decide to meet specific learning needs.

Question: What 3 learning needs will you meet?

Here are sample student learning needs:

  1. Understanding the importance of connecting what they study and Biblical principles.
  2. Knowing what it looks like to connect what they study and Biblical principles.
  3. Understanding how you (or their other teachers) teach from a Biblical perspective.
  4. Understanding the vocabulary.
  5. Experiencing engaging instructional strategies.
  6. Having time to think through the answers for themselves.
  7. Having time to reflect.
  8. Connecting their lives, Biblical principles, and what they study.
  9. Practicing connecting Biblical principles and what they study.

Here’s what one high school teacher is doing:

I’m passionate about my students loving God with their minds. I really want them to develop a Christ-centered worldview. One way I help them do this is by helping them apply a Biblical perspective to what they study. This year I’ve been working to meet 3 of my students’ learning needs:

(#5) Experiencing engaging instructional strategies: When my students are engaged, they learn better. A key instructional strategy I’m using is asking questions. Just this past week, I asked my students “What’s the difference between infatuation and love?” They became quickly engaged, and their discussion resulted in them talking about the biblical concept of love.

(#6) Time to think through the answers for themselves: When kids have time to think, they are more likely to make connections. Since I want my students to connect learning and faith, I’ve been providing time for my students to think. For example, in my “Who Am I?” unit, I gave my students time to think about who they are spiritually, culturally, and personally.

(#8) Connecting their lives, Biblical principles, and what they study: My students do a better job of understanding and applying a biblical perspective when I incorporate their life experience. For example, my students all know that what the Nazis did to the Jews was horrible and that it violated the biblical teaching of respecting others as God’s image bearers. But then they leave class and gossip.

To help my students really get the implications of respecting others, I asked them to do a 2-part journal entry: (1) to list examples of respect and contempt for human dignity from a holocaust memoir and (2) to list examples of respect and contempt for human dignity that they see at school. Then I had them discuss their entries in small groups. It worked!


Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, student outcomes

Edging toward amortality

Aging Not So Gracefully

Aging Not So Gracefully by Cayusa on Flickr

Maybe it is the constant barrage of AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) letters in the mail, or the fact that my upcoming birthday pushes me closer to the name of a local bank (there really is a bank called 5/3 Bank!), but I can’t help but wonder if the concept of amortality is happening to me. Note that I said amortality, not amorality!  If you are not familiar with the concept of amortality, you should know that it is #5 on Time magazine’s list of 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now, and is described by its inventor, writer Catherine Mayer as:  “. . . the intersection of that trend (resisting the onset of age) with a massive increase in life expectancy and a deep decline in the influence of organized religion.” Yes, the Boomer generation seems to be both re-inventing age and walking away (or running or “spinning” away) from the concept of organized religion (see Barna’s book Revolutionaries and my 12.18.06 post.)

As I write this, my body is recovering from a spring break filled with painting, yard work, sod moving, and closet cleaning. I want to function at the same pace as I did in earlier years, and am disappointed if I can’t. As Mayer states: “The defining characteristic of amortality is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death.” We somehow expect to live forever on this earth and expect/hope that medical science will have the answer by the time we need it, to allow us to live indefinitely. These attitudes fly in the face of “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12. We are in essence saying we are not interested in learning another pace, to develop character and understanding toward wisdom, but instead are saying “just give us our Botox and Viagra and let us go on our paths of consumption.”

My sister’s recent struggles with long-term cancer have again inspired me to number my days and do things that really matter, as I have seen her do. Her grace and ministry to all around bear witness to a heart that holds no illusions about the power of amortality. I only hope that I can live however many days that are numbered for me with half the grace and focus that she has demonstrated. Perhaps our personal mantra should be something like, “Modeling what matters so that the wisdom of Christ is seen through me.”

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Teaching kids to transform the world: possible?

080808-mpetersen-culturemakingCan culture be transformed? Or does more evidence point to our being transformed by the culture?

One of the legacies of the Dutch theologian and statesman, Abraham Kuyper, has been the concept that we are to claim all of life and culture for God – to be transformers of the culture.  This thinking has permeated churches in the Reformed (the theological approach, not just the denomination) tradition and those Christian day schools that have originated from the Christian Reformed Church in particular. We are proud of the fact that we do not simply advocate condemning and retreating from culture, but that we attempt to be counter-cultural, to be “in and not yet of” the culture we experience. If you were to survey Christian school mission statements you would find many phrases that reflect the belief that we are training children to be cultural transformers. Yet, how effective is this strategy? Is it working?

In his recent book, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling, Andy Crouch calls into question our ability to transform culture by simply condemning, critiquing, copying or consuming culture (for greater description of these areas, read the book or this review. If we were to look at the area of media alone, we would have to admit that, despite our condemnation or critique of cultural slippage, we have not been very successful in changing the cultural landscape. There is simply too much media to critique and too little time for us to engage in advocating for long term, effective change. The premise of Crouch’s book is that, as Christians, we are called as image-bearers to create culture that reflects Christ.

This message would seem to resonate with the upcoming Millennial generation. They desire the real, the authentic, the hands-on, direct experiences of ministry, while the Boomers seem to have been more concerned about their own worship/church needs via an entertainment model and large church infrastructure. Despite the disconcerting aspects of large scale change and turmoil, my friend Rex Miller sees the focus of Millennial’s to be a very positive development as we move through these times of death and rebirth in our culture. See his recent article here.

While I agree with Crouch’s encouragement to individual Christians to make culture wherever they are planted, I also agree with John Seel’s concern with Crouch’s book that culture is not simply about individuals, it is also about the cultural gatekeepers within institutions who really control culture, a “super class” of perhaps 6,000 people within institutions who dramatically influence world culture. Seel emphasizes the need for student preparation and training in obedience – we don’t know if and when and how the students in our schools may be called into as an “influencer” or “cultural gatekeeper”, but need to practice with diligence in preparation for whatever work God calls them to do. Whether we focus on culture making from an individual or institutional standpoint, there is no substitute for Christian schools that help students develop discernment and Godly wisdom, all the while teaching them to work within and through community.

I really appreciated Crouch’s discussion of what he calls the two most compelling events of God’s intervention in culture in the Bible. He views these as instructive to our response to life in this present age. He points to the exodus of Israel and the resurrection of Christ as events that came to those who were powerless against, and crushed by, the dominant Egyptian and Roman cultures of the time. In that context, God reveals his power by working in the lives of the powerless. In an age where we have been seduced and then disenchanted by our “Christian” influence on the political process, where we feel increasingly powerless to make change, and in a time where we realize again the futility of depending on our own financial means, we are encouraged to call on God and to look carefully at what he is doing in our midst to see “where the impossible is becoming possible.”

We need to consider whether we, as evangelical Christians, have been seduced by cultural power and influence. Have we unconsciously encouraged our students to become celebrities through accomplishments more than we have encouraged them to become saints? (Crouch holds up Princess Diana and Mother Theresa as contrasting models.) He reminds us that the growth of the church came through Christians engaging in cultural creativity – loving neighbors through the worst of times, being open and accessible with their faith, living very different lives – believing, behaving, and demonstrating belonging to a different kingdom – and thus changing their culture and world. How can we encourage our kids to be culture makers and culture influencers so that they become, in Crouch’s words, artists and gardeners who through their God-given creativity help to bring forward Christ’s kingdom?


Filed under change, discernment, mission development, student outcomes

The big tube to nowhere

9192_6546The latest news from this past year involving our great North American pastime:

  • Wondering how many more times we need to be reminded about the switch from analog to digital before February? One would think that something really important, such as Jesus’ return was happening, as often as we have been reminded! The latest in awareness building techniques: scrolling “Important Announcement” banners at the bottom of the TV screen with this earth-shaking reminder.
  • Gotta’ have it all the time and in all places: free public restrooms operated by the Charmin toilet paper company in Times Square during the upcoming Christmas season will have flat screen TV’s. Charmin promises “tourists will feel like kings before making their royal flushes.” (Associated Press, GR Press, 11.28.08)
  • Unhappy people watch more TV – up to an extra 5.6 hours per week compared to happier people, who spend more time socializing, reading, and participating in religious activities, according to a study of 40,000 people aged 18 to 64. Lead study author and sociologist John Robinson from the University of Maryland states: “It could be that watching television makes you unhappy, but there is also the question of whether people who are unhappy turn to television as a way to ward off their unhappiness.” (Donna St. George, Washington Post as quoted in G.R. Press, 11.28.08)
  • Children who watched more than 3 hours of television per day between ages 5 and 11 had more attention problems as teenagers, as noted by a long-term study of over 1,000 children in New Zealand and published in Pediatrics journal. (Washington Post, as cited in Grand Rapids Press, 11.13.07)
  • Boys’ (ages 8-18) use of time – 6.5 hours per day with media; therefore boys spend about 45.5 hours a week total – more than a full time job! (Boys Should be Boys by Meg Meeker, M.D.)
  • Alarming statistic that likely hasn’t improved: the top TV show choice among kids 9-12 in 2005 was . . . Desperate Housewives –  “a “satire” in which suicide is glorified and slutty married women commit adultery with their gardeners . . . (this show) continues to be one of the current top rated shows that make a complete mockery of the sanctity of marriage.” (As quoted from:
  • A three-year Rand Corporation study is the first of its kind to link sexy TV shows and teen pregnancy.
  • Media use may impact sleep quantity and quality of  children – see this link.
  • Our addiction to media consumption: 9.5 hours a day: TV – 3 hours, Internet – 90 minutes, radio – 30 minutes, radio – 2.5 hours, recorded music – 85 minutes, magazines – 15 minutes, reading a book – 3 minutes. (Why We Hate Us by Dick Meyer.) Obviously the book reading figure is disconcerting. To quote Mark Twain on book reading: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.”
  • An encouraging sign: parents are setting greater restrictions on TV watching and reading more to kids than in 1994, according to the 2004 U.S. census. For 3-5 year olds, 68% had TV watching rules, 71% of 6-11 year olds, and 47% of 12-17 year olds. (Grand Rapids Press, 11.1.07) Of course one could argue that the content of TV has also deteriorated in ten years, thus making it an easier choice. Also one could wonder why 100% of kids don’t have TV watching rules, especially at the younger ages.
  • In a study released December 2, 2008 by the National Institutes of Health and Yale University, researchers found that 80% of all studies done on media since 1980 show a negative connection between health and media use. Reviewed were studies that measured media effects on obesity, tobacco, drug and alcohol use, sexual behavior, low academic achievement and ADHD.

How much more evidence do we need before we start changing our habits? There is increasing evidence that kids want to spend more time with parents, but some parents seem intent on making other choices. Do we lack the will, the spiritual discipline to limit TV? Is TV consuming our souls and contributing to sucking the life out of us?

(Feel free to copy all or part of this post to send on to parents in a newsletter – just please acknowledge the source.)

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Filed under discernment, kids/culture, parenting, resources

Brandon and belonging

eyeAs the workshop at Timothy Christian in Barrie, Ontario was breaking up, word came that Brandon’s body had been found. Brandon Crisp, a slight fifteen-year-old who had been missing since October 13, had left his home near Barrie, Ontario after his parents removed his Xbox privileges. Brandon’s favorite program was “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.” In this simulation, players act out missions as U.S. Marines or British SAS members.

Ironically, in our workshop that day, we had been considering the pressures of culture and the faith development of youth ages 9-18.  We had focused some time in particular on trends of concern that are emerging around boys and factors related to school achievement and faith development. In the area of video games, the negative evidence around the use of violent video games is starting to mount – Sax (Boys Adrift) points to research indicating that playing violent video games are more destructive than watching violent media. The pattern is familiar: boys begin spending more and more time with the game, and less and less time doing the typical boy things – playing with friends, engaging in physical activities/sports, and playing online games for hours at a time. Social circles shrink as the addiction increases and the connections shift to online game players. A recent McLean’s article reported: “While he had few friends in Barrie, his Xbox had a list of 200 people whom he played “Call of Duty” with online. Judged too small to keep up in hockey, the shy but competitive teenager found respect and success in the video game world, where he played on “clans” or “online teams.”

A predominant theme in recent years among those who write about youth faith nurture is that of our youth experiencing abandonment by adults. Our kids seek to belong, to matter somewhere. Note that the online video world refers to kids belonging to “clans.”  Brandon’s father commented in the police station: “When I took his Xbox away, I took away his identity.” Are we rooting our kids in the identity expressed in the Heidelburg Catechism Q & A 1 – “I am not my own but belong, in body and soul, in life and death, to my faithful savior Jesus Christ?” Where are our kids forming deep ties and finding their sense of belonging?

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Filed under community, discernment, kids/culture, use of time

What does it mean to “be Jesus?”

cross-and-nailsAs Jesus pointed out in Luke 6:41, our natural human tendency is to point out the brokenness in others, yet ignore our own brokenness. We repeatedly fall prey to the temptations of pride as we set ourselves apart from others in ways that make us appear we have it “more together.”

There is probably nowhere a greater need for the balance between standing for truth and practicing grace than in dealing lovingly with issues of sexual orientation in our schools. At a recent CSI Critical Issues Forum held at Trinity Christian College, Christian educators grappled with the issues around student sexual orientation. A key question in our discussion became: how can we care well for both individuals and our community in these situations which can be so uncomfortable for those involved and so divisive within our communities?

Attendees at the workshop acknowledged that all of us experience brokenness in our sexuality, originally intended as a good gift from God. It is difficult to even discuss these issues at times. We recognized that for some students sexual orientation is not a choice, but that we play key roles in helping students deal with their own questions, confusion, anger, grief around this topic, as well as helping them deal with family and church relationships. Most of all, we play a key nurturing role as we encourage kids by helping them make choices related to their sexuality as they live out their faith in obedience to Christ, and in the context of Christian community. How can we “be Jesus” to them?

(If you are a member school and are interested in learning more about this topic, please visit our Member Community Center to view student guidelines and information submitted by other schools.)

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Filed under classroom, community, discernment, encouraging the heart, image of God, kids/culture, resources, student outcomes