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.”

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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!

Wisdom!

C. S. Lewis ‏@CSLewisU

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

walter kirn ‏@walterkirn

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

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

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

Pasi Sahlberg ‏@pasi_sahlberg

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

Robert Sommers, PhD ‏@RDSommers

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

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

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

Rob Jacobs ‏@RobJacobs_

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

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

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

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

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

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

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

Karen Duke ‏@krnduke

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

Marc Prensky ‏@marcprensky

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

Mike Morrell ‏@zoecarnate

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

Marc Prensky ‏@marcprensky

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

Miroslav Volf ‏@MiroslavVolf

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

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

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

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

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

Wonder!!

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

25 incredible camouflaged insects 

World’s largest archive of wildlife sounds and videos 

Inspiration!!!

Sometimes the “Tough Teen” is Quietly Writing Stories

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

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

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

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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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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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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: diffen.com) 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.

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