Category Archives: staff development

End of the year interesting stuff

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

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

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

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

Good videos on vocation/work from Tim Keller:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would you define beautiful work?

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

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

Inspiring creativity in schools – relationship between chaos and creativity.

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Why PBL? (Project Based Learning)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Biblical worldview, change, curriculum, staff development, student outcomes

Shalom and parent teacher conferences

Photo credit: Sean Dreilinger

Photo credit: Sean Dreilinger

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

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

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

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

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




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

A plea to Christian colleges

Over the past six and a half years that I have been writing this blog my main focus has been to encourage Christian schools to nurture student faith in three very distinctive ways: curriculum, classroom, and community. It’s been gratifying to hear that some of the posts have been a good encouragement to teachers and administrators who are serious about living out the mission of their school with their students. Schools can and should develop sound professional development experiences for their teachers to help them implement the school’s mission through curriculum, classroom, and community. I have been privileged to work with schools in this process.

 Much like students enter a class with varying degrees of academic readiness, I have found that teachers have an equally wide range of readiness to nurture student faith. What I have found in professional development workshops is that, when asked, many teachers have not been trained in how to teach Christianly – not that they are not Christians, but have not received instruction during undergraduate days about how to connect their faith and the mission of the school. This leaves the total responsibility to the school to try to develop this teacher’s understanding…and it is a daunting task.

 For starters in this conversation, we have candidates coming from a wide range of colleges. By their own choices, they may have attended a public college or university. I did, and was aware that when interviewing at Christian schools, I needed to be able to more clearly articulate my faith and how it impacted my teaching than a candidate coming from a trusted Christian college. My present concern is that I am not hearing rousing endorsements in my workshops from teachers about their training to teach Christianly while they attended a Christian college. This is concerning because it indicates that the Christian colleges the teachers attended did not show its teacher education majors how to effectively integrate faith and learning.

 I would argue that whether preparing teachers for Christian or public education teaching, the fact remains that to be true to its Christian mission, Christian colleges should teach all education students how God’s truth is revealed in the educative process. If Christian colleges are requiring a statement of faith in their entry process from students, it is only natural that all students understand how faith is understood and lived out in their discipline area. Having taught and been an administrator in both public and Christian education, I could argue that it might be even more important for Christians working in public education to have a sound worldview and grasp of how to impact kids for Christ – they have to do it more subtly and may have less collegial and administrative support.

In summary, I am pleading that Christian colleges be true to their mission, equipping students to understand and demonstrate, as possible, to those they will be teaching how Christ is Lord over all.  In order to impact others, teachers must begin with a solid understanding of their own of how our world belongs to God, and how in turn we can encourage students to respond back to God and others with love and service.

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Four critical considerations for school improvement

School improvement is an ongoing task and should never be completed. In their quest to improve, schools should give consideration to critical questions.  I have tried to simplify the improvement process into four questions/steps and four alliterative concepts: Clarity, Consistency, Collaboration, and Constituents. The relationship of the questions, concepts, possible tools, and processes is shown in the table below:

school imp 4 things graphic

The first three concepts are listed in a logical order of implementation. Until we have clarity we cannot have surety of consistency. Until we have consistency we will not have the most effective form of collaboration – around student work.  While one could argue that this whole process is caring about constituents, I would like to suggest that our caring in the fourth step is much more specific and intentional – we are seeking to get honest feedback about the question of meeting our overall goals for each learner.

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Filed under change, classroom, curriculum, leadership, mission development, resources, staff development

I wonder as I wander

I can’t seem to get my head around it!  No matter how many times I talk to someone around the world and it sounds like they are sitting in the same room with me, I am filled with wonder. When I look at anything in micro and see how color and design pop forward that I previously hadn’t observed, I am amazed. No matter how many times I fly, I am still amazed at how such a large object is able to leave the ground, how quickly it moves me from distant place to distant place, and how infinite the places, spaces, and quantities of people, relationships, and details of life spread out below me as I gaze at large metropolitan areas below. My head starts to hurt when I imagine what God’s job must be like listening to all the people below and then adding in all the others around the world who live beyond the narrow strip of earth I am flying over at that moment.

Sometimes part of our problem in education is that we are too outcome focused – I imagine some of you are surprised to hear me say that! Life is meant to be a journey, and life is full of learning. We are on a journey/quest of learning and wonder – it is how we are wired as image bearers of God – we are wired for questioning and discovery. The role of science in this journey then is not to nail it all down, but to continue to expand our wonder. Robert Sapolsky, a distinguished scientist, reflects this sentiment: “The purpose of science is not to cure us of our sense of mystery and wonder, but to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate it.” Sapolsky captures the sense of wonder and complexity in these words: “. . . an impala sprinting across the Savannah can be reduced to biomechanics, and Bach can be reduced to counterpoint, yet that does not decrease one iota our ability to shiver as we experience impalas leaping or Bach thundering. We can only gain and grow with each discovery that there is structure underlying the most accessible levels of things that fill us with awe.”

Part of the purpose of learning is to gain a greater sense of wonder. Well known physicist/genius Richard Feynman suggests: “The purpose of knowledge is to appreciate wonders even more.” Our process of learning then is not to produce certainty through a command of factual information, but to produce a greater appreciation of wonder, to be increasingly motivated to learn more and more and to engage in the study of complexities yet not understood. In the learning process the student should have questions multiplying rather than being answered – and sometimes this might mean the questioning of things we thought we knew…or had an answer for.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr suggests that wondering connotes at least three things: 1) standing in disbelief, 2) standing in the question itself, and 3) standing in awe before something. He suggests that it is spiritually healthy to remain open to all three things inside of you as long as you don’t let skepticism and negativity gain the upper hand. To remain in the question keeps us spiritually humble and open to what is possible.

Despite concerns about “science bleaching the world of wonder,” Phillip Ball suggests in his article “Why Science Needs Wonder”  that “science today appreciates that the link between curiosity and wonder should not, and probably cannot, be severed, for true curiosity – as opposed, say, to obsessive pedantry, acquisitiveness or problem-solving – grinds to a halt when deprived of wonder’s fuel.” I believe we simply cannot detach our emotions, our enthusiasm, our fervor, our aesthetic and moral impulses, our sense of awe and wonder – it is our innate response to worship, to bow in humility before a God whose “glory is beyond the heavens, whose ways are past finding out.”

It is the task and the joy of the Christian teacher to balance the two extremes – to not too quickly give religious answers to questions of wonder so that a student’s curiosity for further inquiry is dampened, and on the other hand to not advance the idea that we must be in doubt about everything and that what we do know is simply the result of man’s discovery.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, creation & environment, curriculum, staff development, student outcomes, worship

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

Essential Questions – engaging and mission oriented

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

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

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

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

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


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

Impressive . . . and readable!

Visible-Learning-for-Teachers-Hattie-John-EB9781136592331The educational community worldwide owes a huge debt of gratitude to John Hattie. Hattie, a professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia is the author of Visible Learning, the result of 15 years of labor in the synthesis of educational research. The scope of what he attempted and completed is staggering: 800 meta-analyses of 50,000 research articles, 150,000 effect sizes, and about 240 million students! This work was reported in his 2009 book, Visible Learning. In his recent book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, he adds the results of 100+ meta-analyses that have been completed since 2009 and attempts to build a bridge of clarity directly to the daily work world of teachers and administrators.

What struck me initially about this book is the fact that he uses the format of the lesson to explain the findings of his research, thus putting the research results in context for the practitioner. His sections in Part 2 of his book are 1) preparing the lesson, 2) starting the lesson, 3) the flow of the lesson: learning, 4) the flow of the lesson: the place of feedback, and 5) the end of the lesson.  He presents the research findings in a readable format for teachers and administrator that it is simply outstanding! I have never enjoyed reading research so much! The chapters are filled with helpful tables and diagrams that bring further clarity to the text. At the end of each chapter is a series of 4-10 questions for further discussion that could be used very effectively in faculty learning sessions.

As excited as I am about the content, accessibility, and usefulness of the book, I am even more overjoyed about the perspective that Hattie articulates in Parts 1 and 3 of the book. He acknowledges the significance of passion and the difficulty of measuring it. In particular he emphasizes the significance of teachers demonstrating a passion for having a positive impact on all students in their class: to monitor, self-assess, and modify their performance so that they make a difference in what they do. Hattie believes that a key to student learning is that educators must be passionate about evaluating their impact. While we associate a book of research like this with student achievement, Hattie makes clear that an over-emphasis on this area can cause us to lose focus on “what students, know, can do, and care about.” What he means is that the kinds of things that we have been addressing in this blog related to student flourishing, i.e. “the school and learning experience…must be productive, challenging, and engaging to ensure the best chance possible that students will stay in school.”

I deeply resonate with how Hattie concludes the book. After all the excellent presentation of research, he opens a discussion of eight mind frames of the teacher by stating the following:

“The major argument in this book underlying powerful impacts in our schools relates to how we think! It is a set of mind frames that underpin our every action and decision in a school; it is a belief that we are evaluators, change agents, adaptive learning experts, seekers of feedback about our impact, engaged in dialogue and challenge, and developers of trust with all, and that we see opportunity in error, and are keen to spread the message about the power, fun, and impact that we have on learning.”

Wow – right on John! Our ways of thinking, or worldview (my word), is the linchpin to student learning. What we believe about students, their capability, how to manage and engage them, the barriers to their learning, and our ability to impact them are, and always will be, the keys to student learning. Hattie provides a helpful, copy permission granted, self-assessment checklist that all of your staff could take to understand what their own mind frames are and what might be their personal strengths and barriers.

I have been challenging Christian schools to see all students as image-bearers of God – in this distinctively Christian worldview there is no room for giving up on kids or not appreciating the gifts that each student brings into the classroom. While it is easy to give lip service to this concept, what I appreciate about this book is that Hattie has challenged us to go a step further by examining our mind frames and linking those mind frames back to the research. If we are serious about offering our professional work back to God as worship, we must be reading books like John Hattie’s – books that show us the truth about what we know so far about student learning via research and also show us bridges to offer our very best work back as worship and praise to God.

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Filed under book, classroom, resources, staff development, student outcomes

End of the year interesting stuff

It is always exciting to reach this point in the year and to consider God’s faithfulness! Hopefully in the next months you will have some time to reflect, rejuvenate and recharge. You might enjoy looking at some of these things that I found to be interesting, provocative or funny.

The understanding of Bloom’s Taxonomy is critical to teaching and learning – here is a great digital, iPad apps version:
Integrate iPads Into Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy With This ‘Padagogy Wheel’

Great graphic explaining flipped learning

Teacher appreciation – “I Teach Because I Can’t Do Anything Else!” – terrific thoughts about what makes teaching special compared to other careers – here is the website and here it is in a I Teach Because I Can’t Do Anything Else! with author credit.

“Teaching is the relationship between relationship, curiosity, and content” – great truth and helpful short video:

What teens share on social media, by gender and age: Pew Research Internet Study

Humor dept – from Alfie Kohn: Slogans in search of an acronym: Standardized Testing Undermines the Process of Intellectual Development

Six and seven year olds in first grade learning to read and write by using Twitter:

Helpful summary by Bill DeJager, SCSBC Director of Learning: What’s Trending in Learning: An Open Letter to SCSBC Board Members


“Christianity,if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” – C.S. Lewis.

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.” – Peter F. Drucker.

“We are experiencing the death of distance. Never has their been a time in our lives where distance has meant less than it does today.” – Ian Jukes.

“Apostles said to Jesus: ‘Lord, increase our faith” (Lk.17:5). They did not say “increase our numbers” or “Increase our influence” or …’ – Len Sweet.

A Learning-Centered Checklist for 21st Century Classrooms, Schools and Districts

What’s the Difference Between “Doing Projects” and “Project Based Learning”?

48 Free Education Apps Sorted By Grade Level

Very helpful site for elementary science teachers – clean, well-organized, and not overwhelming

Pinterest boards are quick ways to survey the field – here are ones from Edutopia and New Tech Network.

Wondering what is coming in the next five years? Here is Knowledge Works Forecast 3.0.

Dear Reader – It is time to say goodbye for the summer! This is the last post on the blog for this school year – we will now take a break for the summer months – and let you catch up on reading all those posts you missed this year. :) Thanks for reading Nurturing Faith this year – see you in September!

Have a great summer!

Dan Beerens


Filed under change, leadership, resources, staff development

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

Flourishing – thinking divergently and creatively about problems/solutions

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

Are we fogging the mirror? The statement,“We believe all children are made in the image of God,” has powerful consequences that I invite you to think about related to this aspect of flourishing. Are the ways we teach our students encouraging them to be more creative and divergent thinkers and therefore increasing their flourishing? A flourishing student is certainly one who demonstrates a developed sense of thinking divergently and creatively about problems and solutions. How can this capability be developed and enhanced over the course of a student’s educational experience? One of the things that we grieve in the process of the education of children is the loss of creativity. In his well-known video, Sir Ken Robinson alludes to the book, Breakpoints and Beyond ,and a test of creativity. The gist of this study, and his point, is that creativity diminishes each year from kindergarten forward. Robinson wryly suggests that the common denominator in life for children is that they have attended school. A sad commentary!

Robinson is not alone in his concerns. In a recent blog post entitled “My Son is 8. He is a Maker,” professor Scott McLeod, writes about his 8 year old son, lamenting that the process of “making” is getting squashed out of his son’s life by school. Others who have had a similar personal experience share their stories in the comments to this post. I especially was touched by the woman writing about her 16 year old daughter’s experiences and the comment by a teacher who is attempting to teach her AP English class creatively.

School has wounded some learners and damaged their creativity and divergent thinking. In fact, wounds of creativity are one of the several types of wounds listed by author Kirsten Olson in her book Wounded by School. This controversial book says that the way we educate millions of American children alienates students from a fundamental pleasure in learning, and that pleasure in learning is essential to real engagement, creativity, intellectual entrepreneurship, and a well-lived life.

As Christians, we believe that each person bears God’s image and that we reflect his goodness, beauty, and creativity. I have asked the question previously in this blog: “If we ‘kill creativity’ through teaching that puts kids to sleep (physically or mentally!) and don’t encourage/allow children to be creative, have we limited their opportunity to image God?” This is a very sobering thought!

We have an unprecedented array of both technological tools and global awareness/opportunities today as we work with students. In his new book, Brain Gain – Marc Prensky, best known for his “digital native, digital immigrant” language, argues that technology actually complements and frees the mind for greater creativity. It is up to us as teachers and administrators to build an encouraging environment/opportunities, give permission/encourage students, and create a culture of expectation for creative work.

A word about standards and creativity – they are not in opposition to each other – it is not an either/or scenario. In the McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning) paper Five Things That Make the Biggest Difference in Schools, Bryan Goodwin suggests: “Standards should not be the ends of education, but rather the beginning, the platform for creativity, innovation, and personalization.” As we now recognize, creativity is at the top of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy – how perfect that the highest thing we can do is to image our creator’s creativity!

Some creativity links for you to explore:

What would happen if we “Let Kids Rule the School”?

Creative cities are happy cities – towns where learning is held highly and creative work is valued.

A creative young maker demonstrating creative things kids can do: Sylvia

Curriculum of Creativity – a compilation of ideas.

What might be done to produce different learning environments that stimulate creativity?

Will Richardson blog post: “How do we help our students establish themselves as a “node” in a broad, global network of creativity and learning? Shouldn’t that be one of the fundamental questions that drives our work in schools right now?”

Video creation –  by Rushton Hurley – Next Vista for Learning – five minute videos created by students about things to be learned, global study and service.

Careful – this video is just for fun, but you may recognize something you have said to stifle creativity: “Anti-creativity checklist” created by Youngme Moon, Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.

And to close, some wonderful creative student efforts happening at two of our CSI schools in Canada:

Toronto District – Unique Programs

Abbotsford Christian – Student Showcase

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Developing a Personal Learning Network via Twitter – part 2

images(Thanks to my friend Dave Mulder, Instructor of Education at Dordt College, for sharing this blog post! Part 1 appeared last month (to read it scroll down the blog.) Dave teaches courses in educational foundations, methods for teaching science, and educational technology. He blogs on teaching, learning, technology, students, faith, and school culture at iTeach and iLearn.

Twitter as Part of Your PLN

I joined Twitter back in 2009, but it took a little time for me to find it a valuable resource for my own personal professional development. That is mostly because I wasn’t doing it right. Since then I’ve changed some of my practices using Twitter, and now it is one of the main parts of my PLN (Personal Learning Network.)  Here are a few things I started doing that made Twitter so invaluable:

  • Follow people who share your interests. Since Twitter is asymmetrical, I can follow all sorts of people and find out what they are reading and tweeting. Since I’m most interested in using Twitter as part of my PLN, I follow quite a few educators—both practicing teachers as well as educational theorists. These folks tend to share things about teaching or school culture that I find valuable.
  • Use #hashtags to find and follow topics that interest you. You can search for hashtags on pretty much any topic you can think of that you might teach. #chemistry. #kindergarten. #VeteransDay. #UnderwaterBasketWeaving. Interested in educational technology? Try #edtech. General education topics? Try #edchat.
  • Use a Twitter client. You can sign up for an account right at Twitter’s website and use the social network through the site, but I’ve found it easier to keep track of things I’m interested in by using a Twitter client—a program designed to organize my Twitterfeed and use hashtags  to help keep track of conversations. I’ve been using TweetDeck, but I’ve also heard good things about HootSuite. (Both of these are free to download and safe to install.) For those on iOS or Android devices, you might consider Tweetcaster or Flipboard. (These are also free apps.) Do you need a Twitter client? No. But it might help you keep track of topics you are following.
  • Post things yourself! Here’s the deal: if you are benefiting from things other people are posting, share the wealth! Tweet links to great resources you find. Tweet your questions out to your followers and see what kinds of answers you might get. Retweet things other users have shared so your followers can profit as well. Reply to tweets from the people you follow, and you might be surprised by the big names in education who communicate back with you directly!

Proposing a New Hashtag

I’ve been thinking lately about how we in Christian Education can support and encourage each other—serving as a PLN for other Christian teachers—and how we might use Twitter to do this.  So I’m proposing a new hashtag: #ChrEd. When you find great resources, tweet them with the #ChrEd tag to denote them as related to Christian Education. I think #ChrEd is short enough that it won’t take up too many of your 140 characters, but descriptive enough that people will know what you’re tweeting about.

If you aren’t on Twitter yet, sign up! I think you’ll find it a valuable part of your PLN. Feel free to follow me (@d_mulder), and if you call me out by my @username, I’ll follow you back. Let’s support each other in the task of teaching Christianly!


Filed under change, resources, staff development

Developing a Personal Learning Network via Twitter – part 1

(Thanks to my friend Dave Mulder, Instructor of Education at Dordt College, for sharing this blog post! Please look for Part 2 next month and in the meantime, send him a tweet!)

Think with me for a minute: Where do you go when you need advice, support, or new ideas for your teaching practice? Certainly formal professional development (PD) meetings have value for this, but you probably have other resources in education that you tap into as well. Do you turn to particular colleagues in your building? Do you email or visit with friends teaching in other schools? Are there journals, books, professional organizations, or websites that you use? All of these make up your personal learning network (PLN).

imagesConsider your PLN…
Have you given much thought to your PLN? While large-group, general topic PD certainly still has its place in the realm of education today, many teachers I have spoken with express their desire for more targeted PD tailored to their individual classroom situation. (And let’s face it: if we believe differentiated instruction is good for our students, we also ought to own the fact that it’s good for us teachers as well!) Developing your PLN may help to provide you with more personally relevant PD. Enter Twitter.

A Short Introduction to Twitter
By now I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Twitter, even if you haven’t joined up. Twitter is a social network, and while perhaps not quite as popular as Facebook (“only” 500 million users, opposed to over 900 million for Facebook) there are a great many people sharing about a great many topics. And that fact means Twitter has some real benefits as a part of a PLN.

Twitter launched in 2006 as a microblogging site, and you’re still limited to 140 characters when posting (“tweeting”) to Twitter. The real benefit I see in this is that you have to be pithy and creative in sharing your message—or use your post to link to a blog post or YouTube video or other resource to share your ideas with more depth.

A key difference between Twitter and other popular social networks is that Twitter is asymmetrical: you can follow people on Twitter without them necessarily following you back. As counter examples, Facebook and LinkedIn are symmetrical: i.e., you have to mutually confirm that you have some sort of relationship with the person with whom you are connecting. I’ve found that Twitter is thus a different sort of community than Facebook, one better designed for broadcasting ideas to a wider audience.

Your username on Twitter is designated with an “@” symbol;, mine is @d_mulder. These @usernames help you communicate with fellow users as you tweet. For example, if you would tweet, “Hey @d_mulder, check out my blog!” I would be notified that you tagged me in your message, and I’d be more likely to respond.

One more unique thing for using Twitter: you can tag subjects using the “#” symbol. #hashtags are a shorthand way of flagging a topic of interest that other users can search for. You can hashtag anything, but it’s usually good form to only use a couple of tags in each tweet. For example, if you really wanted me to read your blog, you might tweet, “Hey @d_mulder, check out my blog! #science #teaching” Adding these hashtags tells me what I’ll find when I get there, and make me more likely to check it out.


Filed under change, resources, staff development

An intriguing bag of “learning” gifts at year’s end

Wow – it’s the end of the year already – 2012 has flown by! It is time for a number of hopefully helpful, inspirational, or intriguing goodies that I like to share with you. Enjoy the collection and in the spirit of Christmas pass on to others what you think they may find helpful!

Let’s start out with some science:

One of David Mulder’s science education students at Dordt College – Amber VanderVeen – has put together an online resource website. Thanks, Amber and Dave!

One of the science teachers at Lansing (MI) Christian, Omar Bjarki, made me aware recently of a YouTube channel called Minute Physics. Here you will find fascinating topics relating to physics explained in a matter of minutes. Great for your class or your own learning! Thanks, Omar!

I recently overheard a middle school science teacher raving about the Forensic Science Unit on this middle school teacher science site.

I am always on the lookout for new ways to encourage reading. This caught my eye – 8 Free IPad Apps for Young Learners.

I have mentioned Bloom’s Taxonomy so many more times than I thought ever likely when I first learned it! Here is a nicely explained version of the latest taxonomy including the creating aspect.

I am seeing a lot more blogging activity by principals, teachers and students, which is encouraging! See what the best bloggers are doing – here are the latest Edublog 2012 awards for various types of blogs that have been deemed to be the very best!

What could we learn from Finland? I blogged about this in September 2012  and here is an interesting selection of some of the differences: 26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox Education System.

Provocative Dept.#1: Are we paying attention to what our students are saying? Are we asking them what they think about how they are learning? They may be saying: “I hate school, but I love learning!” Check out what the kids are saying in these videos.

Provocative Dept. #2: What would schools look like if we were organized around the idea of students as empowered, passionate, interested, self-directed learners? Here is a quick summary and current critique by a high school sophomore at a Tedx youth event.

Project based learning has grown in popularity – want to know more? The two best resources are The Buck Institute  and Edutopia. Here is a nice stream on project based learning at the early grades.

Blended learning – want to know more? Here is a very helpful report from FSG (a non-profit consulting and research company) entitled: Blended Learning in Practice: Case Studies from Leading Schools.

Are any of your teachers using “It’s like a Pinterest for education, as it allows users to collect web resources and add them to “Learnboards” to educate an audience about a particular subject.” – Hauna Zaich, Edutopia.

The end of higher education as we know it? Here’s a good short article on the impact of the rise of MOOC’s!

Are badges a better way for kids to show what they know? Here are six frames to help us understand badges’ potential for showing student learning inside and outside of school. Also – Learn “Why a Badge is Better than an A+”.

40 Predictions for the Future  – an excellent list by Tom Vander Ark.

If Pinterest is new to you, you should check out the neat way resources are organized. Here is a really helpful Pinterest site by New Tech that is dealing with educational topics.

What is the correlation between socio-economic status and achievement? An oft debated topic thoughtfully dealt with by Grant Wiggins.

A 1980's smartphone!

This was your smartphone in 1980!

I got a kick out of this picture of the technology available in the 1980’s (see right) that is now all contained in our smartphones – amazing!

If you enjoyed my blog post on World Class Learners by Yong Zhao or would like to know more, here is a link to a 9 minute audio entitled World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.

Great info about the value of education and teachers in this report A Dozen Economic Facts by The Hamilton Project, part of the Brookings Institution.

Dr. Todd Hall has been doing some amazing research on the spiritual lives of Christian college students – here is an overview.  I encouraged schools to consider using his Spiritual Transformation Inventory in 2007-  – if any of you are using it I would love to hear from you!

I leave you with some good humor: “O Fortuna – bring more tuna” – this is what happens when we don’t understand the words – you will not ever hear this piece of music again without these images popping into your head – have a wonderful Christmas break!

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Flourishing – a desire to serve and make a difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Flourishing – a passion for learning

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

I believe we are made by God to be learners and to have a passion for learning. One of the main tasks in the garden for Adam and Eve was learning – caring for and subduing the earth. The separation from God interrupted this perfect state of learning and the need to work (work as sweat and toil) entered into Adam and Eve’s reality. Today our work still interrupts our opportunities for learning. We help students experience Eden and give them a glimpse of heaven (among other things – a state of uninterrupted learning in my view!) when we bring as much true, joy-filled learning as possible into the lives of those we are entrusted to serve in our schools.

To produce a flourishing student, we must seriously attend to increasing their passion for learning. If we are not increasing a student’s passion for learning I believe we are failing in our work. A student who is a passionate learner reflects the creativity and mind of Christ.  But what is the purpose of this passion for learning? Why have we been created with this passion and why do we find so much joy in learning? John Milton said, “The end of all learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love and imitate Him.” In other words our learning is a seeking after God – to understand the deep mysteries God has put into the world – and then to not only have knowledge for it’s own sake, but to use it to better love him, to worship him, and to serve him.

One of our favorite sayings in education that we often repeat is from Socrates: “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” And yet we turn around and engage at times in learning processes that move students at early ages from an intrinsic, God-given joy to focus children on extrinsic rewards . . . and then continue that through high school, college, and beyond. John Holt describes this process well: “We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”

Contrast this with the kind of learning we do as adults. When we get engaged in doing some kind of learning, we move into what Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of “flow”, when we lose track of all time and it seems somehow suspended. Schlecty, an educator/author/researcher on student engagement marvels at how school dropouts in a bar can be so mesmerized and engaged for long periods of time with an online game of Trivial Pursuit – he goes on to wonder why we can’t achieve that level of engagement in school.  How can we change schools to encourage a greater passion for learning – or to not dampen down what is already there?

Source: Creative Commons –

In a remarkable experiment, researchers at the Hole-in-the-Wall Project led by Dr. Sugata Mitra placed a computer into the wall of a building in the slums of New Delhi and let it sit there, with no explanation. Within hours, and with no outside help, the children had learned to use it on their own! The passion to learn is no doubt God-given, but we must take great care as educators to not dampen, but to enhance this passion.

We know that this passion for learning is a key 21st century skill. Those who can direct their passion and develop further learning will be the leaders as suggested by Eric Hoffer: “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” If we are serious about helping kids to flourish, fanning the flame of passion for learning is one of the very best things we can do to prepare them for the future. One of the most important feedback questions we might ask of our students and their parents at the end of a school year is: “Did my teaching and this school create a greater passion for learning than you came with at the beginning of the year?” Do you have the humility and the courage to ask such a question? And then act upon the data, as needed, to make changes in your school’s learning environment?

As Christian educators, increasing a student’s passion is never only self-focused – it is not just about increasing that student’s personal satisfaction or economic gain. It is about helping them to learn to live a hopeful, joy-filled life that spills over into the lives of others and reflects back joy to the Creator. In his book, Flowers for Algernon, author Daniel Keyes captures this joy:
“I’m living at a peak of clarity and beauty I never knew existed. Every part of me is attuned to the work. I soak it up into my pores during the day, and at night—in the moments before I pass off into sleep—ideas explode into my head like fireworks. There is no greater joy than the burst of solution to a problem. Incredible that anything could happen to take away this bubbling energy, the zest that fills everything I do. It’s as if all the knowledge I’ve soaked in during the past months has coalesced and lifted me to a peak of light and understanding. This is beauty, love, and truth all rolled into one. This is joy.”

Isn’t this the kind of passion for learning that we desire for all of our students?


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World Class Learners

ImageOne of the best new books that I have been recommending to others recently is Yong Zhao’s book: World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. Why do I like this book so much? Here are five reasons.

1.     Our current state – Zhao makes a compelling case for our loss of creativity among students (it gets worse the more we educate students!) and points to curriculum narrowing and the latest school reform efforts. He demonstrates that there is an inverse relationship between entrepreneurship scores and international test scores – in other words some of the countries scoring best on the PISA tests are showing a low level of entrepreneurship among students. He argues that, due to curriculum narrowing with NCLB, time for the arts, music physical education, and even science has been decreased, resulting in a marginalized curriculum. With a global job shift underway, entrepreneurial skills are more needed than ever – and we are not preparing students for this changed world.
2.     The myth of superior Chinese education – Zhao points out that while we have been trying to learn how countries such as Singapore, Korea, and China get superior international test scores, they have been trying to learn how the United States remains the hotbed of innovation. He asks: “Why does the United States remain the world’s innovation hub despite its long history of poor standing in international education assessments? Where did all the creative entrepreneurs come from?’ His answer is that China has been even better than the U.S. at killing the creative spirit. For example, the preeminence, and I would add, idolatry of, the national college entrance exams in Far Eastern countries, locks and dooms students to limited life opportunities and are one of the major factors behind the despair, depression, and high suicide rates of youth in these countries.
3.     Changing the paradigm – simply put, is schooling about narrowing down human diversity into a set of desirable skills for employment or about celebrating human diversity (individual, cultural, and economic differences) toward enhancing and expanding talents? Traditional education will only get us so far – we need to be paying attention to education that is child centered, that recognizes the gifts and needs of each learner, capitalizes on their strengths, and gives them the freedom to sharpen their talents and expand their opportunities.
4.     Product oriented learning – citing past examples of student oriented learning and recent engagement (or should I say student disengagement) data, Zhao believes that “freedom to learn and authentic student leadership” constitute the first fundamental principle of the new education paradigm we need for the 21st century.” Therefore, school must have environments that have a broad range of experiences for students, promote personalized learning, are flexible, and involve students as decision makers. He goes on to examine various product oriented learning environments and shows how project based learning is making a difference for students and exemplifies the design principles he suggests.
5.     Global, world-class education – in order for schools to develop entrepreneurs, they must move beyond their physical boundaries and engage with others around the world to network and solve problems. I appreciated his specific examples of schools doing this. In order for students to be global entrepreneurs they must develop their cultural intelligence in order to effectively network. Zhao closes by giving us this helpful summary – we must pay attention to the “what” (student passions, interests, creativity); the “how” (problems, products, caring about people’s needs); and the “where” (global perspectives, partners, and competencies.)

The ideas expressed in this book would fit well with a transformational and Christian approach to education. I highly recommend that our schools (teachers, administrators, and boards) read and discuss this book and then consider what it means for their school’s mission and vision moving into the future.

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Filed under change, classroom, curriculum, kids/culture, leadership, mission development, resources, staff development

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

What can be learned from Finland?

In case you have missed the discussion, here is why some in the educational community are looking at Finland these days. Put simply – how do they get the kind of educational results that they are getting? What is their secret?

Well, one reason that we should pay attention to Finland is that since PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tests have been inaugurated over a decade ago, Finland has consistently been at the top of the charts! Tony Wagner from Harvard wanted to get answers to the above questions; his Finland visit and reflections are captured on a recent hour long movie that has come out: “The Finland Phenomenon.”  As you will see from just the video trailer below they do some things very differently from typical North American schools.

I find that their approach is a much more attractive model for Christian schools to follow than that of our public sector schools who are being forced to a greater and greater degree into test-based accountability, more prescribed curriculum, more focus on only core subjects, and greater control. I believe that the Biblical principles, such as honoring the learner as image-bearer and operating with a high degree of trust, are lived out to a greater degree in the public schools of Finland than in North America. Canadian blogger/teacher Joe Bower put it this way: “Finland’s successful pursuit of policies driven by diversity, trust, respect, professionalism, equity, responsibility and collaboration refute every aspect of reforms that focus on choice, competition, accountability and testing that are being expanded in countries around the world.”

If you would like to learn more, I suggest you start by purchasing the video and watching it with your staff – it should spark a profitable discussion. If you Google “Finland Phenomenon,” you will also find many other blog posts and discussions on the topic – it is gaining a lot of attention.

How can we argue with the results?


Filed under change, leadership, mission development, mission measurement, resources, staff development, student outcomes, uncategorized

What bothers me about the current state of teacher evaluation

Here are some of the issues that concern me about the recent efforts to ramp up the teacher evaluation process in the U.S.

  • The current discussion largely ignores research on the adult learner – we can intensify motivation, but cannot make people change unless they want to. So, how do we increase the “want to” without resorting to high accountability/sticks all the time?
  • The current accountability situation in the U.S. has the cart ahead of the horse – we are in the midst of a quantum change around Common Core and in the meantime politicians have asked for educators to use a true “value-added” assessment before effective instruments have been put in place.
  • There are very few true “value-added” tests and the concept itself is being questioned. (For more on this viewpoint see this excellent article by Linda Darling Hammond.)
  • Student achievement is only part of the equation – we should seek not minimum competence but flourishing – for students to desire to learn and to be creative and curious – not the regurgitation of information from their short-term memory that will be forgotten next week. (see following post)
  • We can and ought to do better in Christian education – we should be seeing each teacher as an image-bearer who needs encouragement and appropriate direction, not simply a producer of great student test scores. How will we choose to work with our teachers – toward student growth/flourishing and their own growth as individuals?

For further reading:

A comprehensive overview of the issues in the field by Charlotte Danielson – author of the Framework for Teaching – still the best description/rubrics of effective teaching practice that I have seen.

Here is a helpful and insightful blog post by Kyle Hunsberger written from a teacher perspective.

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Filed under change, image of God, leadership, staff development, student outcomes

Equipping teachers: two new Bible resources

Our opportunities to reveal God’s truth in all creation, to explore Biblical perspectives, and to nurture faith in students are core distinctives of Christian education. Yet, if the truth were told, it cannot be assumed that new graduates or even teachers with some experience have had the kind of background or training to make faith-learning connections or to teach the Bible effectively. This latter concern led Dr. Johanna Campbell, retired British Columbia Teachers’ Association leader and former teacher, to write a book entitled How to Profit From the Word: A Handbook for teachers of Bible in Christian Schools just for that purpose. From her website, she offers the following description of the book: “The first three chapters discuss the basic tenets of our Christian faith, using the Apostles’ Creed as an overall guide. Chapters 4-10 discuss curriculum frameworks, Christian methodology, pedagogy, learning the Bible in community, and what role the Holy Spirit plays in the classroom. There are five helpful appendices which give ideas on how to assess the subject ‘Bible’, how to journal through a Bible book, how to do a passage analysis, sample outlines on how to ‘camp’ around a Bible book, and a page listing some helpful resources for the Bible teacher.”  The book is available on her website.

Johanna has also put together another inexpensive booklet called Bible Q & A: From Creation to New Creation. While this booklet is designed for children under 12, it could also be used effectively with new believers, for evangelism purposes, or for ESL students. These are “the basics” – in Johanna’s words – “a benchmark of biblical knowledge for both children and adults.” The booklet is now available in Spanish also and is being used presently by EduDeo in Honduras and Nicaragua. It is available in French as well.

Any Christian schools that teach French or Spanish could use the Bible Q & A for their high school students to give them a basic Christian vocabulary in the language they are studying.  Study one Q & A (or a small related section) per lesson–5 minutes.

Kudos, Johanna – thanks for making these excellent resources available for teachers and students and thanks for your heart and passion to do this not for profit, but to advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. For more information, please visit her website.

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Filed under Bible memory, Biblical worldview, book, classroom, early faith, resources, staff development

A provocative manifesto!

I first heard of, and then peeked, at Seth Godin’s manifesto, “Stop Stealing Dreams,” via Twitter. I was reminded of it again by one of the regular readers/commenters on this blog – thanks, Jim P.! This manifesto is one of the more thought provoking works I have read in the past year. The manifesto/book is available free for download – the link is at the end of this post.

I want to highlight some of the ideas as an inducement to get you to read the entire manifesto – well worth an hour or two to read through this provocative and thoughtful writing. The manifesto consists of 132 short paragraphs in large print spread over 191 pages – so I will list the paragraph number and the page number as dual references to particular ideas or quotes.

  • 4/12 – What is school for? To his points I would add – what are the distinctive goals of Christian schools?
  • 8/21 – “Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?” To which I would add – does it produce a passion in kids for the kingdom of Jesus Christ?
  • 11/24 – “Do we need more fear? Less passion?” ; 29/45, 46 – fear and passion as the two tools that educators have to work with
  • 14/27 – Seth’s question for school boards: “What are you doing to fuel my kid’s dreams?”
  • 17/29 – A dozen ways to reinvent school
  • 22/37, 94/128 – Scarcity and abundance
  • 39/61 – Assemblers or linchpins/artists?
  • 40/62, 63 – Why school needs to be more like FIRST robotics
  • 57-60/82-88 – The problem of small dreams and dreamers
  • 73/105 – Slader – Cliff Notes for math – see any problem worked out
  • 74/107 – The role of the teacher in a post union era
  • 90/124 – Average American’s annual amount of reading and high student expectations
  • 92/127 – Do kids achieve because of or in spite of schooling?
  • 95/130, 116/161, 124/175, 127/180, 129/183 – The coming melt-down of colleges
  • 106/146 – Why not teach these topics instead?
  • 113/156 – What is the value of advanced math?
  • 121/169 – Why homeschooling isn’t the answer for most
  • 123/174 – The new role of libraries

I hope you take the time to read this manifesto and reflect on what Godin is saying. He is making a significant contribution to the discussion how school needs to change and focus on different kinds of things with kids. Here is the link to access the material.


Filed under book, change, leadership, mission development, staff development, student outcomes

12 interesting things to explore

Here is a current listing of some things I found mentally stimulating:

I really enjoyed reading John Suk’s book: Not Sure: A Pastor’s Journey from Faith to Doubt. Maybe it is because we are similar ages, but I felt like I could really relate to his description of growing up in the culture of the same denomination. He takes us through the past and present of Christian belief by looking at history and reflecting on his own personal faith development. It is a painfully honest, yet hopeful book about a faith journey that a faith that lives and deals with doubt, a faith that receives grace as a little child.

A friend, who heard that I would be speaking in Hungary and Romania, suggested that I check out the site Live Mocha  to learn some phrases. What a great tool – it says the word, shows a picture, and takes you through self-paced lessons – for free!

Another friend mentioned that he was in a study group on the book, Wasting Minds: Why Our Education System is Failing and What We Can Do About It by Ronald Wolk. I am about 2/3rds of the way through the book and appreciate the fact that the author (former editor of Education Week for 20+ years) is speaking boldly about problems and solutions. My favorite quote so far: “We will make real progress only when we realize our problem in education is not mainly one of performance but one of design. It is the obsolete and flawed design of the conventional public school that accounts for the poor performance of a great many students.” (p.25)

Infographics have grown in popularity – they are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. The graphic on the left comes from Daily Infographic and another leading site is The big news is that you can now create your own infographics – here are the details and you can also visit What a cool way to present information!

Did you know that the Blue Man Group is starting a school? What are the implications of this school that encourages better learning through fun?

The idea of digital learning badges is gaining traction and should give colleges and universities some pause. What are the implications for hgher education if I can learn anything from anyone at anytime and get a badge/certification of my competency? Would an electronic portfolio through a site like Mahara be more descriptive of my skills, abilities, and passions? Mozilla, the open source organization behind the Firefox browser has been a key leader in the Open Badges movement.  Here is a great aggregation of information on badges and here are some examples of how this is working in real life.

Perhaps by now you have heard of TED Talks – short, stimulating lectures of less than 20 minutes or less – if not, Google it or go to YouTube for videos or ITunes for podcasts. The exciting news of this past week is that TED has now launched TED-Ed – a new educational channel on YouTube. They hope to add free video lessons to help educators supplement their curriculum.

The latest Pew Foundation report on teens, smartphones, and texting can be read here.

If you have IPads at your disposal, or just have one of your own, here are “40 Most Awesome Science Apps”  that really do look very cool!

For my Canadian friends, a research based answer to the question: “Do Dual Credit Programs Help Students Succeed?”

Nice 5 minute movie  on Project Based Learning and Student Engagement in Dawson Creek, BC – note the reference to dual enrollment.

Here’s what it can look like when schools move toward making 21st Century education happen.

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Filed under change, devotional, resources, staff development

Rethinking how we use technology for teaching and learning – part 2

Source: http-/

(Thanks to my friend David Mulder, technology director at Sioux Center Christian
Schools, for sharing this blog post.)

Part 2 – Now that we are here, what should we do about it?

Last month, I broached the subject of how we use technology in our classrooms.  I explained the “Tech-on-the-Side” model and left off with the thought that this mode of thinking about technology in school may not be engaging 21st Century learners.

Here’s what I mean.  Tech-on-the-Side might mean:

  • Having your students word process a paper instead of handwriting it.
  • Having your students research a topic on Wikipedia instead of cracking open the World Book.
  • Having your students create a PowerPoint presentation instead of drawing a poster with colored pencils.

Now please don’t feel like I’m picking on you—I’m pointing the finger at myself first and foremost here, as I’ve done all of these things, even in the last couple of years.  It’s not that these activities are bad or “wrong” in and of themselves.  Rather, I don’t think they go far enough in shifting to really integrating technology in a seamless way in classroom practice.  In each of these cases, we may be using a different tool, but the task is fundamentally the same.

As I see it, we are setting up a “digital dichotomy” in regard to the way kids use technology at school and at home.  At home, many kids are living a tech-saturated life.  At school, technology is perhaps viewed—by teachers—as something “extra,” rather than integrated into the fabric of everyday experience. How frustrating that must be for some of our students!  Please note, I am not arguing that every lesson needs to be tech-enhanced…but teachers need to consider how their students see the world.  At the risk of sounding trite, we are (largely) using a 19th Century school model to educate 21st Century learners.

At Sioux Center Christian School, we’re starting to work at this.  We’ve in a process of shifting our vision for how we use technology from tech-on-the-side to technology integration. Changing vision can be a hard process—it means rethinking how we’ve “always done things,” which can be painful.  Here are the significant points to our shift of vision:

  • We must think differently about the kinds of assignments we give.  We can’t just change the media from pencil-and-paper to keystrokes!  The technologies we choose should allow students to employ higher-level thinking skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
  • We must get the technology into students’ hands.  The closer to them, the better.  (SMARTBoards are good, iPads are better.)
  • We must teach students how to use the technologies available to them, preferably just as they need to use them by embedding the tech learning in the project they are undertaking.  Yes, they tend to be quick studies, but our students’ proclivities to use technology do not excuse us from the crucial role of guiding our students and teaching them to use technology responsibly.
  • We must create a culture where it is okay to experiment, play, and reflect.  Technology integration does not just “happen.”  Teachers need the freedom (and time!) to explore.  So do students.
  • We must support teachers.  Some teachers will naturally gravitate to incorporating technology into their teaching.  Others will need some coaxing.  In either case, teachers need to have a person (or preferably, people) they can rely on to support them as they try out new technologies.  A technology coordinator is a great resource, but a professional learning community is even better.  Teachers need training, coaching, and encouragement; we need to plan for this!
  • We must budget for technology-related spending.  (Aaargh…the money…)  Yes, technology is expensive.  Computers are not furniture, but neither are they consumables like pencils and erasers.  It might make the most sense to think of technology in a similar category to textbooks; eventually they get worn out and need to be replaced.  Just as schools plan to replace old, outdated, worn-out texts with new editions, schools need to have a responsible plan for regularly updating technology.

I recognize that some schools are already doing these things, but many others are surely not. Certainly change can be hard, but if it will ultimately provide our students with a more engaging, more authentic learning experience, our efforts are not misspent!  In any case, I sincerely encourage you to start having conversations with your colleagues about how you use technology, and further how you integrate technology into your teaching practices.


Filed under change, classroom, resources, staff development

A few of my favorite web tools

In the past few years, I have found that my learning has been enriched and simplified – (no not really simplified, but expanded!) through the tools I am going to describe in this post. As a global thinker, I enjoy looking widely across the landscape, but also want tools to improve my basic efficiency and productivity as well as expand my capacity. These tools may be old hat for some of you, but if you have been wanting to venture out a bit, give some of these a try over Christmas break!

Tools I use everyday include Twitter and Evernote. I have explained in an earlier post why I find Twitter so valuable so I won’t repeat that here. Evernote is a note keeping and web collection tool that operates equally well on my smartphone, iPad, or laptop and syncs between them. I can send the tweets I want to save to Evernote, or make a voice or written note on it via my smartphone. I can put them into notebooks and assign tags (descriptive terms) to them. This makes it easy for me to categorize and search them.

What works better for me than bookmarks is the LiveBinders web application. When I find a webpage that I want to save, I simply click on my toolbar icon called “Live Binder It!” and a photo is taken of the webpage. I can save the screen shot in a particular notebook. Given my work, I have notebooks for presentations, writing, and particular subjects such as engagement, essential questions, etc. I can quickly look around my notebook and see visually what I have saved.

I use Google Reader – a collector tool that sends me updates whenever blogs that I want to keep up with are updated. This allows me to scan the subject matter quickly and the short descriptions help me choose what I want to read.

I find I am using wikis and Google Docs with increasing frequency. I started using wikis to share information related to my presentations or to set up spaces for staff groups to collaborate and do their work. They are simple to use and manage. I personally like Wikispaces. If I want to share a document quickly, build a mutual agenda, share information over time, and have it all be private or shared by invitation only, then I use a Google Doc (>>>). You can get to it quickly if you are already using Gmail for your mail program.  In Gmail, I am using Google Calendar, which also syncs with a free touch screen calendar in my smartphone called Touch Calendar. I finally have given up my paper calendars!

Sometimes I want to share a larger document or save a presentation and so I would use Dropbox. I can access the information from anywhere because it is cloud based storage of larger files. I can also share these files or give others access to my folder in Dropbox.

If I am going to write a longer article or make a presentation or diagram, I still find Inspiration to be very helpful. I have used other mind mapping programs, but like the basic functionality and ease of use of Inspiration.

Reflect via this article from Donald Clark how these tools might change your learning and life – and how we have experienced more changes in the past 10 years than the last 100.

If you just got a new iPad for Christmas you may benefit from essential-ipad-guide written especially for school administrators – a helpful starting spot.

Blessings on the new year ahead – may it be a productive one for you! Please feel free to share other apps that you may have found helpful via the comments below.

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Filed under change, leadership, resources, staff development, use of time

12 Affirmations 2.0

One of the experiences from the late 80’s that I wish I could have a “do again” opportunity were the Chicago conferences on Christian education held in 1987, 1988, and 1989 at Trinity Christian College. I was able to attend one of the conferences and it was a time of rich and stimulating discussion about the changes that needed to happen in Christian education to keep pace with a changing world. I say I wish I could do it over because, as I look back at the list of the invitees, the conference organizers were able to bring to the table many of the best thinkers (then and in the future) in Reformed Christian education circles for these discussions and I benefited greatly from that time.

I feel like this time around I might have more to contribute to the greater discussion. I had experienced K-12 education, but had not thought about it from a Christian perspective. The conversations and the work that was produced from these conferences were helpful for not only me but a great number of others through the publication of the book 12 Affirmations: Reformed Christian Schooling for the Twentieth Century, written by Vryhof, Brouwer, VanderArk, and Ulstein and printed by Baker Books (now out of print).  I know that many others used the book like I did – for productive conversations with their own building faculties.

For all who loved and used that book, and those who don’t even know it existed, there is now good news! The 1990’s book has been revised: Twelve Affirmations 2.0. We have one of the key organizers of the original conferences to thank – Dr. Steve Vryhof. Steve has collaborated with Elaine Brouwer, Tim Krell, and others to produce a clearer, more up-to-date, set of affirmations about Christian education.

The revised 12 Affirmations are divided into three groups – foundational, educational, and communal affirmations. Like the original book there is a short, concise statement/affirmation and then explanatory paragraphs unpacking the statement.  There are also discussion questions listed at the end of each affirmation. Vryhof has formatted the book in such a way that it lends itself to communal reading. He suggests several audiences might benefit from a thoughtful discussion of the material:

  • Read and discuss one affirmation per staff/board meeting
  • Read and discuss at a staff/board retreat
  • Read and discuss at a parent book club
  • Read and discuss at a church’s adult education meeting
  • Read and discuss with donors/constituents
  • Read and discuss with 11th and 12th graders

Through his provocative work, Vryhof encourages us to consider:

  • How to better identify and cultivate student gifts
  • How to better increase student motivation and learning power
  • How each person brings much to the table of community
  • How to move toward student flourishing as a chief educational outcome

His ultimate hope is that this book will stimulate others to action in the same ways that the first 12 Affirmations was able to accomplish. We should be grateful as a Christian educational community that this book has been revised and revitalized for the next generation – thanks Steve for your hard work to make this gift available! The book is available for purchase here.


Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, distinctively Christian, mission development, resources, staff development, student outcomes

Rethinking how we use technology for teaching and learning – part 1

(Thanks to my friend David Mulder, technology director at Sioux Center Christian Schools, for sharing this blog post. Look for part 2 next month.)

Part 1 – What is the problem and how did we get here?

Do you have a computer in your classroom?  (Silly question in 2011?)  I want you to think about how you use the computer in your teaching practice.  Does the computer allow you to do things fundamentally differently?  Are you able to do things in your classroom using technology that you simply could not do otherwise?

Here’s the thing:  I’ve become convinced that the way we use technology in schools has to change.  And I’m further convinced that this change is going to be a big, big shift for most teachers and most schools.

I want to set the stage here by describing what we have going on at Sioux Center Christian School, which will perhaps help frame the conversation.  Beginning in the mid-1990’s we began adding computer technology to our school in a deliberate way.  By the early 2000’s, we had network cables pulled to every room in the school from a central server case, a computer in every classroom, two computer labs with about 25 desktop computers each, and regularly scheduled times for “computer class.”  (Depending how long you’ve been in the profession, I’d guess this sounds familiar to you, either as a teacher, or perhaps as a student.)

Fast forward a decade or so, and several cosmetic changes have happened.  We have largely gone wireless, with a wireless network throughout the building and several mobile computer labs (25 laptops on a cart, so the lab comes to you!)  Teacher laptops have replaced classroom computers and we’ve installed video projectors in most classrooms around school. In the past two years, we’ve also begun to add interactive white boards to some classrooms—the next big thing in technology.  Whatever your school’s level of technology, I’ll bet you can relate to the story so far to some degree.

Here’s the thing: I think these changes (adding laptops and SMARTBoards) are “cosmetic” changes, because while the tools and their availability may have changed, the way we used the tools fundamentally did not change.  We have been implementing what I now call the “Tech-on-the-Side” model.

Here is what the Tech-on-the-Side model looks like in practice:

  • A designated space for using technology, whether that is a separate room (a computer lab) or a part of the classroom (the computer corner).
  • A designated time for using technology, which might be a specific time each week when the class goes to the computer lab, or perhaps “computers” as a separate school subject.
  • A focus on learning how to use specific applications, such as web browsers, word processors, spreadsheets, presentation tools (i.e. – PowerPoint), and media-editing tools such as iMovie or MovieMaker, regardless of how these tools might be used to support classroom activities.
  • Tightly controlled access to technology, because the tools are limited, so we need to share and play well with others.

Does this sound familiar?

Now, I want you to think for a minute about how people use technology outside of school, in “real life.”  In almost every way, Tech-on-the-Side is the opposite of how technology is used life outside of school:

  • Rather than a designated space for technology, we use laptops, smartphones, iPads and the like wherever we go.
  • Rather than a designated time for technology, we use computers and other devices whenever they suit the task at hand—whether work or play.
  • Rather than learning specific applications foisted up on us, we tend to learn how to use the apps, sites, services, and devices that are most useful to us, most productive, or most enjoyable.

Tech-on-the-Side may have made sense a decade ago—even five years ago—but the world is changing.  The problem is that the Tech-on-the-Side model doesn’t really address the changes that have happened (and continue to evolve) in how we use technology in the 21st Century.  The Tech-on-the-Side mode of thinking incorporates technology in ways that simply replace current activities with ones that add a computer-based component, but the task itself remains unchanged.  Next month, I’ll offer some concrete suggestions for how to begin shifting from Tech-on-the-Side toward a more transformative way of thinking about using technology in schools: Tech Integration.


Filed under change, classroom, staff development

End of the year learning roundup

from Flickr via Creative Commons -

We have reached the finish line for this year! I hope you have enjoyed reading Nurturing Faith. I keep a number of files of ideas to use when writing this blog and I still have a variety of interesting things that I would like to share with you below. Enjoy!

15 provocative things to read

Grand Rapids Christian High did an “old fashioned social network” and found it had unexpected results! Read about their “sharing wall.”

Want better student engagement in your class? See 7 Solutions for Educators Who Want 21st Century Students to Tune In.

The limits of standardized testing are well articulated by this AP student.

With increasing technology use, what is the role of the teacher – are they a dispensable algorithm or indispensable artist?

Helpful summary of how technology impacts the brain.

Can you get kids to talk about what you want them to discuss using backchanneling?

Why persistence and grit matter so much.

What TV and movies are doing to our girls.

Is your kindergarten teacher worth $320,000?

Take this 10 question quiz to see if you are a tech savvy teacher.

McREL says there are 5 things that make the  biggest difference in schools.

What contributes most to an effective middle school?

A great resource site for new teachers divided by levels.

Best sites to check out how to use iPads in education.

Three reports that you should take a look at:

The-Rise-of-K-12-Blended-Learning – produced by Innosight Institute – it has very helpful explanations of blended learning models and gives 40 profiles of schools implementing new models.

The 2011-Horizon-Report-K12 “examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning, and creative expression within the environment of pre-college education.surface significant trends and challenges and to identify a wide array of potential technologies for the report. ”

Draft of Technology in Early Childhood Programs 4-29-2011 – final report to be published this fall – bookmark the NAEYC website.


The Story is a unique chronological version of the Bible written by Max Lucado and produced by Zondervan with a focus on God’s story to his people throughout history. CSI will be making this resource and accompanying materials available to schools – contact Bible specialist Kent Ezell ( at CSI for more info. He has been blogging on this resource here and here.

RADCAB: Your Vehicle for Information Evaluation is a book written by Calvin Christian (Minnesota) teacher Karen Christensson that is designed to help upper elementary and middle school kids think critically about information online. The acronym RADCAB stands for six important concepts for evaluating information.

Book: 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn – eds. Bellanca and Brandt, Solution Tree, 2010.

Book: 99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers: The Truth on Raising Teenagers from Parents Who Have Been There – the latest from Walt Mueller.

Your continued learning

In my speaking lately I have been encouraging schools to consider the power of PLN’s – Personal Learning Networks. If you are not familiar with the term or want to learn more, I suggest that you start here and here.

If you haven’t checked out Twitter, read why I am excited about it here and then get started!

Have a wonderful summer!

Yours for continued learning,

Dan Beerens


Filed under curriculum, kids/culture, leadership, parenting, resources, staff development

Competence, coherence, and creativity

“What makes young people catch fire, work hard, and persist despite difficulties?” This compelling question and succeeding answers are spelled out in a new book, Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery, by Kathleen Cushman.  Cushman suggests it is helpful to consider the differences between student experiences and what their elders report. She does this by citing evidence from the 2009 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.

Cushman reports: “Four out of five teachers and principals in our 2009 survey told us that they believe connecting classroom instruction to the real world would have a major impact on student achievement. They also held that addressing the individual needs of diverse students is necessary to student success. A school culture where students feel responsible and accountable for their own education, they said, would greatly affect student achievement.”

Cushman goes on to say: “In that same survey, however, a majority of students reported that their teachers very rarely – or never – speak to them personally about things that matter to the students. Over a quarter of secondary school students said their teachers do not connect the school curriculum to its applications in the outside world. And only one in four students felt strongly that school let them use their abilities and their creativity.”

Cushman wonders: “What should we conclude from such disparate perspectives?” Hmm…great question!

As I have pondered this question, it appears that in this time of educational change there are three principles with which we should be concerning ourselves as Christian educators as we engage students in the learning process.

Principle #1: Competence – we are responsible for ensuring that students grow in understanding and wisdom that allows them to thrive as adults. Simply put, what should kids learn?

Principle #2: Coherence – we must help students make connections between what they are learning and how things fit together in a bigger picture. In Christian education we desire for our students to image Christ, in whom all things cohere. (Col. 1:15-20)

Principle #3: Creativity – there are many ways that we can learn something and express our understanding. Creativity is today considered to be the highest level of thinking, as evidenced by the fact that it is now placed at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking. As Christians we understand that we are made in the image of God. Likewise our own creativity is a reflection, in a small way, of the Creator of All.

My suggestion is that we value all of these areas equally in our educational process. It is easiest to get overbalanced in the competence area. As teachers, it is fun to tell others what we know; even though there is plenty of evidence today that telling is not the best way for students to learn. Consider how much fun it is for us to personally discover something instead of being told, yet we often persist in taking the easier “telling” route with our students. Here is one example of what could happen when we turn over some control.

Our greatest joys in the learning process come when things “connect” with our students and they “get it!” It is the joy of coherence that we are experiencing – helping others to see how it all fits together. Why settle for kids getting bits and pieces when we can help them to see how learning impacts their lives?

If we “kill creativity” through teaching that puts kids to sleep (physically or mentally!) and don’t encourage/allow children to be creative, have we limited their opportunity to image God?


Filed under curriculum, image of God, staff development, student outcomes