What’s Trending in Learning?
An Open Letter to SCSBC Board Members
by Bill de Jager, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
Dear Board Member,
How aware are you of the current significant shifts in learning in our SCSBC schools? Your understanding of those shifts may be vital to your board role of nurturing your school’s vision and providing resources for that vision.
To some degree, your school probably is experiencing the impact of two significant shifts: a resurgence of “connecting Christian faith with teaching”1 and the global move from industrial schooling to digitally-connected learning.
From Christian teachers teaching to Christian teachers teaching christianly
There is definite excitement among many SCSBC teachers and learning leaders about the current resurgence of connecting Christian faith with learning. The evidence for that revival is found in the important work being done to ensure that curriculum is founded on a clear biblical worldview with biblical themes being woven throughout content and learning activities, and the ongoing effort to select pedagogy (instruction) that creates thoughtful engagement and respects differentiation.
Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, a generation of the required periodic external evaluations, tied to the BC provincial funding for our Christian schools, has created a curricular culture of compliance. Prior to the recent resurgence, considerable misdirected energy went into the preparation of required course overviews, making sure that the ministry-prescribed learning outcomes (PLO’s) were included and met. To maintain funding, our acquiescence drained our desire to nurture the biblical imperative of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 to connect our Christian faith with teaching and learning.
But we have been called to task for being complicit. If independent in BC independent schools presumes choice, then where is that deliberate articulation that defines our choice, especially our curricular choices? Goheen and Barthlomew assert that Christian education is (or should be) a distinct alternative to the public school system, one that rejects the cultural idolatry (and specifically the humanist worldview) that has shaped much of public education.2
Spurred on by that admonition, learning leaders in our schools are working hard, encouraging your teachers to embed biblical themes in their unit planning. Based on the work of former SCSBC curriculum leaders who developed elements of discipleship; the thoughtfully biblically-integrated work of numerous units by the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS); and the contemporary work of the Prairie Centre for Christian Education (PCEE) creating biblical throughlines; many SCSBC schools are in the initial stages of exploring and integrating those biblical themes within their unit planning. Dan Beerens’ work of a flourishing index3 has also enriched the conversation. What a joy to know that Christian teachers are not settling for teaching, but are teaching christianly!
Besides such deliberate unit planning, your teachers also are being challenged about their entrenched pedagogical (instructional) habits. Those selected pedagogies and the countless daily decisions grow out of the very fundamental principles concerning children, teachers and curriculum.4 If Christian teachers, called to be Christ-like, are entrusted with God’s precious children, how should learning be experienced?
Considerable work has been done to answer that fundamental question. Our teachers now have access to websites such as What if Learning.5 This site is for teachers who want their classrooms to be places with a Christian ethos or atmosphere, whatever the subject or age group they teach. It explores what teaching and learning might look like when rooted in Christian faith, hope, and love.6
The “What if Learning” approach consists of three broad steps: seeing anew, choosing engagement, and reshaping practice. Our teachers are encouraged to see anew – shifting from looking at a learning activity just in terms of the information conveyed, for example, to seeing it as at the same time a chance for moral growth or spiritual challenge can open up new possibilities.7 Then they are challenged with choosing engagement – How can [they] shape the interactions and ways of engaging in [their] classrooms so that they support the Christian vision of learning that seeing anew points to?8 All this leads to reshaping practice – The shaping of our imaginations and our interactions has a lot to do with concrete habits and patterns of practice—the use we make of resources, classroom layouts, pictures and objects, gestures, and so on. We need to take a careful look at these patterns of practice to see if they really fit what we are aiming for.9
It is encouraging to know that there is an ongoing effort to select pedagogy that creates thoughtful engagement and respects differentiation. For some SCSBC schools, project-based learning is one of those selections. Levy believes it is possible to teach basic skills in the course of exciting and relevant projects, to master the methods and content of specific [subjects] through an integrated curriculum, and to connect students’ interests and questions to the frameworks designed by the [province].10
All this resurgence has come in tandem with the incoming wave of digital technology, which also demands your attention.
Living and learning on the grid
The way you have grown up and how you have experienced school is almost over!
In last two or three decades the world has changed dramatically, transformed by the foray of digital information and communication technology (ICT) into our lives and our learning. I suspect that you yourself are an active ICT participant, tethered to your cell phone, CPU, and considerable bandwidth connection. Like many others in your school community, your personal ICT choices have quietly weaved themselves snugly within the web of the digital grid. Like me, you are probably grid-locked.
Welcome to the connected age! 11
Yet, memories and myths are powerful. They easily help you default to your past educational paradigm – industrial schooling. Can you still see the straight rows of desks; the teacher at the front dispensing content and classroom control; pens, paper and binders; and tests and exams used to sort students? Unknowingly, you may continually revert to those memories and myths as the current standard for your school’s learning paradigm, and base your board decisions on such. However, Milton Chen, former executive director of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, argues that the biggest obstacle to school change is our memories.12 Sir Ken Robinson challenges us with Let’s get disenthralled with our entrenched educational myths13 and …reconsider the habits of our institutions and the habitats they occupy. 14
Within the digitally-connected world, a new educational paradigm has emerged, absorbing the blessings and abundant curses of the digital grid. The transformation from information scarcity to information overload is a primary cause for reconsidering teaching and learning. With internet access, anyone can now learn anything from anyone at any time. 15 In the connected world, the educational possibilities include …a model where different students (of varying ages) learn different things from different people in different places in different ways and at different times.16 Imagine that!
Throughout the world, countries are redesigning their educational visions for the times in which they find themselves. Currently, the BC Ministry of Education is drafting its new Education Plan. If you are tapping into the blessings of this significant shift, your leadership decisions may create opportunities for your graduates to be well-equipped disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, prepared to serve in this fluid, every-changing world.
Your continual awareness of what it really means to learn and teach christianly within a wired world is crucial to the continued vibrancy of your school. As Max De Pree defined so aptly, leadership is a serious meddling in other people’s lives.17 That includes the direction and decisions that you provide as a board member.
………………………………….1 www.whatiflearning.com 2 Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview by M.W. Goheen and C.G. Bartholomew, p.168. 3 http://nurturingfaith.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/proposing-a-flourishing-index/ 4 Starting From Scratch: one classroom builds its own curriculum by Steven Levy, p.12. 5 http://www.whatiflearning.com 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid 10 Starting From Scratch: one classroom builds its own curriculum by Steven Levy, p. xiii. 11 Stop Stealing Dreams: What is School For? Section 22 by Seth Godin http://www.squidoo.com/stop-stealing-dreams( You can download the complete book at the website.) 12 Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools by M. Chen 13 From TEDtalks by Sir Ken Robinson, Bring on the Learning Revolution — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9LelXa3U_I 14 From a speech by Sir Ken Robinson that was made into a 12-minute animation — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U 15 The World Is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education by C. Bonk, p.7. 16 The Language of School Design: Design Patterns for 21st Century Schools, p.26. 17 Leadership Jazz by Max De Pree, p. 7.