A Distinctly Christian BC Education Plan?
by Darren Spyksma, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
What an exciting time to be involved in education in British Columbia. Educational change can be stimulating for all stakeholders and points to a commitment to improve student learning. The new BC Ed Plan1 is a significant project that will take many years to plan and implement. The process of change taking place in our provincial curriculum presents another opportunity for our Christian schools to design and implement learning plans for each school, grade level and student that are distinct in structure and pedagogies while maintaining provincial recognition of government curriculum expectations.
Almost paradoxically, in order to be intentional in the process of curriculum renewal, we need to be sure not to start with analysis of the content. This process must begin by deep consideration for what makes the Christian school unique. Each administrator, teacher, instructional aide and committee member in our schools must be able to accurately and specifically answer the question, “What makes Christian education distinct?” Gary Fenstermacher, in an address to superintendents in Michigan, likened this process to identifying our North Stars2. He explains that we have ideals we aim for that we never achieve, and yet they guide us in our decision making and the development of measurable goals. In order to maintain proper direction we must have specific markers we can use to ensure we are continuing in the right direction. Once we have established the purpose of Christian schools and articulated how that purpose may potentially be achieved, we can begin to dream about what learning will look like as we participate in the redesign and implementation of the newly presented BC Ed Plan.
Many schools are in the process of renewing their understanding of what makes Christian schools distinct. It is a process that is essential for all schools if they are going to make informed decisions that increase the power and potential of learning programs. The learning process is a journey. It is essential that we, as stakeholders in Christian education, work toward leading the journey of change toward distinctly engaged Christian education. Ability to move forward as staff begins with a clear and articulated purpose. Only from this position can we assess and empower teachers with appropriate tools and training. When decisions need to be made, we can all be brought back to the question “Does this decision help or hinder our movement toward the intended destination?”
The vision of Christian education is about more than learning. It is an education of heart, head, and hands. Learners need to connect emotionally and intellectually with their God and Savior in order to live a life of service in God’s kingdom. Dan Beerens suggests that Christian schools should be a place where students are brought into a place of flourishing3, a place where students develop a fulfilling relationship with God, creation, others and themselves. These are important concepts and phrases that assist us as we begin to articulate how learning in each Christian school will be unique.
It is always a temptation, in a time of change, to hurry the process. Fear of change, the unknown, and anticipation of more work are all reasons why many people find change painful. By absorbing someone else’s ideas, schools miss critical opportunity for learning and professional development. Choosing to copy and apply rather than internalize circumvents valuable learning. Collaboration is instrumental in our ability to personalize an explanation of a distinct purpose. Regardless of the size of the group collaborating, groups of individuals working together to explain the “how” of distinct Christian education create a rich learning environment with potentially significant impact.
Imagine the impact if all teachers in your school were part of a school-wide curriculum renewal focused explicitly on distinctly Christian schooling. As SCSBC Directors of Learning, we are excited to be part of this process, supporting your school as you clearly articulate how your vision is manifested in classrooms. This work will help prepare schools as we all anticipate curriculum renewal province wide.
Once the foundational purpose is established, specific articulation of what attributes represent a learner working out God’s design in their life is essential. Student characteristics, skills, and thought processes, which the school believes represent God at work in their community and in the lives of the students, need to be part of this list. This articulation can manifest itself in a graduation profile that articulates the expected knowledge, character, and skills anticipated out of graduates4. Other illustrations of this articulation include descriptive lists such as the Prairie Center for Christian Education’s inspired Teaching for Transformation Throughlines5, SCSBC’s Elements of Discipleship, or Dan Beeren’s Flourishing Index6. Working at the local school level to connect purpose with implementation in the classroom increases teacher ownership and the overall staying power of renewal. Some of our SCSBC schools are on this journey already and are seeing evidence of the value of this process.
As Christian schools, we need to have a clear understanding of what makes us distinct. We need to be able to explain a clear purpose for our programs and express a clear purpose to our students. With that in place, enveloping the content of the new BC Education Plan into our context will be a professionally stimulating and exciting collaborative journey that SCSBC is excited about supporting you with in the coming months and years. As a community of Christian schools, we can help shape and influence the provincial government’s ideas, and stay true to our purpose. If we are strong in our direction, we can make sure that content does not become the focus rather the vehicle for further advancement of purposeful learning in our schools.
As I begin my new position at SCSBC, I look forward to supporting each of you in the exciting work of influencing student’s lives.
2 What is the Difference between the North Star and Northfield?
How Educational Goals and Ideals Become Confused