Should Teachers Be Developing Their Core Competencies?
by Darren Spyksma, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
For Christian educators, competency development as a focus for the BC Ed Plan is one the most exciting and significant professional gifts they will receive. The present Office of the Inspector of Independent Schools, with support and leadership from the Ministry of Education, is modeling innovation and purposeful change. They are encouraging schools to design personalized learning for the unique students being educated. Even as we struggle to fully grasp all of the elements of the BC Ed Plan, we must celebrate and embrace this progressive stand for education in British Columbia and the rich potential it offers for us to better meet our mission.
Our deepest longing as Christian educators is to see students develop and grow to be faithful in both the small interactions each day and in the large decisions that will impact not only themselves but the lives of many others. This type of student development does not come from learning to spell a random list of words. The competency development we seek happens when our intermediate students are learning to spell words like secondary and consumer because they need to know these words. If they do not, how will they be able to intelligently discuss the local ecosystem restoration with a representative from Parks and Recreation? They need to know them because God has placed a call on their lives to be earth keepers and creation enjoyers.1
When the purpose behind our learning aligns with our mission and the Curricular Competencies within the BC Ed Plan, then the learning that takes place will be in compliance with a focus on Core Competency development while also being formational. James K.A. Smith, in his book You Are What You Love,2 reminds us that formational learning “isn’t just information acquisition; it’s more like inscribing something into the very fiber of your being” and goes on to explain that this type of learning only happens in two ways, imitation and practice. Schools have always been good at practice. I believe that for the most part, schools have also been good at providing models for imitation. But if what we are to practice and model in learning is changing, our professional development must follow suit.
If teachers are going to be able to plan for, assess and support the development of competency in their students, they must first become aware of competency development in their own life. This was one of the principles explored in the professional development course Experiencing Christ in the Classroom. Research from this course resulted in findings that support the importance of teacher competency development. One participant summed up his growth well as he reflected on his learning regarding the impact of pedagogy on faith formation when he said “I realized that in order to help my students in this area, I first needed to develop this area of myself.”3 As teachers explored the impact of pedagogy on faith formation, they came face to face with the reality that no matter what they are teaching, their personal development was essential to their ability to support learning.4
If Christian education is going to truly focus on faith formational competency development in students, teachers need to have opportunity to reflect on and act out of a desire to develop faith formational competency in their own lives. It would be a mistake on the part of all stakeholders if we were to assume teachers could support competency development without first reflecting on their own personal practice, and on how faith formation and competency development are lifelong processes – processes that Christian educators believe lead to a fuller realization of who God has created them to be.
For teachers to plan for competency development in a formational way, they must reflect on their own lives and how their communication, thinking, personal identity and social responsibility are developing in a faith formational way. Just as in student learning, competency development involves small conscious steps in a specific direction. This may involve smiling at strangers as you walk down the street or standing at the door of the classroom each day to address every student by name and with eye contact. It may involve researching where your food, coffee and clothing come from. Our schools are doing this already. Just this summer my family returned a beautiful and affordable table cloth because meaningful instruction and a purposeful project brought our son to understand the impact of child labour and where it was taking place in the world.
As teachers use a group work protocol to assist students in developing a heart for others, they are not only supporting critical thinking and social responsibility, they are fulfilling their mission. By including a prompt like, “Share with the presenter how they helped you as a learner through this project” in a gallery walk protocol, and modeling what this looks like in the culture of feedback in the classroom, teachers are giving students something to imitate in terms of competency development; they are also giving students the opportunity to develop habits that are formational. By teaching students and having students practice giving feedback that focuses on collaboration rather than competition, they are assisting students in the creation of habits of empathy and service. A small change to an already strong pedagogy makes a significant impact in the lives of students.
Each pedagogical choice teachers make teaches a student what is important and what to value. The inherent benefit of a focus on intentional pedagogy chosen to support faith formation is the change in teacher thinking. Intentionally choosing a pedagogy for both educational value and an ability to reinforce elements of faith formation encourages teachers to reflect on regular classroom routines and how they shape students. As teachers choose pedagogies that encourage empathy, service, and discernment, they are choosing pedagogies that support competency development and faith formation.
As we continue to shape the BC Ed Plan in our own context, the easy path is to ignore the core competencies, choosing rather to go where we are comfortable – big ideas and knowledge. These elements are an important part of learning for students, but without an emphasis on competency development and why competency development supports mission, schools will fail to fully take advantage of all the rich potential in the BC Ed Plan.