Why, How … then What
by Darren Spyksma, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
Over the next two years, all SCSBC schools will need to begin to adjust their programming to meet the new BC Edplan.¹ In this time of transition it is natural for teachers to start by asking the very practical question, “What do I have to teach?”. This question has come from years of being told that they are accountable for hundreds and hundreds of individual learning outcomes. For over two decades teachers have been asked to plan learning in terms of individual learning outcomes. This has created a generation of diligent teachers who have struggled to keep hold of the big picture while meeting the school based and legislative requirements. Though natural, asking “What content am I teaching?” is the wrong starting point.
As each school develops their individual manifestation of the BC Edplan, it is essential that they begin with their mission and vision. Planning significant educational change means that schools must start at the very foundation. The provincial government understands this is a meaningful way, highlighting the need for the educated citizen as the province’s foundation for educational change. For Christian schools, the educated citizen is not enough. Schools must align the explanation of the educated citizen with their own mission and vision ensuring that all decisions come out of these foundational documents. With a well-articulated vision and mission and clear graduate profile, schools are able to make decisions with correct priorities in mind.
Once the school staff has been reminded of how the school’s mission and vision can and should affect learning programs, it is important to spend time looking at how learning is taking place. This is an opportunity for staff to reflect on what they believe it means to be educated. By allowing teachers to personally reflect on what it means to be educated, school administrators are giving teachers the opportunity to look past what they are teaching to who they are teaching. This small but fundamental change is necessary for sustained educational change. This, however, is easy to say and difficult to implement.
One strategy to assist teachers in seeing their calling as teaching individual students rather than as subject area specialists is through focusing on biblical teaching practices. For this to work, teachers must release themselves from the content of their teaching long enough to pour their thought and attention clearly into how they are teaching. Spending focused time on how they are teaching and what students are learning through the process is helpful in shifting teacher attention away from information toward student learning.
One way a number of schools in our SCSBC community have begun to connect their teaching and learning practice with transformational learning is through the use of biblical teaching practices. Through SCSBC supported professional development opportunities, teachers have a renewed understanding of how to choose teaching and learning activities that give students the opportunity to develop their faith through practices, routines, and reflection. These best practice strategies are intentionally chosen for both their value in supporting learning and in their inherent design to support faith formation. With practice and experience, these practices become the very fabric from which faith formation and learning develop.
It can be overwhelming to think about the concept of biblical teaching practices. To assist schools in this process, in conjunction with two teachers from Nanaimo Christian School, Cheryl Barnard and Shannon Gillespie, and discussions with Beth Green of Cardus, SCSBC has developed five focus areas which can be used to support the pedagogical choices a teacher needs to make. Each of these focus areas are distilled from the life of Christ and how he lived and taught while on earth.
As teachers decide how to teach students they can consider what pedagogical strategies help students develop the ability to:
- foster genuine relationships
- cultivate spiritual disciplines
- create leadership capacity
- develop a heart for other,
- engage in the journey of faith
By intentionally choosing a pedagogical strategy which also helps students develop in one or more of these faith formational areas, teachers assist students in developing habits which will shape who they are. “Discipleship and spiritual formation are less about erecting an edifice of knowledge than they are a matter of developing a Christian know-how that intuitively understands the world in light of the Gospel.” ²
By the grace of God, these intentional decisions by Christian teachers will help students develop habits of practice which permeate all aspects of a student’s life.
Let’s look at my previous example. The ability to collaborate and work in groups is considered essential as part of the redesigned provincial learning plan. Teachers are regularly designing learning plans which include groups and working together. Is there an opportunity for deeper learning within the teachers plan for collaboration? Which biblical teaching practice could be the focus as students work together to develop a video explaining tectonic plates as a God created design for the renewal and ongoing development of the earth?
Guided reflection with questions such as, “How did the other members of your group enjoy working on this project?” is one way to help students on this journey. This guiding question combined with an introductory discussion around inclusion and group norms will help open a student’s heart to the needs and wants of others. The development of a habitually empathetic heart over the thirteen or more years of Christian school will be a significant step in transforming a small corner of this selfish, self-absorbed world. Seeing new and presently used pedagogical choices as purposeful in developing learning and habits of faith formation turns a strong educational idea into a biblical teaching practice. By incorporating this level of planning with intermittent think-alouds explaining why these practices are chosen, and deliberate reflection, teachers are developing a classroom culture that intentionally assists students in developing habits which support an active faith-filled life.
At this point, the content in a classroom and the specialized knowledge of the teacher becomes a wonderful gift teachers can share to inspire curiosity and a desire to learn in students. Ian Leslie, in his book Curious,³ challenges people to understand that information fuels curiosity by creating an awareness of ignorance. Under the right conditions, knowing something about a subject makes us uncomfortably aware of what we do not know. People inherently want to close that gap. With this understanding, teacher expertise becomes essential and valued by the community and students because it allows teachers the freedom they need to focus their planning to combine knowledge and skill acquisition with student inspiration and faith formation.
The content teachers work through with their students is important. This importance is magnified when content is the vehicle which is used to assist students in developing a way of being that allows them to live out their lives as a faithful presence for Christ in all areas of their life.
- Smith, James K.A. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Baker Publishing Group, 2009
- Leslie, Ian. Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, p.67. Basic Books, 2014.