Identity • Mastery • Creativity • Wayfinding
by Darren Spyksma, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
For many educators, defining and believing in Deeper Learning feels like the right thing to do, the professional obligation. But the “big idea” or concept of Deeper Learning comes with many definitions. Often, as teachers work to define Deeper Learning, they get into listing what it is not: it’s not straight memorization, it’s not listing off random dates from history; the list could go on. Listing what it is not can be helpful at first, but it does not help educators with the larger vision for learning represented by the two words, Deeper Learning.
Christian schools are excited about Deeper Learning. Christian educators from around the world want an education system that equips students well, that creates “spaces where students have opportunities to develop knowledge and skill (mastery). Where students can see their core selves as vitally connected to what they were learning and doing (identity), and they have opportunities to enact their learning by producing something rather than simply receiving knowledge (creativity).” 1 It is easy to get excited about meaningful purpose. In the excitement, we sometimes forget that Deeper Learning is not our idea. As educators, we are not writing our own stories or those of our students, as Christians, we are invited into a story that is already being written. We are invited into God’s Story; we are people of God’s Story. 2
Our Creator and Author, a God who desires relationship, who desires justice, mercy, and peace for humanity should be seen as the author of the teaching and learning happening at His school. God gives us the context and lens through which we are called to view and design learning. God’s call to love and serve, should combine with the exploration of identity, creativity, and the development of mastery to produce learning which enables students to deepen their faith through intellectual and active engagement. Students using their aptitudes and abilities, gifts they received from God, to engage in the good work that God is already doing in a community; this roots Christian education and sets it apart. It is the purpose behind learning focused on identity, creativity, and mastery which should guide learning in Christian schools. The purpose of our existence, worship to God through gratitude, hospitality and service to the “least of these” 4 leads students on a journey of wayfinding. 5
Do students truly understand and know that their value was established before they were able to breathe? Do students understand that their purpose extends beyond themselves in both everyday moments and in the grand arc of their lives? Do students have a clear picture of who God is in their lives? Career education has a significant role in shaping a child’s identity at school. Career education teachers in Christian schools are encouraged to shape their programs and big ideas, not with the question “What is God calling you to do?”, but rather, “What is God doing already, that you are interested in and want to be a part of?” Shifting this question off of self and back onto the Creator and Sustainer of all things allows students to reorient their thoughts and may just reduce a little anxiety as well.
We worship God through doing our best, through pursuing purposeful mastery. This is not a pursuit of personal fulfillment, but rather bringing students to the reality that, “if I can master these design skills, then I will be better able to serve non-profits with their communication tools and website design”. Aiming for mastery is more likely when purpose is evident. Are students invited into work that meets needs in their community, first within the school walls, and regularly connecting beyond the school to the neighbourhood and city.
Developing persistence, perseverance, and being able to pick ourselves up after making mistakes are all key markers on the road to mastery. Have we eliminated “one and done” assignments, replacing them with opportunities for multiple iterations and attempts and modes for displaying mastery? Have we moved from marking assignments to assessing growth in standards over time? Are clear stands-based learning targets something students ask for when they are not evident in the class because they are an important part of student learning at your school?
Each person on earth is created in the image of God. As Christian educators, we should not be surprised that Harvard research is suggesting that learning rooted in creativity is a key element of Deeper Learning. God’s story oozes creativity. At every turn, God shows He is a God of the unexpected. Are students invited into the reality that the work they do is work done in the presence of a creative God? Are we giving students the opportunity to draw closer to God through the work we are doing? Do we celebrate creativity as personal success or is success an opportunity to celebrate God’s good gifts? Are we inviting students to practice skills improvisationally as they pursue a purposeful task or are students engaged in step by step processes established before they entered kindergarten?
Creativity, like all worthwhile skills, takes practice and discipline. It is almost paradoxical that in order to practice creativity, students need a foundational structure. A science student needs to understand the scientific method in order to hypothesize how to help the city with water quality issues in a local stream. An elementary student needs to learn how to communicate in complete sentences if they are going to implore their grandparents to support a local initiative with funding support. A middle school student needs to know how to create and support an argument if he is going to stand in front of city council and advocate for a change in city policy supporting creation care.
Work oriented toward the development and support of others shows students at an early age that God’s story is different from the compelling stories of individualism, materialism, and consumerism. For Christian schools, wayfinding is outward looking. It is an intentional move from independence to a pursuit of interdependence. Wayfinding is about the intentional discovery of the gifts and abilities students have received and are developing. This discovery is not an end in itself, it is not for personal gain, it is a way of deepening relationship with Christ and others as students seek justice and flourishing for all. As students mature, staff and parents can invite students into advocacy for those who cannot advocate for themselves: the bullied, the intellectually challenged, and those marginalized because of sexuality and gender questioning.
Pursuing, designing, and implementing your school’s vision-focused iteration of Christian Deeper Learning is a worthwhile pursuit. By pursuing development of creativity, identity, mastery and wayfinding, school leaders can be assured that taking a system-wide, job-embedded, context-aware approach, over an extended durationvi will lead to the development of Christian Deeper Learning both this year, and in the years to come.
1 Mehta, J. & S. Fine. (2019). In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. Harvard University Press.
3 Mehta, J. & S. Fine. (2019). In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. Harvard University Press.
4 Matthew 25: 31-45