This article was originally published in the CACE Blog on March 8, 2016.
I’ve been working in the past several years with schools that are trying to move from being traditional schools to what we have called, for sake of understanding, 21st-century classrooms (albeit a now somewhat outdated term). As I have been reflecting on this effort by these schools, I have come to realize once again how critically important the mindsets of the adults are in the process.
Recent research about the role of teacher thinking related to student expectations (John Hattie’s mindframes, Camille Farrington’s academic mindsets research, Carol Dweck’s growth mindset research, etc.) has borne out the biblical aphorism “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” (Proverbs 23:7). I find Hattie’s conclusions especially compelling. Hattie, a professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia is the author of Visible Learning (2009), the result of 15 years of labor in the synthesis of educational research on what impacts student achievement. The scope of what he attempted and completed is staggering: 800 meta-analyses of 50,000 research articles, 150,000 effect sizes, and about 240 million students! In his more recent book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (2012), he adds the results of 100+ meta-analyses that have been completed since 2009 and attempts to build a bridge of clarity directly to the daily work world of teachers and administrators. After many chapters presenting his research findings, he opens a discussion of eight mind frames of the teacher by stating the following:
The major argument in this book underlying powerful impacts in our schools relates to how we think! It is a set of mind frames that underpin our every action and decision in a school; it is a belief that we are evaluators, change agents, adaptive learning experts, seekers of feedback about our impact, engaged in dialogue and challenge, and developers of trust with all, and that we see opportunity in error, and are keen to spread the message about the power, fun, and impact that we have on learning. John Hattie
Power, fun, and impact – interesting words. When people think about being a teacher, they bring to mind a compilation of former teachers and their own personal experiences with those teachers – the words power and impact might first come to mind. But fun? If we are honest, we probably are most impacted by those teachers who authentically liked their subject and their subjects, and brought a sense of the joy of learning in the process. So teachers might seek to bring in elements of favorite teachers into their own teaching. However, they may or may not have had exceptional teachers to model after. Their imagination may be stunted by the current realities and demands of a given situation, or what is allowed or supported by their supervisors. In order to teach differently, teachers must see and experience other models to change their conception of what a teacher is and does.
In educational theory, we have operated in recent history under the influence of a diagnostic/prescriptive model of identifying deficits that have led us away from our theological position that, although flawed and broken, the image of God still shines through each person. We sometimes may see the class as an amorphous group that we must manage the movement of from point A to point B. Outliers must be herded along either through our extra efforts or outside support so they can stay with the group, rather than seeing and turning loose the strengths and gifts of each student. Dorothy Vaandering’s excellent Relationship Window (see graphic) helps to capture we might be missing the mark because of low expectation and/or low support for students. Are our pedagogical and classroom practices truly honoring of our students?
What can get lost in our progression as teachers is the original commitment we felt because someone made a difference in our lives, the joy of learning that we first brought into our classroom, and the ability to see the individual uniqueness of each student. We might see students as objects to be managed or controlled and moved through the system rather than fully getting to know and enjoy them for the unique creations they are. The crush of time and expectations robs us of our joy in the learning process, and we realize that our classroom may have become a joyless experience for our students as well.
Can we commit to educating that is a joyful experience? I see a passion for learning and a level of engagement that goes deeper as we face fear, take risks, and turn over learning to our students, removing constraints along the way. What might look different if we did a better job of connecting the core beliefs of our faith with how we taught? I would expect to see the following:
Greater student ownership of learning
Greater joy in the process of learning by students and teachers
More opportunities to collaborate with others
Clearer understanding of the learning focus/target
Increased student feelings of being valued for who they are
Understanding and appreciating the gifts of others
Opportunities to be creative and choices in the creative process
As Christ followers then, the choice is ours – do we focus on the glass half empty, broken, and in need of remediation, or do we focus on celebrating the gifts and contributions of each image-bearer in front of us? Do we see God in each face?
Let’s not accept without critique pedagogical practices that diminish image-bearers! Our pedagogy and practices need to reflect the hope and joy we should experience in belonging to Christ and celebrating the joy of discovery of his creation.