I sent a note out to our blog contributors this week about the significance of our shared work in Christian Deeper Learning and encouraged them to share their voices with all who read this blog. Here is part of what I wrote.
We could exhaust a lot of adjectives trying to describe the times we are living in. During times like these, it is easy to give up or revert to old ways or lose focus. I send these thoughts as a word of encouragement and also to ask for your help.
Each day I have recurring thoughts of concern about the general direction of education in the US in terms of what may or may not be taught in the classroom. There are some who would narrow considerably the scope of education and what teachers may discuss with students - I was raised to believe that education expanded, not contracted one's mind.
I reflect at times on the verse, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling" - this verse encourages me to walk with faith on what is and will be a path of uncertainty, doubting, growth, reaffirmation, and grace on this journey of my life. At the end of the day, I belong to Christ, and I rest in that hope. Yet the current forces and loud voices of conformity, indoctrination, discouragement of critical thinking, and book banning (did you realize that the state of Oklahoma has recently banned not only To Kill A Mockingbird but The Hiding Place by Corrie TenBoom?!) are all around us. This is what my friend, Mark Hiskes, is referring to in his article Afraid to Teach. I hope this is not your situation, but there is much need for encouragement of educators who bring a Deeper Learning approach to their task.
What is the task of the Christian educator? One of my favorite Christian education quotes is by former Calvin College professor, Nicholas Beversluis (this is from the book Voices from the Past, and emphasis in the quote below is mine):
“A Christian School must aim, in its learning goals and its curriculum, to free young Christians in and for the religious moral life, one in which piety replaces pietism, ethical awareness replaces legalism, conscience replaces conformity, and allegiance to God’s will replaces sectarian withdrawal from life. Young Christians must be frequently unsettled in a Christian school, wisely, carefully, pedagogically, in order that they may be brought to greater moral maturity. Such growth, along with intellectual growth, can help young persons grow also in the disposition and competence they need for creative participation in the Christian life.”
In Christian Deeper Learning, we believe that we must carefully unsettle kids, challenge their thinking, and develop their awareness - all so that they may grow in their faith and come to greater moral maturity! Yes - we are proposing a different way - recognizing the worth of each child, helping them find their place in God's story - and it is great work! We need to keep developing CDL approaches so that we may be educating well and equipping students "for creative participation in the Christian life."
Our work in Christian Deeper Learning is not "safe," nor should we seek "safe" as the end. I share with you below Owen Webb's post from last year's blog that I thought bears repeating. Instead of "safe" schools, our students need "safe to" learning environments, as Owen describes below.
We Don’t Need “Safe” Schools: Creating Compassionate Classroom Communities
by Owen Webb
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 When we claim our classrooms and our schools are “safe”, what are we promising our students and our families? Safe, in the context of a classroom, can often be rendered as “nothing untoward happening to our students”. I argue that safety can’t simply be a student passively sitting in our classes, but an inherent part of students actively engaging in deeper learning. We don’t need safe schools; we need “safe to” schools. Safe to means that students and educators experience safety in their actions as they engage in deeper learning. In a safe to classroom, educators recognize that safety must occur in relationship with others—peers, educators, administrators—creating a culture where engagement is encouraged and celebrated by others. Adults in the school establish a learning environment that is free from fear, creating a culture where students know their dignity and value will be upheld when they engage in learning rather than creating an environment where students balk at stepping out of their comfort zone. What do you want your students to be safe to do? Take a moment and consider three words or phrases that you might use to complete the following statement: I want my students to be “safe to” _____________. When I work through this exercise with educators, I am always deeply encouraged by their responses. Safe to take risks Safe to go deeper in their faith Safe to fail Safe to try a new instrument Safe to ask questions Safe to be themselves A safe to environment is one that is full of compassion and comfort, where all members of a classroom community both give and receive compassion and comfort. Let me suggest three ways you can start to work toward creating a safe to classroom. 1. Provide students with a voice. One of my favourite quotes is by Ronald Short (1998): “We need to risk before we can trust—not the other way around” (9).1 We often think that if we just create a trusting environment, students and educators would risk. On the contrary, educators and students need to step out of their comfort zones first, and in doing so they will start to trust each other. Having a voice provides students with ownership in their learning. Likewise, when we hear from others, we grow in our understanding of their value and worth. Asking students to have a voice and to contribute is a beautiful risk that enhances trust and strengthens the deeper learning process. 2. Have students share their “safe to.” While I encourage you as an educator to share the “safe to’s” you desire for your students, it is also essential that students share what they need. To be effective as a learner in this class, I need to be safe to ____________ Record these needs, post them in your class, and review them at least once a week. These needs can be the norms by which your class works together to have a safe to classroom. Having students name these norms will allow them to express their needs and allow the rest of the class to respond to these needs with compassion and comfort. 3. Place students in the classroom for optimal interaction.
The physical set-up of our classroom reveals how important we believe student connection to be. A class of desks in rows communicates that we want students to address the teacher, but not each other. Using small groups or classroom circles allows our students to share with each other, to hear from each other, and so increase risk and trust. If COVID-19 restrictions prevent you from creating these spaces in your classroom, see how you might optimize connection in outdoor spaces, gymnasiums, or other large spaces. This fall, I encourage you to invest in creating a compassionate classroom community that is full of comfort for each other, reflecting the compassion and comfort God provides to us. You will know that compassion exists when you see both your students and your colleagues acting to support the safe to needs of both students and staff in your school community.
Footnotes Ronald R. Short, Learning in Relationship: Foundation for Personal and Professional Success (Bellevue: Learning in Action Technologies, 1998), 9.
CDL6: Call for Presenters! Proposal deadline is October 1!
We are looking for proposals that address the fundamental practices of CDL classrooms and schools:
Inviting and equipping students to create beautiful work for God’s kingdom (not for grades!)
Engaging all students with effective instruction that builds Christian community
Using assessment strategies to help increase student responsibility for their own learning
Implementing “embodied” practices, rituals and traditions encourage Christlikeness
Creating school-wide structures and leadership toward mission faithfulness
Accepted presenters will receive a stipend ($300 US, $400 CN) and a free registration to the conference. You can access the proposal form here.
We are also seeking interested partners. Please pass this information on if you know someone who might consider partnering to help make CDL6 possible.
Editor's note: We hope to share with you each week articles of interest that you may have missed. This will include current information as well as previous blog posts from CDL that perhaps you didn’t have time to read the first time around. If you have items you think may be of interest, please feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.