Speaking the Same Language: How a Common Framework Fosters Conversation and Collaboration
When I look back on my early years as a teacher, I acknowledge that as a Christian school, we made a promise to our parents (and ourselves) to integrate a Christian perspective into all aspects of our teaching and learning. But as teachers, we didn’t talk very often about how to do that.
We had occasional professional development days where the topic was addressed from a foundational perspective, which often served to increase my commitment to the importance of a Christ-centred education. But when those days were over and we went back to teaching, we closed our classroom doors and went about our task.
Some days, in some lessons, or in some units, I nailed it! I was confident that I was fulfilling the promise of an integral and evident Christian perspective in my classroom. And some days, I missed the mark—by a long way! I knew that there were too many days where what was happening in my classroom could be described as “bookends” Christian education, with the beginning of my unit (or lesson, or day) opening with some Christian content (a Bible verse, a prayer, a question) and then wrapping up with a matching bookend at the end of the unit, lesson, or day. But when I was honest with myself, everything in between was not distinctly different from any other classroom in our community.
I didn’t know if my colleagues all knew better than I how to do this Christian education thing (and that’s why we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the practicalities) or if we were all in the same boat (sometimes really catching the wind and sailing, and sometimes wondering if we were unqualified skippers).
When I became a principal and had the opportunity to visit classrooms, talk with teachers and be an instructional leader, I realized that we were all in the same boat. I saw pockets of great Christian teaching and also lots of situations where I was not confident that we were living up to the promise we were making to our community. As we began talking with each other and with other Christian educators and leaders, we recognised a common “holy discontent” where we admitted that there was a disconnect between what we were saying and what we were doing. It was out of this milieu that Teaching for Transformation was born.
While a complete history of the evolution of TfT can be found elsewhere, I want to concentrate on one aspect of the process that was essential in our school’s journey toward Christian deeper learning. For me as a school leader, TfT provided our school community with a common language to talk about our task and calling. Until TfT, we had some catch phrases that we bandied about that described what we wanted to achieve as articulated in our vision/mission statements and other guiding principles. But we didn’t have a framework or language to describe the process of how to move from words in a document to consistent experiences in our classrooms. In our case, TfT gave us ways to talk with each other, to describe what we were doing (or not doing, YET), to share our joys and frustrations, and to hold each other accountable.
In addition, and essential to the learning journey, was that there were other schools with us on the adventure. This allowed for deep and meaningful collaboration between schools and teachers. We often hear the phrase, “the answer’s in the room,” and when you expand “the room” to include several other schools, the learning opportunities are magnified. In the case of TfT, our conversations and work were able to move quickly because we were speaking a common language with our colleagues. Being able to understand each other and the end goal allowed us to quickly move into important conversations and co-planning opportunities.
This emphasis on common language is one of the things that I most appreciate about the Christian Deeper Learning community. While there are several different approaches within the CDL context, we are all committed to education in which “people of God’s story are engaged in real work that forms self and shapes the world.” Our gatherings are inspiring, our conversations are rich, and the real work of Christian education continues as we all jump right into the collaborations, as we have a collective goal articulated in common language.