Teaching On Purpose
In the small house in the small town where my grandparents lived, Saturday mornings meant coffee with all the neighbors. I would sit on the davenport (still not quite sure why parts of the U.S. needed another word for couch) and listen to the latest town hearsay. Vy and Howie’s hot tub would always be fixed, “in just a couple more days now.” Sandy’s beagle, Gus, still weighed 45 pounds even though she was only feeding him veggies like the vet told her. He loved the veggies too, especially the ranch dressing. My grandma would chime in with stories about the old days, like the time she drag-raced a guy from town in her 69’ Monte Carlo. I asked her if she was worried about getting arrested. She said, “Well…I never even thought about it. I just knew your grandpa would have a fit if he found out.” He did find out. And after a good laugh, my grandma made sure to tell him that she left the other guy in the dust.
I recently realized how much storytelling has meant to me over the course of my life, and not just at my grandma’s, but with my whole family, my friends, and my neighbors. We have always connected over story. God has woven it into my corner of his grand tapestry. I began to realize how much God could use the value of storytelling not only in my personal life but also in my classroom. I started incorporating more of myself, my whole self, and this storytelling thread into my teaching.
In particular, I’d been wanting to do something more meaningful with my technology curriculum. I liked technology and liked teaching kids about it. But, I couldn’t help feeling like I was only ushering my students into an inevitable disconnection from others. Technology was a useful tool, but there was this pervasive subtext that seemed to unravel the tapestry, rather than weave into it. Maybe storytelling, and the connection and community it brings, could help me realign this course with God's intention for creation, and we could get to weaving.
Creating podcasts felt like a natural place to incorporate storytelling and invite students into a different view of technology and its role in our lives as heavenly creatures. An invitation into something out of the norm (my norm) like this had to be compelling. “You are cordially invited to podcasts. Mr. Lohman likes stories and community and tech and such…so…you all are going to do some storytelling, community, podcasty, tech stuff. Dinner and dancing to follow.” Nope. If I wanted my students to see technology as a thread of God’s tapestry, to let it be a good thing, to get an opportunity to do something real, and to utilize my unique giftings and passions to do so, my invitation needed to give credence to a bigger vision.
While there are many ways to do that well, I’ve grown an affection for what Teaching for Transformation refers to as a “deep hope,” a broad vision to share with students about why this course material matters in the grand story of the Kingdom of God. It is a statement that considers what God meant when he called creation “good” and invited us to join His story. The deep hope I put in front of my students at the beginning of this project was in the form of a question: What if technology was meant to call us deeper into community? That felt more in line with the dance of the Trinity. It competed with the “inevitable disconnection” I was feeling wary of and, most importantly, invited my students into viewing the content as a means to weave rather than unravel. With the deep hope in front of students, I outlined that the podcasts should tell the stories of a person in their life who was at least a generation older than them. This built upon my love of storytelling and extended an opportunity for students to practice technology as connection, starting with those close to them.
Now that I was feeling the winds of broad vision in my teacher sails, I set off and promptly ran the ship aground on a sandbar called STANDARDS. I had my broad vision, but I wasn’t hired to send kids off on a ship into the horizon with no further direction. This is where incorporating values, skills, and passions gets gritty and requires some excavation. As I dug myself through that sandbar, I realized how many standards I would be able to cover with this project. In fact, given the amount of time the podcasts would require, I would actually need to address more than just tech standards. I found that borrowing from my English class worked perfectly. Recognizing the interconnectedness of standards is crucial when incorporating our whole selves into our teaching.
Before my students even began to imagine what planning, recording, interviewing, editing, or publishing would be like, I got the many standards in front of them. I knew where I needed my students to arrive, but I needed them to know that. I invited them to parse through and ask questions about the standards, to discuss them, and, in some cases, reimagine the wording to aid in understanding. We listened to professional podcasts together to get an idea of how the standards might fit. We shared our own stories as we connected with the stories we heard. I kept seeing glimpses of the tapestry as we wove threads together. This is what teaching and using technology was meant to be (or at least a part of it). From there, we made the rubric for the project together. We drafted, practiced interviewing skills, revisited the standards, wrestled with the technology, learned how to get and give feedback, edited, revised, revisited the standards, listened, edited more, REVISITED THE STANDARDS, published the finished products to share with our community, and reflected on the standards.
I’ve found with projects of this scope that include threads of our own stories, values, and passions and that breathe deeply of the goodness of God alongside the stated academic outcomes, there’s an inherent element of messiness. It’s important to remind students, and ourselves, of our North Star as we all begin to recognize our threads in the tapestry. The result is students who feel confident in the standards they achieved. Students who have done real work and made real connections. Students who know how to weave in a world of unraveling. For teachers, it’s fullness as we see the glory of God revealed in offering our whole selves.
As I continue trying to figure out how to weave some threads, I invite you to reflect on your threads in the tapestry. What do you value? What skills, passions, and talents has God given you? Where you are teaching and what you are teaching is not an accident. God chose you, the whole you, to shepherd your flock. In your classroom. At your school. For such a time as this.