It was a joy-filled day in the western suburbs of Chicago as learning leaders gathered from all across North America for a substantive conversation around student learning! Our time together was bookended by an opening time of “singing” the parts of an orchestra as a celebration of community, reflecting on how our loving God sings over us, and closing with standing in a circle singing the Doxology in harmony. Old friends reunited and met new friends around a common theme of Deeper Learning – defined in our context as distinctively Christian and student engaged learning in schools.
Our goals for the day were to increase awareness of current initiatives by various organizations and individuals, to build relationships and discuss questions of mutual interest, and to identify next steps for increasing the impact of Deeper Learning in Christian schools.
As a group we became aware of the following exciting initiatives through these presenters and their organizations and work. Comments following their information are not intended to be direct quotes, but paraphrases of the gist of their sharing.
Rex Miller – international consultant at Mindshift who has held six education summits in the last fifteen months. Comment: “We are really good in creating sandcastles but when the leader goes/money goes so does the product.”
Steven Levy – school designer, EL Education, (formerly Expeditionary Learning), New Covenant School. Comment: “Who are students doing the work for? The teacher (in 98% of schools). EL attempts to have students work on projects that have value outside of schools.”
Justin Cook – Director of Learning, OACS (Ontario Association of Christian Schools). Comment: “Learning as an expedition, immersed in culture and Creation. Schools are the base camp.”
Nathan Siebenga, Harry Blyleven – HDCH (Hamilton District Christian High School) and Ontario PBL Academy . Comment: “There are four levels within the Academy – PBL Essentials, Digging Deep, Study Hall, Deeper Learning. Teachers attend the Academy, return to their school and then it is a combination of early outs, working with the school designer, building into teacher conferences, co-planning time, etc. This year school leaders were also heavily involved in the Academy and supported their teachers.”
Doug Monsma, Darryl DeBoer – Prairie Center for Christian Education, Teaching for Transformation. Comment: “TfT challenges teachers and students to see the story and live the story, all directed toward the creation of a peculiar person. Three core practices are storyline, throughlines, and FLEx (formative learning experiences.”
Darren Spyksma – SCSBC (Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia). Comment: “Experiencing Christ in the Classroom Project. This project invites teachers into an experience that helps them experience Christ and to replicate that experience in their classrooms, assisting students to develop a heart for others.”
Julius Siebenga – PBL Academy West. Comment: “We are excited to have completed our first year of our PBL Academy for BC teachers and look forward to expanding our offerings next year.”
Kristyn Kamps – former Christian middle school teacher, now Buck Institute, national faculty member. Comment: “Let’s do school with students versus to students.”
Mark Eckel, Director of The Comenius Institute, and Dan Beerens, consultant – Faith-Learning Integration/Curriculum Trak. Comment: “Let’s identify lifetime takeaways in our curriculum, then connect biblical truth, and map it out so we have a solid foundation upon which to build engaging learning experiences.”
Mike Mauk – VP of Joshua Expeditions – a company that works with Christian schools to design international student travel experiences. Comment: “Let’s have students who are globally engaged.”
Peter Baldwin –AMDG Architects – an architectural firm that has helped many faith-based schools with building projects. Comment: “Allow the mission to inform the vision and then design the space. Mission matters…space matters…investment matters. Consider the experiences of all the users.”
Brian Wiebe – Horizon Education Alliance – organizing community educational partnerships. Comment: “We work with the community to launch and examine the outcome of innovative, evidence-based education programming for local residents from birth to adulthood.”
Tim Van Soelen – CACE (Center for the Advancement of Christian Education) Comment: “CACE seeks to come alongside Christian schools to help them in carrying out their missions. Today’s conversation is part of that assistance.”
In the afternoon, we divided into six small groups for conversation on topics chosen by the group: Student Engagement, Distinctively Christian, Teacher Professional Development, Systems Thinking, Leadership and Change, and Resources. We enjoyed two rounds of lively conversation on these topics.
The latter part of the afternoon was spent on visioning around the question: “What should be done to promote Deeper Learning in Christian education?” After several rounds of discussion, then synthesis, the following five “next steps” were identified:
- Identify a small group to create a first draft of a mission/vision statement that explains, defines, and clarifies a Christian approach to Deeper Learning.
- Create a database of resources to support Deeper Learning in Christian schools.
- Expand our network by identifying other diverse voices/schools to add to the conversation.
- Produce a conference in Spring 2017.
- Seek investment and funding to be able to offer resources and training.
Steven Levy and I (Dan Beerens) – will be heading up further facilitation of the vision above and plan to move ahead with next steps to establish a Christian Deeper Learning network. For more information, please feel free to contact us.
In closing, a special thanks is due to Steven Levy, who co-planned this event with me (Dan Beerens), to Tim Van Soelen for his excellent meeting notes and to CACE for helping to sponsor this event, to Rex Miller for his assistance with facilitation, and to Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church for use of their wonderful gathering space.
Dan Beerens is an educational consultant, author, international speaker, and educational leader. Before starting DB Consulting in May 2010, he served as Vice President of Learning Services and Director of Instructional Improvement at Christian Schools International. Prior to that, he was the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Holland Christian Schools. Dan has also worked as teacher and principal in urban and suburban public and Christian schools in Wisconsin and Illinois. Dan regularly presents on teacher evaluation and professional growth, curriculum design, school improvement, technology integration, faith integrated learning, and student faith development at regional, national and international conferences. He is the author of Evaluating Teachers for Professional Growth: Creating a Culture of Motivation and Learning published by Corwin Press.