It was truly a great day of celebration, with the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains as the backdrop in beautiful Banff, Alberta, when more than seventy-five Christian school leaders from Canada, the United States, and Australia gathered prior to the Christian Schools Canada conference to share efforts around Deeper Learning in Christian schools. At this September 21 pre-conference party, there was deep joy and a sense of camaraderie by educators around ideas and evidence showing how Christian schools are not only defining what we teach and how we teach, but how students, teachers and administrators are pursuing shalom – the flourishing of all things in creation. For Christian schools this means living into and living out the power of their missions – as Darryl DeBoer, director of learning at Surrey Christian is fond of saying about deeper learning in the student context: “Real work that meets a real need for real people.”
Justin Cook, Director of Learning for the Ontario Alliance of Schools, did a great job of framing the day by giving participants three lenses to look through: history, inclusivity, and the right use of ideas. He asked me to share a sense of the history that brought us to this point. I reminded the group not only of the several recent gatherings, but of the shoulders of others that this recent work has been built upon – people like Ren Siebenga, Bob Koole, Doug Blomberg, Gloria Stronks, Harro Van Brummelen, John Van Dyk, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and other Christian school leaders. We truly are the beneficiaries of a “genealogy of ideas” and are humbled and excited to carry them further as we seek to advance Christian education.
Justin encouraged the group to consider that, despite differences in approaches to deeper learning, our most important “centred set” connections are Christ and exceptional learning, and therefore our task is to function as community and network rather than to set up boundaries around any particular pedagogical approach. Secondly, as we build on each other’s work, how can we do it in ways that are honoring of the source, and that allow us to remix and transform ideas into our own school contexts?
One of the most compelling and celebrative aspects of the day was to look together at the student projects, work products, and artifacts that were taken along for sharing by the participants. Darren Spyksma, Director of Learning at SCSBC, guided us in the use of a Beautiful Work Protocol to review student work. This helpful protocol is the result of The Standing Committee of Learning of Christian Schools Canada building off from EL Education’s student work protocol and they are sharing it as a tool for your teachers to use with their students to consider the qualities of truly “beautiful work.”
For many participants, this activity of viewing student products may have been the high point of the day – we experienced a deep sense of joy as we saw the powerful missions of our schools made manifest in the work of students. It was a delight to see how in these various works students were making connections between areas of knowledge, living out and applying faith, and honoring God and loving neighbor – being a faithful and transformational presence in the world.
In the afternoon session, Doug Monsma, Director of Learning at The Prairie Center, focused on effective and unique professional development models to move Deeper Learning forward. It was very helpful to hear six different leaders from across Canada share five minute “EdTalks” – stories of how they are implementing Deeper Learning in their school communities. After each talk, participants discussed in small groups the ideas that were shared. What ideas and professional learning structures did we want to consider using to promote deeper learning in our school?
We concluded the day by considering next steps for the Deeper Learning effort in Christian schools. How can we start to gather meaningful data and research to measure the impact deeper learning is having in our schools? How can we continue to partner across North America and the world? How can we network and encourage each other in the work?
Standing in a closing gratitude circle, we again celebrated the insights gained, questions we were pondering, and the beautiful phenomenon of hearts united around Christ and the joy of learning and service. A deep sense of gratitude and joy permeated our group as we sang the doxology together and then went our separate ways. We look forward to our next gathering of “deeper learners” and to continuing sharing and learning from each other, so that learners may truly flourish and live out God’s love.
(Thanks to Justin Cook and Darren Spyksma for their contributions to this blog post!)