It is a risk to try new things, to move in new directions, to love that deeply. But we have reached a time in history where by not innovating we are running a greater risk than staying our current course.Dan Beerens and Erik Ellefsen, MindShift: Catalyzing Change in Christian Education
This post is a continuation of Celebrate and Imagine #8: Schools Embodying a Transforming Vision: MIssional, Dynamic, Deeper, and Global, 2010-Present (Part 1).
As schools began to understand the promise of technology and work through how to use it most effectively, new possibilities began to emerge. One of the most famous videos challenging the status quo in education was Changing Education Paradigms by Sir Ken Robinson. How did it make sense to continue educating in factory model batches? Were we effectively diminishing or killing creativity in students with our traditional, teacher-directed/controlled classrooms?
With the rise of national standards and an increase of accountability in both the US and Canada, some began to wonder how much our identities as Christian schools were driven by the wrong outcomes. What was our hope for our graduates? As I considered what my wife and I were hoping for with our own daughters, I realized that our hope was for their flourishing in life. As I worked with schools, it seemed to me that this large question remained: What ways of educating might produce more flourishing students than our current traditional models? It also seemed that this question had already been under consideration for a number of years in Canada.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, a group of CSI educators in Alberta were persistently working to develop the idea of discipleship dimensions called Throughlines and a larger structure for curriculum design called Teaching for Transformation (TfT). Longtime educator/administrator Brian Doornenbal, who has written more on this history, describes a holy discontent:
This discontent arose from the recognition of a gap between what Christian schools ought to be and what they were. Although those that had gone before in the Neo Calvinist school movement had left a firm foundation upon which thematic statements, conceptual frameworks and discipleship training could take place, the gap between the many words and the classroom practices was often so obvious that some teachers expressed frustration and even guilt about not walking the talk. (personal communication)
The good news is that many schools are now working hard to put Christian education theory into practice. TfT has spread throughout North America via CACE and the efforts of Darryl DeBoer, Tim Van Soelen, Steven Levy, and many others. Examples of the kinds of beautiful student work being done in TfT schools are showcased here in this compilation by Surrey Christian in BC.
TfT is one of several models of innovative designs for teaching and learning that Christian schools are implementing. The Christian Deeper Learning (CDL) network connects Christian schools around the world using six different models of schooling approaches that seek to deepen student engagement and Christian distinctiveness. (See the foundational document for a common definition and explanation of what constitutes Christian Deeper Learning.)
A recent collaboration between the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, Cardus, and CACE has resulted in the publication and availability of the Practicing Faith Survey—a tool for student reflection and self assessment of five practices related to applying faith in life. You can read more about it here: Assessing Christian learning: Towards a practices-based approach to faith, vocation, and assessment and in this blog post.
Among Christian educators, collaboration abounds around shared interests to learn and grow. This drive is partly due to the ease in “finding one’s tribe” through social media and then coming together through air travel to a common location. In 2017, a group of 40 Christian innovators from 5 countries gathered in California for the Innovation Retreat, which ultimately led to the MindShift project. The MindShift project has inspired a book; has included over 100 Christian school innovators who have dug deep into the rethinking of our work in Christian education; and has organized gatherings to see, experience, and reimagine the impact of Christian education in places like San Jose, Chicago, San Antonio, Toronto, Washington, D.C., London, online, and most recently in Vancouver.
In 2017, seven associations, including CSI, joined in Orlando for the Global Christian School Leadership Summit. Due to the event’s success, an even larger event took place in San Antonio in 2019. We were connected at the Global Summit with our friends in the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership as they seek to revitalize a shrinking church through their schools. To guide their revitalizing work, Andy Wolfe and David Ford created a leadership framework–Called, Connected, Committed, which might be the best Reformed framework for thinking about school leadership.
These events gave us the opportunity to see that Christian schooling was emerging or being reimagined all over the world. COVID paused our global gatherings, but another global summit called Converge, gathering twelve Christian school associations and over 800 attendees, was successfully held March 2022 in San Diego, California. A pre-conference hosted by the Christian Deeper Learning network on March 7 & 8 gave an opportunity for school leaders to visit innovative schools in the area and learn about various CDL models.
The desire for a global vision for student flourishing is beautifully expressed in a new book: Flourishing Together: A Christian Vision for Students, Educators, and Schools written by Lynn Swaner and Andy Wolfe. They provide a framework for how we might think about the future flourishing of our schools in multi-ethnic, multicultural, and socio-economically diverse communities in ways that could transform our testimony and work in a secularized and fractured world. In the epilogue, they remind us what really matters in this broader work of Christian education:
Love is at the core of our vision for flourishing together. Love is why teachers long to see the flourishing of students, why leaders invest in the flourishing of teachers, and why schools extend themselves in and on behalf of their communities. Love is the measure by which we will know if our Christian vision of education is achieved—as Jesus says in John’s gospel, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
What does this vision for student flourishing look like when played out in Christian schools? What should schools be focusing on to help students flourish? In our next post we will hear more from Dr. Lynn Swaner about her appreciation for the Calvinist Christian day school movement, the gifts it has offered to the Christian education movement, and the challenges of maintaining a strong identity while embracing the flourishing of all students.