Last year, my wife and I prayed about whether to resume the Deeper Learning in Christian Schools Institute after a two-year COVID interruption. Joanna received a word from God that we were to not only provide professional development, but also invite the participants into God’s rest, reserving space for the refreshing, restoring, and renewing of their calling as Christian educators. Indeed, God was faithful to provide what he called us to do.
Last summer 32 Christian educators from Nigeria, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and eight U.S. states gathered in North Andover, MA, for the 6th Deeper Learning in Christian Schools Institute. We were excited that 10 out of 11 represented schools sent more than one educator (two sent five!). We have found that sending teams of educators highly increases the likelihood of implementing the learning back home.
Back in 2015, we began the Institute as a way for educators to personally experience Christian deeper learning, wearing both a “student hat” and a “teacher hat.” The week is focused on four areas: spiritual formation, curriculum design, instructional practice, and assessment.
Again in 2022, spiritual formation was woven throughout our days together. The first morning we discussed how we wanted to live the week in a way that reflected the character of Christ. Toward that end, we used Joanna’s school’s six words of servanthood as the virtues we would intentionally engage during the five days. We added a seventh word—joy—to the list and spent time generating bullet points for what these words would look like in action. Each virtue was “guarded” by a group of participants, and throughout the week we used these words as a way to pray and reflect on God’s work in us. In addition to these sacred words, there were workshops on how to implant character learning targets into chapel, the school day, and long-term projects using embodied material practices that appeal to the students’ imaginations and hearts, not just their intellects.
Since we had strongly sensed that this week was to be a time of spiritual refreshment and renewal, we started with worship each morning, scheduled in a Sabbath time to enjoy God’s creation in the lake and woods around us, and provided a time to prayer over people. Participants could hike the lakeside trails or row in kayaks or canoes in the afternoon.
We started every day with the community building practice of morning meeting. Each person was greeted by name in engaging ways, and there was a fun initiative that involved everyone. At this opening meeting, we reviewed our guiding virtues and reviewed the day’s agenda.
A good portion of the Institute was spent designing curriculum that provokes complex thinking, inspires beautiful work, and forms Christlike character in the students. Participants were able to explore hundreds of student products that were aligned with curricular standards and served an authentic audience. They experienced for themselves the whole process of doing “real work for real people” through building background knowledge, completing fieldwork, and meeting with experts. Then each team created their own beautiful work that served a real purpose: to promote a service organization and honor the people they serve.
Instructional practice and assessment
We explored a variety of instructional practices that included building background knowledge, creating workshop structures, and designing protocols that facilitate student engagement and equitable participation. We experienced various lesson designs that ensured the participation of all learners.
Together we looked at models of student products to define the qualities of “beautiful work.” We demonstrated how to teach literacy (specifically writing) as participants began their writing for the final product. We established criteria for excellence and used peer critique to guide revisions.
The evenings were a rich time as well. One night we offered soaking prayer to the group. This is a method of prayer where individuals are invited to bring a blanket, a pillow, and a prayer request (optional) and lie down in a dimly lit room with worship music playing. Several pray-ers move quietly about the room praying over each person as the recipients “soak” in God’s love.
Another night was Moth Hour night modeled after Moth Radio Hour, an NPR program where ordinary folks tell personal stories that have been somewhat crafted, but not memorized. We met at sunset by the lake and heard stories of rescue, provision, foolishness, and bravery. Listening to one another’s stories felt like a deeply Christian act, and this evening was a highlight for some participants. The final night was an optional trip into Boston or one of the area’s historical towns.
A synthesis of participant highlights include the following:
- Feeling the guidance of the Holy Spirit in everything we did (starting with the beauty of worship every morning)
- Getting to experience learning as a student
- Hearing the stories of people we met to interview
- Integrating the “Guiding Virtues” into our academic work and rhythms of the day
- Learning alongside others also looking to provide deeper learning experiences for their students
The following is a synthesis of participants’ responses about what they’re excited to bring back to their school/classroom:
- Converting existing projects into longer term ones with an authentic audience (looking for connections with their local community)
- Knowing how to design and implement a project from start to finish
- Incorporating core values/guiding virtues into the classroom
- Teaching students how to assess their own work
- Teaching and scaffolding students to produce beautiful work
- Using the new instructional practices they learned
- Making time/space for teachers and students to be in God’s presence
What joy it was to spend time with others committed to bringing deeper learning to our students. Joanna and I both sensed God’s blessing and leading over these precious days together.
Please consider attending the 2023 CDL Summer Institute in June. For more information on the Institute and event registration, click here. We are offering early bird registration to CACE readers for one week from this blog post’s publishing date. Email Steven Levy to request the discount code.