In his recent CACE Blog, Dan Beerens effectively challenges educators to raise levels of student inquiry with well-crafted Essential Questions that engage students in active learning while encouraging a spirit of respect and humility. To illustrate the value of Essential Questions he points us to questions Jesus asked during his incarnational ministry on earth. Jesus’ question “who do you think I am”, is a question we should be asking and answering in the details of our own lives each day.
Asking Essential Questions and clearly articulating and promoting student mastery of Enduring Understandings are critical elements of the best learning environments. Christian schools should be leading the way in the development of biblically integrated curriculum standards that prepare students to represent Christ and his Kingdom in all spheres of society and culture.
Embedded in Dan’s illustration of the questions Jesus asked is a beautiful picture of the excellent teaching techniques of Jesus. Jesus did not ask these questions from a disconnected podium at the right hand of God the Father; he asked Essential Questions while incarnationally engaged in the lives of those who rejected him. By taking on the full form of man (Philippians 2:5-11) Jesus “lived” respect and humility. While his questions and teaching techniques are great instructional strategies, they are most effective because they are inseparably coupled with his humble incarnation “taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (vs. 7)
In his book To Know as We Are Known, Parker Palmer writes “In Christian tradition, truth is not a concept that “works” but an incarnation that lives.” Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings in the context of a fully articulated, Biblically integrated curriculum are only one important part of teaching truth. We serve a God who gave us glorious, absolute truth AND gave us his son, who walked among us as the living, perfect fulfillment of that truth. The best learning environments therefore, must include questions, propositions and student/teacher relationships where the truth of creation, fall and redemption is incarnationally present in all of the content and the whole LIFE of the learning community.
We are not only minds, created for intellectual activity, we are also hearts, souls and bodies, created for relationship and community. Jesus didn’t just show us how to “ask” questions and “teach” our students, he showed us how to “be” incarnational in the lives of our students. If teachers want their students to “know” a Christ-centered curriculum, they must engage the hearts of students to be “known” by their teachers in order to represent the living curriculum that Jesus wants them to be “known” by him.
Palmer goes on to say, “In the absence of communal virtues, intellectual rigor too easily turns into intellectual rigor mortis.
Christian schools that desire intellectual rigor that leads to abundant life must consider these three Essential Questions that teachers authentically answer about each student:
- How, uniquely and specifically, is God’s image displayed in this student?
- How has this student specifically grown in an area of weakness this year?
- How have I (the teacher) been specifically blessed by this student this year?
What if administration and faculty held ourselves to the standard that in addition to all the typical progress reports provided students, teachers would share, with students and their parents, thoughtful and humble answers to these questions? How much more fully will students be able to answer Jesus’ question “who do you think I am?” if they are embraced in a community where teachers authentically know them in this way?
Asking students Essential Questions, as Jesus did, is critical to great Christian schooling. Answering these Essential Questions, as Jesus did, is equally critical.
Chad Dirkse has served in Christian education for 25 years in roles that include, math and science teacher, coach, athletic director, principal, head of school and board member. He is currently the President of Chattanooga Christian School where he serves more 1,100 students and 130 faculty and staff. Prior to his current position he served as the Superintendent at Westminster Christian School in Elgin, Illinois. Chad has an undergraduate degree in education from Covenant College and and MBA with a specialization in school leadership from LeTourneau University. Chad speaks regularly to groups about the school sustainability and the importance of consistency in the process and content of Christian schooling.