In a time that values speed, efficiency, success, independence, individual achievement, and “easy”, the Christian school must choose an alternative story – the story of shalom to guide our work. Christian schools exist to point kids to Christ, to help them understand what Christ valued through his life and ministry, and to increase their desire to imitate him in their life. I believe we will remain impoverished if we don’t seek to include a wide range of student abilities in our school communities and if we do not seek to engage with the diversity of people in our communities and our world. We will rightly be accused of remaining insular, in a bubble and not impacting our communities.
Seeing each child as a unique image-bearer has implications. As we have discussed in recent posts, there are certainly financial implications. However those may not be the biggest obstacles – our current school/parent culture may need to change. We may need to confront head on not only parent bias around additional cost to educate all students who desire a Christian education, but their more dangerous perception that a special needs child will negatively impact their own child’s learning. We need to share stories of growth by students in understanding, empathy, kindness, and Christlikeness as they interact with others who are different than them. What kinds of students do we seek? What will it take to help each flourish? If we seek to be a shalom community, it would seem we must help kids practice living out Christlike community in a variety of ways.
Jean Vanier in his book, Becoming Human, suggests that weakness carries a special power: “The one who is weaker can call forth powers of love from the one who is stronger.” I was struck by Andy Crouch’s example in his recent book, Strong and Weak, of how children with special needs can help a community to flourish and become more fully human. In reflecting on the experience of his niece with multiple needs, he suggests that she helped his family flourish in unexpected ways. Our following Christ’s example of caring for our neighbor causes us to consider not only if a special needs person is flourishing, but how do we become the kind of people, the kind of community that helps all of us become more fully “what we were created to be, more engaged with the world in its variety and complexity, more deeply embedded in relationship and mutual dependence, more truly free?” Simply put, our students will flourish best in communities of inclusion and diversity.
What are promising practices if we seek flourishing communities and engaging learning environments? It seems to me that, as we move toward more biblically congruent models of teaching and learning such as various types of Deeper Learning, these models also are very helpful in meeting the learning abilities of all students. In a recent review of literature on PBL and inclusion, Belland, Glazewski, and Ertmer suggest that PBL benefits mainstreamed students in three ways – utilizing cooperative learning settings, increasing problem-solving skills, and increasing students’ self-directed learning skills. Kristen Uliasz, a national BIE faculty member and former special education teacher, shares her excitement about project based learning for students with even the most significant support needs: “Project Based Learning as a pedagogy is a great vehicle for meaningful inclusion because each of its project design elements and teaching practices are geared toward creating the kind of engaging and dynamic learning environment that are also known to best serve students with a wide range of disabilities.”
In our desire to help our students become disciples of Jesus, we must seek a different road, a different sense of community, and a valuing of all people. In describing the impact that a profoundly intellectually disabled child named Arthur had on those around him, John Swinton comments in his new book Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefullness, and Gentle Discipleship: “Arthur has taught those around not only what love means, but what love looks like…not (towards) the cultural norms of competence, efficiency, production, competition…rather, he has revealed a different way of being in the world and valuing one human life.” He goes on to say that to “truly be with Arthur, one needs to be slow, kind, generous, gentle, timefull, and self-controlled….disciples who are impatient, frenetic, anxious, or easily frustrated will struggle to be with Arthur, but in that struggle will find new aspects of themselves.” Students of all abilities can help us grow in significant ways as individuals, as members of a discipleship community, and in meeting the full promise of the missions of our schools.
You are invited to read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this blog series, as well as view Dan and Elizabeth’s first webinar recording. Join us on February 22 @ 1pm EST for the second webinar with special guest panelists!
“Ableism.” Audio blog post. The Liturgist. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.
Belland, Brian R., Krista D. Glazewski, and Peggy A. Ertmer. “Inclusion and Problem-Based Learning: Roles of Students in a Mixed-Ability Group.” RMLE Online 32.9 (2009): 1-19. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.
Crouch, Andy. Strong and weak: embracing a life of love, risk & true flourishing. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2016.
Swinton, John. Becoming friends of time: disability, timefullness, and gentle discipleship. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017.
Uliaz, Kristen. “Inclusive Special Education via PBL.” Web log post. Www.bie.org. 13 Apr. 2016.
Vanier, Jean. Becoming human. New York: Paulist Press, 2008.
Dan Beerens is an educational consultant, author, international speaker, and educational leader. Before starting Dan Beerens 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. He serves as a Senior Fellow at CACE (Center for the Advancement of Christian Education), represents Curriculum Trak sales and professional development and serves as co-chair of the annual Christian Deeper Learning conference. He blogs regularly for CACE and is the author of Evaluating Teachers for Professional Growth: Creating a Culture of Motivation and Learning (Corwin Press) and co-editor of the recent book MindShift: Catalyzing Change in Christian Education (ACSI).