Our First Christian Deeper Learning Conference!

Dan BeerensThe CACE Roundtable

Photo Credit: Strawbridge Studios Inc.

It was the best of times! When you bring together 150+ creative, energetic, and passionate Christian educators from across North America and they discover their shared interests, powerful learning and excitement results! Such was the case January 11 and 12, 2018 as educators who were implementing or interested in deeper learning in their schools gathered at The Rock School in Gainesville, Florida for the first Powerful Practices: Implementing Deeper Learning in Christian Schools conference.

The conference was organized around five strands of deeper learning – curriculum, instruction, assessment, spiritual/community formation, and learning spaces. These strands were introduced briefly by five panel speakers on the first morning and then several workshops were available within each strand. Our 37 presenters consisted of 10 international presenters and 42 workshops were provided. Each workshop was designed to be very participatory and practical. Workshop feedback was very positive and our presenters did a fantastic job of planning and engagement of our conference attendees!

As a planning team we recognized that some attendees might have a deep working knowledge of deeper learning and that it might be completely new to others. As I began the conference I posed this question to the audience: “What is Christian Deeper Learning?” Here are some excerpts of comments I made as I introduced this concept to our conference audience:

  • Deeper Learning is an umbrella term, first employed by the Hewlett Foundation, which gathered together various groups in recent years who are engaged in student engaged learning, groups such as High Tech High, EL Education, New Tech Network, Big Picture Learning, etc..

    Photo Credit: Strawbridge Studios Inc.

  • I want to acknowledge that this current movement (in Christian education) stands on the shoulders of others who have gone before us. It is a movement that has been growing for the past 10-15 years in Canadian Chr. Schools, also in the Dominican Republic, and now gaining momentum in the United States. A core group of Christian educators interested in deeper learning have gathered from time to time over the past several years for mutual growth, encouragement, and further networking in places such as Boston, Chicago, and most recently Banff, Alberta. If you are interested, you can access blog posts regarding this history on the CACE website.
  • The term Deeper Learning in a Christian school context means that not only are we engaging students deeply in an academic sense, but also that we are encouraging depth in all aspects of their life, in particular spiritual formation and response in grateful service.  In other words – learning that is not only deeply engaging, but deeply biblically distinctive.
  • Christian Deeper Learning (or CDL for short) is a purposeful approach to Christian education that seeks to implement a biblical view of the love of Jesus Christ for the whole world; the love that holds the world together and provides coherence. This approach is manifested through the view of the learner, the context of the learning, and the living out by the learner.
  • A small core group of us have been working on a definition and articulation of Christian deeper learning  and here is our one sentence definition: – “People of God’s story engaged in real work that forms self and shapes the world.” We invite you to read our entire document here. We see our work as a draft and would welcome your thoughts and ideas on our document as we hope to continue to shape a clear understanding of deeper learning in Christian education.

Photo Credit: Strawbridge Studios Inc.

By the end of the conference on the second day, brains were full, bodies were tired, but hearts were encouraged and motivated to go back to engage students in deeply Biblically distinctive ways! It was great to unite with others of common purpose and passion, to gain new ideas and resources, and to feel part of an organic network of fellow Christian educators around the world! Many of us look forward to participating in a deeper learning pre-conference at the Christian Schools Canada gathering in Ottawa this coming September and then another gathering to be planned in the United States – stay tuned!