It just didn’t feel completely right, but I was acting on a combination of how I had been taught and the current prevailing wisdom, even though I was uncomfortable with the ideas and principles behind what I was doing. How many of us have had this thought as we work in our chosen field of education? We engage in practice that doesn’t always reflect best practice or line up with a biblical worldview, but we are too (pick one – tired/frustrated/unsure of what to do) to do the thinking, investigate further, and then muster the effort to make the change needed. What if ideally we could bring our practice and what we believe closer together? The exciting thing is that I believe we are living in just such a time where connections and congruence between our deepest spiritual convictions and our professional practice is increasingly possible!
I believe our deepest joys in education come when we are able to connect what we deeply believe with our daily practice. Let me give a couple of examples. For years, I questioned as a principal whether teacher evaluation really made any difference. It was a “done to” exercise and didn’t seem to result in any meaningful change. I wondered what biblical principles might be applied to both parties in the evaluation process. It was when I went back to the biblical concepts of image-bearing and servant leadership, and designed a system that reflected those principles that I felt true congruence between my beliefs and my own practice as a principal. Another example – being trained in special education I was taught a behavior management approach for managing student behavior that I utilized as a young teacher. It never seemed to jibe completely with what I believed about students as image-bearers – it felt more like a manipulative tool to control them. By contrast, in recent years, Christian educators have begun utilizing a restorative justice approach which is much more congruent with biblical principles and an image-bearer centered approach as described beautifully in Alan Bandstra’s new book Beyond Control: Heart-Centered Classroom Climate and Discipline. What a better and more biblically congruent approach that promotes student flourishing!
Which takes me to the bigger picture of how we “do school” – what is the bottom line purpose/desired outcome of a Christian education? I have been advocating that it is to help students to worship well – in their present educational experience and in their life and work. Essentially, how can we help them to see the vision of every part of life being praise in the process of helping them to flourish? To extend to them a vision of true shalom – living as Christian philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff suggests – in harmony with nature, God, neighbor, and self? I believe that to achieve this we have to pay attention to how we are modeling shalom in our current educational practice. As we see from our examples above, our practices matter – they ultimately encourage or discourage faith in God and worship through one’s life. What are models of educational practice that promote student flourishing and are biblically congruent? I believe we are closer than we may realize to a greater degree of congruence – let’s talk about that in the next post.