It was very interesting to meet this week with the owner of a local architectural firm, who works with building new school buildings and modifying older structures. What was fascinating to me was his role as an agent of change in the teaching and learning process. It struck me how he could be an external, disruptive force for change – but only to the degree that people’s minds and practice were open to the possibility of change. In his work, he asks the hard questions such as how the mission of a school can be realized in a particular space. He then expands the horizons of those at the school by taking them to see other sites that have connected mission, vision and structure in new and wonderful ways that enhance the learning process. He remarked that, while he could build a new structure and even paint a beautiful picture of the possibilities for how it could be used effectively, he could only go so far in the implementation of a new vision of how learning could be done.
In my work with schools I have found that the meaningful changes in teaching and learning often don’t take money, they take mindset change. It is remarkable to me that after 15 years of meta-analysis research of what actually works in schools to improve learning, Professor John Hattie explains in his book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. He believes that teachers approach teaching and learning with particular mind frames or “theories of practice.” His concern is that “every teacher in the school has the mind frame that leads to the greatest positive effect on student learning and achievement….the major argument in this book underlying powerful impacts in our schools relates to how we think! It is a set of mind frames that underpin our every action and decision in a school; it is a belief that we are evaluators, change agents, adaptive learning experts, seekers of feedback about our impact, engaged in dialogue and challenge, and developers of trust with all, and that we see opportunity in error, and are keen to spread the message about the power, fun, and impact that we have on learning.”
In a recent (September 4, 2014) Wall Street Journal article, author Dana Goldstein suggests that, based on an increasing body of recent research, parents can identify great teachers by four actions and mind-sets: 1) they have active intellectual lives outside of the classroom, 2) they believe intelligence is achievable, not inborn, 3) they use student learning data effectively, and 4) they ask great questions that check conceptual, higher level thinking.
We are starting to see a convergence of thinking around the importance of teacher thinking/mindset. Dr. Laurie Matthias, assistant professor of education at Trinity International University, wondered what themes and qualities would emerge from studying professors considered exemplary by their peers in the integration of faith and learning at Wheaton College. She discovered a common core virtue of integrity/wholeness in these individuals. This sense of integrity and wholeness resulted from these characteristics: genuine faith, an attitude of humility, passion for their academic discipline, and openness to change.
Based on the recent research that I have mentioned, what are the implications for Christian teachers and Christian schools? While we might give mental assent to the idea that we must have the “mind of Christ,” as the Apostle Paul suggests in 1 Corinthians 2:16, what might that actually look like in our teaching practice? Perhaps we might consider the following:
1. Seeing students as having inherent worth because they are image-bearers must move from mental assent to every aspect of our practice.
2. We must believe that God created every individual for his purposes and that we have the privilege of assisting the student in that purpose-finding process.
3. We must believe that every student has creative gifts and a desire to learn as given to them by God. It is our responsibility to give them opportunity to use their gifts and to have learning experiences that increase their desire to learn.
4. We must never give up on kids or stop believing in them. We have the power, through our teaching practices, to diminish or build up, to bless or curse, and to shut down or help students flourish.
5. We must examine every aspect of our practice and be honest about changes we need to make. We need to change practices that discourage faith/learning and seek out and increase practices that encourage and build up.
6. We must challenge students to ask tough questions, to take faith seriously, and to become all that God intends them to be – to have the mind of Christ.
7. We must daily challenge ourselves as Christian educators to meditate on the Word, listen to the Spirit’s prompting, and walk with Jesus so that we may more and more have the mind of Christ in ourselves.