Should You Be “The Sage on The Stage”?

Thoughtful educators continuously engage in reflective practice.  They read professional journals and articlesTeacher reading to class of teenagers (14-16) about education.  They listen to their students and the parents of those children.  They evaluate their instructional methods and classroom practices in light of classroom or school-wide assessments, standardized test scores, and other measures of student progress.  They are aware of current trends in education, and they weigh the value of new methods and tools for student learning.  They reflect on their practices and their beliefs about education, and they strive to make their classroom the very best place for meeting the very individual needs of the children God sends to them and parents entrust to their teaching and care.

Be a Critical Thinker

Thoughtful Christian educators engage in reflective practice but reject many of the practices of progressive American education because the practices and the principles those practices reflect conflict with biblical truth about the nature of children and the nature of learning.  Recently, Education Week published a blog by Maya Thiagarajan that questioned some of those progressive principles and practices.  Maya is an American-educated English teacher who has been teaching in Singapore.  She is the author of Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting in the Global Age.  In her Education Week guest blog on August 15, 2016, Maya frankly discusses five “universal education truths” that as an American teacher she believed and “religiously” followed until her move to Singapore in 2010.  I am going to consider each of the “five truths” in a series of posts, beginning with the third in Maya’s list.

Role of the Teacher

Truth #3: Good teachers are always “the guide on the side.”  No good teacher should be “a sage on the stage.”…With phrases like “sage on the stage,” American educational rhetoric literally ridicules the idea that a teacher has wisdom to offer young kids.  In every way, the rhetoric exhorts teachers to stay on the sidelines and play only a facilitating role while empowering kids to take the lead.

While I think that playing the role of a guide or facilitator has its place in a 21st century classroom, I’ve also started to think deeply about the Singaporean belief that the elder not only has wisdom to offer the child, but also has a responsibility to be front and center in the child’s life.

When I read American rhetoric exhorting teachers and parents to empower children by giving them more choices and greater freedom (and in the process, less explicit guidance), I can’t help but wonder whether it makes sense to marginalize the role of the elder.  When we let machines and peer culture teach our children, aren’t we devaluing our own wisdom and expertise?  Aren’t we abdicating a central responsibility that the elders in communities around the world have performed for millennia?  Don’t children benefit from some explicit guidance?  And shouldn’t there be some times when we are “the sages on the stage”?  (Thiagarajan, 2016)

What is a Sage?

Consider the meaning of sage—a wise and venerated elder.  Consider the pattern of learning repeatedly emphasized in Scripture—an elder (parent, grandparent, pastor, teacher) instructing, guiding, and mentoring one who is younger and/or uninstructed in truth.  Consider the example of Christ with His disciples.  Isn’t it apparent, then, that Christian school teachers should be the “sage on the stage” in their classrooms?  If you think that means a daily lecture in every discipline where students are passive listeners to your continual droning, then I pity the children in your classroom.  If you think that means a classroom without digital resources, online connections, and multi-sensory experiences for learners, then you are misunderstanding the real meaning of sage.

If your classroom is a place where you wisely direct active learning experiences for your students, connect to digital and online resources that enrich and reinforce student learning, share your knowledge of a subject with engaging lecture that sparks student questions and discussion about significant topics, and lovingly shepherd children and teens through their many social, emotional, and spiritual crises – then I think you truly understand what it means to be “the sage on the stage.”

Reference:

Thiagarajan, M. (2016, August 15). Five lessons from teaching in Singapore. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2016/08/five_lessons_from_teaching_in_singapore.html?qs=teaching+in+sigapore

This article will be included in the Winter 2017 issue of The Journal for Christian Educators, a publication of the American Association of Christian Schools.

Upcoming Articles

Five week Series

We are excited to announce that Dr. Jeff Walton will be writing a five-week series for us at FOCUS.  Each week Jeff will be discussing a “universal education truth” for educators in today’s world. The first post will be discussing the role of the teacher in his/ her classroom.

Get to know Jeff

He serves as the executive director of the American Association of AACS staff member, Jeff Walton, photo by Hal Cook, 2015Christian Schools headquartered in Chattanooga, TN. He is the editor of Journal for Christian Educators. He has served in Christian education ministries for 33 years as a high school teacher, school administrator, college administrator, and association officer.

 

Gift Card Winners!

Drum roll please! The winners of our Amazon gift card drawing were Karen Creech and Melissa Mcavoy. Congratulation! Thank you to you all for being a amazon-gift-cardpart of FOCUS this year. We sincerely hope that you have been able to take many of the ideas from our posts and use them in your school and classroom. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The Fixer-Upper

Keeping your classroom exciting

The school year is half over, and most classrooms are in need of an update. Teachers and students have been working hard, but monotony can set in. Consider whether any of the following seven elements of your classroom need to be remodeled.christmas-tree

  1. Environment: Every old barn needs a new coat of paint. Does your classroom still look exciting and vibrant, or does it look like a tornado blew through it? Straighten, file, spruce up and keep your classroom looking like an organized, well-oiled machine.
  2. Learner: Are your students still engaged? As the school year continues into the second semester, student behavior will be more challenging.  To counter their energy, they will need many more brain breaks, hand-on-learning activities, and ways to stay engaged in the day-to-day activities in the classroom.
  3. Pace: John Kotter reminds us that urgent activity is “Action which is alert, fast moving, focused externally on the important issues, relentless, and continuously purging irrelevant activities to provide time for the important and to prevent burnout.” Through the year, the pace within a classroom can begin to slow down. Teachers need to intentionally keep up the pace so valuable time is not lost.
  4. Lesson: Use memory hooks to help the students remember the material and connect the new concepts to the old, creating meaning. Engage the students in the lesson using movement, music, emotion, discussion, drama, and visuals.
  5. Execution: What is your style? The teacher’s style is completely in the teacher’s control. Your style can be fluid to change with what the class is needing. Maybe you are in need of a style change. Make your style memorable!
  6. Assessments: Know where your students are physically, academically, socially, and spiritually. Observe! Observe! Observe! Know your students so well through observation and engagement with them that you know exactly what they need and how you can help them. This gives every child a better chance to be successful.
  7. Culture: The culture of your classroom should be exciting, engaging, and intriguing. Even in January, students should still look forward to coming to school because they can’t wait to see what the teacher has planned for the day.

Willa Foster reminds us that “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” Use this Christmas break to update any areas in your classroom that need to be refreshed so your year can be successful.

How to Be an Eternal Thinker

For a society that seems enamored with futuristic thinking, the youth of the present generation could be described as excessively fixated on the present.  In spite of the media bombardment that casts dispersion on

global-thinkingthe past and glorifies the unknown beyond, educators work daily with young people that seem to embrace the here and now.

The secular educational culture of the 21st century seeks to develop global thinkers.  In a recent article published in Educational Leadership, Veronica Mansilla, part of a team from Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, discusses “ongoing research into global competence and how we can best nurture it in our schools.”  She explains that a significant outgrowth of the project has been the establishment of a definition of global competence that has been embraced on multiple continents and by the U. S. Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO):  the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.”

As I read the article, I questioned the goals for Christian education.  What kind of attention and effort is given to develop eternal thinking?  As I read on, I realized that as Christian educators called to live in this present world, we are also called to develop eternal thinkers.  Mansilla stated confidently that “nurturing global competence will require more that adding more [content] to our already full K-12 curriculum.”

In order to achieve global thinking, Mansilla proposed that educators cultivate four global thinking dispositions into their students—

  • A disposition to inquire about the world
  • A disposition to understand multiple perspectives—others’ and their own
  • A disposition toward respectful dialogue
  • A disposition toward taking responsible action

Mansilla continued to explain that to assist teachers in help teachers succeed in the quest to develop global thinkers, her group is working to develop global thinking routines.  Why?  Because research screams that “students cultivate dispositions not through occasional lessons, units, or . . . events, but through ongoing participation in classroom cultures in which these dispositions are visibly valued and extensively practiced.”

The author’s concluded “when teachers make these routines habitual practices—part of “the way we do things here”—they pave the way for the kind of learning need[ed] to prepare . . . youth for our interdependent world.”

Wow!  I conclude that Mansilla in “spot on” in her message.  To develop global thinkers, the secular educational system is diligent in integrating global dispositions into the fabric of the secular classroom, and it will be successful.  The system will produce global thinkers.

But what about Christian educators?  How focused are we on developing eternal thinkers.  Are we distracted from the quest to produce students that “seek first the kingdom of God?”  Have we become so focused on teaching material and educational excellence (and I understand that both of these have merit) that we have lost sight of the eternal mission of our calling?

As I reviewed Mansilla’s four dispositions, I found a renewed energy to develop eternal thinkers.  Truly, if our students “gain the whole world” and do not learn to think with eternity in mind, the educational process is vanity.  What “routine habitual practices” are a part of our Christian education classroom that will ensure that we develop eternal thinkers?  We can succeed, but we must be intentional in our efforts.  Eternity is at stake!

Can you share a disposition(s) for developing eternal thinkers that you have made part of your classroom or school?

 

Mansilla, V. B.  December 2016/December 2017.  Educational Leadership.  How to be a global thinker?  ASCD:  Alexandria, VA.

Principles For Crafting Effective Report Card Comments

Words Fitly Spoken

Proverbs 25:11 reminds us that a “fitly spoken” word is a beautiful thing!  Nowhere does this hold true more than in report cards comments.report-card

Teachers often find writing report card comments to be a daunting and dreaded task.  And, certainly, there are some pitfalls to avoid.  However, a well-crafted report card comment can bless our students and families.

Here are some principles for crafting effective report card comments.

Say something specific.  General comments like “Johnny is a good student” or “Sally needs to focus more” are too general to be helpful.  Be specific with comments, such as “Johnny consistently does his work and engages in class discussion” or “Sally is often distracted by extra materials on her desk.”

Keep it simpleKeep your sentences short and your word choice intentional.  If you haven’t conferenced with parents before, you should shortly after they read this comment.  Allow you comment to summarize a previous conference or set the agenda for a future conference.  A report card comment should not explain concerns in detail.

Compliment thoughtfully.  Comment on what makes the student different from other students.  Parents are encouraged when teachers share what they see in their child.

Choose one or two “opportunities for improvement.”  Word your comment carefully to help students and parents recognize weaknesses as opportunities.  For example, “Sixth grade offers Suzy the opportunity to strengthen her organizational skills.”

Make a target suggestion or goal.  Give parents and students hope by offering specific suggestions.  The sentence above about Suzy might be followed by “Getting her daily agenda initialed by teachers every day would be a great place for her to start.”

Keep comments student-focused.  Don’t refer to yourself too often.  A well-crafted comment often never contains the word “I.”  Instead of “I enjoy teaching Ralph” (too general and too teacher-focused), try “Ralph’s curiosity makes him a joy to teach.”

If in doubt, don’t.  Report cards follow students throughout their educational career.  If you are in doubt about the content or tone of a comment, don’t use it.  Seek advice from a colleague or administrator and try again.

Do you find writing report card comments daunting?  What have you learned as you’ve undertaking this challenging task?

 

What is an Educator?

“EDUCATION” – WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

If, as educators often do, we resort to the dictionary to find out what a word means, we find that  “education” is a combination of two Latin words: the prefix ex (out of) and the verb ducere (to lead).  This is the same verb which gives us “induce”, “reduce”, seduce”, “produce”, keep-calm-teach-on“deduce”, “conducive”, etc.  “Education”, then, means literally “to lead out of”.

From this rather dry information we can deduce 🙂 that “education” consists of four elements:

First, we must have someone who does the leading.  In education, this would be the teacher.  Second, we must have someone whom we lead, which would be student.  Third, the teacher must have something to lead the student out of, which we assume would be ignorance or misinformation.  Fourth, the teacher must have something to lead the student into, which we would again assume to be knowledge.

Biblical Perspective

Christians see the teacher as the depository and model of the Proverbs trilogy of knowledge-understanding-wisdom.  As for the student, we know that he bears the image of God but that it is marred almost beyond perception.  We understand his basic need is to be led out of rebellion against truth and authority.  And we embrace the Biblical goal of transformation into the image of Christ as the result of growth in knowledge-understanding-wisdom.  Otherwise, as Luther predicted, we will simply educate clever devils.

Does the previous paragraph immediately strike you as politically incorrect?  As a whole as well as in the four elements?  Unbelievers see each of these in ways diametrically opposed to those of Christians.  They see the teacher as a facilitator.   They view the student as inherently good.  They consider his problem to be an undeveloped intellect.  And they set self-realization as the goal.

Different worldviews produce vastly different perspectives.

In a previous article we established the intuitive point that “education is inherently religious” and that “religion is inherently educational”.  Here we have defined what “education” is and have identified its essential parts. Following these two introductions, we will address the components of education in four future articles.

Next: What makes a teacher a great teacher?

The Digital Invasion (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013)

Have you ever considered how much you use technology? If it were taken away, wouldthe-digital-invasion you be devastated?In The Digital Invasion Dr. Hart and Dr. Frejd explore how technology changes people. This is a very helpful book when considering how technology should be used in the home and at school.

 

Purposeful Technology

Have you ever considered how much we rely on technology for screen-shoteveryday tasks? The phone rings on the night stand to wake you up, a notification pops up on the screen reminding you to bring the ice cream to grandparent day, and a text from the school principal pleads with you to arrive early at school to unlock and turn on the lights. The only break that you get is at the traffic light where you finally get to check Facebook. Sound familiar? Our lives are so busy and technology makes it easy to multitask. Even in the classroom we are bombarded with technology. Schools are pushing for the newest and greatest from Apple. Is technology really helping our students? Is it possible to use technology too much? As the teacher, it is your job to determine what will best help your students.

Dr. Hart and Dr. Frejd co-wrote a book called The Digital Invasion. In this book Dr. Hart and Dr. Frejd explore how technology is changing individuals and their relationships with other people. Consider how technology has changed how we spell. You laugh because you know that it’s true. Do students see a need to know how to spell words correctly? No. They rely on their devices to correct their quickly written message. “Once we have lost the art of spelling, we may never be able to retrieve it” (p. 60). Technology has also changed how we communicate with our students and with their parents. Face-to-face meetings with parents are now a last resort. “God has created us for authentic connection and meaningful attachments – the kind of connection that has the power to secure, grow, free and transform us” (p 92). Keeping a personal relationship with both students and with parents is very important.

We are told in 1 Corinthians 14:40 that everything we do should be done decently and in order. This applies to the classroom. Everything that is done, from lesson preparation to the use of visual aids, should be done with a purpose and in good order. As you prepare your lessons, think about how you can use technology to its fullest potential but not beyond its usefulness.

~ First, calculate how much technology you use in your classroom. Is it well balanced with your other visual aids?

~ Second, consider the purpose for using the technology. Many educational apps are really cool, but your reason for using them in your classroom needs to be purposeful and with a goal in mind.

~ Third, think about your time spent in the classroom. Time is one of your most valuable resources. Don’t waste any of it!

~ Finally, consider your students. You are the teacher. You know the individual needs of your students. How many of them will benefit from using technology?

My purpose for writing this blog was not to make you hate technology, but to ask you to consider why you are using it. Make technology, like everything else you do in the classroom, purposeful.

Author

~ Kara Carroll ~

Reference:

Hart, A. D., & Frejd, S. H. (2013). The digital invasion: How technology is shaping you and your relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Look under the “Books” tab to find out more about The Digital Invasion!