Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday: "On Us and On Our Children"

Tonight we had a Maundy Thursday service. We spent time in song, in the Word, in prayer. We remembered the Last Supper. We came to the table.

[Dave Mulder, CC BY 2.0]
At our church, I come forward to take part in the sacrament. I take the bread, and one of our shepherds (elders) says, "This is Christ's body, broken for you," As I dip it into the cup, another reminds me: "Christ's blood, poured out for you." I love that at our church, my kids come forward with me; they need to see this. This is for them too. This is faith-formation.

We move back to our seats, join the congregation in song. In remembrance. In joy!

Later, we continued the story of Christ's passion. Prayer in the Garden. The arrest. The mockery and trial. Finally, we come to Pilate.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The 60% Rule

(Note: I wrote this post for CACEPlease visit to view the original piece and check out the other great stuff there! You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter...and you should, if you're at all interested in Christian Education.)

Do you have a favorite teaching strategy? What is your best approach in the classroom?

Do you lecture with passion? Do you involve your students in collaborative groups? Do you have students complete stacks of worksheets? Do you use project-based learning? Do you have students craft personal, creative responses to demonstrate what they have learned? Do you use digital simulations? Do you show videos? Do you play games? Do you tell stories that capture students’ imagination and pull at their hearts? Do you have students role-play or use drama? Do you have students investigate solutions to authentic problems? Do you have students actively serve in their communities?

The methodologies we choose clearly show what we value. You might say that the teaching strategies you choose flow out of your personal philosophy of education. What you believe to be true and important and necessary are the things you will emphasize.

Parker Palmer, in his excellent book The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life makes the claim, “We teach who we are.” Think on that. Who you are as a human being is embodied in your teaching practice!

Early in the book, Palmer states, “Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together” (p. 2). As I reflect on this, I think it’s important to think about the methodologies I choose for my teaching…and what these say about me…

Monday, April 7, 2014

Online Teaching: Show Up!

This semester I'm coaching some of my colleagues who are going to be teaching online for the first time. I don't know that I qualify as an "expert" in online teaching, but I have some experience in it--I've taught six or seven courses online now--and I'm always up for a new challenge. (It also helps that I'm currently in a doctoral program in Educational Technology...I'm thinking about this stuff a lot lately!)

To help acclimate my colleagues to the realities of teaching and learning online, we have an online course of sorts so they can experience the similarities and differences between the online and face-to-face modes.

This past week, I encouraged my colleagues to read a few pages of 10 Principles of Effective Online Teaching: Best Practices in Distance Education by Dr. Lawrence Ragan of Penn State. In particular, we read pp. 4-6, which are a good introduction to what I picture as "good teaching" in an online course.

In the ensuing discussion, one of my colleagues offered this insightful comment:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


This week has been extra busy for me as I've been meeting with all of my advisees in preparation for registration for courses for the fall. I have a few dozen students--all of them studying education--assigned to me. They have different emphases, from secondary physical education, to elementary education with a specialty in reading, to middle school math and science, to special education...but the common thread is that they have me as their advisor.

I'm supposed to give them advice. And I do: we talk about the courses they should take, the requirements of the program, the different options they might choose to meet different requirements, how to plan for a semester abroad and still complete the program in four years. I give them other advice as well; they have great questions: "How did you know you wanted to be a teacher?" "What kind of volunteer opportunities should I look for this summer that would help me become a better teacher?" "I'm just not sure if teaching is for me...does it make sense to take a break from education classes for a semester and try ______ instead?"

I had an amazing question this week, one that really challenged me: "How do you know if you are 'called' to be a teacher?"

Isn't that a powerful question? (And a very hard one to answer!)

My response was--I hope--thoughtful. I suggested that calling is both internal and external. We may feel an internal pull in a direction where we know we are passionate. We may have an external confirmation from others who see gifts in us and prod us in a certain direction.

Of course, then there's the follow up question: "What if I have had a lot of people tell me I should become a teacher, but I just don't feel like this is 'right' for me?"

Ooooo...that's rough. I responded by saying--as I so often say to my education majors--"teaching is not for the faint of heart." If you don't love kids, if you don't love the content you teach, if you don't love learning how to teach and continuing to grow...maybe this isn't for you?

It's hard for me to say that. I wish every education major felt a strong sense of calling. But it isn't for everyone. Teaching is hard work! And it's really hard work if you don't feel passionate about it. So what do you do when other people see gifts in you for teaching, but you don't feel like it's for you?

This student wasn't feeling like dropping education entirely, just raising questions and trying to to figure out life. So my advice was to take a few more education courses, just to be sure. My student agreed--nothing else was pulling more than education.

I hope that was wise advice. Teaching is not for the faint of heart.

Image from Pixabay

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Teach the Way They Learn

My friend, Grace, sent me a message the other day via Facebook. It was an image she had seen online, and she said it reminded her of me. (I was honored by this--I had the privilege of teaching Grace's kids back at the beginning of my career when I was young and foolish and impetuous. I'm thankful I didn't do too much damage.) The image is one of Michael J. Fox with a great quote on it. I think the quote is misattributed though; for all my searching, I believe it actually belongs to Ignacio Estrada. I decided to make my own version...

And, honestly...I'm grateful that Grace saw this quote and thought of me. This has been my goal, my approach throughout my teaching practice.

I'm not trying to brag, and I'd be lying if I said I have done this perfectly. But I think teachers could take this message to heart:

School is not really about teaching. 
School is about learning.

If a child can't learn the way we teach...maybe we're doing it wrong.

I'm not arguing here for a student-centered classroom. I'm arguing for a learning-centered classroom.

This isn't easy. If we are starting from a strongly teacher-centered teaching practice, I don't think we can't just turn a switch and make a change. (At least, I don't think I can.) I think that modifying our teaching from teacher-centered to learning-centered will take concentrated effort, a daily commitment to learning. And this will probably mean opening ourselves up to the fact that we--the teachers--need to keep learning as well!

Maybe it's time to start taking a long, hard look at what we are doing as teachers. I challenge you to reflect with me on this: 

"Am I structuring my teaching practice 
in a way that is convenient for me, the teacher? 
Or am I practicing my craft in such a way 
that I focus on learning?"

Monday, March 24, 2014

The More Things Change...

We had a family gathering yesterday, and I wound up talking with my wife's 90+ year-old grandfather for at least an hour or so. I think my wife felt a little sorry that I was "stuck" with Grandpa for so long, but it was actually really, really great: he was sharing memories from his childhood and adolescence growing up in the ranchlands of the Great Plains.

He told great stories: a train ride from Chicago he remembers well. Breaking horses when he was a hired hand on a ranch. The amazing amount of dust that would seep in through through the cracks of the house during the years of the Dust Bowl. Grasshoppers and locust that would strip the wheat fields of anything green. Hitch-hiking 400 miles when he left home to move to Minnesota at age 16. His first paying job, where he worked for three dollars a day, and felt good about the money he made.

And--very interesting to me--he told about the country school he attended from grades 1-8.

There were about 30 students in the school at a time. Teachers rarely lasted for more than one year. He was humble about his academic work--didn't want to brag--but he completed the first and second grade in one year's time, and skipped the fifth grade entirely, because he would have been the only student...and the teacher asked his parents if they would be all right with him moving on to sixth grade early, so he would have classmates studying the same material.

Image by bdinphoenix [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Reflective Practice in a Chinese Restaurant

My wife has been out of town for a few days, so last night my kids and I decided to go out for supper to the local Chinese buffet.

I love Chinese food. Well, I love the silly, Americanized version of it, anyway.

I love that there are many things to choose from on the buffet. Some have very straightforward names, like Beef and Broccoli, or Mushroom Pork, or Hot and Sour Soup. You can be pretty sure of what you're getting there. Others seem downright exotic: Moo Goo Gai Pan, or General Tso's Chicken, or Kung Pao Chicken. I love the noodles. I avoid the bright red sweet and sour sauce, because it seems unnatural.

My kids' favorite part is dessert, and of course that means fortune cookies.

With great ceremony, we crack open our cookies and read our "fortunes." And then usually look at each other with a raised eyebrow and a grin on our lips, trying to decipher the meaning of the mystical message hidden inside the convoluted, crispy cookie.

But every once in a while, the "fortune" rings true, and not just in a goofy, game-like way. I had one of those last night. According to the all-knowing cookie, my "fortune" was this: