Tuesday, July 31, 2012


My friend John Van Dyk--a long-time Professor of Philosophy of Education at Dordt, now retired--once encouraged me to put a sign on my desk that looks something like this:

"Theory"     --->       [gap]        <---     "Practice"

His point being: we are all sinful, imperfect beings who are works in progress...and this comes out in our teaching practice in the form of gaps (perhaps more accurately huge, gaping holes) between what we believe and what we do.

I was very convicted by this when he first suggested it to me. There are, of course, many things that I say I believe, but don't fully bear themselves out in my classroom practice. For an example, check out this faith statement I wrote years ago and had posted on my website when I was a middle school science teacher. Sounds pretty great right? Imagine what it might look like if I actually could carry out all the things I've written there, and fully put the Theory into Practice?

I'm NOT saying that such statements are not useful--I think it's very important for us to be clear about what we believe...or even what we hope we believe. But I offer it as an example, because it does outline what I hope to be true in my faith-life, even if it doesn't always come to full expression.

The hopeful thing about the diagram above is the arrows pointing toward the center. That is intentional too; Dr. Van Dyk encouraged us to think about how to look for ways in which we can decrease the width of the gap between what we (say we) believe and what we actually do.

As a practical example of such gap reduction from my own teaching practice: I believe that the students I teach are unique image-bearers of God. If I really believe this, I can't just lump them together as "the class" and then teach to the middle, right? So I started working on finding ways to differentiate instruction in my classroom. I do not have this all figured out yet--it's hard work, and something I have to continue to work at--but I've taken some steps down this road, and I believe I'm being more authentic in my classroom practice when I seek to reduce such gaps.

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