Guest Blog: Committed to a Faithful Pedagogy

There are many discussions going on in Christian education circles about development of a biblical worldview and the integration of that worldview into our pedagogy. Recently, the Center for the Advancement of Christian Education (CACE) became the distributor for Teaching for Transformation (TfT) in the US. CSI is excited to work in partnership with CACE in this effort to better serve our schools. CSI has no desire to duplicate an excellent program like TfT, but also recognizes TfT may not be the perfect fit for all of our schools. CSI is moving forward in the creation of resources to assist schools with the critical task of integrating a biblical worldview and is eager to hear your thoughts on how best to accomplish this task.

While a faithful philosophy of education is important, we also need to focus on a faithful pedagogy. The following article, written by my good friend Dr. Richard Edlin from Australia, gives some ideas on integrating pedagogy and philosophy and may be of use for professional development.

These comments come from an update to an article entitled “Keeping the Faith” by Richard Edlin that was published by Christian Higher Education a few years ago. The original article reflected upon the current state of some Christians working in secular and Christian higher education and included a series of suggestions about how to work and act in a more faithful way.

Be Committed to a Faithful Pedagogy as Well as a Faithful Philosophy

Wittingly or unwittingly, every school activity or online teaching strategy emanates from a set of beliefs about the purpose of education and our beliefs about the ideal graduating student. But our interrogation and construction of education from a Christian perspective must go beyond the “why” of what we teach and the “what” of what we teach. Our belief assumptions must also shape the “how” of what we teach. It is important that our pedagogies are aligned with our philosophy, mediated by an understanding of our students and the cultural milieu in which they live.

“Education can no longer be owned by a community of disciplinary connoisseurs who transmit knowledge to students” (Henard and Roseveare, 2012, p.9). If it ever was appropriate, using only the method of the “sage upon the stage” – otherwise known as direct instruction or the didactic approach – does not work as a sole teaching strategy today. It fails to make full use of the teaching opportunities available to the effective teacher. Contemporary realities such as the ready availability of online reference materials mean that, if Christian schoolteachers view themselves primarily as the purveyors of information, they are fast becoming superfluous encumbrances for the modern learner. The rituals and 21st century lifestyle and expectations of young people also mitigate against the appropriateness of only using direct instruction pedagogies.

What we need is creative or quality teaching, defined across the literature as a multidimensional suite of approaches that includes a variety of learning contexts: soliciting and using student feedback; informed and responsive institutional structures and employment priorities; both formative and summative evaluation; making strategic use of ICT technologies and capacities; providing significant student support; and employing reflective practitioners who are knowledgeable, passionate, and relational (Henard and Roseveare, 2012; Sharrock, 2014).

In 2014, the European Commission received a report (McAleese, M. 2014) building on the Bologna Reforms. The report recommended that “All staff…should receive training in relevant digital technologies and pedagogies as part of initial training and continuous professional development” (p.31). Despite good intentions, quality teaching rarely flourishes where educators have not been given adequate preservice and in-service training to implement quality strategies. Consider the higher education environment for a moment. In a survey of over five thousand academics across twenty universities, Bexley, James, and Arkoudis found that “37.3 percent of academics have never undertaken training in university teaching, and 72.1 percent indicate that training is not mandatory in their institution” (2011, p. 25). So great is the problem that some institutions have established entire divisions that focus on explaining and enhancing quality teaching in higher education institutions. In my own city of Sydney, Australia, the University of New South Wales (Lee and Scoufis, 2014) is one example. The university provides a very useful and annotated list of sixteen parameters that must be addressed for quality teaching to flourish, and it mentors academics in these parameters (see Fig. 1). Even though they lack a fundamental commitment to the centrality of the gospel in the educational task, these parameters are worthwhile touchstones for us to consider in the Christian elementary and secondary school as well.

Figure 1. Recommended Pedagogical Patterns from the University of New South Wales, 2014

In the light of this paradigm shift that seems to be occurring among secular educators, we need to ask ourselves what this means for teachers who are committed to the lordship of Jesus Christ over the educational enterprise. David Smith and his team at the Kuyers Institute (Smith and Smith, 2011; Smith and Felch, 2016), and other Christian educators (Edlin, 2014, 2017) are unequivocal: we need to be much more deliberate and imaginative in connecting our philosophy to our pedagogy. They are right. Our educational philosophy should point us toward a much more creative and student-responsive pedagogy than just direct instruction alone. But Smith and Smith report the sad fact that though there are thousands of scholarly articles dealing with educational worldview and philosophy, few deal with pedagogy:

An ongoing survey conducted by the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning of about 11,000 articles published in the past four decades in Christian scholarly journals, has identified less than 500 articles [4.5 percent of the total] that deal with teaching and learning as opposed to disciplinary concepts and theories. (Smith and Smith, 2011, p.3)

Consider Jesus. The biblical meta-narrative rightly focuses upon Jesus as the messiah, as the one God sent to bring those who trust in his saving work back into relationship with their heavenly Father. But don’t forget that, as John 3:16 reminds us, the gracious work of Christ extends to a restoration of the entire world or cosmos – including education – to seeing God’s kingdom beginning to be realized here on earth once again. And so, as both perfect God and perfect human being, we see Jesus utilizing many of the constructive pedagogies that we read about in the educational literature today.

For example, we see cognitive dissonance or disequilibrium in his interaction with Nicodemus (“You must be ‘born again’”). We see him using a variety of instructional settings – think of the Sermon on the Mount or the Lord’s Supper. In his use of parables, we see him using imagination and storytelling. Yes, he uses the valid tool of direct instruction as when his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray and he taught them the Lord’s Prayer, but his repertoire also included group work, modelling, cultural sensitivity, humility, discovery learning, and the Socratic method of questioning (over 130 of Jesus’ questions are recorded in the Bible). Jesus was an imaginative and reflective teacher, and we should follow his example!

It might be a useful staff development activity to create and discuss a chart that identifies the pedagogical practices of Jesus and notes examples of each. I’ve started the chart for you (Fig 2):

The Pedagogical Practices of Jesus
Pedagogy Example
Disequilibrium or cognitive dissonance Jesus telling Nicodemus that he “must be born again.”
Socratic method (strategic use of questioning) Who do people say that I am? (Matthew 16; Mark 8)

Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? (Mark 8)

What good will it be for a person gains the whole world, yet forfeits their soul? (Matthew 16)

Creative and diverse teaching environments Sermon on the Mount. Lord’s Supper in the upper room.
Using concrete materials Consider the lilies of the field (Luke 12)

Roman coin and rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (Matthew 22)

Illustrative, imaginative, and contextualized metaphors Good shepherd, light of the world, true vine, fishers of people…
TASK: Through group discussion, add more columns to the chart, and be prepared to explain how each pedagogy is an illustration of your school’s guiding philosophy

Fig. 2. The Pedagogical Practices of Jesus.

So, to finish where we started, about the need for our pedagogy to reflect our philosophy: one of the key points made by James, the half-brother of Jesus, in his epistle in the New Testament, is that we demonstrate the truth of our faith by giving evidence to it in our lives. So too with what it means to be a faithful Christian teacher: we must work hard, and delight in demonstrating the truth of our educational beliefs (i.e. philosophy or worldview) by giving evidence of the same in our pedagogies and school practices.

List of References

Bexley, E., James, R., & Arkoudis, S. (2011). The Australian academic profession in transition – Addressing the challenge of reconceptualising academic work and regenerating the academic workforce. Melbourne, Australia: Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

Edlin, R. J. (2014). The cause of Christian education (4th ed.). Sioux Center, IA: Dordt College Press.

Edlin, R. J. (2017). Imagination and its place in the Christian school. In K. Goodlet, J. Collier, & T. George (Eds.), Better learning: Trajectories for educators in Christian schools (pp. 206-219). Canberra, Australia: NTC Publishing.

Henard, F., & Roseveare, D. (2012). Fostering quality teaching in higher education: Policies and practices. Paris, France: OECD IMHE. Available online at http://www.oecd.org/edu/imhe/QT%20policies%20and%20practices.pdf

Lee, A., & Scoufis, M. (2014). Guidelines for learning that inform teaching at UNSW. Sydney, Australia: UNSW Learning and Teaching Unit. Available online at https://teaching.unsw.edu.au/guidelines

McAleese, M. (2014). New modes of learning and teaching in higher education. Luxembourg, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Sharrock, G. (2012). Quality in teaching and learning. Australian Universities Review, (54)2, 78-84.

Smith, D., & Smith, J. (2011). Teaching and Christian practices – Reshaping faith and learning. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Smith, D., & Felch, S. (2016). Teaching and Christian imagination. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Christian worldview

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *