working together so learners can flourish

Archive for October, 2013

Technology and the Changing Educational Paradigm

The March 2013 issue of Educational Leadership – EL – was devoted to Technology–Rich Learning. Of particular interest to me was an article by Will Richardson – Students First, Not Stuff: putting technology first – simply adding a layer of expensive tools on top of the traditional curriculum – does nothing to address the needs of modern learners. In this article he says that we are in what “portends to be the messiest, most upheaval-filled 10 years in education” – a time in which we need to rethink what we mean by learning, what it means to be literate, what it means to be educated, and what students need to know.,-Not-Stuff.aspx

why school

Richardson also spoke at TEDx Melbourne (2012) and wrote a TEDBook called Why School? How education must change when learning and information are everywhere. The question he asks us to address is – “What’s the value of school not that opportunities for learning without it are exploding all around us?” There is, he says an important, compelling answer to that question, but “it is most definitely not the same one we’ve been giving for the last 150 years.” (7/35)

elaine brouwer


Framing the 4 Questions of Learner-centered Collaboration: cultivating “gardens of delight”

Alasdair MacIntyre said “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’”[1] The spirituality/faith/beliefs that grow out of the story or stories we inhabit precede and inform our rationality and our practices. “Practices are essentially belief-shaped, and beliefs are essentially practice-shaping.”[2]  Elliot Eisner states that education is “a political undertaking because it reveals in its practice a conception of human nature, a view of the human mind, an image of what the young can become, and a vision that can guide us as we try to invent the future.”[3]  As Christians we have a particular way of making sense of the world and our place in it. Consequently, the way we answer the 4 questions of Learner-Centered Collaboration must be shaped by what we believe – about the nature of human beings, the nature of the world we study, the kinds of lives we are called to live [the nature of the good life], and, therefore, our convictions about the purpose of schooling. In short, we need to strive for faith-informed answers to the four questions.4Q2

Our answers to the questions and the practices that follow from them must ultimately be about shaping lives not just meeting standards or achieving learning targets. We need to keep the larger vision in mind – an act of imagination. Consider this example by Etienne Wenger:

Two stonecutters . . . are asked what they are doing. One responds: “I am cutting this stone in a perfectly square shape.” The other responds: “I am building a cathedral.” Both answers are correct and meaningful, but they reflect different relations to the world. The difference between these answers does not imply that one is a better stonecutter than the other, as far as holding the chisel is concerned. At the level of engagement, they may well be doing the exact same thing. But it does suggest that their experience of what they are doing and their sense of self in doing it are rather different. This difference is a function of imagination. As a result, they may be learning very different things from the same activity.[4]

Implicit in the 4 questions is a question of justice. We want all students to have access to a quality course of study. We want all students to have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a manner that truly reveals learning. We want all students to have access to teaching and learning activities that are meaningful, engaging, and effective. And we want all students to have the opportunity to relearn or to go deeper. Its all about justice – for us, justice biblically defined.

Biblical justice works toward God’s intention for his creation – shalom – a broad vision of human flourishing in which humans live in right relationship with God, others, themselves, and the rest of creation. We are created in the image of God to keep and serve his creation. Because of this, we together with the rest of creation are of great worth. Biblical justice requires that we be attentive to the worth of the other and to all the ways in which the other can be wronged. Nicholas Wolterstorff reminds us that “Teachers stand before the students as authority figures with power at their disposal; that makes it easy for them to wrong the students.”[5]   Our answers to the 4 questions should define what ‘right relationships’ look like in our learning spaces (with each other and with that which we study) and be attentive to the ‘fine texture of injustice’ that might invade and distort them.

John Amos Comenius, a Moravian bishop writing in the 17th century, helps us take an important step further. He said that to treat any individual injuriously, or to deny them the benefits of education, is to “commit an injury not only against those who share the same nature as ourselves, but against God himself.”[6]  His normative image of learning spaces and individuals is of “gardens of delight.” Youth must be taught from the beginning , he urges, “that we are born not for ourselves alone, but for God and for our neighbour, that is to say the human race.”[7]  The end of education, he says should be that “the entire world should be a garden of delight for God, for people, and for things.”[8]

What a delightful vision and framework for addressing the 4 questions of learner-centered collaboration.

[1] Alasdair C. MacIntrye, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), p.216.

[2] David Smith, “Recruiting Students’ Imaginations,” in Teaching and Christian Practices: Reshaping Faith & Learning, ed. David I. Smith and James K.A. Smith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), p. 213.

[3] Elliot W. Eisner, “Back to the Whole” in Educational Leadership, 63:1 (September 2005) p. 18.

[4] Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) p.176.

[5] Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Teaching Justly for Justice” in Spirituality, Justice and Pedagogy, eds David I Smith, John Shortt, & John Sullivan, (Nottingham, UK: The Stapelford Centre, 2006), p. 33.

[6] John Amos Comenius as quoted by David I. Smith in Spirituality, Justice and Pedagogy, eds David I Smith, John Shortt, & John Sullivan, (Nottingham, UK: The Stapelford Centre, 2006), p. 8.

[7] John Amos Comenius as quoted by David I. Smith in Spirituality, Justice and Pedagogy, eds David I Smith, John Shortt, & John Sullivan, (Nottingham, UK: The Stapelford Centre, 2006), p. 9.

[8] John Amos Comenius as quoted by David I. Smith in Spirituality, Justice and Pedagogy, eds David I Smith, John Shortt, & John Sullivan, (Nottingham, UK: The Stapelford Centre, 2006), p. 9.

elaine brouwer

Using Curriculum Maps as Dynamic, Intentional Venues for Growth

A year ago the NWCSI (NorthWest Christian Schools International) Executive Committee offered to pay the setup fees for any of our NWCSI schools who wanted to use CurriculumTrak to map their curriculum. The Committee made this offer because it saw the potential benefit of using a common online platform to facilitate sharing and learning among our schools and beyond. To date, eight of our schools have elected to take up this offer, with others planning to do so in the near future.

The curriculum mapping process is a powerful tool to help schools examine and narrow the gap between practice and mission. The purpose in its initial stages, is to make explicit what is actually being taught in the classroom/school.  Once this information is gathered, the maps serve as a vehicle to examine the fit of what is being taught with what we say we want students to learn.  As maps are updated and revised, they can serve to guide educational decision- making and to communicate what makes your school unique and distinct.

Before the advent of powerful, affordable, easy to use online tools, the benefit of mapping was limited, primarily, to individual schools. That is changing. With a few clicks, we can now share our maps with each other and view maps from Christian schools across the country.

Of course we can use the CurriculumTrak tool to work individually on our maps, borrowing ideas on occasion from other schools’ maps. To do so, however, would be to miss a powerful opportunity to learn and grow together – intentionally. If we want to leverage this opportunity, we need to ask each other – How can we work together to make mapping a dynamic, intentional venue for growth both within and among our schools?

We took an initial step to address this question at the 2013 August Event. Fifty some educators gathered at Mount Vernon Christian High School to talk about mapping and to explore the curriculum mapping tool. It was the barest of beginnings, but it was a beginning. Where can we go from here?

Let’s not miss this opportunity!

elaine brouwer

Building a Learner-Centered Collaborative Culture

To date, five of our NWCSI schools have received ‘training’ in Learner-Centered Collaborative practices (otherwise know as professional learning communities) through the partnership of Alta Vista and Seattle Pacific University, supported by a Murdock grant. Those schools include: Lynden, Oak Harbor, Monroe, Everett, and Bellevue. And now, thanks to residual grant funds (the grant expired in August), two more of our schools (Ellensburg and Shoreline) are engaged in an exploration of LCC practices via Edmodo.

A few years ago, Jan Brown (SPU) and I (Elaine Brouwer, Alta Vista), decided to write an online course to enable us to spread learning regarding LCC practices for Christian schools beyond geographical limitations. That ‘course’ is now being piloted with Shoreline and Ellensburg via Edmodo. The pilot is a blended learning experience with five face-to-face meetings and work done online. The learning experience is packaged in 10 modules with activities in each module building to a culminating project, which is a plan to grow a school-wide Learner-Centered Collaborative culture for student growth in their own school. Participants access the modules on Edmodo and use the posting function to reflect on their learning and to dialogue with each other. With the help of Shoreline and Ellensburg, we hope to refine the ‘course’ and consider how we might offer the learning experience to more of our NWCSI schools and perhaps Christian schools across North America (big dreams!).

Here’s the question for us. Since seven of our NWCSI schools have been or are engaged in a learning experience in which they build a common vocabulary and common understanding of the possibilities of using LCC practices to promote mission and vision shaped student growth – How can we leverage this common experience to encourage each other to sustain the work, to learn from each other, and to spread the learning?

There is an incredible opportunity here not to be missed!

elaine brouwer

We Are Stronger Together

collab wordleWhat is collaboration?

Much that goes under the name ‘collaboration’ isn’t. The term is often used to describe almost every imaginable combination of individuals with an interest in education. “In fact, the term has been used so ubiquitously that it is in danger of losing all its meaning.” “. . . much of what passes for collaboration among educators is more aptly described as coblaboration,” ineffective or unproductive team meetings that are not closely related to teachers’ real work. (Learning by Doing, 2nd ed., DuFour, p. 128)

True collaboration requires a team of people committed to working interdependently toward a shared goal.  Each participant’s contributions are sought and valued and each participant assumes responsibility for implementing key decisions and owning subsequent results. In true collaboration, participants co-labor for the benefit of the whole much as the varied parts of our bodies work together to sustain health and wellbeing.

Why should we collaborate?

Well-documented research shows that collaboration surpasses other ways of working together – or not working together – in its potential to reach common goals and positively impacting those served. Teacher collaboration becomes a powerful tool for professional development and a driver for school improvement by providing “opportunities for adults across a school system [and across schools] to learn and think together about how to improve their practice in ways that lead to improved student achievement” (Annenberg Institute for School Reform, 2004, p. 2).

When researchers discover ‘what works’, they, whether they acknowledge it or not, are really uncovering glimpses of the way God intends his world to work. From the beginning God has asked humanity to collaborate with him in the development and preservation and, now, in the development and reconciliation of his world. This task is not yours or mine; it is ours. Repeatedly in the New Testament, we are called to work like a body in which all parts are valued and necessary. Such work requires a complex interplay of gifts of the Spirit. Commitment to a common goal requires humility and self-control.  Soliciting and valuing each member’s contribution speaks of generosity, hospitality, and encouragement.  Accepting responsibility to carry out the plan and to own the subsequent results requires patience and faithfulness . . .

Co-laboring is rooted in self-giving love – the kind of love God demonstrated and demonstrates toward his world, particularly in the giving of his son.  It requires a dying to self so we can work together intentionally and interdependently, not for individual recognition or career advancement, but for the glory of our LORD and the benefit of his people.

Collaboration is one outward expression of what it means to be fully human in God’s world.

elaine brouwer

Tag Cloud