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Posts tagged ‘teaching’

Nurturing Lovers and Doers of Justice – 4

What sorts of learning experiences make it more likely that young people will become lovers and doers of justice?

If we hope to encourage students to be lovers and doers of justice, we need to craft learning experiences that make it more likely to happen. These learning experiences should be “peopled with authors, and characters who . . . provide a window to the world” (Christensen, 2009, p. 6) because it is in the experience of the world that wisdom is learned. “Wisdom is not something that can be learned in the abstract. It is not a set of universal principles that can be applied to any situation. Wisdom is situation specific. It is discipleship in the real world, in culturally situated, historically defined contexts. It is in the knowledge of the individual and particular that decisions are made and actions taken. Curriculum as journey toward wisdom does not reduce the world to manageable, disconnected bits predigested for the learner. Rather, students encounter whole things in their many-sidedness . . . “ (Brouwer, 2012, p. 83). This may require that traditional subjects such a math be reframed to make room for issues of justice and injustice to emerge (Gutstein & Peterson, 2005, p. 2). We need to craft learning experiences that focus on key moral and ethical issues within our learning communities, our immediate communities and in society at large. We need to bring the sufferers into the learning community and/or transport students to the sufferers (Vryhof, 2011, p. 31). Worldviews emerge out of life and experience (Stassen, 2006, p.27).

The learning experiences we plan and the pedagogical practices we employ must make space for students to become “solutionaries” – “conscientious choice makers and engaged change makers for a restored and healthy and humane world for all” (Zoe Weil TEDx Talk). “Schools and classrooms should be laboratories for a more just society than we live in” (Bigelow, 2001, p. 1) “What has life become if we are so reduced to doing what we are told to do that we cannot rise to the challenge of being personally responsible” (Abbot, 2010, p. 216 – ebook)? Framed by essential questions such as ‘Why do people abuse their power over others?’ or ‘What are the most important rights to protect?’ or ‘What is the connection between justice and health?’ and fueled by such pedagogical approaches as inquiry learning and problem-based and project-based learning based in real world situations, we can give young people the opportunity to work at “deeds of deliverance, not just feelings or attitudes” (Stassen & Gushee, 2003, p. 336). “Problems invite purposeful responses [which] . . . underscores that most important in the encounter is normative action, not detached contemplation of propositional truths. Purposeful response is a move toward maturity, toward growing in wisdom . . . to the formation of persons who not only know the right thing to do in a situation, but who are disposed to do it. (Brouwer, 2012, p. 85-86). Engaging in such learning experiences may help young people discover their passions and become “people who will say, This is bad and I’m going to do something about it, I’m going to change it” (Stassen quoting Faulkner, 2006, p. 141). What greater gift can we as teachers give youth than the space to be salt and light in the world, to enact the kind of ‘sampling signs’ that Jesus did to bear witness in word and deed to the coming of the kingdom? Are we prepared to make space for this in our learning spaces?

Learning to be lovers and doers of justice, learning when and how to say yes and no requires a skill set that includes the ability to innovate, create, problem-solve, persist, and communicate effectively. The inclination and ability to collaborate, to change one’s mind, to empathize, and to discern are vital.


Abbot, John (2010). Over schooled but under educated: how the crisis in education is jeopardizing our adolescents – e-book. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Bigelow, Bill (2001). “Teaching about unsung heros: encouraging those who fought for social justice” in Rethinking our classrooms, Vol 2. VT: Rethinking Schools.

Brouwer, Elaine (2012). “Curriculum as a journey toward wisdom” a chapter in Metaphors we teach by: how metaphors shape what we do in classrooms, eds. Badley, Ken and Van Brummelen, Harro. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock.

Christensen, Linda (2009). Teaching for joy and justice: re-imagining the language arts classroom. Milkaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.

Gutstein, Eric and Peterson, Bob (2005). Rethinking mathematics: teaching social justice by the numbers. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools

Stassen, Glen H. (2006). Living the sermon on the mount: a practical hope for grace and deliverance. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Stassen, Glen H. & Gushee, David P. (2003). Kingdom ethics: following Jesus in contemporary context. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Vryhof, Steven (2011). Affirmations 2.0: Christian schooling for a changing world. Grand Rapids: Christian Schools International.

Weil, Zoe (2011) TEDx Talk –


elaine brouwer, Alta Vista




Nurturing Lovers and Doers of Justice – 3: from empathy to compassion

In the last paragraph of Nurturing Lovers and Doers of Justice – 2, I said:

“The experience of the student in the learning space and the learning experiences in which they engage must foster compassion. . . . Lovers and doers of justice are moved by their surroundings. . . . This requires a culture of paying attention. Compassion leads to caring engagement that must begin in the learning space among those that inhabit that space.”

As a follow up to that post, I think it is important to distinguish between sympathy, empathy, and compassion – especially between empathy and compassion which are often used interchangeably.

Wiggins and McTighe identify empathy as one of their six facets of understanding. “It is not simply an affective response or sympathy over which we have little control, but the disciplined attempt to feel as others feel, to see as others see.” Empathy is the “ability to walk in another’s shoes, to escape one’s own responses and reactions so as to grasp another’s.” (Wiggins and Mctighe, 2005, p. 98) Empathy is a form of insight that involves the ability “to get beyond odd, alien, seemingly weird opinions or people to find what is meaningful in them.” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005, p.99) Empathy involves not just a change of mind, but a change of heart that requires “respect for people different from ourselves” which causes us to be “open-minded. To carefully consider their views when those views are different than ours.” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005, p.99)

They continue their discussion of empathy by saying that developing empathy requires confronting students with strange or alien texts, experiences, and ideas to see if they can get beyond what is off-putting. But especially important in developing empathy is insight gained from experience be that direct or simulated. “The absence of such experiences in school may explain why many important ideas are so misunderstood and learning is so fragile, as the literature on misconception reveals.” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005, p.100)

Developing empathy requires overcoming egocentrism, ethnocentrism, and present-centeredness. (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005, p.100)

Clearly, developing the ability to be empathetic is crucial to any discussion of nurturing lovers and doers of justice. However, we need to take developing empathy a step further.

Langstraat and Bowdon in “Service-learning and Critical Emotion Studies: on the perils of empathy and the politics of compassion” say, quoting Martha Nussbaum, that empathy entails an “imaginative reconstruction of another person’s experience without any particular evaluation of that experience.” However, again quoting Nussbaum, compassion is a much more specific, painful emotion “occasioned by the awareness of another person’s undeserved misfortune. . . . Compassion is usually more intense and entails both judgment and action, unlike empathy which may result only in a judgment.” (Langstraat and Bowden, 2011, p.7)


Empathy says: I feel bad for that person.

Compassion says: I feel bad because this is unjust and I am going to do something to change that injustice. (Langstraat and Bowden, 2011, p.7)



  • includes identification with other humans
  • that leads to an evaluation of injustice and suffering
  • which results in ethical actions in response to that evaluation.


While empathy involves feeling and thinking, compassion involves feeling, thinking, and acting. Compassion leads to caring engagement.


I think our classrooms provide many opportunities to develop empathy but how many of those opportunities foster compassion? Perhaps using the following questions to evaluate the opportunities/experiences we provide can help us extend developing empathy into the realm of compassion.

  1. Did this activity or experience give students the opportunity to identify with others?
  2. Did this activity or experience give students the opportunity to evaluate what caused the injustice and suffering?
  3. Did the learning experience provide the opportunity for ethical actions in response to the critical evaluation?


The definition of compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is hurting, in pain, or has misfortune and is accompanied by a strong desire to help the suffering.

Jesus Christ is the greatest example of someone with true compassion.


Wiggins, Grant and McTighe, Jay (2005). Understanding by design 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Langstraat, Lisa and Bowdon, Melody (2011). “Service-learning and critical emotion studies: on the perils of empathy and the politics of compassion” in the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning.

Asking Good Questions – 2

In a previous post about ‘Asking Good Questions’ I highlighted the work of the Right Question Institute  which is dedicated to making it possible for all people to learn to ask better questions and participate more effectively in key decisions. I want to follow up in this post by pointing to an example of how their Question Formulation Technique (QFT) can be used to engage students in topics related to African American History Month.

“Black history month is a great opportunity to celebrate the many accomplishments of Black Americans. It is also important to closely examine these accomplishments and their surrounding context.”

History Detectives: Voting Rights in Mississippi, 1964 is a lesson that incorporates QFT as a part of a lesson on voting rights in the 60’s. The lesson is framed by:march-on-washington-1963-300x200

Enduring Understandings

Democracy demands that all voices be heard.

People in Missisisippi have risked everything for the right to vote.

Essential Questions

  1. Was Freedom Summer necessary to secure voting rights?
  2. Why hasn’t suffrage been universal throughout U.S. history?
  3. How do you fit into the story of maintaining voting rights for all in the United States?

As part of setting the context, students were asked to generate every possible question they could imagine in response to the Question FocusPeople in Mississippi have risked everything for the right to vote. The instructions for this section of the lesson:voting

Have students, working in small groups, generate every possible question they can imagine related to this statement. There are no wrong questions. They should not discuss the questions — simply list as many as possible. For example, “Why did the risk everything?” “What did they risk?”

Once the groups have at least 15 questions each, have students review their lists and pick the three questions that are most important to them. Explain that these are some of the questions they can explore as they engage in this lesson.

The lesson ends with a performance task that asks them to travel to the future, to the year 2060 to work as historians researching the history of Mississippi. You can see the whole lesson here.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture. It was established by Act of Congress in 2003, following decades of efforts to promote and highlight the contributions of African Americans. To date, the Museum has collected more than 36,000 artifacts and nearly 100,000 individuals have become charter members. The Museum opened to the public on September 24, 2016, as the 19th and newest museum of the Smithsonian Institution.

You can find teacher resources here.

Nurturing Lovers and Doers of Justice – 2

How can we craft a learning culture in which being faithful is more important being right?

“Schools are identity factories. They teach students who they are” (Bigelow, 2001, p.37). If we hope to encourage students to be lovers and doers of justice, we need to help them understand who they are in terms of God’s story, the true story of the whole world. We need to help them see themselves in the story so when they read about God exhorting Israel to do justice, they hear him speaking to them and when they read Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples, they hear him speaking to them. We need to help them see that they are a part of the body of Christ called to love and do justice. We need to encourage them to embrace and embody their part of the story with gratitude and joy, even in the midst of brokenness and discouragement. They need to recognize that when it comes to justice and injustice, there is no us versus them. The stain of Evil runs through all of us. We need to encourage them to grow in the hope and faith that sees the arc of history bending toward justice and flourishing when God will one day come to dwell with his people. They need to come to know that this is God’s work and they have the unspeakable privilege of partnering with him in it.

Teaching for and as justice requires that we cultivate a learning environment that is conducive to mutual respect, risk taking, self-examination, reflection, intellectual honesty, and mutual submission. Young people should have the opportunity to discover their gifts and pursue their passions. It must be an environment that is bridled by love where both joy and sorrow can find expression. It must be a hospitable space “not to make [explorations of justice and injustice] painless but to make the painful things possible, things without which no learning can occur – things like exposing ignorance, testing tentative hypotheses, challenging false or partial information, and mutual criticism of thought” (Palmer, 1983, p. 74). It must be a space “where questions and answers do not need to be couched within ground rules of a competitive game” (Palmer, 1983, p. 75). It must be a space where being faithful is more important being ‘right.’

The experience of the student in the learning space and the learning experiences in which they engage must foster compassion. “Affluence can easily isolate and insulate us from the desperate needs of the world” (Vryhof, 2011, p. 31). We need to give injustice a human face to overcome the “privileged lull” (Stassen & Gushee, 2003, p. 365) and to avoid being “flat-souled” (Vryhof, 2011, p. 30) people who lack the capacity or inclination to feel genuine emotions and for long, deep, and meaningful exploration and response. Lovers and doers of justice are moved by their surroundings. “They . . . know that life matters, that the world has meaning, and that choices have consequences. They will agonize and thrill over those choices. They will experience shame and elation. They will have a healthy awe, often wordless but apparent, when they see God’s grace in . . . an act of selflessness, and the healing of brokenness” (Vryhof, 2011, p. 30). This requires a culture of paying attention. Compassion leads to caring engagement that must begin in the learning space among those that inhabit that space.

Bigelow, Bill (2001). “Teaching about unsung heros: encouraging those who fought for social justice” in Rethinking our classrooms, Vol 2. VT: Rethinking Schools.

Palmer, Parker J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Stassen, Glen H. & Gushee, David P. (2003). Kingdom ethics: following Jesus in contemporary context. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Vryhof, Steven (2011). Affirmations 2.0: Christian schooling for a changing world. Grand Rapids: Christian Schools International.


elaine brouwer, Alta Vista



Asking Good Questions

If we know how to ask good questions we are in a better position to advocate for ourselves and others. We are also equipped to distinguish credible inquestioning-helps-in-life-blackbg1-300x260formation from inaccurate or false statements, to participate in decision-making and holding decision-makers accountable, and to contribute to solving problems and building a shared pool of knowledge and understanding. Learning and practicing the skill of asking good questions should be an essential component of a good education.

And yet, The Right Question Institute maintains that:

“The skill of question asking is far too rarely deliberately taught in school. . . .

The ability to produce questions, improve questions and prioritize questions may be one of the most important—yet too often overlooked—skills that a student can acquire in their formal education. Strong critical thinking is often grounded in the questions we ask. By deliberately teaching questioning skills, we will be facilitating a process that will help students develop a mental muscle necessary for deeper learning, creativity and innovation, analysis, and problem solving.”

To help address this need, the Institute has developed a simple, but profound tool to help students formulate their own questions to guide or reflect on their learning. Steps in the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) consist of:

  1. Teacher generates a Question Focus (QFocus)
  2. Students are given the Rules for Producing Questions
  3. Students engage in Producing Questions
  4. Students engage in Categorizing Questions
  5. Students engage in Prioritizing Questions
  6. Teacher and students discuss How the Questions will be Used
  7. Students Reflect on the process

The Right Question site provides numerous resources to asking-good-questionshelp teachers introduce this process to their students, including text, PowerPoints, video, and discussion forums. You do have to register (free) to access the tools, but the materials are offered through a Creative Commons License that allows you to make use of and/or share resources. The authors just ask the users to reference the Right Question Institute as the source on any materials used.

This question formulation strategy is potentially a powerful tool for student engagement and critical thinking that can be used at any level in every area of study. Workshops that have introduced the QFT at our last few Teachers’ Conventions have been very popular. Watch for a repeat amake-just-one-change-smt next year’s convention. In the meantime, I encourage you to explore this site and give the process a try with your students. You might consider using this process at the beginning of unit planning in lieu of writing your own Essential Questions.

Related resources:

From Edutopia:

“The humble question is an indispensable tool: the spade that helps us dig for truth, or the flashlight that illuminates surrounding darkness. Questioning helps us learn, explore the unknown, and adapt to change.

That makes it a most precious “app” today, in a world where everything is changing and so much is unknown. And yet, we don’t seem to value questioning as much as we should. For the most part, in our workplaces as well as our classrooms, it is the answers we reward — while the questions are barely tolerated.”    Read more.

From ASCD’s Educational Leadership

“We first became interested in the potential of questions two decades ago, when we heard from parents in a low-income community in Massachusetts that they were not participating in their children’s education because they “didn’t even know what to ask.” This insight—that the inability to formulate questions can be a significant obstacle to effective participation—has guided our work ever since.” Read more.

elaine brouwer, Alta Vista

Nurturing Lovers and Doers of Justice – 1

This is the first in a series of posts about Nurturing Lovers and Doers of Justice.

I was privileged to address this issue in a plenary session for the Vancouver Island Professional Development Day in 2014. I used the STORY told in the Scriptures to make the case that nurturing lovers and doers of justice should be a key goal of Christian education. povertyI ended the address with this question:

Could it be that educating lovers and doers of justice is a mark of a truly Christian education – an education that encourages young people to love what God loves, that creates space and opportunity to celebrate God’s work in the world, that equips them to see and grieve over injustice, and that nurtures in them with the will and courage to do justice?

For me, current events have added a sense of urgency to the case I made in that address. You can read the article (2016) adapted from the address here.

In future posts, I intend to build on the question I posed and to cite resources for teachers and students.

But first, it begins with us: are we hungry and thirsty for justice?

“We teach who we are” (Palmer, 1998, p. 2) “As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together . . . teaching holds a mirror to the soul” (Palmer, 1998, p. 2). If we want to teach for justice we need to ask ourselves if we love justice as God does and if our hearts are broken by what gives God sorrow. We need to ask ourselves if we are really hungry and thirsty for justice. “. . . to become genuinely hungry for justice makes it more possible to join with the poor and oppressed in a common struggle. It is our own hunger, not somebody else’s problem, that begins to drive us to action” (Wallis, 1994, p. 195). As teachers we are important mediators between the learner and what is to be learned – a “living link in the epistemological chain” (Palmer, 1998, p. 3). We cannot teach for justice unless God’s agenda for justice is an integral part of who we are.

Equipping young people to be lovers and doers of justice requires a community of professionals. It is not the work of the lone teacher here and there. Shaping what we hope students will come to love requires that we work together to provide models of integrity and coherent, authentic messages. Working together is not just an effective way to educate young people, it is mandated by our created nature. Human beings are “inescapably neighbourhooded” (Seerveld, 1988, p. 59). “ . . . neigbourhooding is a glorious gift to human nature” (Seerveld, 1988, p.63), a gift that must be nurtured in the community of professionals if we hope to nurture it in our students. Learning and practicing neighbor love begins in the learning space of the community of teachers.bethechange

Lack of awareness is often a barrier to teaching for justice. Communities often have an unofficial ‘reading list’ that may not reveal the range of wounds in the world that cry out for healing. As a community of professionals we need to commit to building awareness among ourselves, an exploration that may take us beyond our comfort zones. As we do so, we will discover that we don’t always agree. Issues of justice and injustice are not always or even mostly clear-cut. Prior experience may cause us to see things differently. While it is easier to talk with people who agree with us, if we hope to shape our students as lovers and doers of justice, we need to covenant together to sustain the dialogue among ourselves, allowing space for creative tension and paradox. We should approach these dialogues as learning conversations, not battles to win. We don’t have to agree but we do need to sustain the dialogue. This is necessarily a prayerful process that requires a mutual commitment to return often to the witness of the Scriptures and the life and work of Jesus. If we are faithful to God’s agenda for justice and committed to learning together as a community of teachers, we will be more effective in mirroring the process with our students.

How are you building your awareness as a community of teachers?

Palmer, Parker J. (1998). The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Seerveld, Calvin (1988). On being human: imaging God in the modern world. Burlington, Ontario, Canada: Welch Publishing.

Wallis, Jim (1994). The soul of politics: a practical and prophetic vision for change. New York: Orbis Press.

elaine brouwer, Alta Vista

Interesting Reads

Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with ‘topics’ as country reforms its education system

“For years, Finland has been the by-word for a successful education system, perched at the top of international league tables for literacy and numeracy. Only far eastern countries such as Singapore and China outperform the Nordic nation in the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings. Politicians and education experts from around the world – including the UK – have made pilgrimages to Helsinki in the hope of identifying and replicating the secret of its success.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that Finland is about to embark on one of the most radical education reform programmes ever undertaken by a nation state – scrapping traditional “teaching by subject” in favour of “teaching by topic” . . . ”

Don’t Become a Teacher, Advises Award-Winner Nancie Atwell    

nancie-atwell “An influential language arts teacher who recently won a $1 million international teaching prize has some surprising advice for young people considering joining the profession: Don’t.”

The 10 questions to ask before you start your one-to-one program


Purposeful Schools by Ed Noot, Executive Director of the Society of Christian Schools in British Columbia

“Rohintin Mistry’s landmark novel, A Fine Balance, tells the story of four strangers thrust together who struggle to establish interpersonal equilibrium in the midst of social and political upheaval. The novel tells a compelling tale of survival in the midst of unspeakable hardship.

Christian schools also need to seek the fine balance, sometimes in the midst of hardship. This delicate equilibrium can be elusive. Our schools need to find balance in:

the desire for extensive educational programs/facilities and the need to keep tuition affordable
the desire for academic excellence and the need to care for and serve all of God’s children
the acquisition of skills and the fostering of imagination
competition and cooperation
Ministry curriculum and the biblical narrative
efficient governance and community orientation
covenantal faithfulness and evangelical opportunities
the list could go on …”

Owning Learning by Darren Spksma, Director of Learning at SCSBC

“If Christian schools are designed to assist parents in transforming image bearers into closer reflections of Christ, teachers must empower students to be active participants in reflecting on and consciously living with choice. For students and teachers alike, focusing on learning as a way of life, and being able to make choices in this area creates a sense of ownership. John Hattie, is his book Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, shares results of an extensive study with evidence that concludes “that the greatest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers.”2 A school seeking to fully realize its mission is one that ensures that teacher and student learning include opportunities for ownership and choice. . . . ”

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