On August 2 and 3, 2016, around one hundred teachers and administrators representing eleven different Christian schools gathered on the FRCS campus to hear from Dr. David Smith, one of the world’s foremost thinkers in Christian education. Dr. Smith directs the Graduate Program in Education and the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin College. During his time at FRCS, he presented a pair of workshops designed to expand teachers’ understanding of what it means to teach in ways that are deeply Christian.
The first workshop, “Teaching and Christian Practices,” explored how a fully Christian education must take place at more than just the level of content–such as making connections between a particular subject area and Scripture. Although this is certainly part of Christian education, Dr. Smith helped teachers to see many other ways that they can help students to grow academically and spiritually. Specifically, he explored 1) how teachers can create supportive classroom communities in which students express the love of God though helping one another to learn; and 2) how well-designed teaching practices can form students’ character as they grow to resemble their Savior. For example,
- By teaching students to read texts attentively, teachers can help them to become more attentive to the needs of those around them.
- By teaching world languages in ways that are not self-centered, teachers can foster in students an appreciation for Christian hospitality for those who are different than them.
- By creating homework assignments that require students to interact with members of their families, teachers can unite families instead of pulling family members away from one another.
These examples (and many more) provided teachers at FRCS with a deeper sense of how to fulfill the school’s commitment to develop Christian scholars who exhibit virtues such as faith, courage, integrity, humility, and love.
The second workshop, “Faith and Science Teaching,” helped science and Bible teachers envision ways of teaching that emphasize the interconnections between faith and science (instead of the supposed conflict between the two). During this workshop, Dr. Smith presented a new online resource called Teaching FASTly (www.teachfastly.com) that contains activities to assist teachers in creating classrooms that “encourage growth in love and appreciation for God and his creation.”
In the months since these workshops, Dr. Kevin Taylor (Director of the VCI) has been working with junior and senior high faculty to incorporate Dr. Smith’s insights into their classrooms. He has done this through teacher in-service training and through a newly-formed faculty discipleship group which provides space for teachers to explore the connections between their own spiritual formation and their calling as teachers.
We are grateful for our time with Dr. Smith. Already we have begun to see it pay dividends, and are excited to let you know how it is helping us as a school to realize our goal of educating in ways that are both academically excellent and distinctively Christian.