What if (Christian) education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions—our visions of the “good life”? What if the primary work of (Christian) education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut—what the New Testament refers to as kardia, “the heart”?
What Story Are We In?
I remember the very day that I read these “what if” statements for the first time in Jamie Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom (2009, 17-18). And I was convicted—convicted to unlearn and relearn how to teach within this deep hope for learning in our Christian schools. Like most journeys that require the “letting go of the old” to make room “for the new,” it has been invigorating, exhausting, inspiring, and liberating. Taken altogether, it has been full of joy. And, as I grappled, I began to understand that I had received an invitation from Jamie Smith to a better, deeper story of Christian education.
As Donald Miller writes in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, “once you live a good story, you get a taste for that kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time” (2011, 155). You see, as a secondary science teacher, I had told—and sold—myself a lot of stories. Stories like, “Science is hard. Science is rigorous. Science is not for everyone.” And, “We have a lot of content to cover…and all of that content is equally essential.”
The day I encountered Jamie Smith’s “what if” statements, was the day I began to re-awaken myself to the better story. It was the day that I began to stop treating these image bearers of God, my students, like they were simply “thinking humans” and began a journey to discover how to nurture desiring and passionate students within a curriculum that is “dripping with God.” And as my posture and practices around curriculum began to change, I began to change. You see, practices are not just something we do—practices do something to us.
Telling a Better Story
Maybe you are like me. Maybe, like me, you are living in the tension of competing stories around the curriculum, the stuff of our courses and classes. You have classrooms of image bearers—desiring, passionate, creative image bearers of God, and at the same time, you have heaps and heaps of stuff to cover. Maybe, like me, you have told—and sold—yourself stories about curriculum and learning. Maybe, like me, you have become really good at the wrong things. Maybe, like me, in the busyness of school, and the need to cover the content, you have forgotten the story we, you, our students were created for. Maybe, like me, you have forgotten the deep hopes we have for our students and our Christian schools.
This secondary science teacher has learned that all the data, the analysis, facts and diagrams, theories and laws, all the “stuff” of science class is meaningless without the context of the epic story that we are born into. Our curriculum finds its meaning and purpose within God’s unfolding story: a story of intimacy and things good and beautiful; of rebellion and brokenness; and of an invitation from the cross to participate, to co-create with our creator, in the restoration of a broken world and in the making of all things new.
When we talk about “deeper learning” we mean going deeper into this story. Those nitrate and phosphate measurements in the stream study? They are part of this story of making all things new again. The study of conflict and war through history? Also part of this story. The writing of poetry and music, the study of the stars, and that classic PE game of dodgeball (whether you’re for it or against it)? It’s all part of the same story. And without this story, it is simply “stuff.” Deeper learning takes us and our students deeper into this story. Our students—these curious, passionate, desiring students—were created to participate in this epic of God’s unfolding story of redemption. Your classroom is part of this story.
Teaching for Transformation
So, what are we to do with these students? Teaching for Transformation (TfT) is a framework for designing learning stories that invite, nurture, and empower students to play their part in God’s story—not just upon graduation, but right now! TfT equips teachers to design learning for students to “see the Story, live the Story” through three core practices:
1. Storyline: Connecting the curriculum and students to the biblical story.
2. Through-Lines: Connecting the curriculum and students to practice a way of being—meaning, to form habits around community building, justice seeking, servant working, etc.
3. Formational Learning Experiences: Connecting students and their schoolwork to “real work that meets real needs for real people” learning experiences.
Questions to Consider:
- If you are a school leader, how do you encourage teachers to center their curriculum on inviting students into God’s epic story? If you are a teacher, how do you do this in your own classroom?
- What does the phrase “real work that meets real needs for real people” mean to you, and how can you engage students in that kind of work on a more regular basis?
When these three core practices interact with each other, it results in learning experiences of deep Kingdom-building hope for students and teachers.
Want to Go Deeper?
If you’d like to learn more about Teaching for Transformation and how to invite your students into the bigger story at the heart of Christian education:
- Read more on Teaching for Transformation.
- Listen to four middle school students as they share their TfT learning experiences at the Christian School Deeper Learning Conference in Frisco, Texas, in March 2019.
- Join Darryl’s workshops at the upcoming ACSI PD Forums this fall in Sacramento and Anaheim.
Miller, D. 2011. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Smith, J.K.A. 2009. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
About the Author
Darryl DeBoer is the K–12 director of Learning for Surrey Christian School in Surrey, British Columbia, a senior fellow for the Center for Advancement of Christian Education (CACE), and a Teaching for Transformation (TfT) co-creator and school designer through the Prairie Center for Christian Education and CACE. He is most passionate about designing “real work, real need, real people” learning experiences that invite, nurture, and empower students to play their part within God’s story. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.