Transformation from a Distance

Lesson plans shape how your students learn. Often approaches are similar, maybe sliced up differently. A favorite of mine for years was this:

1. Students: Know your learners. Previous learning, abilities, disabilities, culture, attitudes, etc.
2. Outcomes: What are you trying to have the learner know (cognitive), feel (affective), and do (psychomotor)?
3. Methods: How will you take these learners from where they are to the learning outcomes? Methods are not the end, they are the creative tools to get there.
4. Assess: Did your learners achieve the outcomes? Summative, yes, but more important for learning is formative assessment: minute by minute, are they getting it? And how do you adjust?

I encouraged my teachers to use the approach. We built planning around it and had success.

A Missing Part
But something was missing. The essential part for powerful, wholistic transformational education. The part that makes what you do different than most classes in the world, online or in person.

You could say that biblical integration is missing. However, if you are wrapping biblical truth into these steps it might not be missing. Here is part of the problem: biblical integration does not equal transformational education. TeachBeyond transformational education goes beyond.

You might say that God is missing. But you can teach about God in this approach. He does not have to be missing. But, just teaching about God is not transformational education.

I have heard teachers say that the piece missing is “heart.” This is a good answer. After all, when we do transformational education we aim at the inside first, heart and head, instead of outside behaviors.
But what brings “heart” into it? What makes transformational education work?

The missing part in this plan: you.

You see, transformational education is about life. It is about changed, transformed lives. It is about bringing together you, the learner, the Holy Spirit, and God’s Word—all alive—and watching God “cause the growth.”

Transformational education is life on life, placing a transformed teacher in touch with a learner. You are the “living curriculum” that God uses. Excellent educational environments, one of our pillars of transformational education, brings this life together. It makes education about life in the subjects and in hearts. You are essential.

The Challenge of Online Learning

A teacher who walks into a physical classroom cannot help touching lives, for good or for bad. Students watch hour after hour. The teacher’s life becomes a book read by learners.

Good transformational educators bring themselves into class. Their love for God lived out impresses learners. Their unconditional love for students, shown in action, reaches hearts. Their love for their subject, the gift they give, shows in a passion that draws students into learning.

But, in an online class, a teacher can hide behind the screen and present a relatively sterile lesson. It is possible to go through the steps, having curricular goals achieved, and barely bring yourself into the class.

The challenge of online learning is to bring yourself, your whole self, transformed by the Holy Spirit, into your class. Here are some ideas that I have heard from great online, transformational teachers:

  • See your class as your space, your home. Make it unique and personal as you invite students into “your online home.”
  • Love, above all love. Ask yourself, how will you show love today? For God, for the learners, and for the gift you give them.
  • Know individuals. Get to know each, have side notes or meetings. Treat each as a whole, living person with interests and needs. Pray for individuals.
  • Show heart. Show your changed heart. Talk openly with learners about heart. Be real. Show your “inside.”
  • Plan engagement. Make space for active learner engagement. In the online world, everyone is starved for interaction. Use online groups, discussions, art, side chats. Help learners speak and connect.
  • Take care of yourself. “Zoom fatigue” is real. You need to care for your needs and not just keep plowing ahead. Take time to know that God is God and enjoy God’s goodness, even in lockdown.
  • Give yourself permission. Know that you not only have permission to bring “you” into class, but if you want to transform lives, you must.
  • Focus on the big things. Never forget that while students need to know nouns and verbs or equations, the more basic need is to know God and how a life is lived with Him. Keep those in front of you.

There are more ways. You are probably thinking of some now. Maybe talk with colleagues about what they do and keep the idea of bringing yourself into your class alive.

After I realized that I was missing the key to transformational education, I put this step between “know students” and “know outcomes”: Teacher: What flows from your life and heart?

Transformational education needs you to be there. As God changes you, may your learners see Him and be transformed by His grace.

(This piece was written for TeachBeyond’s On Practice publication)

What’s here

Courage. Love. Adventure. Education. Leading. Grace, all grace.

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Adventuring-Trying to figure out this journey in our odd, awesome, broken place. Toward mountain peaks, picking paths, and watching our steps.

Bravehearts-Building children into bravehearts, with adult twists since our example wins. Courage and heart.

Leading-Surviving and thriving in schools and organizations and everywhere else you lead.

The Three Loves-The powerful pedagogy of loving God, loving students, and loving subject.

Education-Transformational and tested with a bent to the Bible for how we do what we do.

Disclaimer: Anything good here is because of God’s grace, the Beginning and End. We are on His journey. And He invites us to join Him.

Glimpse: Three decades plus of school leadership and serving now with TeachBeyond as Director of Global Educational Services. Blessed.

Favorite: “So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world.” Wendell Berry

joe@rootedschools.org