Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Learning Occurs Within Communities NOT Just Classrooms

For decades, we've talked about classroom as communities, but often this has been rather superficial. Many who speak of community are concerned with little more than an understanding that every class is a rich social context where relationships are vital to the life of an exciting classroom environment. But when I speak of learning occurring within communities, I am speaking of rich and varied communities of practice.

In 'Pedagogy and Education for Life' I argue that in the day-to-day life of the classroom and school, children learn more than curriculum content. Indeed, they learn about "... life and faith, beauty, loneliness, rejection, truth, humiliation, love, companionship, hate, sadness and so on".

Good education requires more than just sound curriculum, appropriate teaching methods, and classroom and school discipline. So too, it also requires more than chapel services and a Christian Studies program. At its foundation, a concern for community, requires a pedagogy that is different, and which is informed by our faith.

My belief is that if we focus our energy simply on curriculum as content or even practice, we do little to create a distinctive education leading to student formation. For it is a teacher’s pedagogy, more than their curriculum or methods, that will have an influence on the formation of our students. And these terms are not synonymous.

In 'Pedagogy and Education for Life', I argue that pedagogy is concerned with the way we shape the life of the classroom and school. The life of the classroom is always shaped by the teacher with the participation of all others. Our Pedagogy is central to this, and in a sense cuts across and interacts with the ‘how’ (teaching, including method) and ‘what’ (curriculum) of education. Educational pedagogy is the collective shaping of the habits, beliefs, knowledge, dispositions, actions and words of classroom or school members, that will incline individuals and the institution towards the telos or end purpose and goal of education.

Alasdair McIntyre in his book 'After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory' reminds us that the focus of transformative education, should always reflect our end goals. He stresses that the 'means' of education should follow the 'telos', that is, the 'good' or aimed for goal or purpose of schooling. Indeed, he argues that:

"every activity, every enquiry, every practice aims at some good".

I argue in my book that pedagogy is the embodiment of what we believe good research and our biblical understanding of personhood and God’s ultimate purposes for us in Christ, would suggest we should do. At times the orchestration of classroom and school life will be dominated by curriculum in the form of method, content, assessment and so on. But always, the habits, beliefs, knowledge, dispositions, actions and words of its members will incline them towards the end goal of education that we are seeking. And of course, an authentically Christian education needs to show a central concern for children seeking and being able to imagine, desire and embrace the Kingdom of God.

A school has relationships to multiple communities beyond its boundaries. For just as a class is not completely separate from the school, so too, the school can never be completely separate from the wider community. But I will say more about this in a later post.

Building effective Christian school communities requires an understanding that and school consists of a patchwork of related and overlapping ‘communities’. They are essentially communities of belief and practice. Understanding this is foundational to the creation of authentic Christian education and pedagogy.

Bernard Meland suggests that the ultimate goal of education is not technical information, useful practices, nor specific moral values, but a search for a “higher goodness.” God made us with an inner desire to seek the one who made us.

As Ecclesiastes 3:11 reminds us: "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

How do we create classroom communities of practice where we will witness the awakening of 'eternity' in the students we teach each day at school? This is major purpose of my book.

NEXT Post:  'Imagination and Community Life'

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