How might an interest in narrative shape our ideas about education and deeper learning? Can education, at its best, be described as a place of intersecting stories? These are the sort of questions behind the theme of this year’s Edifide Convention: “Entering the Story”.
Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with two of the event’s keynote speakers, Phil Teeuwsen and Chris Schoon. Phil serves as Assistant Professor of Education at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, and has been an teacher at Providence Christian school in Dundas. Chris currently serves as Senior Pastor at First Hamilton CRC, an urban Church situated in the Durand and Kirkendall neighourhoods of Hamilton. Both Phil and Chris have a passion for story and are eager to explore the multifaceted role that it plays in education today!
LK: How does your interest in story shape your approach to teaching?
PT: I think we (teachers) have the opportunity to participate in what Andy Crouch describes as “culture making” when we pay attention to the student stories that are occurring on a moment to moment basis. One of the ways we learn is by paying attention to what our students are learning and how they are learning. That’s not only going to help the students flourish, it will help us flourish as educators. I think it’s crucial that teachers see themselves as learners alongside their students. We do have a definite professional role that’s rooted in our expertise and our experience, but we are learning as we go.
LK: You suggest that teachers and students often move forward from a place of intersecting stories. As a teacher, or as a learner, when have you found yourself at that intersection?
PT: Frequently. Especially through discussions in class, when my students and I are working together through meaningful topics or questions of real importance.
I was a grade 7 teacher when nine eleven happened … I was navigating that experience with students. I didn’t know where it was going, except for what I heard on a moment by moment news feed. We had to sort of figure that out together, because none of us had been through it before. It was something that we did in that intersection, in the classroom.
When we’re talking about current events, even about what’s happening today in the Middle East, or about local politics (in Hamilton, there’s an election coming up) these are things that we are actually going through together. I have some experiences, but I don’t have all the answers. So my students can enter into those conversations with me, in that intersection.
LK: In the description about your keynote address you compare education to generational storytelling, noting that both the younger and older generations need to hear each other’s stories. The men and women who worked hard to establish Christian schools in Ontario certainly have stories to tell the younger generation. Why do you think educational communities today should be open to receiving those stories?
PT: We have a rich heritage. I think that listening to the generations that came before us provides us with an idea of God’s faithfulness. They were wrestling with all sorts of questions. We talk about finances these days—they were asking the same thing, except they didn’t even have a school building to start with. You get the stories about how many of the challenges they faced, and how God was faithful and kept things moving forward. I think that future generations need to hear those stories. When we listen to those stories we can hear the foundations of why they were doing what they were doing.
CS: Most of us, when we describe our day, or when we describe what’s good about life, or what we enjoy in life, end up using stories. We go to the story telling mode. When my kids get home from school and I say “how was school today?” the first response (inevitably) is a one word response (“fine” or “good”) but then, what comes out is a story of something that happened in the class … we tend to share our lives with others through story.
The idea of “entering the story” helps us recognize that we are actually living into this much bigger story—God’s story. How do we listen to that story, just as we would listen to our own kids coming home from school and telling us about their day? This idea of entering into the story that God is in the midst of telling really grabs my imagination.
LK: When it comes to exploring the impact and value of Christian Education, why do you think the theme: “Entering the Story” is a good starting place?
CS: I’m pretty convinced by an article Stanley Hauerwas wrote years ago, where he looked at the book Watership Down and explored how the different rabbits and creatures along the way were living into different story lines. There is the sense that our kids are going to be living by a story … whether it’s the story being told by the media (maybe that’s too broad a category) by their favorite musicians, or by their favorite video games, or the economic situation that they’re living in. Christian education can step in and then speak in a way that says wait a minute, those stories may have some truth and some goodness in them, but let’s pay attention to how they stack up and relate to this big, over arching story—to what God is up to in this world. And what God calls us to do.
A huge part of Christian education should be helping our students, parents and communities recognize the stories that we are trafficking in all the time, so that we can be deliberate about which storyline we are going to live by.
How would you like to see students in Christian schools “Enter the Story?”
CS: I’m really struck by something Marva Dawn said years ago, when she was talking about how we live in a society that has a high information level. We are bombarded with all sorts of information, but we are so seldom given opportunities or encouraged to respond to that information. It’s not uncommon for us to hear that x number of people died in the last month due to disease, but we’re never really encouraged through media venues to actually respond to it—It’s high information, low response. Is there a way in our classroom settings to simply altar that ratio, so that we’re not just passive receivers of information but active participants in the story?
LK: The title for your first keynote address is simply “People of the Book”. How would you like to see Christian educators live as “people of the book” ?
CS: We put such a strong emphasis on God’s revealed word … and as that word spreads out through translations in other parts of the world, we really become identified very closely with this book of scripture. What does it look like for us to see ourselves as characters in telling the story and embodying the story of it … so that we’re saying to people: this is what it could look like to follow God.
That may mean that the teacher will come into the classroom on some days and say “today my heart is heavy because I see the fallenness of the world around me”. The teacher may then invite the students to do what the psalmists does—to lament when they encounter that brokenness.
Or, the teacher might come in another day and say: this is what I’ve seen, and this is what I’m celebrating today. Instead of being just a disseminator of information, the teacher becomes a mentor in how to engage the world, and a character who’s living in God’s story.
To stay up to date about this year’s Edifide Conference, visit: http://www.edifide.net
How are you “Entering the Story” in your own Creative Practice? Does an interested in narrative shape your approach to Project Based Learning or Differentiated Instruction? There are some great groups on eCurriculum to keep this conversation going. We invite you to share your thoughts!