The quality of schools is dependent upon the quality of the teachers that comprise that school, or better yet, the learning environment of that school. Whitaker (2004) promulgates two ways to improve a school is to either get better teachers or improve the teachers in the school. The Christian teachers embedding their Christian faith into their respective content areas in our Lutheran schools are what make our Lutheran schools great and personable. So often, school boards and administrators revert back to educational programs as an integral component for effecting change. Programs are good; however, programs are not the only means to enhance teaching and learning. By providing continual support to improve one’s pedagogical approaches and skills, administrators are also more likely to foster and cultivate a more effective and healthier learning community.
So, as principals and teachers, these are a few things to consider as you lead and teach:
- Do you favor or observe a particular approach to teaching more so than another? All of you are familiar with different approaches to teach students – constructionists or traditionalists. Teachers, as traditionalists, are likely to accept more responsibility than the student to learn a particular concept, skill or procedure. On the other hand, teachers, as constructionists, are more likely to share responsibility for a learned endeavor. All of you have readily implemented both of those approaches. For example, teachers as constructionists are likely to afford students more open-ended activity and more responsibility for learning. Teachers, as traditionalists, are more likely to carve out time for discussion coupled with drill and practice. Ask yourselves, “Is there a balance between student-centered and teacher-centered instruction happening in your classrooms?”Both approaches are appropriate. Both approaches are effective.
Both approaches engender good teaching. Effective teachers known when to oscillate between approaches to enhance the teaching and learning for students. Principals should observe for both and affirm when seeing both approaches used with balance.
- Where are you on the interventionists/path-gnomonic continuum of teaching? Rosenfeld and Rosenfeld (2008) report teachers possess a continuum of viewpoints about teaching and learning. Teachers, as interventionists, take a position that learning is a shared endeavor. Teachers, as interventionists, challenge themselves to critically reflect, adjust their instruction appropriately, and offer a medley of instructional strategies according to ability level and need. On the other hand, teachers resonating more with a path-gnomonic viewpoint ascribe learning to include a multitude of factors – student’s innate ability, motivation, study skills, or possibly parental influence. Ask yourself this question, “Do you have a tendency to project the lack of learning or lack of understanding or mastery back on the student.” The point is to be ready to recognize one’s thinking so as to adjust appropriately.
As administrators and teachers, having an understanding about the two viewpoints can espouse more discussion and guidance after observation.
- Did you realize you hold epistemic beliefs about knowledge as well? How content is taught and learned varies according to teachers’ epistemological orientations toward that particular discipline (Gobbo & Giardi, 2002). One’s epistemic orientation further develops when one develops a deeper understanding of content and gains experience over time. Challenge yourself to balance your teaching between textbook to that of inquiry, investigation, and discovery. Whether you hold one belief or another or oscillate between beliefs about the content you teach is not what is important; rather, having an understanding about one’s epistemic orientation about their content is.
As for teachers and administrators, having this understanding enables good discussion after observation as well as a baseline to think and act accordingly in your daily preparation and instruction.
- Are you teaching your students to defend their faith? The present culture continues to erode and dismiss the Biblical teachings that align with Scripture and Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Jill Hasstadt, penned a written essay in Pedagogy of Faith: Essays on Lutheran Education, on radical relativism.
Take time and be deliberate in your preparation and instruction to help students discuss and challenge using Biblical and Catechesis truths those worldly viewpoints, particularly challenging the idea of individual truth and morality. The meshing of one’s Christian faith is what distinctively separates instruction in a Lutheran school from another private or public setting. God’s Word is absolute truth; relativism proclaims no absolute truth, only individual truth. For more information, refer to Pedagogy of Faith: Essays on Lutheran Education. As administrators, affirm when you observe such practice.
The putative contribution that teachers bring to their classrooms is an amalgamation of skill, Christian belief and practice, approach, or any combination of them on a daily basis. As you reflect on the four questions alone, with another colleague, or with your administrator, I would encourage you to be honest with yourself and provide yourself some constructive critique. I would further encourage you to delve a bit deeper into one of the resources provided below or ask to observe another colleague in their classroom. A collaborative spirit is likely to bring a different perspective or some additional insight into your preparation and teaching. Finally, give thanks to God for the students God has entrusted to you on a daily basis.
We give thanks to God for Christian teachers and their repeated effort to keep the presence the Jesus in all that do and say. And, we give thanks to God for His continual grace, mercy and love for each of us, our students, and their families.
Bull, Bernard. (2015). Pedagogy of Faith: Essays on Lutheran Education. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
Rosenfeld, Melodie & Rosenfeld, Sherman. (2008). Developing effective teacher beliefs about learners: the role of sensitizing teachers to individual learning differences. Educational Psychology, 28(3), 245-272.