Tuesday, January 20, 2015

EDUC 509 Reflection One: The Unifying Power of Mission

My Spring Master's course has begun and so I'll share my reflections as the course goes on, in addition to the occasional post about my classroom practices.  The prompt for this was to write a one page reflection responding to our reading from A Vision with a Task: Christian Schooling for Responsive Discipleship for this week:

Simon and Garfunkel once sang, “I am a rock! I am an island!” Although I am fairly certain the song was about isolating oneself rather than risking heartbreak, it has been all too easy for teachers to embrace this solitary philosophy, too. We treat our classrooms like islands in an ocean when rather they ought to be allies with shared borders. Herein lies the value of a mission statement created through the collaboration of the school community and intentionally articulated: a common vision reverses continental drift as it weaves the community together through the power of shared purpose, and in turn focuses the development and maintenance of curriculum.

I doubt that any Christian school teacher would disagree with the statement that there are many different interpretations of Scripture. CAJ, which identifies itself as a “big-tent school”, has as diverse selection of church denominations as it does passports. Perhaps this is why nobody questions the necessity of a strong mission statement: our preferences for worship music, our opinions on liturgy, our definition of a good sermon may vary, so we know that as a staff, we must seek out what is truly fundamental and make that our foundation. Any teacher at CAJ could tell you that our mission is to equip students to impact the world for Christ. From next year, this statement will be revised to say equipping students to serve Japan and the world for Christ. Our mission statement serves as our North Star, orienting us regardless of where we are in the school, regardless of whether we are teachers or administrators, business staff or support staff. All major decisions are vetted through our mission: Will this help students to impact the world? and soon, Will this prepare students to serve Japan? The broader world?

What particularly struck me in the readings for this week was the connection that I saw between mission and curriculum. As teachers, we operate within a sequence of all that the students learned before they set foot in our classrooms, and a scope of all that the students learn across the disciplines. If we were indeed lonely atolls, our curriculum would likely be disjointed, repetitive, perhaps even contradictory. We might teach some powerful lessons and utilize stellar pedagogical technique, but detached from mission, even the best teaching practices would lack impact. It is only when our individual curricula fit together like a puzzle, supporting, supplementing, reinforcing, that the students will graduate as the kind of young men and women that we as a school hope they will become. The authors’ discussion of the role that play and problem-posing present was fascinating, but such decisions must be rooted in a common understanding of, and investment in mission. Only then, with the end objectives in mind, can the component bricks be securely laid into place.

Teaching in a secluded corner of the third floor, the temptation to be a rock or an island is ever-present. I’ve been fortunate that I have had the chance to share my classroom with the 10th Grade English teacher, the 11th Grade Bible teacher and the Psychology teacher, have had a chance to get to know these colleagues well and become familiar with their curriculum. Daily, I am reminded of our broader mission, and challenged to think through where I fit in the scope and sequence of CAJ.

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