End of the Year Reflections

Here in the global offices of TeachBeyond, we spend a lot of time thinking about, discussing, and seeking to find ways to implement practices that will help foster transformational education in the classrooms, schools and communities in which our teachers serve. We are constantly reflecting on how we can support our members as they live out this critical element of TeachBeyond’s mission.

As the school year draws to an end, we want to encourage you to engage in some reflection of your own. Here are some questions[1] to prime the pump. We’d love to hear feedback from you as you reflect on this. Drop us a line at onpractice@teachbeyond.org.

  1. 20170302_145140As you reflect back over this past school year, how have you seen the Holy Spirit directing you in regards to the three elements of the TB vision prayer: serving the Father’s world, loving Jesus, and seeing individuals and societies transformed by the Holy Spirit?
  2. As agents of transformation, we ourselves must be transformed. What are some personal transformations that God has done in you during your journey with Him? How have these affected your classroom practices? Are there thoughts, attitudes, and/or behaviors that God wants to transform in your life? What is a next step in that process?
  3. How has your understanding of transformational education developed over the course of your service with TeachBeyond? What are some next steps you can take to continue deepening your understanding of this concept? How will you practically apply what you’ve learned to your ministry assignment?
  4. Transformational education looks different in different contexts. What are some of the key elements that remain the same regardless of cultural contexts? How do you see these elements lived out in your particular context? What are some of the challenges you face? How are you addressing these challenges?
  5. When was the last time you looked at the TeachBeyond Distinctive Characteristics? Which of these have you embodied in your ministry? Which might you like to grow in?
  6. What has it looked like in your context to live and teach from a Biblically integrated worldview? What areas would you like to invite the Holy Spirit to transform in you and align more closely to His perspective? What are some of the challenges you are likely to face in this process?


If you are looking for some resources to challenge your thinking about transformational education this summer, here are a few suggestions from our TeachBeyond global staff.

  • What ifWhat If Learning: “What if Learning is a ‘distinctively Christian’ approach developed by an international partnership of teachers… Its aim is to equip teachers to develop their distinctively Christian teaching and learning strategies for their own classrooms.” This approach is appropriate for Christian teachers in all types of schools.–Helen Vaughan, School Services
  • Fostering a Reflective Culture in the Christian School (John Van Dyck): This book is written in story form to encourage Christian school staff to think together about foundational principles, reflect in the midst of daily activity, and then carefully process everything after it happens. A reflective culture helps everyone actually put into practice the principles that are often only talked about. –Harold Klassen, Teacher Education Services
  • The Courage to Teach (Parker Palmer): It’s probably dated, but still good stuff. It’s about integrity, authentic living and being, connectedness, and… I don’t know what else to say. Palmer put words to what I knew but couldn’t verbalize about teaching being so much more than good techniques.—Pam Sanderlin, Communications
  • Teaching and the Christian Imagination (David I. Smith and Susan M. Felch): What happens if you “re-imagine” the classroom and learning? How might this help you to better understand education in light of the gospel message? These and other questions are addressed in this very thought provoking book. Though it isn’t a difficult read, this is a book you’ll want to take your time with as it challenges you to rethink everything you thought you knew about classroom metaphors. –Becky Hunsberger, Teacher Education Services


Becky Hunsberger, M.Ed.
Teacher Education Services
TeachBeyond Global

[1] These were initially developed for TeachBeyond New Member Orientation to help those starting their time on the field connect their own personal call to the mission and vision of TeachBeyond. We’ve adapted them here for those of you already serving in the classroom.

Photo Credits: Rearview MirrorJavcon117* Flickr via Compfight ccJournal. B.Hunsberger. What if... Screenshot.


The Halls of Learning

24 May 2017

Wherever I travel I make a point of visiting local campuses, or “learning sites.” My interest in this began many years ago when I had the privilege of helping to shape the orienting architectural philosophy for a new university campus. One aspect of the planning phase involved a trip to Chicago to study several renowned university campuses. My colleagues and I left the city filled with new ideas, particularly Louis Sullivan’s thought (1896) that “Form ever follows function. This is the law.” By this he, and his assistant Frank Lloyd Wright, meant that our first task is to establish the function of our facility and then form will follow logically from it.

We came to realize the campus we designed and managed would say a lot about our educational vision, mission, and values. Cambridge stands out as an archetype of what we had in mind: an open campus that communicates a receptivity to new ideas and robust discourse. Looking at the spires and lawns we say to ourselves, “In such a space I, too, could think great thoughts.”

However, there are many pictures in my personal collection of campuses that have failed to take Sullivan’s dictum to heart. From the materials used to the building’s position on the site, and even design details, “function” was ignored or never understood. The unintended consequences are usually a dreary, dysfunctional campus that suppresses learning.

There is another problem associated with form and function that is equally distressing. Those who understand the importance of function can conceive of it in purely utilitarian ways. For example, in the 1960s some decided children would learn “better” (function) if they were not distracted by the outside world. Windows were removed and classrooms reduced to florescent lights and cinder blocks. The function was achieved by a form that followed on logically: children were definitely not distracted by anything outside the room (which is quite different than saying they weren’t distracted). Minimalism, and financial prudence, while functional, had created an economically efficient industrial plant. In doing so, it missed the point. Life cries out for a full-orbed definition of function.

In saying this, one must admit that everywhere today the number one concern we have is for the safety and security of our students, staff, and faculty. Not surprisingly, physical walls surround most of our learning environments. A congenial stroll across the green of a Cambridge common is a fantasy for most. However, if the best learning environment is one where curiosity is piqued with new ideas, where the infusion of strangers, visitors, locals, and family members is enriching the setting, and where the two-way flow from the school to the home, church, and community is vibrant, we need to find a form that allows both security and openness (i.e., the function) to coexist in synergistic ways. Even a symbolically “open” Cambridge has its porters and gates.

Safety and security are not the only reason we shut our doors and eliminate our windows. A closed campus can easily become a castle with a moat and a raised drawbridge, where unwanted ideas are barred and learning stifled. An open campus recognizes there is no better place for the learner to turn over the rocks of culture. Why? Because in a thoughtful, mature Christian community, the learner should never be afraid of a truth quest, of a rock-turning exercise where unanticipated truth jumps out at you. As C.S. Lewis put it in his analogy, Christians by definition embrace truth wherever it is found. Its source, after all,  is the One who is the Truth.

Moses didn’t learn the wisdom of Egypt (Acts 7:22) as a recluse in the desert and Daniel didn’t become the leading intellectual force of his day in a hut on the banks of the Jordan (Dan 1:4). They were in the center of the intellectual fray of their day. It is natural to want to build walls of separation, not only for purposes of physical safety but also for the protection of our hearts and minds. But these metaphysical walls provide an illusory, head-in-the-sand protection. The Christian witness in every age fights to speak and be heard without being driven to the margins of society. The most reliable protection against the dangers of a threatening world is to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot do this with our doors closed and the windows removed.

Most of the campuses and learning sites TeachBeyond owns or services are undergoing major renovations or anticipating new facilities. I would urge each team involved to think deeply, flexibly, creatively, and broadly about function – just as our Creator has about the world in which we live. Similarly, classroom teachers should examine their own classroom environments in light of functionality[1]. If we do this, I believe one of the hallmarks of our campuses will be a discernible “outward-lookingness.” Then, instead of receiving dark looks of distrust from our surrounding communities, our campuses and the programs they offer will become a respected community treasure.

George Durance
President and CEO 

[1] Here is an earlier OnPractice article that deals with setting up your classroom with this consideration in mind.

Photo Credits: G. Durance


Engaging in Godly Play

10 May 2017

The third grade class, seated in a circle around the Desert Bag, were coming to the end of the Godly Play lesson of “The Ark and the Tent.” Our tent was a reconstructed shoe box, painted gold, with large pieces cut out so that the children could see inside. The items were the ark, a menorah, altars, etc. The whole was partly obscured by pieces of fabric or leather to indicate the special coverings. We had been considering what it takes to get ready to come close to God. On an impulse, I picked up the coverings and placed them completely over our tent box. There was a gasp from the group.

Comments flew around the circle: “now it would be dark in the tent,” “the sun could shine in a bit,” “but there would be the light from the lamps,” and “we can still come close to God in the dark and God can come close to us.”

This last statement is very meaningful for the children. They have seen from various other lessons how people and God have come close to each other. They are piecing together their spiritual language.

*        *        *

Some think that children are like empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge given them by adults. However, this view ignores the truth that each one of us—children included—are created in the image of God. Children are more than just empty vessels. If we observe carefully we will see that children have much inside already.

The early years of childhood are spent by the child trying to give words to what they intuitively are aware of. Jerome Berryman, the deviser of Godly Play, wanted to find a way whereby children could develop a religious language which would give meaning to what they knew but couldn’t express. After extensive research and work with children, Berryman and his wife combined the discovery-learning style that their own children were experiencing in their Montessori school and Berryman’s own theological training. Each session begins by welcoming children into the circle of community. Facilitators then share a story from the scriptures and invite the children to wonder about it. This wondering leads into a time of creative response or play. Sessions end with a feast (snack) and blessing.

Godly Play is much more than an interesting way to tell Bible stories. It has, in fact, more in common with the practice of spiritual companionship. Adults and children together discover where God is working in their lives. Godly Play seeks to help the children to think theologically and maintain their sense of wonder and mystery. It’s a doorway into Spirit-led transformation.

Telling the Great Family at BEC 2016As the facilitator of Godly Play, the Story Teller learns all the lessons in the Godly Play curriculum by heart. But adult and child, we learn and practice as we go. This learning together in community with children is both humbling and delightful. It can be challenging to wonder what Jesus meant when He said that unless we, the adults, become like little children, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. What is it about children and Jesus’ relationship with them that we need to somehow copy? One thing is that as adults we can share in the serious play of spiritual nurture.

Godly Play supports the significance of play in the life of the child. It leaves space in the lesson for silence, slowness, and personal discovery. In the creative response time children will busy themselves building with wooden bricks, modeling with clay, drawing, etc. Some times the bricks become Nineveh or some other biblical place. In my classroom recently, they became a Prayer Labyrinth. This intentional response time allows children the opportunity to deeply engage in the creative process which gives space for them to work on big questions about life. In a safe environment they can give themselves permission to think about difficult issues such as death, meaning, aloneness, and the threat of freedom without having to explain their thoughts to an adult. This is their own discovery-learning time: a space for the Holy Spirit to meet the individual child.

For more information about Godly Play, you can visit the Godly Play Foundation webpage. They have resources and training available in a variety of languages (including English and German) and in many countries around the world.

Helen Spencer
Godly Play Specialist
TeachBeyond Eurasia

Born and brought up in the UK, Helen Spencer has been involved in overseas mission work since the middle 70s mostly in Eastern Europe. After her youngest son graduated from high school (BFA), she was introduced to Godly Play. She now practices and teaches Godly Play in eastern Europe where she is involved with Baby English Club. Helen has found that the elements of Godly Play bring together three of the areas of life that are important to her–creativity (art), storytelling (drama), and nurturing children–and this has a continuing positive impact on her life.

Photo Credits: Godly Play. N. Spencer. tabernacle. shelia.blogspot. Storyteller. N. Spencer.


Transformational Perspectives: DRC, Africa

This issue of OnPractice is taking a slightly different format than normal as we hear from one of our school leaders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Heritier Fima will share with us his perspective on what Transformational Education looks like. A complete transcript (in English) can be found after the video.

I want to say a big hello to you. My name is Heritier Fima, and I am the administrator here at the Fateb Kinshasa Academy. We’re very happy to be partners with TeachBeyond who really has at their center a vision to transform and use education as a means to transform children’s lives.

Kinshasa is a big city with a lot of people and a lot of schools. There are things that are particular to our school. Most schools in this area teach subjects like science, math, and even Bible, but it’s hard to really find what makes that school different. And do we see a difference? So a lot of these schools really struggle with integrating their faith in the daily lessons in a very practical way–in how we prepare and what we teach. That is a struggle in most of the schools in our area here in Kinshasa.

This is what makes the Fateb Kinshasa Academy hopefully different from other schools. We believe that we can integrate God’s Word and God’s values, even at a very young age (3, 4,and 5 year olds) and that’s what makes a difference.

So [a] Christian worldview is really what we are talking about. We believe that it’s not only in the classrooms with these young children, but we also want to integrate it with our administration, the people working for our safety, [and with those] who cook and clean. So it’s at all different levels that Christian values and worldviews should be integrated in all things in the school. So if we don’t live that, and reflect these values, how are our children going to learn these things?

In French there is an expression (and I’m not sure if the translation is going to work), the beautiful woman gives the best that she has.

We see a change in children who came and did not know about or even think about asking for forgiveness if they hurt their little classmate, and now we see changes in those things where they are living their values as well. We are having children memorize by heart and carry God’s Word in their hearts. Parents are surprised and so pleasantly pleased, they even sometimes think, is this school or a church? because of the way that their children are taking home things from the Bible. There is a change in their lives, and that we emphasize that here.

And a little bit of advice I can give other schools who are maybe trying to implant this Christian worldview in their schools. Let’s be patient with the children we are trying to develop. As we teach these things, it takes time for these things to really implant. Those seeds need to take root in their hearts and to see them grow. Sometimes change happens fast, and sometimes other things take a long time and it is a slow development. Be patient with those children so that we can see and have faith. Be patient, and pray for these children, that we see a change and transformation in their lives. We need to surround them, love them, and walk beside them as they walk towards a future where they will also make an impact on others around them.

This is what we wanted to say with the things that are happening here at the Fateb Kinshasa Academy.

Heritier Fima
Administrator, FATEB Kinshasa Academy
TeachBeyond DRC

Translation: Tamera Peters, School Start-up Consultant
Transcription: Chelsea VanBuskirk, School Services
Photo Credit: FATEB Kinshasa Academy

Slide Jess

Building a Slideshow with Student Learning in Mind

Have you ever used a PowerPoint, Prezi, or other slideshow presentation in your classroom? Chances are that the answer is yes—particularly if you teach upper level subjects which are heavy on content. In theory, slide shows are a great instructional tool. Unfortunately, in practice, many slide presentations can actually work against student engagement[1]. To avoid this, teachers need to be aware of the most effective ways to employ slides in the classroom. Below are some suggestions to help you make the most of this technology.

Know your purpose.

Why are you using slides? Your purpose will determine how you use this tool. Slide shows can be effectively used to illustrate content, to demonstrate procedures, to direct student interaction, or to review for a test. They should not be used to spoon-feed notes to students.[2] Your purpose determines how you design your slide show.

Keep it simple.slide

The most effective slides are clean and easy to read. Use a sans serif font (ie: Ariel or Verdana) in a color that clearly contrasts with the background. Light backgrounds are easiest to read. Ensure that the size of the text is easily seen from a distance. Limit graphics, slide design, animations, and transitions as these tend to distract from the content of the presentation.

Less is More.

Slides with a lot of text overwhelm the listener. In fact, such slides tacitly convey that the students don’t need to listen to what you are saying because they encourage students to focus on reading the text instead. A more effective use of slides is to highlight key words or phrases, or to illustrate what you are saying through well-selected pictures, infographics, or other graphic designs. The slide should be a supplement to your presentation, not be the presentation itself.

Similarly, you should limit yourself to one point per slide (or control the appearance of multiple points so that they coincide with where you are in your presentation). Posting multiple points at once will distract students as they read ahead.

Use graphics to highlight key points.

Slide 2Graphics should not be seen as design elements used to add interest to a slide. This is actually distracting and counter-productive[3]. Rather, they should be used with intention, and only to re-enforce the content being presented. Use graphics to illustrate complex concepts, display relationships between ideas, or demonstrate processes/procedures.

A picture is worth a thousand words…

..but only if it is well-chosen and of high quality. Grainy or pixelated images, as well as clip art or watermarked pictures are distracting and detract from your message. Choose high quality images that directly connect to your presentation, and ensure that you are using images that are not restricted by copyright.[4]

Use slides to encourage student interaction.

While many of us use slides to supplement our lectures, posing questions or problems for students to discuss/solve can turn a teacher-centered medium into a student-centered one. This can be a great way to get students interacting with the material that you have just presented, which will help them move that information from short-term to long-term memory.

Slide gameAnother student-centered use of slide presentations is through student review games and activities. There are a number of websites that provide PowerPoint templates designed for educational review[5]. These templates allow you to create games using your own content.

For more information on effective use of slide presentations, check out the following resources:


Becky Hunsberger, M.Ed.
Teacher Ecucation Services
TeachBeyond Global

[1] Potential PowerPoint pitfalls include: instruction that is solely teacher-centered, mixed messages about whether students should be actively listening to the presentation or reading the slide, over-reliance on slide text for note-taking, discouragement of critical thinking. For more on this, see the article “Effective Use of PowerPoint” posted in the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Central Florida.

[2] Research suggests that this use of PowerPoint is counter-productive. Many students fall into the trap of passively copying down every word on the slide, and only what is on the slide. This reduces active learning and makes it harder for students to remember what was presented.

[3] For more on this see the research from Edelman & Harring as presented by Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching: “Making Better PowerPoint Presentations.”

[4] There are a number of online resources, such as Compfight that show you how to find free, non-copyrighted images or images licensed under a creative common license on-line.

[5] Here are a few: PowerPoint Wiki, UNCW.edu, & Super Teacher Tools. Feel free to share your favorite technology sites with us in the Educational Technology group on Yammer.


Inhabiting the Christian Story

We teach who we are. As Christians, we should allow the Bible to shape our identity, relationships, priorities, etc. If scripture changes us, then the way we teach should also change. Therefore, we should “aspire to ‘incarnate’ the biblical vision, living it out in the day to day interactions of the classroom.”[1] A helpful way to do this is by inhabiting the Christian story because it is a natural vehicle to answer the basic worldview questions. Stories have a plot (answering ‘what’s wrong?’ and ‘what’s the remedy?’), characters (answering ‘who are we?), and setting (answering ‘where are we?’).[2]

The biblical story can be divided into 4 acts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, & Consummation.[3] Right now we are living in an interlude between Acts 3 and 4. The kingdom has already been inaugurated, but has not yet been fully established. Our calling now is both: to proclaim the good news of redemption in Christ, and to live out our redeemed creational role, being channels of God’s blessing.

4 chapter gospel
With this in mind, we can answer the worldview questions: (1) Who are we? We are image-bearers, having inherent value and creativity, but we are also sinners in need of repentance and redemption; (2) Where are we? We live in God’s good creation which should be looked after, and in a cultural world, reflecting our image-bearing and sinful capacities; (3) What’s wrong? We experience death and broken relationships at personal, social, spiritual and environmental levels because of our quest for autonomy; and (4) What’s the remedy? We need to turn to Christ to find healing, fulfillment and purpose, and teach and invite others to do the same.

However, the gospel story is not the only story out there. Our students are exposed to a number of these competing narratives. For instance, consumerism is a story that has a religious appeal,[4] and advertising frequently mimics religious parables.[5] This story answers worldview questions like this: (1) Who are we? We are ‘empty buckets’ who need to work to buy things to fill it; (2) Where are we? We live in a natural world waiting to be exploited, and in a social world of disposable relationships; (3) What’s wrong? We experience emptiness because we are not benefiting from technological progress; and (4) What’s the remedy? We have to buy things to find fulfillment and happiness. As Christians, we must recognize the influence these other stories have on our students and develop a plan to address them.

How we do this raises at least two questions about our educational practices. First, we must ask ‘what story are we teaching?’ We must intentionally live out our vocation in the biblical story, which will give us a different approach to the learning-teaching process in two ways: (1) We will develop a virtuous Christian character and take it to the classroom, and by doing so awaken a similar desire in our students. Our lives will provide an example of the maturation process; and (2) we will evaluate the educational techniques we use, as well as classroom dynamics we foster, to see whether they are coherent with the Christian story and worldview.

Second, we must ask ‘what story are we teaching?’ To an outside observer, many of the specific things we do in the classroom might appear to be the same (2+2 is still 4), but a deeper examination will reveal connections to the bigger story. Math can be used to make us more competitive or more generous, to help us take care of creation or exploit it.

As we press into our faith and bring it into our professional practices, are we helping our students grow as persons, or merely  becoming better consumers? The difference lies in the greater story that we inhabit and teach by.

Raphael Hauser
Teacher Education Services
TeachBeyond, Brazil

[1] David I. Smith and John Shortt, The Bible and the Task of Teaching (Stapleford: Stapleford Centre, 2002), 38.
[2] J. Richard Middleton and Brian J. Walsh, Truth Is Stranger than It Used to Be : Biblical Faith in a Postmodern Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995).
[3] For those interested in digging deeper into how the biblical story shapes us and/or education, I highly recommend: Harold Klassen, Visual Valet: Personal Assistant for Christian Thinkers and Teachers (Amazon, 2015); and Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture : Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014).
[4] James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Cultural Liturgies, v. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009).
[5] Neil Postman, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).

Photo Credits: Book. free stock photos of studyViews from the Past10iggie Flickr via Compfight cc.


Developing Intellectual Virtues

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

— Romans 12:2 (NLT)

Teachers use a variety of routines in their classrooms to establish clear expectations that help keep things running smoothly. The same process used to establish management routines can also be used to develop thinking routines in the classroom. One of the goals of transformational education is that as students grow in their understanding of God and themselves, we want them to develop as thinkers. We want them to grow and develop intellectual virtues[1].

Picture2Intellectual virtues guide how a person processes, interprets, and interacts with knowledge and truth. The virtues—which include curiosity, courage, honesty, carefulness, tenacity, fair-mindedness, humility, autonomy, and attentiveness—help to guide and develop someone’s disposition, or habits of mind. As Christian educators, we can identify what intellectual virtues are important for our courses, and then provide opportunities for our students to develop these virtues. This is true regardless of how openly we can talk about our faith in the classroom.

There are some practical tools that teachers can use to help develop intellectual virtues, but to be most effective these tools need to be used routinely. It is through practice and repetition that the students will begin to change the way they think and to develop intellectual virtues. Here are two thinking routines that can be implemented into a variety of classroom settings.

See, Think, Wonder Routine: (intellectual virtues curiosity, carefulness, attentiveness)

see think wonderThis routine can be used in a variety of ways: it encourages close observation skills, the ability to connect to prior-knowledge, and curiosity. Students write down or say what they see in a photo, painting, or science demonstration. As they are making these observations they are identifying details that help prepare them for learning new information. After they record what they see, the students can identify what they think about the picture or demonstration. This step activates prior knowledge and helps the teacher identify misconceptions. The last step is for the students to write questions or record what makes them wonder. As they do this, they are creating a purpose for learning. Students can use this routine to preview a textbook chapter or picture book, to make observations during a science demonstration, to create text-dependent questions for a reading passage, or to look at photos from a certain time period in history.

Connect, Extend, Challenge Routine: (intellectual virtues courage, fair-mindedness, humility, autonomy)

ExtendThe Connect, Extend, Challenge (CEC) routine is a versatile thinking process that can be applied in many different settings. The students are asked to identify how what they are learning connects with their prior understanding or experiences. They then identify how the new learning extends their understanding. The last step asks the students to record either how the new learning challenges their prior-understanding or what is challenging about the new learning. This routine provides opportunities for classrooms to identify possible distortions of truth and equips students to be able to actively work through any misconceptions. Part of being intellectually humble is acknowledging that there are opportunities to learn in every situation. Intellectual courage empowers individuals to not shy away from standing up for truth, even when it is difficult. The combination of being courageous and humble means that students will be open to new learning, but not afraid to take a stand against distortions of truth. The CEC routine helps to facilitate this way of thinking. CEC can be used to record notes during a lecture or reading assignment, to activate prior-knowledge at the beginning of a unit, to reflect on a unit of study, or to organize a journal entry.

ELL Connection:
When combined with routines that require student discourse, such as Turn and Talk or Round Robin, these thinking routines use a great deal of language and students are highly engaged.

These routines were developed through The Visible Thinking Project. Researchers from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education have developed a series of routines that teachers can use in their classrooms to help develop intellectual virtues. These are just a few tools that educators can use to help develop Christian thinkers. The important thing to remember about routines is that they need to be used multiple times in a variety of ways. The goal is for the students to internalize these different approaches to thinking without having to be prompted by a teacher.

So, try out the Connect, Extend, Challenge routine yourself. How did this article connect with your experience as an educator? How did it extend your understanding of developing Christian thinkers? How has this article challenged you, or what challenges can you identify with using these routines in your classroom?

As we regularly practice these thinking routines in our classrooms, we will begin to see our students hone their own thinking and develop intellectual virtues. It allows us to open a door through which our students can experience God’s hand transforming them into a new person by changing the way they think.


Leighton Helwig, M.Ed.
Philippines National Director/Regional Education Specialist

[1] Philip E. Dow, superintendent of Rosslyn Academy in Kenya, has written a helpful book on the topic: Virtuous Minds: Intellectual Character Development.

Templates for both these routines can be found on the TeachBeyond wiki page, here.

Photo Credits: L. Helwig


Transformed Teachers Transform Students

“TeachBeyond teachers are ‘born again’ teachers – that is, teachers who themselves have been transformed and filled with God’s Holy Spirit to become empowered for a ministry of transformation.”[1]

It wasn’t yet 8 a.m., and it had already been a difficult day. So when Levi[2] came to school late and out of dress code—again—I snapped. It wasn’t my finest hour, yelling at this 11th grade boy in the middle of the school foyer. Even in the moment, I was aware that this was not the right way to handle the situation—but I didn’t really care. After sending Levi to call home for appropriate attire, I took a deep breath and left the school grounds. For about half an hour I stormed around the neighborhood, tears streaming down my face, trying to ignore the stares of the construction workers who must have thought this foreign lady who kept passing them was majnuneh—crazy. Eventually, I calmed down enough to have a rational conversation with the Lord and by the time I returned to the school I realized that was not the only conversation I needed to have.

3892422834_e4eb787ce8The wary look on Levi’s face when I pulled him out of math confirmed what I already knew. It wasn’t easy, but I apologized to this young man for the way that I had conducted myself. While affirming that violation of school rules still had consequences, I acknowledged that I was wrong for losing my temper and that I was sorry. He was wrong, but so was I.

At TeachBeyond, we talk a lot about transformational education, but the truth is that while education can open many doors and provide many opportunities for students, this is not the type of transformation that we mean. We want more for our students than entrance into good universities, more than advanced economic opportunities or emergence as good global citizens. We want our students to experience life to the full—life that comes through the indwelling power of the Spirit of God. We want our students to know Truth and to make connections between God’s Word and the world He has created. Wherever we find ourselves teaching—in contexts that welcome the gospel, or those that are hostile to it—we do what we do because we believe in the transformational power of the Holy Spirit to bring this life abundant.

502363271_72597af8e0_zIf we want to see our students, schools, and communities transformed and filled with God’s Holy Spirit, we cannot rely simply on best teaching practices—though they are important. Transformational education comes about when teachers themselves are being transformed. This basic truth is so foundational to what we are called to do in the classroom that it bears restating from time to time.

If we want to see life-giving transformation happening in our students, then we as teachers need to be intentional about pursuing our own relationship with Jesus. We need to root ourselves deeply in His presence, and open ourselves up to the encouragement and chastisement of His Word. As we do so, our lives will begin to reflect the transforming work that He is doing in us.

When I blew up at Levi that morning, he saw me at my worst. But the Lord gives grace, and as I allowed the Spirit to work in my heart to convict and correct me I was able to show Levi something else as well. I was able to show him that Jesus can change the heart of an uptight, angry principal. I may never know what, if any, impact that encounter had on Levi, but I know this: in that moment, I was transformed. My heart learned a bit more how to soften towards Jesus and towards my wayward students. I started to look a little more like Jesus that day.

Pull QuoteWhile our stories of transformation are not always as dramatic as the one above (and praise the Lord for that!), our lives are often the loudest testament of the gospel that our students hear. Regardless of whether we can openly proclaim biblical truths, our lives bear witness day in and day out to the truth of what we believe. So if we really want to see those around us transformed, we need to tend to our own faith lives. Transformational education begins with the Holy Spirit’s transforming work within each one of us. And that is something worth celebrating!

Becky Hunsberger, M.Ed.
Coordinator of Teacher Education Services

[1] George Durance, “Transformational Education: An Effective Expression of the Gospel”
[2] The name has been changed.

Photo Credits: Given Upand.e. Flickr via Compfight cc. Desperate Prayer. Mathieu Jarry. Flickr. cc.



Teaching Through Play

What’s a child’s favorite thing to do? PLAY!

Here are four questions I ask myself while planning activities that use play to teach in early childhood classes. They can be easily adjusted for use with older children as well.

Open or closed activity?

When planning an activity in the classroom, I always ask myself if there is a way to make this open-ended so students can play and explore for an infinite amount of time. When an activity never ends, it allows students to practice until mastery rather than just until completion. Open-ended activities feel like play and can be used over and over. They are ideal for introducing ideas and concepts that need a lot of practice. Closed activities, on the other hand, give me opportunities for assessment since they show how close students are to mastery.

Topic: Matching quantity to numerals
Open Activity: Play a game with flash cards matching quantity to numerals. Students have to match the card with the correct quantity to the numeral. When students finish they can mix the cards and repeat the activity. For students close to mastery, see how fast they can do the activity. This works great in a small group activity or during free play time.

Closed activity: Do a worksheet matching quantity to numerals. Students draw a line matching the quantity of drawn objects to the correct numeral. Once students are finished they can turn in the activity. This works great for an assessment or homework.

Student or teacher directed?

In a typical early education classroom, I could always use more adults. That means while planning activities I have to be strategic in what kind of activities require an adult’s support and which activities students can practice on their own. I plan teacher-directed activities to introduce a new concept or idea while student-directed activities allow students to practice on their own.

Topic: Family vocabulary

Teacher-directed: Students draw and label a family tree. With teacher-guidance, students will draw different members of the family and label each person. Teachers will provide assistance in organizing the paper (children on the bottom, grandparents on the top) as well as provide vocabulary words to copy for the appropriate family members.

Student-directed: Use memory with family vocabulary. After students have been introduced to family vocabulary and have a basic understanding of rules, they can play a game of memory with family members as the cards. Pairs of cards with pictures and/or words are placed face down on the table. Students take turns flipping two cards to find matches while saying the words.

Individual or group?

Social skills are important to practice in the early years. I try to plan activities that require students to interact while I am providing learning beyond the academic concepts. Then I use individual activities to allow students to develop their own reflection skills and demonstrate their learning.

 Topic: Science activity–what melts ice?

Group activity: As a group, students must find fun ways to melt ice. As a whole class the teacher may ask students for ideas about how to make ice melt quickly. Then the teacher can divide students into groups and allow each group to choose an appropriate method of melting ice (i.e., rubbing it in their hands). Students will pass around the ice cube rubbing it until their hands are too cold, then passing it to the next child. This practices taking turns, observations, and learning new science concepts.

Individual activity: After seeing ice melting, students draw a picture of what happened in their journals so they can remember.

Creative or directed?

Art is always a fun activity in the classroom! It’s messy, creative, and allows students to develop crucial fine motor skills. While thinking of art activities, I first decide whether an open-ended (creative) or directions-based activity is called for. Open-ended, creative projects give students the opportunity to experiment with new materials and develop ideas from start-to-finish. Directions-based projects allow students to develop skills they might not choose on their own and to practice following instructions. Both are important skill sets in the early education classroom; the key is finding the right balance.

Topic: Making penguins

Creative: In an art station, the teacher will provide many materials such as colored paper, paint, glue, wiggly eyes, and felt. The teacher will also post pictures of penguins. During free play time, the students can look at the pictures of penguins as they model their own creations.

Directions-based: The teacher will model how to create a penguin by cutting out pieces of paper, gluing them together, and adding other parts such as eyes and feet. The students will follow the teacher’s instructions step-by-step to create similar projects.

Overall, in an early education classroom playing and learning walk hand-in-hand. The process of intentionally planning activities is the first step in engaging students in playful learning. Although all types of activities can be positive in the classroom and encourage learning, the more free-choice, student-based, interactive and creative the activity, the more playfully engaged the student will be. My general rule of thumb is finding variety by mixing up the types of activities so that at least one activity on the topic will engage each of my students.

Sarah Trussell, M.Ed.
Elementary Principal, early childhood teacher
El Camino Academy, Colombia

Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of S.Trussell, El Camino Academy.

For more ideas to use in early education classrooms, check out the Early Childhood Education group on Yammer.

Kinshasa kids

Biblical Truths Shape Transformational Curriculum

For the Christian educator, be that person a teacher or leader, the primary goal of teaching and learning is to present everyone mature in Christ[1]. Christian education fosters maturity in Christ, preparing students for both life beyond school and eternity, for honouring and glorifying God.

The first Scriptural underpinning for this is the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:16-19, Jesus states “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The global perspective that Christian education should hold is clear; all nations and all cultures are to be baptized and made disciples. Thus an understanding of how the world works, and how people, cultures and nations interact with each other, is important if the goal of Christian education, the presentation of everyone mature in Christ, is to be realized.

One way such a goal is realized through teaching everyone with all wisdom. This means that all learners receive a quality teaching and learning experience. Christian learners are prepared to impact their world for Christ and non-Christian learners are shown a meaningful faith that possesses at its core an intellectual credibility applicable to the wider world.

Thus, the learner is the focus of Christian education. Each learner is considered unique as he or she is made by God[2]. Learners are also acknowledged to be complex, entering the classroom at different stages in their learning, with different experiences, and different levels of knowledge or skills. Christian educators recognise the complexity in all learners and that they are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance[3]. Thus, Christian education is something that helps learners mature by unwrapping their God-given gifts so that they can find their place in service of others and have an impact on the world for Christ.

In the closing remarks of his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul exhorts Christians to strive for excellence[4]. His point is made on an understanding of human nature. To dwell on matters not conducive to a healthy mindset adversely affects thought, character and action. It stunts maturity in Christ. For the Christian learner, Philippians 4:8 makes a clear call to excellence as the standard for living a Christian life. For the non-Christian learner, the call for excellence in all things deflects criticism that in some way, shape or form, Christian education is not good enough, that it is in some manner deficient or irrelevant.

Additionally, Paul reminds us that we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors[5]. Such a description is no small thing, for an ambassador is someone who represents the interests of his or her nation in a foreign country, someone who is completely knowledgeable about whom they represent and their worldview. In the context of Christian education the directive from 2 Corinthians 5:20 calls schools to be prepared to represent God and His message faithfully and accurately in all that they do. Christians will attract the attention of those around them and so it is therefore critical that Christians act in the same manner as an envoy or representative. Teaching and learning programs must engage in the wider world knowledgably and with certainty about that message.

Education is therefore a life-long process[6]. It focuses on the intellectual, personal, emotional and social growth of the individual through all domains of knowledge[7]. Education prepares learners for a life of active, responsible citizenship with both a local and international outlook[8]. It instills in them a passion for lifelong learning, inspires them to excel academically, to work towards intellectual and emotional maturity and to ensure they are prepared for the world beyond the classroom[9]. Through Christian education, learners develop a deep subject expertise alongside the ability to engage with a diverse range of people, embrace both traditional and innovative thinking, and be able to bridge cultural boundaries genuinely. This is what we should strive after as we seek to develop learners who will be presented mature in Christ. This is transformational education.

Timothy Scott, Ph.D.
Director of Student Learning and Head Principal
Black Forest Academy, Germany

[1] Colossians 1:28
[2] Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 139:14
[3] Ephesians 2:10
[4] Philippians 4:8
[5] 2 Corinthians 5:20
[6] 1 Timothy 4:13
[7] Proverbs 1-4; Romans 12:2
[8] 1 Timothy 2:2-8

[9] Philippians 4:8

Photo Credits: FKA students. FKA Facebook page. TeachBeyond. Great Commission. Christian Cross Clipart. Lab II. BFA.TeachBeyond.

Timothy Scott is the Director of Student Learning and Head Principal at Black Forest Academy (BFA) in Germany, where he leads the school’s academic program operating across three campuses and is involved in curriculum management and development, and student pastoral care. Additionally, Tim manages the partnership between BFA and several German Christian schools. He has a passion for teaching ancient history, historiography and philosophies of history, holding a PhD in the subject. Tim has 20 years of experience in education, having taught and held leadership positions in several large independent schools in Sydney, Australia.