Psalm 8; Psalm 108 (NIV)
Psalm 19: 1-4 (NIV)
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

“Does our teaching and learning reinforce a jaded view of the world as filled primarily with things to be used, things to be memorized, things to be bought and sold, things to be written down in exchange for grades? Do our pedagogical choices reinforce a sense of the generosity and abundance of creation, of the beauty and intricacy of the world, and of the possibility of delight as a response to learning?” (Smith and Felch, 2016, p. 100)

“By great things, I mean the subjects around which the circle of seekers has always gathered—not the disciplines that study these subjects, not the texts that talk about them, not the theories that explain them, but the things themselves.” (Palmer, 1998, p. 107)

“Great things such as these are the vital nexus of community in education. It is in the act of gathering around them and trying to understand them—as the first humans gathered around fire—that we become who we are as knowers, teachers, and learners.” (Palmer, 1998, p. 107)

“In a subject-centered classroom, the teacher’s central task is to give the great thing an independent voice—a capacity to speak its truth quite apart from the teacher’s voice in terms that students can hear and understand. “ (Palmer, 1998, p. 118)

The quotes above from Smith & Felch and Palmer should challenge us as Christian educators to take a close look at how we approach units of study and curriculum in our classrooms. Do we allow ourselves and our students to learn through awe and wonder of the subject at hand; do we allow God’s creation to teach us through relational experiences, rather than objective, factual information to be gained and spat back out in the form of assessment?

In the book Braiding Sweetgrass (Kimmerer, 2013), the author shares with the reader that in the Potawatomi language, the grammar of animacy uses “the same language words to address the living world as they do their family” (p. 55). She goes on to say that the “arrogance of the English language is that the only way to be animate, to be worthy of respect and moral concern, is to be a human. (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 57)

In The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer, a figure is used to illustrate how learning is relational. The figure has the subject that is being studied in the middle of an octagon. At each vertex of the octagon are the “knowers”. There are arrows that point from the subject to each knower, from each “knower” to the subject, and from each “knower” to all the other “knowers”. The subject is at the center of everyone’s attention and is being focused on. The figure illustrates how all the learning that is taking place is connected and relational. Palmer’s two quotes shared above talk about “great things”. I would argue that the great things that we teach our students, the great things that we circle around are those great things that God has created. We are challenged to continue in a conversation with these great things, to delight in them. Palmer says that “we will experience the power of great things only when we grant them a life of their own—an inwardness, identity, and integrity that make them more than objects…”(p. 109)

As Christian educators, it is our challenge to see God’s world around us and recognize the many great things that we have been blessed to come into relation with and to delight in them. It is also our challenge to teach our students how to see and delight in these great things. When we teach from a top-down viewpoint (I have all knowledge on a certain topic – let me give it to you), we rob our students of the opportunity to stand in awe of God’s great things. Kimmerer in Braiding Sweetgrass says, “I have heard our elders give advice like, ‘You should go among the standing people’ (trees) or ‘Go spend time with those Beaver people.’ They remind us of the capacity of others as our teachers, as holders of knowledge, as guides.” (p. 58)

May it be our desire to be teachers that allow our students and ourselves to be taught by great things rather than stand in the way of God’s creative splendor. May we delight in the beauty of God’s world around us and allow ourselves the opportunity to stand in awe.

  • Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, 2013, Milkweed Editions

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

Stacy Kok is a Senior Kindergarten teacher and Teaching for Transformation early adopter at Cairn Christian School in Stoney Creek, Ontario. Stacy is originally from Tennessee, USA and moved to Ontario, Canada in 1999, after teaching at a missionary school in Indonesia. While teaching in Indonesia, Stacy met her future husband who is originally from Grimsby, Ontario. Both Stacy and her husband spent a total of 5 years teaching in Indonesia before moving to Toronto. Stacy took time away from classroom teaching and devoted her time and energy to their 4 children. Seven years ago, Stacy returned to the classroom after serving 4 years on staff at her church as the Children’s Ministry Coordinator. Over the past 7 years, Stacy has had her teaching degree from Tennessee transferred to the OTC and has also received her Christian School Teacher’s Certificate. Stacy is currently enrolled as a part-time student with the Institute of Christian Studies in the Master of Arts (Philosophy) in Educational Leadership.