Friday, December 27, 2013

"Help Me Overcome My Unbelief"

Well, I’m diseased…
Everything I read, see or experience I relate to teaching, learning and education. This diagnosis also causes me to avoid some things that are meant for my personal relationship with God as well as my family.

As I read an article by Terry Pluto, faith and sports writer for the Akron Beacon Journal, I was doing my best to relate his words to my teaching. In the article, “God Believes in Us”, Pluto says, “I need to remember that God believes in me even more than I believe in myself.” Now I could write a whole blog post about that characteristic of God. How, as teachers and leaders we should embody a faith in our students that surpasses their own. That was the point when God wrestled away the symptoms of my “disease” and shifted my blinders away from education and fixated them on Him. 

Pluto went on to refer to a story in Mark chapter 9, where a father brings his demon-possessed son to be healed by Jesus. In verse 23 Jesus said, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” While that is profound, it’s what is written in the following verse that God intended for me. The father in the story responds to Jesus with this desperate plea, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  

I’m constantly asking God for “stuff”, but I can’t ever remember requesting a stronger faith. I always was in the frame of mind that it was my job to believe and have faith because God offers such an abundance of promises and blessings. But God used Terry Pluto’s words to set me straight; “I have to remind myself that before I ask God for anything else, I must ask him for more faith.”
This is exactly what I needed to hear, as my vision for this blog and my future in education was becoming much more of mine than God’s. I was feeling antsy about who was reading the blog and the possibilities it would lead to.
God really provided clarity through Hebrews 11. How ignorant of me to think that people like Moses or Noah, as well as the numerous others mentioned in the chapter, never had to ask God to help them overcome their unbelief. As we ask for an increased faith, I think we’ll gain contentment in knowing God maintains a holy perspective. Chapter 11 also describes all of these faithful servants as pleasing to God and commends them as righteous.

We very easily mask God’s power when we don’t ask for help. I think the song “Light Up the Sky” by the Afters displays the great contrast between a meek faith constructed on our own, and the faith achieved through God’s design.

Now when I seek the vision God has given me for education (in addition to anything else), I’ll sincerely start with, “help me overcome my unbelief”.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Raising Confused Children: The Effects of Contrasting Visions

One of my most cringe-worthy occurrences as a teacher is when a student simply asks, “Is this for a grade?”
In response, I usually maneuver by the honest inquiry with an ungraceful pirouette. I intend my reply to contain a powerful message about authentic learning and intrinsic motivation, but this is usually masked by a number of “uhhs” and “umms”.
So why do students ask this question and why do I have such a difficult time answering it?
When the school system, teacher, and the parent all hold vastly different visions for the child’s learning, the result is an innocent cry for clarity.

Background image courtesy of 

I created a word cloud using the text from all of my blog posts to attempt to understand my own vision better.

I think the largest words (most popular) from my blog’s representation would be replaced by the state and nation’s vision with words like, assess, compete, and knowledge. I highly doubt that the students and God would be at the center of their vision.
With the K-12 education being a $500 billion industry, it would be impossible to maintain a common vision. 
Yong Zhao, a professor at the University of Oregon summed up the priorities of America’s public education by saying, “By imposing upon schools and teachers unrealistic, meaningless, and arbitrary goals, high-stakes testing has corrupted the spirit of American education, intoxicated the education environment, and demoralized educators. By forcing schools and teachers to teach to the test, it has narrowed the educational experiences of millions of children and thus deprived our children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, of a real education. It has wasted valuable, precious, and dwindling public funds that could have been put into educating rather than testing our children.”

I’m envious of schools like Anastasis Academy (, where students are fed confidence and clarity while inhabiting a passion for learning. When a school can simply be stripped down to the students, their talents and interests, and the community’s resources around them, these kids are valued as a major contributor to their community and society. The way public education is currently run, is rapidly convincing citizens to view schools and students as a burden. How sad.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What's missing?

The more I experience children (and teachers) whose minds are shackled by high stakes tests and the exertion of limiting standards, the more I recognize the students’ muffled cries, begging for the one thing the school is hiding from their grasp. Any idea what necessity for human wellness is missing? I will give you a clue…it’s not anxiety or intimidation.

 Figure it out? How about a relationship?! What is more motivating or inspiring than when a person invests in You? Oh, I mean You, the person. Not You, the test score.
 Unfortunately states and legislators are convincing teachers and students not to care for one another. I recently received the scores of my students that allegedly show their “growth” and my “effectiveness” as a teacher (or lack their of). I must say I was very disappointed. Then I was even more disappointed when I realized that I’d begun to actually consider this number important. Because the minute I focus on this piece of data is the time I devalue the wellness of the whole individual child.
 It’s scary that I even need to argue for the importance of relationships. 1 Corinthians 8:1-2 states, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.” Our students need a solid foundation, preventing destruction amidst a volatile world. Our students will naturally be motivated when they accurately view themselves as being uniquely made with a unique purpose in the world. The aspect of relationship can bridge the gap in our students, getting them from knowledge to a destination of wisdom. We are disconnecting from our students in a place and time that boasts connectedness.
 Our maker divinely made us to learn through relationship. He gave us the ultimate example of The Teacher, who loved first, is unthinkably accessible, and has incomprehensibly sacrificed. If I can give my students a glimmer of the power a Godly relationship can hold, the state can call me “ineffective” all they want.
 To give you an idea where our values are:
"Guiding Light" Jessilyn Park
 The U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently defended the new standards (Common Core) when parents opposed it. Duncan argued that “white suburban moms” are suddenly realizing their children aren’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t as good as they thought. I think the parents’ love their child for the person he is and the potential he’s been given. The parents recognize that these standards don’t consider important parts of their child and restrain their gifts.
You can probably tell by the Secretary’s comments that fostering supporting, encouraging relationships is far from being the priority.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pride vs Humility; What are we teaching?

What do our schools teach? Does the educational system instill and mold the characteristics we desire for our kids? While many teachers strive to build up the character of their students, the structure and policies of the public school often negate these efforts.
While pride can be a positive trait under certain conditions, the pride cultivated in public schools is birthed from competition. Today, school staff members are instructed to compare students to the norm in almost every way. Can you sit still as long as Johnny? Is your writing as neat as his? Most importantly, how does your high stakes test score measure up to his? And now that these standardized test scores impact teacher evaluations, I think it is safe to say competition is becoming increasingly fierce in the schools. Unfortunately, this jives with society’s positive view of pride while it sees humbleness as a fault rather than an admirable trait.
Under this formula in our schools students find themselves filled with a false pride or unnecessary shame.
This environment seems to preach bullying; are we working to prevent or promote it?
I came across a quote I find to be quite accurate:

“Nothing is ever done beautifully which is done in rivalship; or nobly, which is done in pride.” –John Ruskin

To avoid this damaging situation our students need to come to the determination that their true value is not of this world. 
(A lesson forbidden in the public system)

So what can a teacher do? 
  • Treasure and show love to each individual student.
  • Do not compare but work to seek and expose the unique abilities and strengths of every child. 
  • Allow them to explore their God-given capabilities while being a support and encourager to their peers. 

Imagine if students had clarity within their self-image and saw peers and the classroom as a support rather than an opponent.

-A couple verses on the dangers of pride. I’ve found a strong link in the bible between humility and wisdom.

Luke 18:14
“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Proverbs 13:10
“Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.”