An Interview with Two TfT Storytellers

The Center for the Advancement of Christian Education (CACE), an outreach arm of the education department at Dordt College, had a wonderful opportunity in 2017 to partner with the Prairie Centre for Christian Education (PCCE) to further develop and distribute the teaching and learning framework known to many Christian educators as Teaching for Transformation (TfT). This collaboration began when Doug Monsma, director of learning at PCCE, presented the TfT framework at the CEJ/Andreas Center Conference at Dordt College in 2013. The following are excerpts of an interview, hosted by Dr. Tim Van Soelen, with two primary authors of the TfT story, Doug Monsma and Darryl DeBoer. For the full interview, please visit the CEJ website at www.cejonline.com.
Tim: Let’s begin with introductions and your history with TfT.

Doug: My name is Doug Monsma. I’m one of the original thinkers about TfT, a conversation that goes back about fifteen years. I was serving as the director of curriculum and instruction at Edmonton Christian Schools and became privileged to work with some other educators who wanted to reimagine Christian education. I was later hired as the director of learning at PCCE and tasked with the development and distribution of TfT.

Darryl: My name is Darryl DeBoer. I am a CACE fellow, working with many of the schools in the US that are implementing TfT. I also serve as the director of learning at Surrey Christian School. My history with TfT does not date back as far as Doug’s. Approximately eight years ago, I had a very good teacher sit down in my office, frustrated that she was having a difficult time articulating distinctive Christian education—and not from a lack of passion or desire. She expressed frustration that she was falling short in her learning design. Later that week, I met with other directors of learning, and we were introduced to ten throughlines that educators in PCCE were using to articulate the distinctiveness of Christian education. God’s perfect timing.

Tim: Doug, what was happening at Edmonton Christian that began the TfT movement?

Doug: Our teachers were expressing some of that same frustration. We had a mission statement that spoke of joyful and responsible discipleship. It was hard for us to define this mission. We lacked a common language and felt like we were failing to provide educational experiences that invited students into that mission.

Several of us were given all kinds of freedom to go out and find the best stuff in education to address these frustrations. We researched discipleship concepts, as well as the big ideas in Understanding by Design. Our throughlines (or wholines) came out of this research. We took big ideas like justice and community and imagined how our kids could become Justice Seekers and Community Builders. We started off with three throughlines and invited teachers and kids at every grade level to come up with additional big ideas that we could make into these throughlines. Within a year we had ten! Service learning was the other educational practice that hooked us, and we realized that we were not providing enough opportunities for kids to practice and live these throughlines.

Tim: Darryl, what about TfT captured your imagination?

Darryl: TfT came during a perfect storm for me. I was in a role that required learning experiences consistent with the mission and vision of the school. I had just finished reading Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith, a book in which he paints this deep hope for Christian education while posing questions about how we go about learning. We had the language for this, but we lacked practices to shape the deep hopes of our students. I was discontented with our approaches to the design of learning, convicted that we were teaching compliance versus inviting engagement.

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