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Becoming Peculiar Teachers

Early on in our implementation of Teaching for Transformation (TfT), it became apparent that the journey was as much about the transformation of teachers and staff as it was about the transformation of students. During our first morning spent together around TfT, teachers were asked to engage with this quote: “Christian schools are about the transformation of student and teachers so that they might have the mind, heart and life of Christ—that is, to be Responsive Disciples” (Dickens, 8–9).

A teacher raised her hand and shared that our school has practices in place to disciple and transform students but that she saw little evidence that our school was concerned about the transformation of teachers. As she shared, I thought about the care we ask teachers to extend to students in their classrooms, and I wondered where teachers were cared for. As we moved further into the work of TfT, we began to unpack James K. A. Smith’s statement: “The primary goal of Christian education is the formation of a peculiar people—a people who desire the kingdom of God and thus undertake their vocations as an expression of that desire” (Desiring the Kingdom, 34). TfT asks the question, How do we get peculiar? and posits the “Peculiar Teacher Promise” as the answer to that question (see sidebar). I thought about the promise to invite, nurture, and empower, and I wondered: If this is how we’ve chosen to grow our students toward peculiar, toward transformation, and toward being responsive disciples, then shouldn’t we be extending the same invitation, nurture, and empowerment to our teachers and staff?

In his book You Are What You Love, Smith asserts that Christian schools must begin to see worship as faculty development—and faculty development that takes precedence over the rest. He compares worship as faculty development to the all-too-familiar instruction that flight attendants make: “In the event of loss of cabin pressure, secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” If we’re after the formation of peculiar people, we must be a school that forms peculiar teachers. And formation takes practice. Perhaps, better said, formation takes practices.

So, as we dove into year two of TfT implementation, we also set in place a rhythm for faculty worship and renewal. We began to meet monthly, gathering around a mash-up of best practices in teaching, like discussion protocols and close reading, and timeless spiritual disciplines, like reading Scripture and liturgical prayer.

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