This issue of the Christian Educators Journal introduces a number of important books that all Christian educators should read. It may be that readers will look at that as an impossible challenge. After all, educators are busy people, and when this issue of CEJ arrives in your mailbox in the staff room many of you will be thinking of the pressures of the last months of the school year with assignments to grade, courses to finish, struggling students to tutor, and field trips to plan.
So, why an issue with a substantial recommended reading list?
Let me begin by pointing out the obvious. Teaching is hard work, and the demands on educators are intense and they are always changing. Educators are faced with challenges that are profoundly different than those faced by their colleagues in an earlier time. The amount of research available to us today on the way our students learn, the impact of technology, the way social and cultural trends affect learning, new strategies for assessment and evaluation, motivating students, and the impact of gender on learning far exceeds anything we could have imagined only a few years ago. And this list does not exhaust the range of the new information available to us.
Now, another obvious point: Educators, like all professionals, are expected to stay current with the educational research that is emerging. To draw a comparison: If you visited your doctor and he or she told you proudly that he or she had graduated from medical school in 1985 and had not read a journal, or attended a conference, or engaged in any substantial professional development since that time, what would you do? I would suggest that you would very likely seek another doctor. You would respond to your dentist or auto mechanic or lawyer in the same way. All professionals, in other words, are expected to continue to grow professionally throughout their careers. They are expected to remain current with changes in their fields and how those changes affect their practice. That growth is often prescribed by their professional associations and it is certainly expected by their clients. Should our parents and students and our colleagues not be able to expect the same from us?
One might argue of course that the demands of teaching from September to June are such that there is little time for significant reading or other professional development during that period. That is the reason that this “reading list” is appearing now, as the end of the school year approaches and more time for refreshment and renewal will soon be available to us. It is the hope of the contributors who wrote these reviews that you will find the time to do some significant reading from this list in the months ahead.
Will you be able to read all of these books this summer? Do those of us who have worked on these reviews really expect that? Allow me a suggestion on how to handle this issue of CEJ: Read the essays carefully and then, before the school year ends, sit down with your colleagues so that each one of you can select one book from these reviews (or from other reviews that you may have come across) to read carefully this summer. When you reassemble for orientation meetings at the end of the summer, present some conclusions from your readings to your colleagues, along with several suggestions on how your classroom practice (and theirs) could be changed by implementing the insights offered in your reading. Then, at scheduled times during the year, sit down with your colleagues to share how the changes that you made have improved, or perhaps not improved, the learning of your students. I suspect that you will be surprised at how much you will discover from the shared insights of your colleagues and from your ongoing reflections on new ideas and new research.
We hope that this process leads to ongoing conversations about learning and teaching among educators that perhaps will lead to the establishment of more formal professional learning communities, where educators meet regularly to share their insights, to encourage each other, and to hold each other accountable for continually improving their understanding on what constitutes excellent instruction and excellent learning. It is clear that reading a book or attending a conference does not, by itself, have a significant impact on changing classroom practice. Classroom practice changes when educators are truly engaged with each other in examining what they do in their classrooms, why they do it, how it contributes to student learning, and how their practice can be improved.
All committed educators, among whom Christian educators should be numbered, should always be examining ways to grow in their skill and insights as they serve students in their classrooms. The contributors to this issue of CEJ hope that their work can contribute to this growth.