Deeper Learning in Christian Education: Deeper Learning into What?

For good reason, when people talk about learning in schools, the conversation usually involves language of deeper learning. The idea of deeper learning can be traced back to the Hewlett Foundation and is generally aimed at ensuring “students compete globally and become engaged citizens at home” (“Deeper Learning”).

Appropriately and to the benefit of Christian education, many Christian schools have responded to the aims of deeper learning and have been exploring how to implement teaching practices that develop twenty-first century competencies—collaboration, communication, critical and creative thinking, growth mind-set, directing one’s own learning—among teachers and students. Our friend and fellow deeper learner Steven Levy has created helpful charts that compare the aims of the Hewlett Foundation’s six competencies of deeper learning to the aims of Christian schools (see “Deeper Learning in Christian Schools”). Following Teaching for Transformation (TfT), many Christian schools have also begun a journey of implementing pedagogical approaches from groups such as Expeditionary Learning Education and project-based learning as promoted by the Buck Institute. Furthermore, organizations such as the Center for Advancement of Christian Education (CACE) sponsor annual gatherings for Christian educators to grapple with the ideas and implementation of deeper learning practices. For Christian schools actively involved in implementing deeper learning practices, the design of learning experiences has significantly shifted. In fact, deeper learning demands teachers become experts in learning design. (Many stories about this process have been shared in this CEJ issue on TfT.) This is to be celebrated. As Christian schools explore and implement deeper learning practices within the classroom, questions are raised: Does the deeper learning conversation in Christian schools need to be a different type of conversation? Should deeper learning in Christian schools be distinct? If so, how? Deeper learning into what?

With this in mind we, along with Australian learning leaders, were invited to grapple with these questions at the Christian Education National organization’s first-ever teaching and learning conference (see “Parallel Conferences”). In preparation for and during our work there, we proposed a working definition of deeper learning in Christian education: People of God’s story engaged in real work that forms self and shapes the world. This definition of deeper learning guides how we design learning within the TfT framework and within the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS). This article will explore the three main facets that make up this definition. [This is only part of the article. Want to read more? Subscribe to the website by choosing "Register" from the menu above. It's free!]

Works Cited

Arthur, Sarah. “Distinguishing Dragons: The Importance of Story in Faith Formation.” In Shaped by God: Twelve Essentials for Nurturing Faith in Children, Youth, and Adults, edited by Robert J. Keeley, chap. 3. Grand Rapids: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2010.

Blomberg, Doug. “Whose Spirituality? Which Rationality?: A Narrational Locus for Learning.” Journal of Education and Christian Belief 13, no. 2 (2009): 113–24.

Buck Institute.


“Deeper Learning.” William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

“Deeper Learning in Christian Schools.” October 30, 2017. CACE.

“Deeper Learning in Christian Schools: Playing Our Part in God’s Story.” CACE.

EL Education.

“Parallel Conferences.” Christian Education National.

“Schlechty Center on Engagement.” Louisville, KY.

Smith, James K. A. You Are What You Love. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016.

Darryl DeBoer is the K–12 director of learning for Surrey Christian School in Surrey, British Columbia, a senior fellow for CACE, and a TfT school designer through the Prairie Centre for Christian Education and CACE.

Justin Cook is the director of learning with Edvance Christian Schools Association, which supports Christian schools across Ontario and eastern Canada in a vision of leadership and learning for flourishing communities.