Listening for Echoes: Storylines in Teaching for Transformation

What’s your story?
How would you answer this question if it were posed to you by a curious seatmate on an airplane? Would you tell her about your childhood, where you’ve lived, your education and job, your family? What you choose to share tells her about you, your history, your priorities. What you choose not to share tells the same.

What if you were asked to tell the story of your school or your classroom? What is that story all about? Which anecdotes would you choose, which facts would you include, which bits of your past and current situations would you share?

Every classroom and school tells a story—it tells students, staff, and parents what is important to our school, what we believe to be the guiding and underlying values of life within our context. The story of our school lives and gives meaning whether we have intentionally articulated it or not. Our challenge as Christian school educators is to be intentional in this story, for as C. S. Lewis wrote, “The most dangerous ideas in a society are not the ones being argued, but the ones that are assumed.”

Defining Storylines

Recognizing that each of our classrooms tells a story, Teaching for Transformation (TfT) encourages, as one of its core practices, teachers and school leaders to articulate a storyline for their classrooms or workspaces. This storyline provides the teacher with a way to give meaning and purpose to all the learning experiences throughout the year.

Think about a science unit that deals with the three “R’s”: reduce, reuse, recycle. As your class journeys through the unit, concepts such as earth-keeping or creation-enjoying will emerge and provide context for the content. But these concepts alone are not enough: we know that many people in our world do fantastic earth-keeping work or are wonderful advocates of enjoying the outdoors, but they do not necessarily see those activities and passions as being part of God’s big story. Not recognizing that they are part of a grand narrative, an epic tale, a kingdom story that encourages care for the earth and enjoying creation, they just see their actions as good for the planet or as ensuring that their children and grandchildren have a place to live. Such teachers are telling a different story about the science content than a teacher in a Christian school where we proclaim that the earth is the Lord’s and where we believe that we have been commissioned to be caretakers and stewards so that we participate in God’s restorative work. Acknowledging a bigger (and better) story and our role in it gives context, meaning, and purpose beyond ourselves.

With this as the background, TfT asks each teacher to design a storyline. This provides their students with a narrative that allows them to see and understand their learning as taking place within God’s big story. To ensure we are all talking about the same story (as there are many competing stories all around us), Allpress and Shamy express it like this: “Although its [the Bible’s] storylines, characters and scenes are wide-ranging and diverse, a simple theme echoes throughout. God creates; humanity rebels; God redeems his people. . . . From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is full of echoes. As though the same narrative pattern was being told over and over again, with different characters, in different settings, and in different ways” (21).

An effective storyline allows students to see and experience the “stuff” of school within the story of God. In this way, the “stuff” is more meaningful, as it is placed within a bigger context: the details of the stories of science, math, and art are understood within the bigger story. But also, the story is more meaningful and readily seen when populated with the “stuff” of school (and life). The story moves from being an abstract “out there” to something connected to the reality of every day.

Characteristics of a Storyline

An effective storyline has many characteristics: [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!]

Work Cited

Allpress, Roshan, and Andrew Shamy. The Insect and the Buffalo: How the Story of the Bible Changes Everything. Aukland, NZ: Compass Foundation, 2009.

Gayle Monsma is the executive director of the Prairie Centre for Christian Education in Edmonton, Alberta.