Sacred Spaces

By Mark Brink and Bill Boerman-Cornell

As the start of the new school year marks a time of transition for all educators, it also marks a time of transition for the Christian Educators Journal. After six years of faithful service to the CEJ, Gary VanAaragon retired from his post as editor last spring. (The December issue of the CEJ will include a tribute to Gary, revisiting some of his editorial insights.) As we humbly step into this position, we are conscious of a long line of remarkable editors including Gary, Bert Witvoet, Lorna Van Gilst, and others. Our prayer is that we will continue to foster the thoughtful conversations about Christian Education for which the CEJ has become known. We look forward to our editorial roles in shaping the upcoming issues.

For now, we are delighted to welcome Calvin College professors Debra Paxton-Buursma and Jo-Ann Van Reeuwyk as guest editors. They will share their research on Sacred Space Pedagogy and encourage us to create spaces in our schools (beyond chapel) that will both increase learning potentials and deepen the relationship between teachers, learners, and the Triune God.

Mark Brink teaches English at Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, MI, and Bill Boerman-Cornell is professor of Education and English at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL.


Guest Editoral

By Debra Paxton-Buursma and Jo-Ann Van Reeuwyk

“I don’t realize how hungry I am for interaction with other people until I hear the laughter of the gathered community . . . and feel the need to rush out and join the feasting.”

Becca Brasser, one of the teachers in the Sacred Space Project that this issue of CEJ is focused on, reminds us that professional conversations can nourish desert places. In fact, Sacred Space Pedagogy was conceptualized several years ago through conversations wherein we discovered complementary and overlapping ideas and questions about instructional practice. Jo-Ann’s exploration of learning sanctuaries and Debra’s study of the instructional power of text, actions, and objects were woven together by our combined interest in faith-shaped teaching that engaged and nurtured diverse learners.

Our work with developing pre- and in-service teachers at Calvin College is informed by our previous and current experiences in Pre-K–12 education; we deeply respect the complexities and opportunities that exist in teaching. We treasure the conversations we have had with teachers—they have stretched and encouraged us. In fact, our desire to further the conversation became the impetus for the Sacred Space Pedagogy project.

We first explored the idea of Sacred Space Pedagogy (SSP) with teachers at the 2010 Christian Educators Association convention in South Bend, Indiana, where we presented a sectional called “Schooling, Sanctuary, and Shalom.” Teacher feedback overwhelmingly stated that the topic offered critical insights for faith-shaped Christian teaching; they also said that this kind of pedagogical conversation was unlike other conversations they had encountered, and they wanted more opportunities for intentional conversation about SSP and classroom practice. We became intrigued by how we might both support intentional conversations and learn more about how educators across the globe were enacting and discussing distinctively Christian teaching.

We researched the ideas and spoke with theologian Cherith Nordling. From our investigation, we proposed the Sacred Space Pedagogy project, funded by the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and the Calvin College Alumni Fund. The project maintained two goals: (1) to discover and extend distinctively Christian pedagogy exploring theology, philosophy, educational theory, and best practices; and (2) to engage and expand pedagogical dialogue with educators. The funding enabled us to visit five Pre-K–12 Christian schools and offer an SSP workshop and symposium, collecting data each time. As we analyzed our findings, we discovered rich, compelling ideas worthy of further dialogue. While the articles in this issue barely scratch the surface of our findings, we’ve integrated aspects of what we saw and heard when educators shared elements of Sacred Space Pedagogy. We hope the topics engage you in teaching conversations.

The first article, which provides an overview of Sacred Space Pedagogy and the project, is followed by six additional articles, or “conceptual telling stories,” on shared pedagogical themes. We hope you enjoy the articles’ textual differences, noted in the variety of educator voices you will hear. This issue concludes with two of CEJ’s familiar columns: for a virtual discussion group exploring pragmatic issues related to space and place and Slouching toward Bedlam, a humor column that explores how broad the idea of sacred space can be.

We are grateful to the administrators and teachers who opened their school doors and teaching lives, welcoming us in and sharing both the promises and the pitfalls of their practices. They have helped us grow in our thinking, in our practice, and in our deep respect for the intentionality in shaping distinctively Christian pedagogy. We are also grateful for the past and present CEJ editors who supported the idea of this bridge issue; we hope it offers a sacred space that inspires conversation and pedagogical exploration between you and your colleagues.

Note: This issue would not have been possible without the funding from Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching, Calvin College Alumni Fund, and Calvin’s Research Fellowships. Many thanks to our department assistants, Betty Sanderson and Deb Abbott who kept our heads above the watery details. We are grateful for the cooperation and wisdom of educators at the following schools: Mustard Seed School, Daystar School, Grand Rapids Christian Schools, The Potter’s House School, and Sekolah Pelita Harapan Schools.