John Walcott: This special issue of CEJ focuses on Sacred Space Pedagogy, and we will use this space to respond to two questions posed by the editors related to this theme. Here are the questions:
- In conversations about Sacred Space Pedagogy, we have found that educators quickly suggest chapel as an example. While chapel provides a critical sacred space, what other places or activity spaces in your school or classroom provide learning opportunities for encountering the sacred?
- In this issue, we share school routines and practices that build distinctively Christian kingdom activity, such as forgiveness routines or welcome practices. However, educators often have more difficulty articulating specific classroom examples of routines and practices embedded in their pedagogy that pursue kingdom activity. Can you describe any teaching examples?
Gayle Monsma initiated our conversation with the following:
This year our school decided to create a school garden where we are growing vegetables that will be used for school activities as well as donated to the local food bank. In addition, we began a school-wide compost program that provides organic matter for the gardens. While all of this could be considered “sacred space,” at the center of our garden is an outdoor classroom space that includes a pergola, rocks and stumps for students to sit on, and trees that will eventually provide shade and shelter (see photo). While still new for us, we are finding that it is a special place for learning, reflecting, being quiet, connecting with your peers and schoolmates, praying, reading and all sorts of other sacred activities.
Teaching examples of kingdom activity: For the last number of years, Covenant Christian has been using the Teaching for Transformation (TfT) school growth program that includes three specific core practices that are focused on “kingdom building”: (1) a classroom storyline that teachers and students use to place their learning and living within God’s Big Story, (2) discipleship concepts, or “throughlines,” such as justice-seeking, beauty-creating, and God-worshiping that teachers use as “thematic velcro” to give meaning and context to the curriculum the class is learning, and (3) Formational Learning Experiences (FLEx) that give the students a hands-on way to practice living out the throughlines. FLEx aim to address the real needs of real people, giving the students a real audience for their learning. Our work with TfT has been an incredible, kingdom-building experience that is truly transforming our school community! (Visit http://pcce.tftshare.ca/ for more details.)
Rebecca DeSmith replied:
Gayle, your school garden sounds amazing! What a great idea for many reasons: to teach students about growing plants and sustaining the earth, to offer authentic experiences in sharing your wealth with real people in need, and to provide space for students to experience God and his creation in a unique way at school.
I’m glad you mentioned Teaching for Transformation, and I am so happy that it has been effective in your school. This past year, I was part of an Early Adopters group at Sioux Center Christian School to explore Teaching for Transformation. This approach to teaching and learning has challenged me to think differently about how I design units and how I invite my students into God’s kingdom work.
Thinking about sacred spaces in our schools, I am reminded of the idea of “thin places.” The idea of thin places has its roots in Celtic mysticism, but many Christians have applied this idea to spirituality. Thinking in this way, a thin place is a place where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense God’s divine presence more readily, where we can experience God more directly, and where we feel close to God. In an early TfT session our leader and teacher, Darryl De Boer, challenged us by asking, “Are your classrooms thin places where students can be close to God . . . where they can feel the presence of God?”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this question over the past year. Is my classroom a thin place? In thinking about this, I realized something important: thin places in our classrooms begin with us! It begins with our attitudes, the environment we nurture in our classrooms, and it depends upon the relationships we foster with our students. I believe that thin places begin with love. Thin places respect and accept all students, no matter their differences.
Thin places thrive when genuine and real relationships are built. They are places where we invite the Holy Spirit to move freely among our desks, books, and devices, where the Holy Spirit is heard in our words, is seen in our actions, and flows out of our hearts to our students and colleagues.
Thinking in this way, sacred spaces can be any place where the Holy Spirit is present and where love abounds. My hope and prayer is that TfT will help our entire school to be a sacred space for students to experience and explore God’s love, grace, and peace.
The panel consists of:
Christian Altena, who teaches at Chicago Christian High School in Palos Heights, Illinois.
Justin Cook, who serves as the Director of Learning at the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools in Ancaster, Ontario.
Rebecca De Smith, who is the Discovery Room coodinator and the curriculum coordinator at Sioux Center Christian School in Sioux Center, Iowa.
Gayle Monsma, who serves as principal at Covenant Christian School in Leduc, Alberta.
John Walcott, who is assistant professor in the education department at Calvin College.
Palmer, Parker. The Courage to Teach. Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life.Jossey-Bass, 1998. Print.
Volf, Miroslav. A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good. Brazos Press, 2011. Print.