The Teaching for Transformation (TfT) program, developed by the Prairie Centre for Christian Education, provides a framework for “the development of authentic and integral Christian learning experiences that are grounded in a transformational worldview with a focus on seeing and living God’s story.” The program’s design practices and tools are currently being used by over 50 schools worldwide, a number that is growing.
Gayle Monsma is the principal at Covenant Christian in Leduc, Alberta, one of the initial schools involved in TfT’s development. “We have been a part of the shift from a focus on the Throughlines and curriculum development to a school-wide culture-creating initiative,” she said. “It has transformed from a project at Covenant to an operating premise that impacts all areas of our school.”
Throughlines, described as “thematic Velcro” to connect learning to God’s call on our lives, link each unit’s learning outcomes to God’s story. “This process shifts the learning focus away from ‘what’ the student needs to know to ‘who’ the student is called to be,” according to Doug Monsma (ac.eccp@amsnomd), director of learning at the Prairie Centre and one of the program’s designers. Throughlines call students to be servant-workers, justice-seekers, Earth-keepers, community-builders, creation-enjoyers, idolatry-discerners, order-discoverers, beauty-creators, God-worshipers, and image-reflectors.
“Another part of the program are formative learning experiences (FLEx), which have been a great learning opportunity for our students,” said Gayle Monsma. “We’re cultivating opportunities for students to BE the Throughlines rather than just talk about them or talk about how once they ‘grow up’ they can do these things. So, for example, kindergarten students made cinnamon buns and regular buns as part of a curriculum activity. They got to eat the regular ones but gave the ‘best’ away to community helpers in the school, with a personal presentation saying thanks. Doing a FLEx activity is not always something big, external, or lots of work. Often it is just shifting the focus of a current activity. Our goal is always to have a high level of student involvement.”
Another key component of TfT is the storyline, “which creates an invitation for the students to see God’s story at work and to nurture and empower them to explore their role in God’s story,” said Darryl deBoer. He is director of learning and teaches Biology 11 at Surrey (British Columbia) Christian; before, this survey class of all living things used to present “an overwhelming task of trying to cover the vast amount of information that falls within the scope of this course,” said deBoer. “Using a children’s picture book, The Curious Garden, as a launching point, the storyline for Biology 11 this year is The Curious Garden, and students have been invited to practice their role of gardeners in God’s creation.”
“With this invitational storyline in place, the next step was to find opportunities for our class to practice their role as gardeners in God’s creation (the FLEx),” said deBoer. The class has partnered with a local salmon hatchery, where students are creating educational aids for the hatchery’s education programs, including teaching aids for classroom visits to the hatchery, constructing education signs for the hatchery grounds, teaching students from other schools who visit the hatchery, and participating in the feeding and maintenance of the 100s of thousands of salmon fry that will be released into the Tynehead hatchery.
For the past five years, Medicine Hat (Alberta) Christian has been using TfT to structure lessons. “Our goals have been to have integration across discipline areas and to have a common language and common focus for Christian education and teaching,” said Shade Holmes, the school’s principal. “We also seek to engage with the students, teachers, parents, and entire community.” For Holmes, that community includes other members of the Prairie Centre for Christian Education. “Their Teaching for Transformation website has been a big help being able to share Teaching for Transformation planning and ideas,” said Holmes. “PCCE has been very supportive and offers sessions and school professional development as well.”
At Medicine Hat, fifth-grade students built birdhouses; this project required math, language arts, and artistic skills to complete. It also incorporated Throughlines of order-discovering, beauty-creating, community-building, image-reflecting, and servant-working. Students were able to connect what they were doing and learning to God’s call on our lives.