Faith & Learning Blog
Connecting Faith and Learning Blog
When I was in high school youth group, we got to play a game called “Bigger and Better.” It is a team building exercise that asks each team to start with an insignificant item like a paper clip, go out into the community, and trade up the item to something bigger and better. The goal is to keep upgrading the object until the time runs out. Each group then returns, and the winner is the group that traded up to the biggest and best item. It is a fun game; however, it teaches people to believe in a logical fallacy.
Assuming something is better simply because it is bigger is erroneous thinking. It was incorrect thinking when David fought Goliath, and it is incorrect thinking today. There are all kinds of things that are absolutely not made better by increasing their size. For example, nobody thinks that having big bills is an improvement. Swallowing big pills? Sorry, I prefer my medicine in tiny pill format. I’ve never had kidney stones before, but people assure me that bigger is not better. I’m also quite thankful that medical tools have been scaled down to microscopic sizes. Surgeries have gotten far less invasive as a result. If the entire world bought into the lie that bigger is better, then things like the Tiny House Revolution wouldn’t exist either. There are other examples of how smaller is better, and school size is a key example. Small schools have distinct advantages over large schools.
Recently, I think it has become fashionable to believe that going to a big high school gives students more opportunities. To be fair, there is some truth to that statement. Big schools do offer things that small schools don’t offer; however, small schools offer just as many student opportunities. The key is that a small school like Calvin is offering things that big schools are unable to offer. For example, small schools have much more freedom to innovate and implement new programs. Calvin Christian’s spring interim sessions are a good example of this kind of innovation. Students are able to study photography while canoeing down the Colorado River, study animals while learning from zookeepers at the San Diego Zoo, and study sound and light production from industry professionals. Being small also allows Calvin to take the entire student body on a multi-day retreat.
A smaller school size has day-to-day strengths that enhance the on campus experience that extends beyond the big, annual events. A small school gives students access to each other on a daily basis. This builds in a sense of camaraderie and community that is absent from a 3,000 student campus. A powerful sense of belonging occurs when everybody knows your name. That deep intimacy was even mainstreamed in the popular culture industry in the title sequence song of the show Cheers. Go ahead, sing it. You know you want to.
“Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name.”
Calvin students know each other, and Calvin’s teachers know their students. Being small means that each teacher gets years of contact time with a student. That builds in a real sense of investment for that teacher. A Calvin student isn’t just a number passing through a classroom for only a single semester. That student is a child of God that the teacher gets to help build and mold over several classes and years.
Finally, a smaller school gives each and every student on campus the chance to try the various programs that the school offers. If a student wants to be a part of the choir, soccer team, debate club, musical, etc., that student can absolutely find a place in those programs regardless of previous experience and talent. This variety of opportunity creates students that are well rounded, diverse, and knowledgeable about a variety of their potential future talents.
Calvin Christian School is a small school, and that is a good thing. I’m a graduate of Calvin Christian, and I have never once regretted being in a place where everybody knew my name. If a family is going to base a school choice on size alone, then they believe that size matters. That’s okay as long as there is a realization that the small can be mightier than the large. I think King David would agree.
I wish my high school education included a photography trip to the southwest, a behind-the-scenes tour of a medical facility, and an opportunity for picture book circle time in high school. Fortunately, though it is too late for me, I have the opportunity to give this gift to my students this year!
For three days on the week before spring break, the classroom will be extending far beyond the school into the local community and beyond with Calvin’s first ever Interim.
Learning never stops. Even if students are no longer in school, they are participating in sports or hobbies (and learning how to improve in them), hanging out with friends (and learning how to build relationships and respond to conflicts), or doing something else to entertain themselves (which is molding their minds in some way, whether or not they are aware of it!).
As a teacher, I want my students to be hyper aware of what they are doing and why they are doing it, and Interim is going to be a fantastic way to increase this. Analysis is not just for the English classroom, or discipline just for math homework. Student gifts aren’t limited to the academics of the science classroom, or the art classroom, or any classroom for that matter.
I want students to know that knitting can be a way to serve God and others, that international travel can help them gain a different perspective of God’s creation, and that the music of the 60’s contains a worldview, just like the novels they have read in class.
When students are cooking a healthy dinner, they are serving God by treating their bodies with respect and using their abilities, possibly even to host others someday as an act of kindness or hospitality. When students are playing music on a Ukelele, they are serving God with their gifts and praising him with a new song. When students are touring a Yearbook Printing facility, they are exploring how their gifts may match different career options and are improving they way they will tell the story of what God is doing at Calvin this year.
I may not have time to help them experience these things and more in my classroom, but with interim, they will have these unique opportunities. I have loved seeing the excitement in the student body as they make their choices, and I have loved uncovering it in myself as I prepare a course on how we can glorify God as subcreators with Interior Design.
Now I am not only looking forward to Spring Break as the opportunity for a break, but as a time I will get to share additional passions with my students - all for the glory of God!
This post was originally published in February 2017.
My 6th and 7th grade history classes recently completed a project that involved identifying and interpreting Pacific Northwest Coastal Native art forms and symbolism.
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and in doing so was blessed with being exposed to a rich Native American culture, especially in terms of their powerful art images. Because I have always been intrigued by this unique type of art, I thought I would have my junior high students learn about the Pacific Northwest Native style, the specific symbolism that is a part of their imagery, and how that is a part of their larger worldview as a culture.
We first discussed and contrasted the pantheistic worldviews of the PNW tribes to that of a Christian biblical worldview, and looked to scripture to see where their beliefs were in contrast to biblical truth. Students then researched original PNW designs - identifying and using the appropriate colors used by the tribes. The final product becomes one that has redemptive value. In that, we are not only staying true to the beautiful style of the PNW tribes, but illustrating aspects of the one true God and his creation.
In a sense, there are two ways to approach artwork from a culture and peoples of a very different religious view than our own. We can look at artwork with a seasoning of “common grace”. Theologian Louis Berkhof describes common grace as, “...common because its benefits are experienced by, or intended for, the whole human race without distinction between one person and another. It is grace because it is undeserved and sovereignly bestowed by God.” Or, the artwork could be looked at through a biblical view; one that serves as a filter - showing what is praiseworthy and what might go against God and His creative order.
On its own, there is meaning and message that can be learned from looking at artwork; whether from within our own culture, or from different cultures like that of the native tribes of the Pacific Northwest. But it is my task as an educator to facilitate questions and discussion with my students when looking at art, and encourage them to respond according to a Christian perspective. No matter if I am looking at or talking about any type of art, I try to ask myself or pose to my students the following questions in some manner:
Does it relate to or bring out some aspect of our faith?
Does it give us an opportunity to discern?
Does it help us see the world and God’s people in unique or new ways?
Does it convey feelings of anger, doubt, forgiveness, reconciliation, love, or God’s grace?
Does it encourage and positively affect our hearts and minds?
Does it give opportunity to share the joy of knowing Christ?
As an educator and artist, I am excited to bring my students into a forum where we can view, discuss, create, and appreciate art - looking at its redemptive value as well as how it speaks to us as Christians. At Calvin Christian, we are helping our students look at the world through the “lenses” of scripture. It is truly an exciting venture.
By the way, the student artwork created was great! They were very thoughtful in their research, approach, and overall design. Soli Deo Gloria!
This blog was originally posted in December 2017.
Ron Van Der Pol is Calvin Christian School's Art Instructor for grades 7-12 and teaches History for grades 6-7.
We're sharing a post from EducationDive.com, an educational news website, on G.R.I.T. - Growth, Resilience, Instinct, and Tenacity. It's a great read!
College is more than just lectures, homework, and reading — it’s a worthy path that can be strewn with struggles. Every student experiences some combination of rigorous academics, relational breakups, family issues, health concerns, roommate drama, financial stress, external pressures, and existential angst while pursuing a college degree.
These tough times are key opportunities to help students effectively harness their GRIT™ — Growth, Resilience, Instinct, and Tenacity. Rather than offering them sympathetic advice like, “It could be so much worse,” direct them with GRIT questions. Ask them to dig deeper so they can achieve their goals, even in the midst of struggles.
G - Growth
The propensity to seek out fresh ideas, input, and advice to enhance one’s progress toward one’s long term, difficult goals
Growth is about going after your goals and finding out what you need to know to get there better and faster. It shifts a student from being a passenger to being the driver at the helm of their journey.
- What new resources can you tap into to get some clarity and support around your goal?
- Whom can you talk to, both inside and outside of school, to offer you the best wisdom on this issue?
- Do you notice that as you keep attempting to achieve your goal, the effort seems to be making you stronger and allows you to imagine new strategies to get where you want?
R - Resilience
One’s capacity to not just overcome or cope with, but to make constructive use of, adversity
Adversity is on the rise everywhere, and resilience truly matters. While support and resources are external, resilience is internal. Resilience is about harnessing adversity as fuel to overcome difficult obstacles, and there’s no better place for students to learn this than in higher education.
- What facets of this situation can you influence and which one(s) matter most to you?
- How can you step up to make the most immediate, positive difference in this situation?
- How can you use your experience of struggling against this adversity on your next attempt to reach your goal?
I - Instinct
One’s propensity to pursue the best goals in the most effective ways
Lack of instinct is one of the most potent contributors to student failure. The vast majority of students waste tremendous energy, time, and effort pursuing less than ideal goals in less than optimal ways. Make it a priority to ask:
- What adjustment(s) can you make to your goal to have it be even more compelling and clear for you?
- As you think about your goal (e.g., graduation), in what ways might you be wasting your precious time, energy, and effort? If you could do less of one thing and more of another, what would that look like?
The sheer relentlessness with which one pursues one’s most important, long-term, difficult goals
This is the traditional definition of basic grit. But the reality is that more tenacity is not always a good thing — there’s good vs. bad GRIT, and effective vs. ineffective GRIT. The more students master how to funnel the right kind of tenacity and overall GRIT toward their most worthy goals, the more likely they are to thrive and succeed.
- If you utterly refused to quit and were to give this goal your best-ever effort, how would you attack it even better this time?
- How can you re-engage toward and go after your goal in a way that is most beneficial to those around you?
- If your life depended on you sticking to and achieving this goal, what steps would you take now that you’ve not yet taken?
How do we equip students to stay on path, no matter what occurs — from natural disasters to simple, everyday adversity? Growth, Resilience, Instinct, and Tenacity spell more than GRIT. These actionable facets of GRIT give students a sense of ownership for learning, making important decisions, and contributing something of value to their own lives and society.
About the author
Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D., is considered the world’s foremost authority on the science and method of measuring and strengthening GRIT. His methods and teachings are used at Harvard, MIT, Cornell, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and by top organizations in 63 countries. He’s been featured in the world’s top media, including Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, NBC, The Today Show, and The Oprah Show.