By Melissa Wolfe |
Teachers can draw inspiration from many sources. As Christian educators we may say that we draw inspiration from Jesus. It is no surprise that if you look at the way Jesus taught through the eyes of an modern educator, you may see that Jesus’s methods of teaching match with contemporary educational practices. Jesus constructed knowledge, he differentiated, he used multi-sensory techniques, he modeled learning and was relational.
When looking at the way Jesus taught, it could be said that he was the original constructivist. First of all Jesus taught from part to whole. Jesus knew that the concept of a spiritual kingdom was probably too much for people to understand. He knew that people were looking for a powerful earthly king who had political and economic power not a servant who would suffer and deliver them from sin to bring them spiritual victory (Lebar, 1995). In Luke 9:18-22 Jesus is praying and talking with his disciples. He asks his disciples who the crowds say that he is and then asks the disciples who they believe that he is. Peter simply answers that Jesus is the Christ. With this answer Jesus implores his disciples not to tell this to anyone. He clearly knows that this knowledge is not yet able to be presented in such a blunt manner. As Jesus taught these difficult concepts of a Savior and the Kingdom of God, he broke them down into understandable pieces through parables and stories.
Jesus taught these parables and stories by relating his lessons to what people knew. Those being taught by Jesus were active participants in the learning process. Almost half of Jesus’s teachings in the Gospels were learner initiated (Lebar, 1995). Many people were coming to Jesus with personal requests for healing. Jesus took these personal needs and turned them into learning events. Here knowledge was created by the learners through personal experience. Constructivists hold that meaning emerges in a context that is relevant to the individual (Ertmer & Newby, 2013). Jesus knew that context was important as he taught lessons using everyday encounters. Jesus used a ordinary items like a lamp on a stand, a seed, a storm or trees to teach extraordinary concepts. He connected the familiar with the unfamiliar. Jesus would scaffolded to assist learners along that path of where they needed to be.
Jesus knew that this path to learning not only needed to be personal but also unique. Jesus was not apprehensive of or intimidated by differentiation. He embraced differentiation. You could say that he was a radical differentiator. There is nothing stereotyped about Jesus’s teachings (Lebar, 1995). How Jesus taught was influenced by how those he taught were reacting. When he interacted with children he embraced them, when he was interacting with religious leaders he held them accountable. Jesus intentionally designed his teachings to match the individual learner’s needs. While his overall message remained consistent his methods were flexible.
Innovative Multi sensory Teaching Approach
Jesus was creative and used multi-sensory techniques. The word creativity may seem to have disappeared in our modern world of standardized assessments. Thinking about God the creator of our universe, the creator of the human race, and being created in His image, it is no wonder that creativity works in education. The human brain is a multi-sensory organ (Farrell & Sherman, 2011). Jesus used all five senses to make learning stick. Taste, smell, vision, touch and hearing were all used in his teachings. Every avenue to the heart and mind of the learner was stirred and strengthened through sensory experiences in learning.
Jesus modeled what he taught. Like Bandura and Vygotsky remind us, learning needs to be modeled and Jesus did this over and over again in scripture. This modeling was not merely a mechanical or robotic repetition as in behaviorism. But a real life God in-the-flesh modeling for us. Jesus modeled prayer and he modeled how we should treat others. He did not just demand a memorization of facts and figures but modeled through his life how we should live ours. Sometimes the greatest gift that we can give as educators is who we are, how we act, think and behave in the classroom.
Who we are and how we interact with students can make or break the learning environment of our classrooms. This all boils down to relationship. Jesus was sovereignly relational. The most important part of Jesus’s teaching was his relationship with the learners. Jesus allowed people to question him as he taught. He was patient with learners and did not give up when he did not see immediate outcomes. Every teacher knows that for better or for worse our relationships with our students matter. Some relationships require lots of give and take while others seem effortless. Scientific research has shown that humans are hardwired for relationships (Institute for American Values, 2003). Our students need a relationship with us. Jesus knew this and provides us with a wonderful example.
So what does this mean for you the Christ-centered educator? I think that we have a unique opportunity to use Jesus as a model for our profession. Jesus was a teacher here on this earth just as we are teachers here. His classroom lasts for eternity. Our classroom may be small compared to his but it is significant and can have eternal implications. Our ability to construct knowledge, diligently differentiate, use innovative multi-sensory techniques, be a role model and connect with each learner in our midst is a great gift that we can offer not only to our students but as an offering to our God. Following his example we can bring a small piece of the Kingdom here on earth by what we do every day in our classrooms.
Ertmer, M. and Newby, T. (2013) Behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism: Comparing critical features from an instructional design perspective. Performance Improvement Quarterly, v.26 (2), 43-71. Retrieved from http://northweststate.edu/wp-content/uploads/files/21143_ftp.pdf
Farrell, M.L. & Sherman, G.F. (2011). Multi sensory structured language education. In J. R. Birsh (Ed.), Multi sensory teaching of basic language skills (pp. 25-67). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks Publishing Company.
Institute for American Values. (2003). Hardwired to connect: The new scientific case for authoritative communities. Commission on Children At Risk. Retrieved from http://americanvalues.org/catalog/pdfs/hwexsumm.pdf
Lebar, L. (1995). Education that is Christian. Wheaton, IL: Victory Books.