By Dr. Seth Cohen. Ed.D.
Everything in Christian education flows from its governing philosophy. Although individual educators may deploy various philosophies, their uses must be subject to a shared commitment to a set of first principles. God’s absolute Truth is the central focus around which my educational philosophy revolves. It is the lens through which all earthly material must be viewed (Colossians 1:15-17). This Truth informs every decision regarding continual improvement, faculty growth, curriculum development, community development, parent partnerships, and interactions with individual students. The aim is to proclaim Truth through academic excellence for Kingdom purposes, with a focus on the heart, and in community.
My educational philosophy, set within a SHEMA model of discipleship, is (1) pedagogical, (2) relational, (3) intentional, (4) ordinary, and (5) participatory. These components, taken together, seek to develop a biblical worldview stemming from the passions of the mind and heart.
Pedagogical Enacting the SHEMA's command to “talk about” God's commandments requires direct instruction. Jesus’ words provided the content that his life exemplified. As such, the teacher acts as the voice of Truth. Truth as revealed in scripture, Christ, and creation must be articulated clearly, directly, and effectively, thereby shaping students’ worldviews. Students must learn to think biblically and critically about everything in their world. Ideally, students must be explicitly taught to see every academic discipline in the way God sees it. As it was in Jesus’ teaching ministry, speaking Truth to students is the central work of the disciple-making teacher. Working through relationships, Truth comes to life in the context of the real world.
Relational As illustrated in the life of the great teacher Jesus, excellent education thrives in positive relationships. The Christian school must treat each student as a person created in the image of God. The school must only recruit faculty and staff who view their students as individuals called to be followers of Jesus. On this foundation of respect for the learner, and with the understanding that discipleship happens “all day every day,” mentorship programs must be established to ensure that each student benefits from meaningful relationships with adults.
Intentional Shaping minds and hearts must be done with intention. Just as academic achievement must not be left to chance, so discipleship must not be left to chance. The entirety of Christian education must be rooted in discipleship. Every student experience must be designed as part of the “curriculum” for training the mind and capturing the heart, thereby harnessing student energies for God’s glory. The school must implement social- emotional curricula that go beyond language arts, math, and science. Opportunities for discipleship through leadership development, service, worship, and character formation must be plentiful. Programs are designed, articulated, and filtered through the lens of how each student’s learning experience shapes them as a follower of Jesus. Just like academic programming, effective discipleship requires intentional program planning and development.
Ordinary The SHEMA directs parents to illuminate God’s Word amidst the ordinary, day-to-day processes of life: “When you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Ordinary life experiences were redeemed by Jesus to point people to God’s Truth. Christian school employees look for the redemptive moments that constantly arise in the course of each day, whether passing between classes, discussing classroom behavior, or chatting on the sidelines of a game. Noticing and redeeming such ordinary moments require educators to come to work every day passionate for the Word and ready to war for the minds and hearts of students.
Participatory Discipleship is inherently participatory. It requires adults and students to “walk the road” together, to form relationships in the process of sharing life experiences. This cannot be accomplished in front of a whiteboard alone. Students need opportunities both to witness Truth lived out and to try it for themselves. These foundational elements of educational example and praxis are best seen in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus engaged his disciples early in his disciple-making ministry, sending them to preach the gospel long before they had fully grasped its implications. Students must have opportunities to uncover ever-deepening layers of God’s Truth by living it out under the mentorship of adults who go before them. This must be evident in all areas of school life, including service learning. When walking together, students witness Christian adults as living examples of the Truth that they teach.