Teachers as Students: Reflections from Summer Conferences

Excellent teachers should themselves embody a love for learning and be constantly seeking opportunities to grow and deepen their knowledge of the subjects they teach, pedagogy, how children learn and grow, theology, and the world around us. Immanuel teachers and staff are engaged formally and informally in continued professional development and learning opportunities, and for many, this includes participation in summer conferences. 

This summer, six ILS team members traveled to Plano, Texas, to participate in the Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education's 18th annual summer conference. In addition to presenting three different sessions, faculty and staff were able to attend a variety of excellent sessions on a wide range of topics. Following the conference, teachers shared their reflections on these sessions and how they may be beneficial in their classrooms in the coming school year. 

Miss Marie Landskroener, ILS Music Teacher, shares with us one of her CCLE reflections. We hope you enjoy this insight into some of the learning that our teachers undertook this summer, and how this study translates into action within our classrooms. 

            The CCLE session that most impacted my pedagogy was Cheryl Swope’s session What is Classical Lutheran Education? Along with her session The Power of the Primary Years, her presentation served to solidify the purpose of education and how we can approach it in our classical Lutheran schools.

            Mrs. Swope began by arguing against pedagogical relativism, that is, that any and all styles of teaching are equally valid. Instead, she insists there is an order of learning that must be followed in order to successfully educate a person. This order of learning begins with the primary years which are a preparation for adulthood. In the primary years we teach children to practice, practice, practice. This practice ensures that a child learns skills well before moving on to the next step of education. Because learning has an order, this practice is necessary in order to build the groundwork for all future education.

             A classical Lutheran education, Mrs. Swope asserts, is a formative education as opposed to a functional education. It serves to form a person, not to complete some sort of function. Another way to think about it is that classical education is liberal, not servile. We educate people in order to free them to do what is right and to form a person in order for them to fulfill their vocation.

This belief is in opposition to the popular stance that we educate children in order for them to be able to complete certain tasks such as obtaining a job. This way of thinking about education as formative and liberal can also be described in three words: grow, think, thrive. In the classical Lutheran school, we equip children to do these. Mrs. Swope pointed out that these are all intransitive verbs, meaning they do not have a direct object. They stand on their own.  

            Another task of classical Lutheran education according to Mrs. Swope is enculturation. Our task of enculturation is to pass on the culture of Western civilization to our children and students. This culture is rich in both the language and mathematical arts. It is not simply teaching the “humanities” but handing down the way the world works in every sense, including the scientific and mathematical sense. We teach the liberal arts and sciences. Not just history and English.

            Finally, Mrs. Swope described the importance of reading as part of the classical Lutheran model. Reading is not only an essential skill, it also allows children to see for themselves what people say about man, nature, and God. We must be careful, though. Many people today insist that it is not important what children read so long as they are reading. Mrs. Swope entirely disagrees and insists that it does matter what children read. Because everything is formative, the types of books we read affect us and how we think and act. We should offer good books for our children to read so that they are formed rightly.

            As Lutheran Christians, we have the doctrine of the two kingdoms. This doctrine gives us two canons of literature: the Western canon and the holy Scriptures (thanks, Augustine!). This means that we can read secular works and still glean important truths from them. Although we may not accept everything that these works say or teach, we know that it is still important to read them in order to gain from the wisdom they do contain.

            As I begin to plan lessons this year, I look to keep in mind these tenets of a classical Lutheran education. A focus on the order of learning will affect my lesson plans and cause me to have the young ones practice, practice, practice. The knowledge of education as formative will guide me in conversations with students, I think particularly with the older ones. Conversations about life outside of school will hopefully help me guide students to appropriate choices of books, leisure activities, movies, and the like.