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Growing character and compassion through innovative learning

Heartbreaking to teachers is the groan of disengaged students who have learned to view their time at school with the same anticipation as a newly sentenced criminal who has heard the words: “Thirteen Years.” Or perhaps “Thirteen Years hard labour” might be more accurate.

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This is not the journey, nor the outcome, of learning that we want for our students at Tyndale Christian School. Rather, we look for a spark of fire in eyes lit by fresh insight.

We are excited to say that we are on a journey with learning …

We ache to hear: “I know what I need to learn and how to learn it!” We thrill when we see a passionate young orator burst forth before his peers:

“… Know that we’re not here to compete but to complete with each other …

For we all sing the same old song …

Even if we fail, we’ll keep on improving bit by bit

And every question it’ll say, ‘our dreams are not drawn to scale’

So draw it

Because the word ‘paint’ has the word ‘pain’ in it

And if paint means more than one colour, so be it

Don’t use camouflage but stand out showing hope …”

In many ways, the above fragment of a spoken word poem by Tyndale student Patrick encapsulates the heart of ‘Deep Learning’ in which students and teachers of Tyndale Christian School, Western Sydney, have been engaging.

We are excited to say that we are on a journey with learning and we are discovering the words of Winston Churchill are true: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” In other words, it is the process of learning that is more important than the final destination – and it is a journey on which we embark together.

Our vision for learning at Tyndale Christian School is that our students would be prepared and equipped for a life of service as disciples of Jesus Christ. Of significance to us is God’s creational mandate for Adam and Eve to tend and cultivate the earth. Therefore, we understand that education is more than mere preparation of our school leavers to achieve a high ATAR and to move on to their careers. Rather, we understand that playing our part in tending and cultivating the earth looks more like “people of God’s story engaged in real work that forms self and shapes the world” (according to Beerens, Cook, DeBoer, LeMoine, & Levy, 2018).

The Deep Learning program, started this year with the support of Australian Independent Schools (AIS), has assisted us as teachers at Tyndale to consider our students as holistic learners who have been created to love God with their heart, soul and mind.

Correspondingly, we have zeroed in on just one of the six learning competencies of Deep Learning: Character. Michael Fullan and Geoff Scott — leading thinkers and writers of Deep Learning — define character as “the qualities of the individual essential for being personally effective in a complex world, including: grit, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, reliability and honesty”.

We have been challenging our students to develop both their character and their compassion for others.

While Fullan and Scott are secular thinkers, we have found there is much that resonates between their definition of character and the place that the apostle Paul gave it in his letter to the Romans. In that letter, Paul encouraged them to develop endurance because “endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (Romans 5:4).

Accordingly, in our day to day opportunities for learning that take place in and out of the classroom, we have been challenging our students to develop both their character and their compassion for others. This looks like explicitly teaching our students elements of perseverance and how to encourage one another, even when the journey is challenging.

It looks like enabling our students to use potentially negative experiences in their learning to develop goals for growth.

It looks like assisting our learners to be clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12) in order to create solutions for real world problems.

It looks like a spark of fire in eyes lit by fresh insight.

Bronwyn Wong, Head of Middle and Senior Schools at Tyndale Christian School, Blacktown, Sydney.

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