Last week I went to a conference. It took less than five minutes for me to realize that I was in over my head. The people who come to this conference regularly are the philosophy of classical Christian education gurus and they are SMART. I only understood about half of what I heard, but I learned a lot of things.
One thing I learned is that good teachers naturally follow the patterns these philosophers were pushing–even if they may not all be able to talk about their methods in the same philosophical lingo. That was reassuring. Another thing I learned is that good teaching requires good communication. I wonder if there are times when I am so excited about the material I am trying to teach that I forget my audience and use terms that are too difficult or terms that I have not properly defined. I want to be more aware of this and avoid it. That was reformatory. I learned not to judge a presentation by its title. I was super intimidated by the title of the second session because it contained the word “physics.” As it turned out, however, the speaker was extremely humble and engaging. He shared from his heart, not just his mind, and he used scripture. He showed us art, used beautiful and accessible language, brought in philosophy couched in excellent rhetoric and he ended up teaching me some things about physics. He also led me to wonder and worship. That was just plain cool.
Speaking of wonder, on the second afternoon we got into a discussion of wonder and how teachers can create wonder in the classroom. Of all of the things I heard, this is the one that I care about the most. This is vital. All of these very, very smart people were throwing out ideas about creating wonder, and I found that it was just as mysterious to them as it is to me. Wonder will not be reduced to a formula.
While there is not a sure-fire way to produce it, there are some things that make wonder more likely to occur. First, I think, comes allowing time for discovery. This requires a lot of patience on the part of the teacher. Students are going to be more likely to wonder at something they discover on their own. Guiding students to discovery is much more difficult than providing them with pre-digested information, but patience can be hard to come by when you feel pushed to cover content. Still, wonder is worth the wait.
Wonder is a bit of a conundrum because, while it requires the engagement of both mind and heart on the part of the student, wonder is also the thing that causes engagement to grow. I think the best way to encourage engagement is by modeling. My students are not going to be engaged if I am not engaged. Their hearts will not free to wonder if my heart is cold and distant, shackled by routine.
This leads me to another requirement for wonder: dependence on God. He is the giver of all good things. I must trust him to order the operation of my classes from day to day. I must lay my heart before him always. I must bring my teaching and my classes to him in prayer. I must be “prayed-up,” “confessed-up,” and have an attitude that says, “Thy will be done.” I think most teachers have had moments of wonder in their classrooms and then tried to re-create those moments with another section during the next class hour. In my experience this is almost always a total flop. You just can’t manufacture wonder. Wonder is a gift from God.
I think the most important element in creating wonder in the classroom is humility. The New Testament tells us to have the faith of children. Children live a life of wonder. When I think of wonder, I think of my granddaughter, Blythe. Blythe has wonder figured out. When she’s enjoying life, she throws her arms wide and tilts her face to the sky. She takes on the posture of worship.
C.S. Lewis says that a proud man can never know God because in order to see God we must look up and pride is always looking down. I like that. If I’m gazing up in love and humility at my Father, I’m already on the way to wonder. And when I wonder, then I worship. That’s pretty cool.