The 2017-2018 academic school year is underway. For the United States, many schools are just beginning. This new journey includes many decisions and concerns such as; in which school to enroll, who are the best teachers for my son or daughter, which curriculum and assessment will prepare my children intellectually, socially, physically and spiritually. As an administrator and teacher for over 2 decades, I have noted that teachers and parents need various components to ensure that every student will succeed at moving forward at an adequate pace. Today, I strongly recommend two concepts that each classroom teacher could include for greater academic success and renewing of their mind. The first concept is geared towards student learning and refers to, Project Based Learning; the second one focus is Professional Staff Development.

Project Based Learning is a new concept for some. It is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate, engaging and complex questions, problems, or challenges. Student’s work together on projects, which include the following elements:

  • Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills – Student’s work towards goals that includes critical thinking/problem solving, communication, collaboration, and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question– The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate age level of the challenge.
  • Sustained Inquiry– Students engage in a rigorous, process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information.
  • Authenticity– The project features real-world tasks and tools, and impact – ideas address students’ personal concerns, interests, and issues in their lives and communities.
  • Student Voice & Choice– Students make some decisions about the project, including how they will work together and what they create.
  • Reflection– Students and teachers reflect on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, they evaluate the quality of student’s work, obstacles and how to overcome them.
  • Critiques & Revisions– Students learn to give, receive, and use feedback from their teachers and peers to improve their process and products.
  • Public Product Students present and display their projects and work beyond the classroom (Buck Institute for Education, 2017).

Professional Staff Development. Thomas Carlyle believed that teachers should,“Be what you would have your pupils be”. Noah Webster found that the challenge of every educator is to lead in advancing students spiritually, intellectually and culturally to engage the heart and mind (Noah Webster, America’s premier Christian schoolmaster, March 1788, American Magazine). Educators know that a student is never greater than his teacher; therefore each teacher must be a life long learner. In moving forward beyond last year’s practices, teachers can research cutting edge, instructional topics to stay abreast of current trends. These resources will prepare teachers in such a way that their students experience multi-leveled questioning, differentiated instruction and grade appropriate social skills. The goal is that they can comfortably converse and formulate dialogue within public and private arenas. Students must be equipped to think well on their feet, to critically think and have real life solutions.

A phenomenal teacher continually solidifies their personal teaching philosophy, what he or she believes constitutes a quality teaching and learning environment that includes both quality and quantity. This means that the data from assessments can substantiate the growth and adaptability of each student.

The word philosophy stems from the Latin root which means to love wisdom, the cause of things. A personal understanding of the philosophy of education will assist educators with classroom management, decision making for curriculums and methods of instruction to produce lasting fruit.

According to professional staff development research, the educators quality of learning is the most important influence on student achievement. Professional staff development is essential to increase educators’ knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs. Instructional leaders and educators establish professional development goals for the year. This is designed by evaluating previous students assessments or areas of personal growth. This may include reading a new book, attending a conference, watching an educational webinar or collaborating with colleagues. The end of the year summative evaluation will help to determine if goals were attained and how? Each teacher should be able to present evidence of participation, and time invested to meet the goals.

Through teacher training, students learn at a higher level. Professional staff development guide collaborative practices between educators, cause an honest look at teaching practices, concerns for student learning and how to better interact with students. It also encourages teachers to make meaning out of lessons, build greater student independence, and character for college-career goals. Educational reports note that 40 to 90 percent of students test score can be attributed to teacher quality. The standards within professional staff development can make the difference between a good teacher, a great teacher, and a phenomenal teacher. Dorothy Sayers, notes that we can teach our students subjects but fail to teach them how to think…. that student learns everything except the art of thinking, instruction that fails to do this is effort spent vain…

Both of these practices are components of a renewed mind. Students and teachers are challenged to plan ahead for rigorous thinking and results. During a summer workshop, I saw how eager some of the home school parents of young children were to soak in every word spoken. The question and answer period was enlightening and fulfilling. One family asked, how could we learn and teach so many concepts with precision to our children? The instructor wisely answered, “with one concept and page at a time. We must allow think time for genuine thinking and learning to occur.” Mortimer Adler writes that anyone who has done any thinking, even a little bit knows that it is the hardest thing that humans are called upon to do (Mortimer Adler. The Journal of Educational Sociology, February 1941).

A renewed mind takes time, planning and intentionality. It goes beyond true and false questions, or fill in the blank answers. A renewed mind is one that learns to reason, research, write and articulate from the light of virtuous principles and precepts. Purposeful instruction, critical thinking exercises, and meaningful learning dialogue between professional colleagues and peers will provoke students to another standard of learning as they begin the journey of renewing the mind this year.

A renewed mind is not the same as an open mind; it is converting the soul towards man original intent of character, morality, virtue, and leadership. Noah Webster records, that Purity of mind is a Christian virtue that ought to be carefully practiced. Our forefathers understood this and the need for a renewed mind for self-government, mastery of subjects, for personal and civil liberties to prevail within our nation.

This year enjoy the journey of this process, go slow and steady one-word study at a time, one principle at a time and one thought from God at a time. God will empower the hungry with rewards of inspiration, and refreshing thoughts and revelations. These are priceless gems that both the teacher and learning will know and use eternally. Practice renewing the mind daily.

Article Written By: Heather Kinchlow, Ed.D.

Dr. Kinchlow is the CEO & Administrator of Bridges Academy, a Classical-Kingdom Principle Approached School in the Tidewater Virginia area, serving kindergarten through high school students. Students uniquely learn the art of thinking and learning in an intimate setting. Home school students and families are welcomed to participate in our daily or after school programs which include a homework, chess club and performing arts program.