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    Each, Not All: Variability as the Norm

    Each, Not All: Variability as the Norm

    Anyone who regularly interacts with children and adolescents knows that finding two identical individuals is impossible. Even identical twins may initially appear indistinguishable, but time reveals the uniqueness of each human being. As Christian schools, we believe that each student is created uniquely by a loving God. Yet, in education, many structures are designed to make schools efficient and effective, disrespecting the uniqueness of God’s created order. There are numerous ways schools can balance the essential need for sustainability found in efficiency with a desire to align school practices with God’s design for creation, represented in the variation seen in every classroom.

    naming + eye contact + fun = relational connection

    As a staff team at Nanaimo Christian School, we lived by the saying, “You don’t just teach grade 2; you teach primary,” and “You don’t just teach grade 6; you teach middle school.” The message was that each teacher should know every child’s name in their division. It was acknowledged that a student might not connect with their classroom teacher, but they could find a connection with other adults in the division. As the administrator, that meant I needed to know the names of all the students in the classrooms from kindergarten to grade 8. Memorizing hundreds of names was not easy for me, but if I believed that each student was a unique image-bearer of Christ, it was the least I could do. I needed a plan to make this happen.

    Naming (or at least trying to) each child as they came off the bus during daily parking lot duty was a start, but instituting “Sour Key Fridays” made the difference. As a teaching administrator in middle school, naming middle school students was not the problem. Any student in K-5 could find me after school on Friday for a candy. I had to give them two candies if I could not immediately name them. If I was going to prevent making candy a personal budget item, I needed to learn names. I knew it was having the desired effect when, with a laugh, a mom of identical twins let me know that they were late for school on a Friday because the students had to ensure that their wardrobe was identical to try and secure double the candies.

    It is easy for a teacher to diagnose learning challenges with phrases such as “This student reads below grade level.” Framing learning challenges as connections to learner identity imposes a system on a learner rather than ensuring that the system adjusts to meet the learner’s needs. A learner-oriented learning environment takes “reads below grade level” and does the hard work of acknowledging that the barrier is not in the student’s identity but in the design. Proactive planning ensures that the text is not too difficult for the student to access, using generative AI to adjust non-fiction texts to meet students’ reading level. Does using a single text, accessed in a single way, create a learning environment that reflects God’s created variability in His image-bearers?

    re-storying challenge + proactive planning = vibrant learning environments for each student

    Past performance is often said to be the best indication of future performance. Echoes of this sentiment often become part of student conversations on secondary campuses, explaining away learning challenges with phrases like “they had low grades in science last year.” When learning design and educator attitude see the student as the limiting factor, secondary students often meet expectations. What if we start secondary learning conversations with the idea that the barrier is found in the design? We increase our scaffolding of content and skills and use tools like interest surveys to learn more about the learner. We commit to using pre-assessments to ensure that we are starting with student ability, not a general expectation implying that every student should be learning at the same rate at the same time.

    Christian schools believe in a God who creates, a God who loves, and a God who is revealed in the interdependence, resilience, and variation of creation. As Christian schools, we must continue pursuing structures that reflect this reality. Rather than asking unique image-bearers to conform to a model built for the average student, education structures should be adaptable to meet the needs of each unique learner.

    Darren Spyksma
    SCSBC Associate Executive Director