Student Teaching with Jesus: The PLC
School Leader Bible Study
Student Teaching with Jesus: The PLC
Week of September 29, 2019 by Tom Deighan
One of the most powerful concepts in education recently has been the Professional Learning Community (PLC). Also known as Democratic Learning, Collaborative Learning, Shared Leadership and a host of other monikers, the transformative nature of a PLC is that its ideas and precepts seem to be crystalizing independently across such a broad range of researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners. Regardless of the source or proponent, the core elements of a PLC are emerging as solid bedrock for educational excellence. The difficulty, however, is that the elements of effective classrooms cannot be prescribed, packaged, or codified into policy.
Jesus, more than anyone else in history, exposed the tendency of human nature to nullify the most powerful ideas through formalization of those ideas into steps, rules, and laws. We as educators are expert at destroying the joy of learning through the labelization and eventual ritualization of the fluid essentials of learning. In his day, the Pharisees, scribes, and lawyers filled this role. In education, the researchers, policy-makers, and central planners often fill this role while practitioners simply brace themselves until the newest wind of change subsides.
For this reason, we find ourselves as educators locked into a culture in which we attempt to account for every jot and title while ignoring the weightier matters of education. Educational Legalism is the result, in which cycles of passionate inquiry and discovery are replaced with idolatrous submission to standardized testing. This is precisely why the key precept of an effective learning culture is so immutable: a focus on learning – not only does it keep us focused on students, but it mitigates our tendency toward educational legalism. Everything in a PLC hinges on this key concept: do everything with a focus on increasing learning. And by doing so, the other PLC components fall neatly into place.
Not surprisingly, as the greatest teacher, Jesus maintains a focus on His students’ learning first and foremost in the Gospels. All that He does and says is crafted to increase their learning. He incorporates the Old Testament principle outlined in Deuteronomy 6:7 which places the responsibility for learning on the teacher who must create a culture devoted to teaching one’s students “when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
He practices this as He walks and talks with the disciples, turning everything into a learning experience. In doing so, Jesus is cross-curricular as well. He uses the life cycle of a mustard seed to show how faith works. He parlays the disciples’ fascination with the architecture of Jerusalem into a prophetic lesson in Mark 13. He even frames our civic responsibilities in the proper context by admonishing us to “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt 22:21).
Jesus turns everything into a teachable moment, and when we as teachers do the same, we cultivate the essence of a Professional Learning Community. Good teaching is not a formula or a list of rules, it is simply a focus on learning which requires the teacher to immerse his or her students in a culture of inquiry and discourse – a community focused on learning. Jesus knew this before research supported it.
Nevertheless, a focus on learning can still be used to justify the preeminence of standardized testing, which is why a dogmatic focus on learning is still not enough. As a great as the PLC model is, it still falls short. Only when we as educators reach beyond learning will we be teaching at the optimum level of the master teacher. For as much as Jesus focused on learning, He always pushes us one step further, beyond learning to the internalization of concepts. He shows us that learning still depends upon a teacher, which is why Jesus always focused on the learner. With this in mind, He took it took teaching to its highest level, past the temporal focus on learning, to the eternal focus on thinking. And that is the ultimate goal of every teacher: students who think.
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