Education is made up of two equal, parallel tracks: content and communication. If what is taught does not immediately link with how the subject is taught, learning is downsized. We need more college professors who have been high school teachers, who can right-size teaching. Jane Thayer is one of these. Thayer’s breadth of experience – a myriad of positions held over a lifetime of teaching vocation, including high school English – is a welcome addition to educational transformation literature.
If ever there was a book that lived up to its title, Strategies for Transformational Learning is it. A multiplicity of ideas mark Thayer’s text. A professor just beginning or one who wants to reinvigorate her classroom experience, would find no better tool. The table of contents itself is the perfect overview. Discipleship foundations are established in chapters one and two. The means and approaches for educational change overlap chapters three through six. Methods of learning toward transformation are rendered in chapters seven through nine. Student accomplishments, often left out of the instructional dialogue, are attributed to chapters ten and eleven. Classroom atmosphere, an often ignored or neglected component of teaching-learning, composes chapter twelve. Instruction for creating a learning seminar (chapter thirteen), endnotes, references, and an easy to use index complete the volume.
Thayer’s centerpiece chapters on experiential learning (89-109) and initiating transformation (111-35) are powerful. No one who desires to see true praxis in action will be disappointed. Thayer masterfully weaves insights from the likes of Piaget, Kolb, and Loder showing that the loom on which teaching fabric is woven comes from the transcendent source of Scripture. The transformational theory chart (113), a summary of Loder’s analysis (116), immediate connection to Jesus’ teaching style (118), and Thayer’s own “wheel of learning” (120) are but a snapshot of the kind of instructional interaction available inside Strategies. Even the choice of the word “initiating” transformation (111) displays the care of a lifelong learner and a lifetime teacher of her subject; she knows we bear educational responsibility for instructional initiation while the resulting work of change is The Spirit’s concern (Romans 8:5-9).
Expounding theories and theorists is one thing; evaluating them biblically is another. It is unfortunate when Christian educators baptize current concepts or popular ideas with a Bible verse, thinking they have thought biblically. Thayer takes the proper approach, asking if and how human thinking can be accepted as true Truth in chapter three. Andrews University, where Thayer taught for years, has been widely acclaimed as the seedbed of education serving worldwide communities. Faith-learning integration foundations also have strong roots in Berrien Springs. Educational process held captive by antiquated 20th century standards must be remanded to a subordinate position in the 21st century. Thayer’s book ascends to the head of the line.
Take notice of an author whose acknowledgments include not only her mentors but her colleagues and then her students. It is necessary to acknowledge teaching-learning as hyphenation, creating a singular focus. Flow of thinking is not simply one-sided, nor is it driven top—down. Hebraic instruction is, at its core, collaborative-experiential (Deuteronomy 4, 6, 11). Students study by enacting discovered learning directed by professors who understand the power of cohort-practical, knowledge-skill acquisition. Yet, for the Christian professor, there exists an understanding that the change of mind comes from a change of Holy Spirit jurisdiction. Direction of a person’s mission control is The Spirit’s control: “who can understand a man’s spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:11). The whole of 1 Corinthians 2 beats with the rhythm of The Spirit.
Yet, Christian education has often succumbed to the prevalent cultural standards. Quantitative evaluation models control accreditation agencies, for instance. But teacher effectiveness cannot be proven by Likert scales alone. Proof cannot always be commodified or enumerated. Qualitative analysis through reflective practices are essential evidence of maturation in any field. Introspective questions are necessary. All three major learning domains should be accounted for in any classroom, especially that of a Christian. But professors often bypass the affective domain, leaving out the impact of biblical pneumatology. Christian educators should set the standard for change not only in the arenas of belief and behavior but the core of everything: being.
Quotations prefacing each chapter prompt Spirit-directed pondering. For example, the Cameron quote about data analysis (73) should be required reflection for all certification and accreditation teams. Hull’s “nondiscipleship Christianity” quote (1) should be a wakeup call for all higher education leaders. Peterson’s view of exegesis as a “dust cloth, scrub brush, and Q-tip” (137) is an eye-popping reminder for those who would keep God’s Words “clean.” Parker’s upbraiding of professors who maintain control over students via the power of lecture is sure to set teeth on edge with rightful cause (89). The goal of teaching is not simply a transfer of knowledge it should be the transformation of lives.
Together with quotations, one of the other many strengths of Thayer’s work are the litany of stories which, in their own way, are displays of experiential learning. Strategies is brimming with narratives which any professor could immediately employ – with proper attribution – as the basis of case-study assignments. Not to be missed are real-life examples of apologetic-evangelism via friendship (169). Focus on small (micro) communities reflect biblical teachings from being your “brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4) to Heaven’s example of ethnic, national, regional, linguistic diversity (Revelation 5).
Educators often misread or mismanage the atmosphere of a learning setting. Thayer offers what should be second nature to any classroom instructor, who herself is not wed to a lectern-lecture approach. Taking cues from students; including their present circumstances, life settings, cultural preconditioners, and emotional intelligence – is crucial to the providential success of class climate. The apostles give many examples of learning atmosphere. Paul’s treatment of the oft recalcitrant Corinthians could set a precedent for engaging less than willing pupils. First Thessalonians, the teacher’s textbook, offers insights into how to care for learners. John’s examples in his second and third epistles are snapshots of how to engage both willing and unwilling sets of students. Any instructor willing to learn from Thayer’s seasoned work will find additional, valuable approaches to class preparation in the addenda after chapters eight through eleven.
Constructive critiques are few but important. A limited focus on two approaches (Osmer and Loder) may offer a truncated viewpoint in any discipline. In the same way, restricting an examination of training to New Testament teaching for affective change – all examples are from Jesus and the apostles – short-changes the biblical record. Jesus’ Hebraic heritage influenced His teaching models and methods. The ethos of others-centered thinking from Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 10 creates the center of Jesus’ commands. The masterful overview of chapter two could be greatly enhanced with instruction origins birthed in First Testament teaching. One wonders why the printing was done in a 9 x 11 format until the charts and handout pages are revealed. Still, a less cumbersome volume would make for easier reading.
For years a large sign hung in my high school classroom: “Not Just Information, but Transformation.” Jane Thayer and I could have shared that classroom in total agreement. High school teachers like Jane Thayer can best present the “what” and the “how” of education. The wonder of a volume such as Strategies is the impact it can make across the disciplines, across the levels of education, since the person writing begins her instruction with a K-12 mindset. A professor’s philosophy of teaching should be as important as the content of her teaching. She should be less concerned with the delivery of material and more concerned with how she delivers the student to the material. Becoming skilled at crafting questions, creating projects, and constructing discussions brings learning to the learner.
Further, students need to affirm, preserve, cultivate, and pass on their belief, through their being, and behavior. Ownership within the teaching-learning process connects truth to life, theory to practice, disciplines to other disciplines, and persons to vocations. Jane Thayer’s Strategies for Transformational Learning should be a required text for faculty workshops helping professors and then their students to own beliefs by the transformation of their being, resulting in changed behavior.
Dr. Mark Eckel is president of The Comenius Institute, serving students and faculty on the campus of IUPUI. Mark teaches for various institutions and is Professor of Leadership, Education, and Discipleship for Capital Seminary & Graduate School. Fishers, Indiana is his home. For over 30 years Mark has served the Christian education community as a high school teacher, college professor, curriculum writer and international speaker. Mark’s responsibilities have included daily instruction, curriculum development, mentoring teachers, and conference speaking on Christian education issues in hundreds of venues.In 1995 Cedarville University selected Mark as the Delta Chi Teacher of the Year. In 2010 Lenawee Christian School honored Mark with its Heart for Leadership Award.