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Lessons from the Chalkboard
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Matt Sims

A Teacher's Journey into Orthodox Christian Pedagogy

As an Orthodox Christian teacher at a school founded on Orthodox Christian principles, I have embarked on a unique journey of education that reflects a vibrant confluence of faith traditions. Our school, grounded in Orthodox Christianity, is enriched by teachers who come from various Christian backgrounds. Together, we embrace the task of promoting Orthodox teaching while respecting the diverse religious convictions that shape our community. This tapestry of faith and practice has shaped our triumphs, challenges, and continuous growth. 



Holistic Development A Universal Christian Value

Holistic development, a principle that transcends denominational lines, forms the bedrock of our teaching approach. We strive to nurture not just the intellect but also the spiritual, physical, and moral dimensions of our students.


Intellectually, our diverse faculty brings rich perspectives, fostering critical thinking and intellectual curiosity. Spiritually, we integrate Orthodox principles, weaving in prayers and reflections. Moral education, guided by universal Christian virtues such as love, kindness, and humility, forms an integral part of our curriculum, though it requires continuous nurturing and focus. 



Life-long Learning – Fostering Curiosity Across Traditions

The Orthodox belief in theosis, or life-long spiritual transformation, shapes our aspiration to instill a love for lifelong learning. Its universal appeal resonates with teachers and students from various Christian backgrounds.


However, we must continuously strive to ensure this focus on life-long learning is not overshadowed by a rush to cover curriculum. This was discussed by several of our administrators during our faculty Colloquium. It's a challenge for me. I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the academic year and want to balance what I think a parent expects with what I should be doing for their children. I don't always need to get through the curriculum. There might be days when I have to throw the lesson plan out the window because my students need something more from me. I was reminded at our Colloquium that it’s okay. My time with students is and should be an opportunity to instill a deeper love for learning that extends beyond the classroom. 



Communal Learning

In an Orthodox Christian school, communal learning and respect for tradition are paramount. We encourage students to learn as part of a community, reflecting the understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ. In my opinion, we excel at this. A beautiful manifestation of this principle is seen in our intergenerational interactions: the blending of age groups, such as fourth grade girls spending their recess time playing with babies and toddlers from the nursery.


Moreover, we are mindful of the influences that come from the secular world and carefully discern what aligns with our values. We remain dedicated to preserving the sanctity of our learning environment while also preparing our students to navigate the world beyond our school gates.



Respect for Tradition

The millennia-old tradition of the Church is honored and taught in our classrooms. We aim to instill respect for sacred texts, liturgical practices, Church authority, and the wisdom of the Church Fathers. This respect for tradition provides our students with a firm foundation in the Christian faith and an appreciation for the richness of our shared spiritual heritage.


Respect for tradition does not, however, negate the importance of critical thinking and curiosity. We strive to create an environment that encourages questioning, critical thought, and engagement with our Orthodox tradition. This might take the form of classroom discussions about the teachings of the Church Fathers or debates about ethical questions.


Striking this balance offers both challenges and opportunities, as we seek to honor our roots while embracing the rich diversity of our community. 



The Challenge of Integration

Integrating the teachings of the church into our daily lessons without making it seem artificial is a challenge universally acknowledged by all religious educators, regardless of their specific Christian traditions. Within our Orthodox Christian school, this challenge is both an opportunity and a shared responsibility.


As someone who has taught multiple grade levels, I have experienced firsthand the difficulty of finding the right balance. During my time teaching 5th grade, I initially struggled to find time to teach about Orthodoxy. As the year progressed, I felt a pressing need to authentically integrate the Orthodox faith into my lessons. How could I do more to organically incorporate Orthodoxy into my classes and be charitable to other Christians at the same time?


With the support and collaboration of fellow teachers, we began to address this challenge in various ways. We invited priests to speak about the Nativity of Christ and the Divine Liturgy, took breaks from the traditional history curriculum to assign research projects on Christian Saints, and created special lessons on often-overlooked aspects of Christian history, such as the Christian Kingdom of Aksum. 


The challenge of integration is an ongoing process. Finding ways to make faith teachings a natural and authentic part of the curriculum requires creativity, careful planning, and a willingness to adapt and evolve.


Our approach must always be rooted in authenticity, ensuring that the teachings of the church are not merely inserted into lessons, but become an integral part of the educational experience. This involves continuous dialogue, reflection, and a collective commitment among our faculty family to imbue our students with a deep and meaningful understanding of our faith. 




Our journey as educators in an Orthodox Christian school is enriched by the diverse perspectives and shared goals of our faculty. As we strive to authentically integrate the teachings of the church into our daily lessons, we are guided by a common desire to foster a love for our faith that resonates with every student. The challenges we face are part of a universal dialogue within religious education, calling us to be creative, compassionate, and ever vigilant in our pursuit of genuine and inspiring faith formation. 


As educators in an Orthodox school, it is our responsibility to ensure that our faith is not merely an addendum to the curriculum but a key part of our students' learning journey. In doing so, we uphold our commitment to raising not just successful students, but raising Saints.