When the founders of Lorien Wood set about creating our school, they put in place seven distinctives to describe and guide our educational model. One of the most appealing to prospective and current families - and yet at the same time perhaps most misunderstood - is our distinctive “Nurturing the Uniqueness of Each Child.” Sounds great! But what does it mean? We want to raise and nurture our children in a way that glorifies our Lord Jesus; so what is the biblical rationale for this distinctive? And what should this distinctive look like in practice each day at Lorien Wood?
From His word, we understand that God, in His infinite wisdom and for His glory, created man to bear His own image. God designed each of us to reflect certain attributes of our Creator. Even after the Fall, though this image was seriously distorted by our new sin nature, every human being retains value and dignity. As Christians, the uniqueness of each person (and hence, each child) is further seen in the various gifts of the Spirit, “apportion[ed] to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11). These divinely appointed giftings allow for the body of Christ to be “not made up of one part, but of many…in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Cor 12:14) The uniqueness of each child in our midst - in addition to each faculty member and parent - allows our community to more completely represent the body of Christ.
Beyond our unique giftings, we are also called to “bear one another’s burdens.” Scripture tells us that strength is found in weakness. Contrary to the message of the culture, God tells us the weak among us are indispensable (1 Cor 12:22). Every man, woman and child are in constant state of change; at any given point we are each along a different continuum of growth. Just as in our physical lives, we at one time crave and need “spiritual” milk (1 Cor 3:2, 9:7; Heb 5:12-13, 1 Pet 2:2), and yet are called to grow into so much more. We grow – and learn – at our own unique paces. Therefore, in terms of both our individual giftings and shortcomings, each one of us is both unique and of great value – to be respected, loved and served by other members of the community (and vice-versa!).
We have various structures in place to encourage relationships of mutual respect, appreciation and service across grades and ages: our mixed-age classes, interactions with students across forms at lunch and recess, time with “reading buddies,” and all-school chapel and unit presentations. The intimacy provided by our close-knit community helps ensure that each child and his or her contributions are truly valued, and therefore missed when absent. We want students to feel valued as they are, and still we pursue ways to help our young students continue to grow in all the ways God has gifted them. We seek to patiently love and encourage our students – not to idly rest at their current level, but to truly progress in every facet of their educations, while recognizing and giving thanks for all they see in themselves and in others.
Having outlined the biblical rationale for this distinctive, and established a scriptural pattern of teaching, learning and growing in community, we can articulate how this distinctive manifests in practice:
At Lorien Wood, we are dedicated to helping children grow with grace in all the ways God has gifted them. We delight in the range of gifts God has blessed us with: creativity, verbal expressiveness, mathematical aptitude, empathy, athleticism, musicianship, imagination, inquisitiveness, to name a few. Through small, mixed-age classes, we cultivate a climate where each child is encouraged and supported to progress at an appropriate pace. The school environment encourages students to recognize and affirm one another’s strengths, and come alongside their peers in areas that may require more perseverance. Ultimately, we challenge our students to view their gifts with humility, praising God for the unique way He has made each person.
It is no accident that this distinctive speaks to “each” child, as opposed to “every.” The reality of limited resources – in terms of time, specialized instructional skills, money – means that some children with special educational needs, who may need prolonged, focused, one-on-one attention, are beyond our ability to serve. Certain behavior issues may be beyond our capacity to adequately address, as well.
We strive to maintain a balance between individual and community, encouraging our students’ progress, as we joyfully recognize and foster their unique abilities and giftings. At the same time, we guard against allowing one child to dominate attention and thus sacrifice our ability to meet the needs of all others. This means that not every need can be immediately and directly addressed. But we can create, by God’s grace, an educational environment where each student can thrive.
While we gratefully acknowledge and encourage the unique giftings of our students, our concern for godly character means we also guard against fostering pride. Without a biblical worldview, this distinctive could fall flat in celebration of self. Instead, we foster in our students a desire to laud the achievements of their peers, to engage respectfully with each other and to offer help when needed. We seek not a hyper-individualism, but the growth of a vibrant Lorien Wood community in which each child (and family and faculty member) can thrive. Aren’t we grateful to be a part of it!
“Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.” — Proverbs 20:11 (ESV)
One’s character is the essence of who we are. The dictionary defines character as: “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual: one’s personality, nature, temperament, qualities, traits, essence, identity.”
What does it look like to shepherd hearts and minds unto the Lord at Lorien Wood? How do we seek to train up our children in the way they should go? With a biblical worldview as our foundation, we want our students to understand that they are known and loved by the God who made them. They are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do things he has prepared for them to do” (Ephesians 3:20). We seek to cultivate a redemptive lens for our students: to see one another, and to see themselves the way God does — with loving kindness, while recognizing that we are all in need of the redemptive work of our Savior. We believe that they, like we, are on a life-long journey of character formation, to become more and more like Christ in thought and in deed.
How does Lorien Wood’s integral model nurture the soil of the heart where the seeds of character formation are sown? Every morning during opening our students quiet their bodies and engage in worship, in prayer, read scripture, and practice reflection. This is a daily and intentional tilling of the soil and sowing of seeds. The children make connections and applications as they are invited to consider how they, too, can embody the biblical virtues they have just reflected upon. As shepherds of our children, we are called to faithfully till the soil, and to water the plants, while recognizing that it is the work of the Spirit to “make things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:7).
We know that character is often reflected in the choices we make and the things that we do. However, we know that too often we fail to do what we ought to have done, and do what we ought not to have done. Our children know this, too. They know they should have responded to the bell the first time, yet finishing their football tale from recess seemed so compelling in the moment.
For our younger students, WOW clips serve as a tangible affirmation of right choices and a visible reflection of redemption. Our Form One students are reminded each day of “their jobs” as little OWLS: learning to be Obedient, Wise, and Loving. Our Form One and Form Two learners become increasingly aware of the power of their choices and are held accountable for them—for good or for naught, especially if they must change their color. They experience the redemption of a “green start” each morning, and a clean slate each week.
As a community of parents and teachers, we seek to model the fruits of the Spirit to our students, and encourage our children to do the same. We express our joy, as lunch and recess parents, when we see a student’s loving concern for their friend who took a tumble from the monkey bars. We praise them for their kind words and gently call them back to God’s standard when they use words that were less than kind. We delight in watching students play with the younger siblings of their schoolmates with intention and care.
As our students continue to grow and mature at Lorien Wood, our Journey students embark upon their “Do Hard Things” project, an integral part of their 7th and 8th grade year. We challenge them to persevere in this two-year effort, which fosters a growth mindset, and requires much resilience, initiative, and tenacity (or G.R.I.T). Form Four students are encouraged to participate in conferences alongside their teachers and parents to reflect upon their heart attitudes and the habits they are establishing. We celebrate with them as they model servant leadership to the younger students in planning and hosting Field Day. We affirm our older students as they delight in reading to younger students during Buddy Book time. These are all examples of the myriad of ways we shepherd hearts and minds toward Christ in character formation at Lorien Wood.
Cultivating character at Lorien Wood is a joyful journey, which requires patience, prayer and persistence. How we delight in seeing its good fruit!