Throughout this year, the Board of Trustees and I have studied and discussed each of the Lorien Wood seven Distinctives. These Distinctives make Lorien Wood unique and are what guide us in our shepherding of the school. In addition to the Board considerations, the faculty and I have used a monthly meeting all year to study and fully understand this Distinctive. How does it inform our practice? In what ways are we fulfilling this Distinctive in and out of the classroom? What do “Classical Study and Joyful Discovery” mean at Lorien Wood? We’ve all enjoyed expanding our understanding of the educational philosophies that undergird our practice.
Reading through the Distinctive considerations, I imagine you’ve noticed the myriad of ways they are integral to one another. In fact, we cannot have one without the other! The last Leader article on Integral Curriculum articulated this well: “this integral approach to educating children extends from the curriculum itself and the many ways our children explore topics, to Lorien Wood’s general culture. As a school, we are very intentional about recess and lunch, music and art, before school recess time, the use of the bell, etc. We seek and desire to be intentional about all pieces of the students’ day here at Lorien Wood, because all those pieces are integral, just as the students themselves are.”
Using this integral lens, it is clear that Teaching Grounded in Classical Study and Joyful Discovery cannot be separated fully from Integral Curriculum, Character Development, or Nurturing the Uniqueness of Each Child. It is, rather, the way we articulate the “how” (teaching methodology) we do the “what” (curriculum, character development, differentiation, etc). Flowing out of our commitment to God’s Word, our teaching methods place great importance on providing our students with a varied and edifying diet of ideas, books, music, scientific theories and artwork.
Extending from our belief that children are made in the image of God for the purpose of serving him, we equip our students to engage in the joy of lifelong learning.
We utilize the Classical approach to education in several ways. Our teachers make the most of time-tested works from history and literature. Our pedagogy includes the use of seminar to teach critical thinking skills, oral expression, and the ability to debate graciously and respectfully. In addition, teachers make some use of the lecture format as a means of relaying information to develop a student’s ability to listen attentively and to take notes. Teachers also coach students as they practice skills and engage in projects. This is how we are “Grounded in Classical Study.”
In addition, Lorien Wood recognizes the way Charlotte Mason, a 19th-century educator, found the highly intellect-focused methodology of the Classical approach (memorizing and drills) to be lacking in developing a child’s love of learning. We share her great respect for the child as a learner, taking advantage of a child’s natural curiosity and delight in discovery. We seek to engage the whole child through many of her methodologies: the use of “living books” rather than textbooks; the recitation of Scripture and poetry; the use of narration to remember specific details from a passage of literature; and the implementation of nature and picture studies, which involves looking attentively at a work of art or specimen from nature. Children are encouraged to develop the habits that honor God and their neighbor as they live out the call to serve one another in love. This is how we are “Grounded in Joyful Discovery.”
Integral not only to our curriculum, Biblical worldview, and nurturing of each child, this Distinctive is also integral to our understanding of Character Development. Our faculty seeks to bring grace alongside truth in their various methods of instruction. Recognizing that children are both “fearfully and wonderfully made” and sinners in need of a savior, we equip our faculty to see their relationship with children as one of discipleship. In this, the teacher strives to differentiate instruction based on each student’s strengths and weaknesses, and to speak words that are both true and gracious. Because of our relational approach to teaching, students are known, loved, and encouraged to foster a thirst for learning.
Teaching Grounded in Classical Study and Joyful Discovery is a comprehensive approach to education that embodies our understanding of what it means to be a lifelong learner. We know and practice a balance between educating the mind and heart: we are disciplined and experiential, foster intellect and curiosity, and always seek to engage and meet the needs of the whole child.
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!