A Genesis Model for Christian Faculty and Classrooms
Lorinda Sankey, Ph.D., Associate Dean, College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, Concordia University, Nebraska
In this article, I use the work of God in Genesis chapters one through three as a model for Christian classrooms. I correspond the Genesis model to some of today’s educational principles and practices for positive classroom environments. While we as teachers and faculty will never be perfect, as God is perfect, we can use His perfect environment of Eden as a model for our teaching practices.
I discovered Genesis as a model for Christian classrooms when my career shifted from classroom teacher to teacher-educator, preparing preservice teachers for public and Lutheran schools. As a Lutheran teacher of students in grade two through grade seven, I previously enjoyed preparing, developing and nurturing a classroom environment in which every student would know God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation through the opportunities of our everyday experiences. As my years of experience grew, the process for designing my Christian classroom became intuitive to me. Even though every class came with different gifts, needs, personalities, and issues, I became more skilled at bringing students into my classroom environment where we lived in God’s love through Christ.
However, when preparing preservice teachers to plan the environments for their future classrooms, I was challenged to articulate what a Christian classroom environment looks like and how it is planned, developed, and nurtured. To meet that challenge, I did what teacher educators do. I searched the literature for best practices, visited schools to observe classroom environments, and read up on current school policies and practices. I found that in some cases, secular education used principles and practices that, from my two kingdoms perspective, originated from God—as we would expect. When I read and studied Genesis with the intention of searching for a model from God, I discovered God’s perfect environment that He created for Adam and Eve, how He responded to their sin, and how Genesis may be applied to Christian classrooms. A more thorough investigation revealed several points of correspondence between God’s perfect environment and that of a Christian classroom and school environment, which I present here.
The Most Influential Factor
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).
In creation, the most influential factor is God who planned, prepared and provided an environment in which Adam and Eve would thrive. Genesis 1 tells of God bringing the entire creation into being with His Word. Without God’s plan, the intricacies of creation would not exist. Without God, none of creation would be.
In the school, the faculty is not the ultimate creator of all, as God is. However, each faculty member, in God’s image, is the leader of a classroom environment. A large body of education research demonstrates that the teacher is the most influential school factor for student success. For example, researchers have assembled meta-analyses of education research regarding the influence of the teacher on the learning of students (Marzano, Marzano and Pickering, 2003; Rand Education, 2012). Along with many other individual studies, this research demonstrates that the effectiveness of the teacher impacts the learning of students far more than the quality of the school or any other component of a student’s schooling. The complex systems, processes and requirements for teacher preparation, continuing education, evaluation, etc., are in place and constantly under review and revision for improvement because the research indicates that the teacher is the most influential factor in a student’s schooling. Corporately, the faculty is the most influential factor in the school experience.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day (Genesis 1:28-31).
God prepared a perfect environment for His people. Genesis 1:1 through 2:30 gives day-to-day details of God’s creation. At the end of each day of creation, God saw that is was good. Then in verse 28, God blessed Adam and Eve to populate the earth and gave authority over all creation to them. He provided all that they needed to be successful in carrying out His plan.
In keeping with Lutheran incarnational theology, an effective faculty prepares the physical environment of their classrooms specifically to meet students’ needs. Furniture arrangements, floor plans, walls, bulletin boards, materials and supplies strategically facilitate the desired learning in the classrooms (Tomlinson & Imbeau, 2010). Faculty plan the classrooms in which students will be successful in their learning and provide the physical environments where students will successfully carry out that plan. Tables and desks are arranged to encourage student discussion, space is designated for student use, and materials are labeled and accessible for students’ use.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:26-27).
Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:7, 20b-23).
God had a special relationship with people, the most highly valued focus of his created environment. God formed Adam and breathed life into him. The care with which God created Adam demonstrated the valued relationship that God had with him. Then God created Eve from Adam so that Adam would have another person with whom to share a relationship. Eve was another special act of creating a highly valued member of this environment.
An effective faculty initiates, develops and nurtures positive relationships with students. Students are the most highly valued, focus of the school and classrooms. The foundation of learning in the classroom is that the faculty appreciates and respects each student as a person God himself has created. Angela Valenzuela (1999) refers to this practice, in secular terms, as “authentic care.” An effective faculty which practices authentic care does not value students because of what they bring to the school experience. Instead, they value every student because the student is a member of the school. Even though Valenzuela’s concept of authentic care emanated from education research in God’s left-hand kingdom, authentic care is really from God. God did not love Adam and Eve because they presented themselves as worthy of His love. God loved them because they were His. In the same way, God loves us because we are His, and we as faculty care for students because they are members of our classroom environment of Christian care.
And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9).
God identified and named two of the trees in the garden, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of life provided an opportunity for Adam and Eve to live forever with “perfect health and strength,” while the tree of the knowledge of good and evil provided an opportunity for Adam and Eve to demonstrate their obedience to God (Kretzmann, 1923). In these tangible ways, God articulated to Adam and Eve the abstract concepts of life and the knowledge of good and evil with the two trees.
The articulation of abstract concepts, or core values, is a contemporary trend for public and private schools. An Internet search for “school core values” produces millions of results. Core values are abstract conceptual beliefs and/or expectations that can be explained, defined or exemplified with concrete behaviors. (Rules, considered in a later section, are distinctly different from core values.) The core values movement in schools is part of an effort to clarify behavioral expectations that faculty and schools have for students. The purpose of this clarification is to teach students what behaviors are valued by the school and provide a platform for teaching what these abstract values look like in terms of concrete behaviors. Some systems for establishing and supporting desired school behavior apply the label of “behavioral expectations” to core values. (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, 2015). Other school behavior programs title them “general rules” (Wong & Wong, 2009).
Students, even those in Christian schools, typically come from homes with a wide range of behavioral expectations and need to have the abstract expectations of the school and faculty defined in concrete terms. Effective faculty members identify several abstract behavioral expectations, or core values, and teach students what specific behaviors demonstrate those expectations. For example, respect is a common core value in schools and classrooms. Faculty clearly articulate the fact that respect is a core value of the classroom, and then provide experiences in which students build understanding of what respect means in the context of the classroom and school. Such experiences may be role-play, poster presentations, and other instructional strategies by which students learn the school’s and faculty’s definition of respect. The role of the faculty is to articulate and interpret the school and classroom core values to students. This the Christian and Lutheran faculty does with the Ten Commandments, applying them in ways that show us our sin, our need for grace, and the predominance of our ultimate core value: the Gospel.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it (Genesis 2:15).
God gave Adam meaningful work before sin came into the world. He was the caretaker of the garden. Work was not a punishment for or a burden to him. It was a gift from God that gave Adam purpose.
Faculty can learn much from God about meaningful work. Work is not meant to be a punishment or a burden. It is meant to be a gift. Providing students with the meaningful work of authentic learning is a current research-based best practice in education (Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2010). Project-based learning, purposeful homework, community-based learning and real-world problem solving are a few examples of meaningful work for students (Patterson & Roberts, 2015). Likewise, Paul encourages us as teachers and as a faculty to encourage our students: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Privileges, Rules, and Consequences
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field (Genesis 2:16-20a).
God clearly communicated a privilege, a rule and a consequence to Adam and Eve. The privilege that He gave them was permission to eat of every tree of the garden, and this daily feast was incorporated into garden life. The one concrete observable rule that God gave them was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It came with a clearly articulated consequence. If they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die.
When a Christian faculty prepares the school environment specifically for students, each teacher plans and incorporates a wide range of privileges into their classroom structure. Full membership and participation in a positive classroom is a privilege itself. In keeping with that classroom’s core values (above), rules state concrete observable student behaviors (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, 2015; Wong & Wong, 2009). The faculty clearly articulates the exact behaviors that are or are not expected. The consequences of student behaviors, both positive and negative, should also be articulated to students. Consequences of positive behaviors may be as simple as continuing the privileges of classroom membership. Consequences of negative behaviors should be planned and articulated to students so that students are aware of them (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports; Wong & Wong). And for the Christian and Lutheran faculty, both positive and negative behaviors are our spiritually loaded opportunities for exhibiting for students in conceptual and concrete ways both God’s Law and His Gospel.
Sin and Broken Relationships
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:1-13).
Adam and Eve both sinned by breaking the one rule that God had given them. They ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their relationship with God was broken. They hid from God. He found them and asked them questions about what they had done. Their responses demonstrate how their relationships with God and with each other were broken as a result of the sin. Adam blamed Eve who subsequently blamed the serpent.
Likewise, when students sin by breaking the rules of the classroom or school, their relationships with the teacher and their peers are broken. Students may hide their sin from the teacher or they may blame their peers. The teacher may have to ask questions in an effort to prompt the student to admit to what they have done. In further investigation of how God responded to Adam and Eve’s sin in verses 14 through 22 below, it is important for us both as classroom teachers and as a faculty with a common ministry to take note of the sequence of His responses and how that sequence serves as a model for addressing sin in their own classrooms.
God Confronted the Source of the Sin
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field, on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14).
God spoke directly to the serpent, cursing him. While cursing the serpent may not apply to our practice as faculty, directly confronting the sin does apply, as we see God also do with the man (Genesis 3:11) and the woman (Genesis 3:13). A teacher directly confronts sin by clearly stating the concrete behavior of the student, not speaking in generalities, and referring to the rule that has been broken or expectation that has not been met.
God Promised the Savior
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Immediately after confronting the source of the sin, God pronounced His plan of salvation for Adam and Eve. His Son would come to conquer the serpent (Satan). God loved Adam and Eve unconditionally, in spite of their sin, and He demonstrated His love by providing for their eternal salvation.
Following God’s model, immediately after clearly stating the sin, or rule-breaking, of the student (typically with that student’s indication of repentance as an opportunity for the Gospel—but note that in the garden God did not wait for an explicit confession from Adam or Eve), the teacher tells the student that God has a plan of salvation for him/her in spite of the sin. The teacher speaks the unconditional love that God has for the student through Jesus the Savior. The teacher also demonstrates God’s salvation, as much as humanly possible, by providing authentic care for the student, in spite of the fact that the student has broken the rule.
This moment of ministry and the sequence of dealing with the sin, sinner, contrition, repentance, and absolution is called the ordo salutis, which we cannot sufficiently address here. A faculty does well to review periodically C.F.W. Walther’s helpful discussions of Law, Gospel, and their application in his book, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel (Concordia Publishing House, 1988.)
God Stated and Delivered Consequences
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:16-19).
After God pronounced Adam and Eve’s salvation through their Savior, He also told them of the outcome of their sin. They would experience meaningful consequences. Eve would experience pain in childbirth and be ruled over by Adam. Adam would experience pain in working the ground and would eventually die.
After pronouncing God’s salvation and assuring the student of her or his relationship in the classroom, the Christian faculty can use God’s model to clearly articulate consequences of the student’s behavior. The student should experience a meaningful consequence that is an appropriate fit for the sin, or rule-breaking (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, 2015; Wong & Wong, 2009). A planned yet flexible system of discipline informed by Matthew 18:15-20 can support the faculty to use discernment in delivering a meaningful consequence.
God Blessed and Protected His People
The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:20-24).
The next step that God took was to bless Eve through Adam naming her “the mother of all living.” The two would be fruitful and multiply as God had told them in Genesis 1:28, before they sinned. God also blessed them by providing garments to cover themselves. Finally, God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden to protect them. If they would stay in the garden, they could eat of the tree of life and live forever in sin. He protected them from more detrimental consequences by closing the garden to them forever.
If a teacher is to follow God’s model after a consequence has been delivered, he/she must provide for and protect the student from more detrimental consequences. For example, depending on the behavior, keeping the consequence confidential in an effort to prevent embarrassment of the student, or allowing the student to fulfill the consequence at a location in the classroom that will not draw attention of classmates may provide protection and regard for the student. In addition, removing a student from the physical area, or changing the class seating arrangement, or moving the student(s) involved may protect the student from repeating the sin or rule-breaking and being assigned more serious consequences.
The Genesis account, so familiar to us, offers a practical framework for the faculty to understand their vocation as Christians and their stations as teachers. God brought all of creation into being, made humankind in his image, and placed Adam and Eve in His creation as the most highly valued of all his creatures. He demonstrated that value through His special relationship with them. God provided meaningful work, privileges, rules and consequences for Adam and Eve. After they sinned, He confronted the source of the sin, promised them a Savior, delivered their consequences, then blessed and protected them. God provides a wonderful and practical model for the faculty and each of us as Christian teachers to use in planning, implementing and sustaining a positive, Godly school environment.
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