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Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 12:33 am

What is success? How can we help our children achieve it?

Trinity school debuts eight “skills to last a lifetime”

PHOTO BY JASON JOHNSON, COURTESY TRINITY LUTHERAN SCHOOL.
The school hopes to begin early, giving youngsters skills to be responsible and functioning 30-year-olds.

 

In 2015, Trinity Lutheran School in Springfield began examining what a successful graduate would look like in a future vastly different from the school’s foundational days. The journey of discovery was both deep and wide, and the destination would be a new design for Christian education. This fall, 157 years since the humble start described in the school’s historic documents, Trinity Lutheran School is stepping forward in faith toward a new kind of teaching and learning.

Since its February 1860 opening in rooms over a downtown grocery store, through many moves to the five-acre MacArthur Boulevard campus dedicated in August 1954, Trinity Lutheran School has sought to provide a Christ-centered education. Now, with more than two dozen staff serving more than 200 students, the school is again learning how to preserve its vision and values while revisiting its approach.
 
More than a century of growth
“Towards the end of the first century,” explains the church’s website, “many Trinity members lived on the northeast side of Springfield where they found work in the coal mines, railroads, the Illinois Watch Factory and other industries.” So, in 2008, shortly before the school’s 150th anniversary, when a small team of leaders from the church and school began to have conversations about faith, ministry, education, and the future, they committed to consider how best to educate students even if it meant institutional change. Not only were those industry jobs long gone, but technological advances were already propelling students into jobs that hadn’t even been invented yet.

Deep questions and determination
Work began in earnest in 2015. With the help of an outside consultant, the team surveyed church members, school parents and community child advocates to understand what a Trinity graduate should look like at age 30, and how to develop those attributes in preschool through eighth grade. In other words, what is success and how do we get there? The answers were challenging – they needed to train Christian citizens who are resilient and adaptable, who can work together in a competitive environment, who are faithful, financially independent members of happy family structures who contribute to their communities.

“It’s about the whole person … doing the best job we can to equip our students with the necessary skills not just to succeed but to thrive,” says Sue Gwillim, chair of Trinity School’s board. “Success will be about thinking critically, working collaboratively, and communicating clearly in a world of heightened peer pressure, social media, a tough and changing job market, and rapid advances in technology. Thriving has to include ‘the happiness factor.’”

Their research took them to Ken Robinson’s popular TED Talk on student success and creativity.
 
The 8 Cs, core competencies of creative schools
By 2016, Trinity stakeholders had found their formula. They would combine existing scholarship on cross-curricular teaching and learning, critical thinking, and character development with the tenets of one of the most-watched TED Talks ever, “How Schools Kill Creativity.” They would teach eight “skills to last a lifetime”: compassion, composure, citizenship, clear thinking, curiosity, creativity, communication and collaboration.

Now, just a few weeks before the start of the 2017-18 school year, the details are coming together. Ready are colorful new tees, parent handbooks for the home-school connection, grant money purchases and a restructured schedule with more time for P.E., music, technology training and a new foreign language program.

“It’s about synthesis,” says Jan Zepp, a teacher in area Lutheran schools for the past 30 years who is also serving as Trinity’s admissions director, “usually one small change at a time.” The entire school will work to connect the “8 C’s” to the traditional subject matter, such as math and reading, and all the subjects to each other, to go deeper into teaching, learning and serving.

For example, says Zepp, “We have a long history of service projects,” such as collecting items for area food pantries at Thanksgiving. “It is a good service project, but it doesn’t go deep enough. Our focus that month is citizenship so, instead of just having a contest to earn a pizza party by bringing in the most cans of food, we will explore why we help our community. It’s about courage, respect for others and stewardship of God’s blessings.” For the sixth and eighth grades, there will also be several skill and academic connections, such as goal setting, publicity, math, science and nutrition, says interim principal Pam Sausaman.

Ultimately, Trinity hopes to “change our little corner of the world,” says Zepp. “We’re going to be taking a three-year-old and training him or her to be a functioning 30-year-old. We will be teaching skills to last a lifetime.”

Teacher and trainer DiAnne Crown is a longtime advocate of thoughtful, respectful teaching and learning at home and school that supports slowing down, occasionally unplugging and listening.

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