This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Mennonite educators unleash curiosity, ignite hope

Photo: Members of the 2020 Mennonite Educators Conference planning committee, from left: Tim Lehman, Bethany Christian School; Jo Helmuth, Mennonite Education Agency; Michael Charles, Lancaster Mennonite School; Sharon Fransen, Dock Mennonite Academy; Paul Leaman, Eastern Mennonite School; and Elaine Moyer, Mennonite Education Agency. Photo by Cami Dager

At the 2020 Mennonite Educators Conference entitled “Unleashing Curiosity, Igniting Hope,” participants demonstrated the impact that an Anabaptist Mennonite education has on children, churches and the broader community.

More than 350 Anabaptist-Mennonite educators from the United States and Canada participated in the event held Feb. 6-8 at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia.

The conference is a biennial professional development and networking event hosted by Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) and the Mennonite Schools Council (MSC), a network of 25 Mennonite schools serving students from early childhood through grade 12.

“An education with an Anabaptist foundation helps us understand the lens through which we view the world and our responsibility to make the world better for all,” said Conrad Swartzentruber, executive committee chair of MSC and superintendent of Dock Mennonite Academy in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

Peter Wiens, assistant professor of teacher education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Paul J. Yoder, assistant professor of teacher education at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, presented findings from their 2019 survey on teaching practices and pre-service training of nearly 400 teachers at 25 MSC schools. The survey focused on faith integration, pre-service training, instructional practices and personal beliefs, and is part of their co-authored

“Teachers in Mennonite schools have high self-efficacy in communicating faith, despite today’s changing educational landscape,” Yoder said. Almost 99% of teachers felt that they had “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of influence to “show students they are loved and valued by God.”

According to Yoder, surveyed educators also expressed confidence in their abilities to teach and model peacebuilding, to help students grow in their understanding of stewardship for the natural environment, to grow in relationship with Jesus, to understand biblical discernment and to create a classroom where it is emotionally safe to raise questions and care for each other.

Keynote speaker Kristin Anderson, founder and CEO of The Brilliance Project for sustainable professional learning for educators, underscored the impact of Anabaptist-Mennonite teaching, citing research that shows teachers matter more to student achievement than any other aspect of schooling.

Another keynote speaker, Rachel Swartzendruber Miller, vice president of advancement at Hesston (Kansas) College, encouraged participants to embrace their influence and successes and become “brand ambassadors, recruiters and ‘owners’ of our wonderful institutions.”

In addition to advantages such as small class size, strong academics, varied programming and a broad exposure to the arts, Swartzendruber Miller emphasized the unique aspects of an Anabaptist Mennonite education: Christ-centered community, discipleship and a Gospel ethic of love.

“We must all be Mennonite education brand owners,” said Swartzendruber Miller. “Share your stories. Do what you do but do it more publicly.”

Four schools did just that through brief PechaKucha (Japanese for “chit chat”) presentations. Faculty from Bethany Christian Schools, Goshen, Indiana; Dock Mennonite Academy; Eastern Mennonite School in Harrisonburg, Virginia; and Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Mennonite School shared stories that showed how their schools were modeling Anabaptist-Mennonite faith values such as hope, kindness, empathy and community.

Educators also gathered in participant-led learning camps to discuss a wide range of topics generated by the group, including teaching practices, classroom management strategies, student self-efficacy, anti-racism and other Anabaptist-Mennonite topics such as restorative practices, creation care and faith formation and integration.

In the closing hours of the conference, leaders from MEA and MSC celebrated Elaine Moyer, senior director of MEA and agency liaison with MSC. Moyer retired Feb. 28, 2020 from her role with MEA.

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