November 03, 2021 | Kayliani Powlison

Professor David Smith (left) with a book cover (right)

This year, Calvin University’s professor in both language and education, David Smith, is the winner of the Lilly Fellows Program's Book Award.

“[The award] was something of a delight for me to see won by a book that's very focused on classroom teaching and learning. Because ... in academic contexts, that's not always what floats to the top of the pile in terms of what people want to focus on,” says Smith.

Cultivating Awareness in Christian Teaching Circles

Granted biennially, the Lilly Fellows Program honors works that animate the vocations of Christian teaching and theory in university settings. Smith’s book, On Christian Teaching, has been recognized for this prestigious award.

“I’m very happy for David,” says Matt Lundberg, director of The de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development. “He’s inviting Christians who teach to think about the subtle yet powerful ways in which pedagogical choices matter for how Christian faith shapes our students’ learning ... This award is a sign that the Christian higher-ed world is starting to pay serious attention to his invitation!”

Incorporating Meaningful Changes to Christian Teaching

On Christian Teaching has made many appearances in The de Vries Institute’s teaching curriculum, influencing how faculty at Calvin and at universities around the world have established their classrooms.

“Teaching is never just a technique, it’s never just tips and tricks,” Smith articulates. “Whenever you walk into a classroom and organize the way people interact together, the way people learn together, the way people think together ... you’re telling an implicit story about the world, about what’s important about your discipline, what’s important about learning, and what’s important about your students.”

Through reading On Christian Teaching, Smith hopes to influence the teaching styles among Christian faculty at Calvin and around the world. By implementing meaningful changes like those described in his book, faculty will be able to connect with their students better, leading to the cultivation of more purposeful relationships.

Taking Positive Steps Toward Faith-Based Learning

While The de Vries Institute is currently circulating ideas catering to how students can demonstrate faith in the classroom, On Christian Teaching focuses on the faculty-side of faith-based learning. Smith begs the question: is being Christian important to teaching Christianly? In truth, Smith confesses, classes taught under the guise of faith-based learning often don’t have an organized curriculum to support their claims of teaching Christianly; this is the root issue that the book grapples with.

When asked what he’d like for his readers to take away from his book, Smith says he would “like people to see their teaching as inherently conveying meanings through how we teach, not just through what we teach, and to think about whether those meanings are Christian, whether they are genuinely respectful to students as growing people made in God's image, and whether they're consistent with the story that we're trying to tell about who we are and what our institutions are trying to achieve.”

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