Originally written in May 2011

When I first listened to this one by Debbie Harris several months ago, I knew it was one I needed to take notes on. I finally was able to listen to it with pen and paper at hand and take notes as if actually attending the conference, and I filled 3 notebook pages simply with her outline and points. It is a well-organized talk, full of practical details yet centered on the often esoteric topic of soul-cultivation. What follows is simply my note-taking of her outline, sans personal commentary. Primarily it has me pondering how to be more purposeful in establishing an atmosphere of beauty (both aesthetically and in our actions and interactions) and how to establish more non-verbal cues.


In all we do as teachers, we are supporting a purpose. If we are not intentional in pursuing the purpose we desire in all we do, we quickly become inadvertently destructive of our intended purpose. Everything that we do should be driven by our ends. Are our classrooms soul-driven or results-driven?

Be Soul-Driven in How You Manage

Thesis: Manage so that you’re ordering your classroom toward cultivating freedom; governing your classroom should be the process of training students toward a disciplined will and body.

The process of governing the will is three-fold.

  1. We all begin with ungoverned wills. Children are inexperienced and immature; that is how they come. Do not become frustrated by their immaturity or inexperience.
  2. Children should learn to have governed wills very early. They need to learn to restrain themselves by submitting to an external authority. However, this step is not where we want them to stay, but is a mediatory and training step toward being self-governed.
  3. After learning through submission to authority to control and restrain oneself, people then learn to internalize values, habits, and actions so that they gradually become more and more self-governed, self-controlled. To get to this point, people need to experience virtue; it must be shown to them by their teacher through story and most importantly, through example.

The virtues we must cultivate are of three types, and they all really are summed up in integrity, consistency: spiritual, intellectual, and physical.

Qualities To Cultivate in the Classroom to Develop Virtue & Self-Government

  1. respect — its highest purpose is honoring God.
  2. order — minimizes distraction, it is part of the character of God, it fosters potential and allows work to be done well.
  3. respite — an openness to the Holy Spirit rather than coercion, distractions must be minimized and the environment must be welcoming.
  4. responsibility — promotes the self-governed will and prepares them to follow God independently; it demonstrates that you trust and respect them, which in turn increases their respect for you and their confidence. We should aim for student-maintained order and give them many problem-solving opportunities where we step out of their way.
  5. engagement — attentive, focused work.
  6. delight — fostered by the teacher; it fosters trust and is evidence of a delight and trust in God. The opposite of delight is hypocrisy.

The Purposes of a Classroom Culture

Of course we want all these outcomes, but it is best to start with the basic, lower goals and work toward the higher.

  1. A thought-filled, God-centered classroom is necessary for learning, to open the doors of the heart.
  2. It then promotes growth of the heart and soul, changing the heart by attracting it toward virtue.
  3. It also awakens our neediness and inadequacy, causing fruitful grief and humility.
  4. Finally, it helps us recognize how God fills our needs, causing us to glorify God, producing grateful joy as we cherish seeing God in all things He has created.

How to Be Soul-Driven in the Nitty-Gritty Daily Routines

Do not settle for neutrality in how you do things. Aim all things toward your ends, and think through the details, aligning them with your purposes.

  1. environment — your physical environment and also the structure you operate. Plan it! Use it to enhance order and beauty. How does your atmosphere feel aesthetically? How will your day run? How will you handle conflict? motivation? consequences? How will you give your students responsibility? Don’t wing it. To be consistent you need a plan. Think through your transitions. Make simple rules by telling students what they will do rather than what they can’t do. After the first month or so, your class, your students, should be able to run the routine themselves with little to no direct instruction or cues.
  2. instruction — how you give instruction will make or break your classroom. Your pace should be guided by the feedback you pick up in the moment. Make your tempo intentional, and use it to set the tone you want. A fast tempo promotes energy and excitement, but too fast or too much tends toward stress. A slow tempo promotes rest and contemplation, but too slow or too much tends toward boredom and laziness. Generally, it is good to start off fast and upbeat, then once you have secured their interest and attention, slow down and be deliberate. If your classroom is always fast-paced, it will cause anxiety.
  3. teacher — how you look, walk, and talk all matters, it all communicates your attitude toward the students and the work before you.

3a. teacher’s non-verbal communication — your non-verbals should be your first line of defense. You should use non-verbal cues more than verbal. Rely on them. You should be able to meat out your decided consequences without saying a word and disturbing the entire class. Figure out signals.

  • confidence — how you walk and hold yourself and dress yourself speaks about your confidence. God has put you in this position, and that is the source of your confidence. Your students will only follow you if you present yourself as a confident guide. You are a leader, so be a leader.
  • humility — you don’t need to be the source of all information to be confident or to lead. Do not set yourself up as the source, but as the leader on an expedition. This also fosters relationship with your students.
  • proximity — how you place yourself in relation to your students is a tool to use intentionally.
  • consequences — administer consequences without stopping or even speaking; don’t let misbehavior disrupt or interrupt you. The less you use your voice, the more effective it will be when you do use it.
  • formality — a formal tone foster a respect for education, for order, and for your position.
  • touch — touch is an encouraging tool, communicates affection.
  • emotion — wield it purposefully, display your pleasure, humor, love, excitement; be in control of your emotions. Should your investment in the lesson and in the students; don’t let the students arouse negative emotions, which is a power struggle — who is in control of your emotions? The student or yourself? You need to be self-governed.
  • personality — your personality is your asset; use your style as a tool. Utilize your strengths, yet recognize your weaknesses and compensate for them. Remember we must also challenge ourselves as well, and not simply do what comes easily.

3b. verbal communication — it is easy to rely on our voice, but you want your students to value what you say, so be measured and careful in how you speak.

  • tone — speak with confidence and expectancy that does not leave room for slacking.
  • volume — do not react and never raise your voice above classroom noise; use an object like a bell to gain attention, not your voice.
  • emotion — be careful what emotions you display in your voice.
  • speed — quickness communicates imperativeness, while slowness communicates thoughtfulness.
  • words — create shortcut phrases for common commands and keep commands as short as possible. Remember: The more you talk, the more they will tune you out.
  • tense — give instructions in the past tense, because it is as good as done; this gives less room for challenges and power struggles. Never add “ok?” at the end of a command. It also helps the student to see the end and do what is needed (problem-solving) to get there himself, promoting responsibility.
  • courtesy — use good manners, be polite and courteous. We are seeking to be and develop exemplary people, not neutral drifters. Use hard vocabulary, but in contexts or with restatements that teach and explain.
  • praise & correction — both are needed in balance to each other. In correction, guide and do not crush; praise concretely, especially for hard work.

The soul-driven, God-centered classroom is managed in accordance to Romans 12:9: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”

A Thought-Filled, God-Centered Classroom Serves the Soul through an Emphasis on Beauty

Beauty is a revelation of God. Beauty is a part of the nature of God, and He reveals Himself through the beauty He has created in the world. We respond to beauty because it reflects God, and our souls long for God. There is no virtue that is not beautiful.

There are three types of beauty:

  1. passive beauty — physically appealing to the senses; its purpose is to lead us toward the deeper beauties.
  2. active beauty — beauty in action: virtue, righteousness, integrity. Being loving, being compassionate, is being beautiful.
  3. secondary active beauty — when we see God in all beauty and delight in Him through beauty of the other two types.

After experiencing secondary active beauty, we are changed. When we see God more clearly, we radiate that beauty and glory. It is an avenue of the Holy Spirit and it overflows into active beauty in our own lives and actions.

Take the time to make your classroom beautiful.

Saturate the children’s souls with beauty.

She has another CIRCE talk called “Understanding and Instilling a Love of Beauty” that develops this idea further.

A Soul-Driven, God-Centered Classroom Endears Children to Nature

God created the human brain to understand best by seeing, which is how he communicates through nature. Nature is a visible book about God and we want children to interact with it. God is saying in nature, “See Me! Seek Me!” If you seek, you will find.

Nature communicates to us about God in two ways.

  1. mirrored reflection — a taste of what God is like (sun, mountains, rocks, — notice nature metaphors God uses to reveal Himself in the Bible; they are there because God designed the earth to speak this way about Himself)
  2. contrast revelation — decay & destruction resonate with us because it is the earth’s groanings to be renewed.

Students should be in the habit of asking four questions about nature.

  1. What law of nature is evident here?
  2. What trait of God is revealed here?
  3. What does it tell you about man?
  4. What is revealed about God’s intent toward man? (meditate primarily upon natural metaphors revealed in Scripture like root–branch and sap–fruit and water and thirsting, and especially the pattern of life from death.)

She ended with Lamentations 3:21-26:

21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.


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