Great Expectations

fish-high-expectationsby Sarah Pfannenschmidt, Logic School Humanities teacher

While in Dallas at the ACCU conference last summer, I had the privilege of listening to Classical educators Douglas and Nancy Wilson give a session entitled, ‘High Expectations.’ I’m not sure what appealed more: the chance to hear the Wilsons speak or the possibility of defining what ‘high expectations’ means.

There’s something about Christian Classical education that seems to foster high expectations and require their articulation in a set of standards. Here at TCS, we certainly expect a great deal from our students. Anyone who browses through our academic schedule (rigorous!) or read our dress code policy (extensive!) would confirm this. Yet in a world that increasingly trumpets that there is no absolute truth, these expectations-turned-standards are both inspiring and daunting. I confess that as a teacher, I often wonder if my expectations for my students are appropriate. For example, I remember the terror my third graders shot at me when I challenged them to memorize chemistry definitions or parse Latin nouns. Their reactions were sufficient to make me paranoid as a first-year teacher. I couldn’t help asking, “Am I expecting too much of these kids?”

It was, therefore, immensely reassuring to hear the Wilsons explain that high standards are supposed to be “hard for” students to achieve, but not be “hard on” them. What’s the difference? The design of high standards is to train our students to 1) recognize the value of hard work, 2) develop self-respect, and 3) learn to thrive in the obedience that liberates. Consider God’s righteous and perfect law, which is the highest of all standards. His expectation is that we will demonstrate Christ in all we do, whether it be washing dishes or teaching Latin. We are enabled to do so because Christ has already met the standards on our behalf. Truly, this is good news! We are allowed to fail because Christ did not. God’s high standards remain, but now we have Christ in us completing the good work that he started. He is the reason we can and should have higher expectations for others and ourselves.

At TCS, we desire that our students will experience the freedom that Christ gives us to live a life of excellence. How do we motivate and help our students develop a desire to meet our high expectations?

First, a warning: Our students will not be equipped or enabled to meet our high expectations if we do not model them first. Let us not do as the Pharisees, who would “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves [were] not willing to move them with their finger.”

Rather than condemn others to uphold an impossible standard, the Wilsons suggested three ways in which we can promote a culture of high expectations:

1)   Show gratitude: be thankful for high expectations! Too often we are not held accountable, and then we are left to fight persistent sins that flourished in consequence.  Be grateful that someone cares enough to ask more of us.

2)   Choose cheerfulness: demonstrate joy in all things, especially the high standards. After all, the Psalmist declared, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul.” That’s certainly something to be cheerful about!

3)   Acknowledge that hard work is hard: It’s okay to admit that our standards are high. After all, they’re high because our expectations are high, and these are high because we care. Our students also need to know that we feel the burn. Sometimes I encourage my students by telling them, “I understand. [This task or concept] is hard for me too, but together we’ll get there.” They’ll respect us more if they know that the challenge is there for us as well.

In the end, be encouraged that having high expectations for your students does not make you (as my niece would say), “big mean meany-heads.” What is does make us is a people, freed by Christ, to give our all in every task. Let us therefore “press on toward the goal” with joy!

Observations and an invitation


by Kyle Bryant, Director of the upcoming TCS Heights Campus

My first few weeks at Trinity Classical School have been many things—informative, encouraging, challenging, and life-giving. There is so much to learn, understand, and implement that sometimes it feels overwhelming. But through all of that, I still walk through the halls of TCS thinking, “This exists?” What a gift from the Lord! So, while I have much to learn, I am grateful to be a part of TCS.

For those whom I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting, my name is Kyle Bryant, and I am the campus director for the soon-to-be Heights campus. In many ways, I am a stranger to classical education, having grown up in the public school system. But after seeing the godly fruit of classical Christian education over the past few years, I decided that this was something worth pursuing wholeheartedly for our children and future generations. That’s why I am here at TCS: to pursue planting a TCS campus in the Heights. So I will be immersed in TCS this school year, learning, growing, and planning.

Because we are seeking to replicate what TCS does so well, I have had my eyes and ears open these first few weeks of school. I have found that there is a genuine love for God’s word at TCS, which is a direct result of God’s blessing and grace. We continually ask for humility in how we pursue education, and God has responded by creating a culture where his word is read and cherished. I am convinced that this will also help us become better learners (and educators) because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. All of these begin with truth, and truth comes to us from God in his Word.

That’s why we rightly place God’s word at the beginning of each campus day. If we want our students to learn any truth, we need to start with the truth, because we believe that all truth is God’s truth. So, during morning assembly this quarter, students are memorizing Psalm 46. “The Lord is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” They are also memorizing sound-off questions like “Who made me?” (God!) and “Why did God make all things?” (For his own glory!). These exercises, while appearing routine at times, help sow deep truths into the hearts of our kids. When the Psalmist invites us to “Come, behold the works of the Lord,” he is beckoning us to learn about God and his ways. For how can we behold that which we do not know? God made the earth, moon, and stars, and it is he who governs their motion. He made the mountains and the seas and all the creatures that inhabit them. So when we come to behold the works of the Lord, we come to learn math, astronomy, biology, botany, and poetry, for all of these were spoken into existence. In other words, learning about God and learning about math, science, and reading go hand in hand. All of life (and all of learning) are under the lordship of Jesus Christ, so we teach our kids to that end. But it does not stop there.

We as adults need these truths just as well. We need to believe them like children, too. For to such belong the Kingdom of God. Therefore when our kids say “The Lord is our refuge and strength,” we should remember that, yes, God is our refuge and our strength. He is present, to help us in trouble. And the invitation to come and behold the works of the Lord is for us, too. In our daily lives, the Lord proclaims his glory in many ways. Every sunrise is a reminder of God’s kindness. Every rainbow a remembrance of his covenant. And every at-home lesson is a testament to the Lord’s faithfulness through generations. “Therefore we will not fear when the earth gives way.” Our God is a faithful God, and he gives us things like sunrises, flowers, and at-home lessons to remind us of that glorious truth. May we receive it like our kids.


Slaying the dragon

fantasy-dragonby Michelle Graves, Logic Humanities teacher

There is a dragon in education that will steal your child’s treasure. John Mays, science teacher and Novare textbook publisher, calls it the “Cram-Pass-Forget” dragon. At conferences of classical Christian education Mr. Mays sports a campaign button with the red circle-and-slash symbol obliterating those three words.

He starts his talk with a thought experiment: would your children pass a review test in November, say, over the previous school year’s material? Are they mastering subjects or settling for the sad cycle of cram, pass, then forget?

How can we get to the better threesome of “Learn-Master-Retain”? Mr. Mays outlines the principles for mastery-based pedagogy. We slay the dragon by avoiding superfluous content and busy work and by reviewing 30-40% of the time in subject, on and off campus.

On campus this means assignments supporting specific learning objectives. We should focus deeply on the core content, reviewing and rehearsing regularly. Assessments need to be cumulative, drawing randomly from prior chapters and quizzes. Grades should reflect learning that has been internalized, not just effort.

At home there will be constant drilling with lists, formulas, facts, vocabulary, flashcards, explanations. 30-40% of the time in subject! You might have a child who is impatient with review. “I already know that,” he claims. But we are learning to master and retain, beyond the test, beyond year end.

The goal is that your children be caught up in their own cycles of excellence. They enjoy what they are good at. They are good at what they enjoy. We are training children to enjoy mastery learning itself. This can be a joyful way of life that extends into adulthood and eternity. Mays reminds us that expecting mastery doesn’t require being mean. You are the child’s advocate and can say truly, “I’m on your side.” We don’t reserve our affection, waiting for them to measure up. Rather, we provide a loving, friendly environment. We are eager to help children succeed.

Our example as parents and teachers is very important, of course. Do we hold ourselves to these high standards for mastery? Do we take short-cuts that ultimately cost us our joy in learning or work? The Lord is eager to help us raise these children to be His good and faithful servants. Not dragon bait.

Combating Privileged Elitism at TCS

Stack of One Hundred Dollar Bills Neil Anderson, Head of School

Last year at Closing Assembly, I felt a deep conviction to steadily and publicly acknowledge that any success we’ve had at TCS comes from God. I firmly believe this school is not a man-made endeavor. Any good that exists in us personally or institutionally comes from our Heavenly Father. The task at hand for all of us is this–in all our ways acknowledge Him.

I have been contemplating our school culture and asking if there are areas which might be hindrances to some of our ultimate goals and I have found my prayer life steadily drawn towards the issue of our wealth.

There are two things that I think we need to get on the table from the outset. I’m hoping for a high level of agreement on these: 1) We are rich; 2) As rich people, our children are spoiled. The spirit of this talk is not one of judgement, but rather humble self-reflection. Listen first to the words of Paul:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.–1 Timothy 6:17-19 (ESV)

For me, there is no room for debate—I think we are among “rich in the present age.” I don’t think I need to read you the statistics, as most of you have heard them. The American culture in general, and all the more the specific culture at TCS, is one of wealth and abundance. Since we are wealthy, I think most of you will agree with me that being spoiled is somewhat inescapable. We are inherently spoiled because of the culture in which we live. What do we do with this?

In regards to our wealth, I am concerned about stagnation and spoil. I’m concerned about the natural way that things ought to flow—in and out. The very nature of the word spoil has to do with goods unused. When we have an abundance that does not get used, that which is left over spoils. When our children are invested into and there is no outlet for that investment, they spoil. In our lives, where is the potential for spoil and stagnation? Where do life-giving streams become cesspools and sweet aromes become putrid smells? Input without outflow is grounds for spoiling.

The two issues of being rich and spoiled are significant hurdles in at least two of our four goals in the portrait of a TCS graduate. Our administrative team spent some time over the summer reflecting on our end goals. We summarize them this way:

By the grace of God, our graduates will…

  • be able to identify truth, goodness, and beauty and recognize Christ as the source
  • be able to skillfully apply the tools of learning (grammar, logic, rhetoric) to everyday life
  • be wise and virtuous
  • use their education selflessly to further Christ’s Kingdom.

Regarding the last two points, wealth is the major assailant. Wealth is the enemy of virtue in the Scriptures because wealth urges our attention and affection toward the kingdom of the world. So as we ponder this portrait of a TCS graduate, we must consider the effects of wealth and abundance. The biblical charge from Paul in 1 Timothy 6 is this: “Rich people, take heed. Since you are rich, you are admonished to:

  • Know and preach the uncertainty of riches (v. 17a).
  • Constantly point to God as the supplier and enjoy your wealth (v. 17b).
  • Work towards a kingdom “savings.” Store up good works (v. 18a).
  • Give from your abundance of wealth. Avoid stagnant pools (v. 18b).
  • Take hold of what is truly life (v. 19).”

The message that needs to emanate from us is that our abundance of food, clothes, toys, and material possessions is fleeting. Preach the uncertainty of your wealth. Tell your kids not to presume the same abundance will be available tomorrow. All of history is a testimony to this. We are to enjoy what we have, but do so in a way that is cognizant of the fact that God is the supplier. Our focus should be on increasing our wealth in the ways of heaven. Being rich in good works is being rich in heavenly ways (verse 18).  Let’s not neglect our eternal savings account.

There is a monetary cost for a TCS education. Our wealth affords the opportunity to get rich in the first two stages of the trivium—knowledge and understanding. Our wealth provides an opportunity to gain knowledge and understanding at TCS, but it does not buy wisdom. The rhetoric stage, where the outflow begins to surge, is a bit of a litmus. What are we doing with the outflow? Is there even an outflow? There is so much flowing into our children—do they have healthy habits of outflow which began in their grammar school years and continue throughout upper school?

Since we live in abundance, we need to take extra care to make sure there is an outlet for worship, giving, self-sacrifice, and self-denial for our children. We will be working to foster this on a corporate level and we encourage you to be working on it in your homes, to help them find outlets of worship. They can be investing and serving their siblings (older siblings even teaching younger ones some). They can use the arts to find creative ways to bless others. Don’t just teach them how to write a letter, teach them how to write a letter and fill it with content meant to bring joy and hope into someone else’s life. Basically, begin to work with your students on how they can be generous with their education.

I want  to loop this back to the talk at the beginning of the year about the hope of heaven. See verse 19: “Thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” Paul is not saying to flee wealth. He is saying, “Figure out how to be rich in this present age.” Our children need to know material need. They need to know dependence. They need to know they don’t always get what they ask for. The point is not to be insecure or worried about our wealth, nor is it to hesitate in providing abundantly for our children. But we do need to stay awake to the biblical warnings that material wealth is often destructive. We need to equip our children to be ready to cling to Jesus, no matter the circumstances.

Eternity has already begun—do we really believe that life in him is real and everlasting? Are we harnessing what is truly life? My hope is that we, who are materially wealthy, will be rich in heart and rich in the ways of heaven. Take hold NOW of that which is truly life, this eternal, priceless life thread initiated in you by the Holy Spirit.

A Life of Education

By Jasmine B., Logic School teacher

I stood in front of a father and his two uniformed children at the grocery store the other day, eavesdropping. 

“Nine times two is?”


“Twelve times three is?”

“Twenty four?”

“Say what now?”

The kids laughed, but Dad looked pretty serious. “Thirty-six,” his son said, and Dad immediately cracked a smile. “No more B’s on our math tests.”

This dad understood that his responsibility to help his son learn math couldn’t be completely abdicated to whatever school they were enrolled in. He was taking an active part in getting those math facts into his kid’s head. And it didn’t just take place at his desk at school or at the kitchen table at home, but in the grocery store checkout.  

And that poor kid’s eye roll resonated deeply with the childhood “me.” 

Education as Part of Life 

As a homeschool graduate, the scene looked familiar. 

Growing up, we did school all year round, taking breaks whenever family vacations or burnout presented themselves. We didn’t have a set time to finish school each day, sometimes finishing at noon, sometimes taking long breaks during the day and finishing after dinner. And, speaking of dinner, our conversations could range anywhere from why mathematics is important for believers to conquer (there are very few math lovers at my house) to why George Orwell is just a much better dystopian author than Aldous Huxley (my brother and I could never agree). 

For us, education wasn’t just something that happened at school time. All of life was full of opportunities for discovery and illustration. We weren’t antisocial eggheads by any stretch of the imagination, but our thirst for learning was stoked by realizing that learning wasn’t just something that we did from eight to three every day—it was the active worship of our Lord. 

Education as an Act of Worship

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” –Deuteronomy 6:4-9

As the Israelites stand on the verge of walking into the Promised Land, Moses speaks the commandment given him directly from the Lord: love him with all of your heart, teach his ways diligently to your children, and never let up. 

Now, true, this passage says nothing about drilling math facts while you’re buying produce. But throughout the ages the Lord has made himself apparent in a redemptive plan that has been ever-unfolding, a plan that has been revealed to us through the years, a plan that we interpret through his Word. 

And as the plan has unfurled, great mind after great mind has interacted with thought after thought. The act of educating ourselves about these thoughts not only enables us to gain deeper insight into truth, but to articulate that truth with a confidence all our own. And the greatest thinkers have always known: this discovery does not take place in a box. 

Education as a Lifestyle

The concept of education as a lifestyle may be hard to impress upon a middle schooler rolling his eyes in the grocery store checkout. And the concept of education as a lifestyle isn’t always rooted in the gospel. 

But when it is, something beautiful happens:

Education becomes less about not getting a B on the math test and more about viewing math as a vessel for God’s glory. It becomes less about winning an argument and more about relating to others in a meaningful, challenging way that points them to truth, goodness, and beauty. It becomes a passion, a fire lit by educators who want more for their students than empty, heartless repetition eight hours a day. 

This is my goal in the classroom because this was my parents’ goal at home. And abroad. And in the car. And during soccer practice. And in the grocery checkout. 

I hope I never stop learning, never stop growing in a curiosity that is rooted in a desire to know more about the world the Lord has given us, and to become more adept at communicating those truths to others. I hope that for my students, and I hope that for their parents. 

I might have balked, mouth wide open, during those summer days of homeschooling if you told me that I’d end up spending my days in a classroom. But the older I got, the more that balking gave way to the fact that being involved in education as an adult was just inevitable for me, because education is such an inextricable part of my life and my walk. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Annual Pep Talk

By Neil Anderson, Head of School 

It is time for our beginning of year pep talk. I know you need it, so don’t resist. I refuse to begin until you take a deep breath, smile, and say out loud “I am not crazy for doing this.” Well, in fact, you are a bit crazy, but that’s what makes it good.

Now, a few reminders:

1. Be painfully patient. You must give things at least through the first quarter to feel like you have completely found a rhythm. It’s fine to talk through your struggles early with faculty and friends, just don’t gauge your ability to “do this” by what you are experiencing now. Be patient and wait. Your homeschool days will get significantly easier. I have spoken with several veteran families and the struggle is the same for them as they encounter the new territory that comes with students entering higher grades and getting reorganized for a new school year. Be painfully patient.

2. Be joyfully frustrated. Don’t get mad at me, I know this is easier said than done. We talked a lot last year about being an educational community marked by joy. This will not be accomplished if we let our frustrations rob our joy. I do believe there is a way to struggle and to chip away at problems without it being strenuous and joyless. In Pauline fashion, we will “consider it pure joy” when our homeschool days are absolutely killing us. We consider it joy because we are Christians which means that all of life is to be marked by hope and joy, even when life stinks. This is the glorious paradox of the Christian faith, that we can struggle with hope, laugh while we throw our hands in the air, and smile in the midst of sadness. We must refuse to forget that the kingdom of God is at hand. A mind set on the kingdom of this world will be absorbed in futility, but the mind set on the kingdom of God will find life and peace in all things.

It is very dangerous to say something funny while arguing with my wife, but sometimes it is just what is needed. It cuts the tension. It pulls us out of this tight box we have squeezed ourselves into and reminds us that minor things have become major things and it should not be so. So when you work out frustrations, please, wait to do so until you have sought perspective from the Lord. Wait for joy to be restored, and then lets figure some things out together.

3. Be an imperfect perfectionist. I do some homeschool days myself so I understand, you just want to get it right and sometimes you don’t feel like you can. Sometimes you need a little bit more information, sometimes there is a typo in the lesson plans, sometimes you forget where to find what you need, etc. So you get stuck or you have that unsatisfied feeling that you are there, ready to do things perfectly with your students, but you are unsure if you are doing it the way the teacher wants. This absorbs time and makes your schooling feel less than fluid, which in turn can make you feel like your student is not getting what he/she needs. What I mean by an imperfect perfectionist is that you should certainly strive to get it right, but also be willing to fall short without obsessing. This means that while you work at the most fluid and seamless homeschool day possible, be at peace with the days that are not so. Be at peace with not having it quite right yet. This is a basic principle for life. We want it right and want it right now.

I couldn’t sleep at night because our carpool line, with the increase in students, was taking too long and it was chaotic despite our time investment planning. We’re shaving more minutes off the line each day now and it is not chaotic anymore. The obsessing was futile. For homeschooling, this issue is connected to the unavoidable tensions between true learning and grades. Grades are necessary for objective measurement, but they are also a huge distraction in education because so often we obsess over getting it right at the expense of using our instincts to focus on true learning. Sometimes it’s more important to let go of your focus on doing exactly what is supposed to be done, take control, and focus on learning the objectives in front of you based on common sense, as you would if you were homeschooling on your own.

4. On long school days and heavy workload. We have a steady stream of feedback regarding workload and length of homeschool days. This feedback generally spans both ends of the spectrum and everything in between, though it is weighted at the beginning of the year towards “this is so much work.” We do not pretend to believe that we have the workload just perfect, but we are confident that the current load is good. We have told you the target times your students should be working at home, but there are just too many variables to expect the time limit to be normalized for everyone. The main encouragement I want to give you is not to despise long school days. Especially in upper school, the homework concept is grafted in to what we do so it is not unusual to be working in the evening at times. Embrace long days. Your attitude will make all the difference. I realize it can feel like your student might be burning out at times which we do want to be cautious about. But the endurance gained by students on the longer days will be most valuable for them in the future.

The Lord is doing a good work among us and as with any endeavor with humans beings, there will be strain. Let’s strain with joy, be gracious with each other, and model the lives we are calling our students to live. If this isn’t fun, we’re doing something wrong! We are praying that Jesus Christ will reign in your homes, bringing life, joy, and good fruit.

Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
To give and not to count the cost,
To fight and not to heed the wounds,
To toil and not to seek for rest,
To labor and not to ask for reward
Save that of knowing I am doing your will.
Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

From the Desk of Mrs. Anderson…

by Marian Anderson, Pre-Grammar Academic Director

At the end of every school year, I start a mental yearly review and summer planning list. I know all the different aspects of this model of schooling and what it takes to get my four kids out the door, ready and in proper uniform, on the first day of school. I know what it takes for me to feel ready for that first home day. I know that it will require many hours spent ordering, shopping, checking lists, and organizing. So come mid-May, I start my mental list of what to do better than the previous year. Order early. Wait for this or that particular sale. Label books as they come in. Yes, rolling backpacks are expensive… and so on.

Our family moved this summer, so things have been a little off kilter. I ordered uniforms in May, patted myself on the back, and resumed all other school related preparations in late July. But no matter what, if I am super organized or barely scraping by, I have this one moment every summer. When the books arrive, and most of the supplies are purchased, and I look at the piles and piles of books and teacher manuals–I always feel completely overwhelmed. I laugh at my mental checklist and begin to consider unschooling.

This year, thankfully, that predictable moment came right before teacher training. Immediately after I battled those thoughts, (I cannot do this, let’s hire a tutor, whose idea was this to begin with, let’s move to Africa) I had the privilege of spending the week in training with our faculty and staff. We spent the week discussing why we are a Christ-centered, Classical, and Collaborative-style school. Why? What does it mean to be these things? I sat and listened to their hearts, to their passions, and the reasons why they are a part of Trinity. And that is what I want to tell you about today, not from a teacher/administrator perspective, but from a mom’s perspective.

One of the points that we came back to over and over throughout the week is that what makes our school Christ-centered is Christians–people who love Jesus and His purposes on the earth. As a mom, I want my children to know math and science and history, but most of all I want them to love Jesus. I want the people in their lives who are influencing them and discipling them to truly love our Savior. And I want their education to be fueled by the desire to know our Creator. I am thankful that the Lord has assembled a faculty at TCS that loves HIm, seeks Him, and desires to make Him known.

This alone flooded my heart with peace. Books will come late and pages will be missing. Water bottles will be lost and expensive rolling backpacks broken. But as the new year begins, I hope that this will serve as a reminder that those things are not the center of our children’s education. TCS strives to make Christ the center in all things, from pencils to philosophy. The administration and board have prayed about and sought counsel on everything, from curriculum to scheduling. Those things are important and vital to the life of our school. But as a mom, I am so thankful that my kids will spend Mondays and Wednesdays with teachers who love Jesus, and love them.