• Grapes, Giants and God: Mentoring First-Year Teachers with the Joshua-Caleb Project

  • Grapes, Giants, and God

    Mentoring First-Year Teachers
    with the Joshua-Caleb Project

    The Joshua-Caleb Project (JCP) is a program at Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW) designed to help future teachers make a smoother adjustment to their own classroom by working with experienced teachers. Specifically, the mission is “To prepare the next generation of Lutheran teacher candidates in a personalized and practical manner in life areas beyond the classroom.” Based on the account of Joshua and Caleb in the land of Canaan (Numbers 13-14), the veteran teachers are “spies,” who report what the classroom is like. On the one hand, the “spies” confront “giants,” such as disciplining students, being the rookie, and dealing with traumatized children. On the other hand, they experience wonderful aspects of teaching, such as witnessing the development in body, mind, and spirit of their students. These are the “grapes” of a harvest made possible by a teacher’s hard work and God’s power.

    History and Background

    In the summer of 1975 Russ Moulds was sitting in class in Seward, Nebraska. He was enrolled in doctrine courses and began to question whether the teacher education program at Concordia adequately prepared teachers for ministry in secondary education. Those questions led to conversations with some of his professors and the initial concept of what would later become the Joshua and Caleb Workshops started to take root.

    That concept developed further when Russ received his first call to Baltimore Lutheran High and realized that, in many ways, the school was functioning more as a private school than as a true place of ministry for the church and the world. That began years of conversations and discussions with other teachers about the purpose of the school and why they were teaching there. According to Moulds, “The school began to change in some significant ways, moving away from its private school character and culture, toward instead an active and practiced ministry of the Gospel.” He noted that the quality of education improved significantly as well.

    Russ attended a Lutheran high school religion teachers’ conference at Valparaiso University in the early 1980s. Dr. Gene Oetting, the dean of education at Concordia Seward at that time, moderated the conference. Russ and another religion teacher from Baltimore Lutheran, Dan Flynn, cornered Dr. Oetting during the conference and found an interested listener. They successfully persuaded Dr. Oetting to bring a team of three Baltimore Lutheran teachers to the Seward campus to work with secondary education candidates at the start of their student teaching. The Caleb Workshop was officially born!

    Competent teachers from different subject areas, who were also effective ministers of the Gospel, made up the team. According to Moulds, the initial goal of the team was to demonstrate how to bring God’s word into their teaching without that practice being “cheesy, contrived, stilted, or wooden.”

    The Numbers 13 story set the tone for the workshop, but the real mission was to help the student teachers make a connection between their theology instruction and their teacher education instruction. Moulds was teaching Old Testament at the time and chose the story of the spies in Numbers 13 as the theme for the workshop. The Caleb team served as spies for the student teachers, returning from the field to alert them about the opportunities and challenges in the promised land of the teaching ministry. The Numbers 13 story set the tone for the workshop, but the real mission was to help the student teachers make a connection between their theology instruction and their teacher education instruction. According to Moulds, the team used practical examples from their own experiences to assist the student teachers as they began their own real teaching—“to clarify for them that they were not being called to be high school teachers; they were being called to use their teaching as a vehicle or delivery system for God’s word and promises.”

    Baltimore Lutheran sent teams to Seward each semester for several years, and eventually teams of “spies” from other Lutheran high schools became involved, and the Caleb Workshop continued to take shape throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. Concordia University Wisconsin jumped on board in the mid-1990s as well, furthering the impact of the Caleb Workshop. The Joshua Workshop was born when the program was expanded to include elementary education candidates, and both programs continue to this day!

    Goals and Outcomes

    Baseball great and part-time philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.” Henry, 2018

    While our Lutheran teacher candidates might not know the location and place of their first call, they do know they will be heading out into the mission field for a life of service to Christ. Indeed, the first two letters in the word goal are “G-O.” Our Lutheran teachers must go and be prepared to witness and teach the faith to our young people, their families, and the communities they will be called to serve. Our revised and amped-up JCP aims to prepare them in a comprehensive and unique way.

    The mission of our program is “to prepare the next generation of Lutheran teacher candidates in a personalized and practical manner in life areas beyond the classroom.”

    The three primary goals of our program are as follows:

    To prepare our candidates for both the formidable challenges and joyous opportunities of witnessing/teaching in a postmodern, secular world.

    Teacher candidates will:
    • know the intricacies of the Call process and embrace what it means to be a Minister of Religion. The Synod’s 1981 Commission on Theology and Church Relations report on the office of ministry states that among many others responsibilities, teachers are “pledged to be concerned for the spiritual and eternal welfare of those committed to his/her care” (p. 18).
    • dialogue and become more aware of the Christian servant expectations beyond the job description.
    • prepare for the financial challenges and fiduciary responsibilities of a Called church worker.
    • know and be challenged on how to be a good steward of God’s gifts and resources.
    • anticipate the “hotspots” of religious liberty issues and how to respond in a proactive manner.
    • prepare for the culture war issues which can disrupt and hinder their personal and professional ministry, practice and feel confident in how to respond and engage—apologetically, biblically, faithfully, and confidently.
    • embrace the unique gifts, skills, dispositions, and personality with which God has blessed them with the Lutheran teaching ministry.

    This work connects with the School of Education focus on disposition development. The JCP will help teacher candidates to be committed to positive dispositions as opposed to simply valuing the idea of what it means to be a Lutheran teacher. Kindall, Crowe, and Elsass (2017) identified the danger of the disconnect between the values of pre-service teachers related to their dispositions versus the actual, committed implementation of those dispositions in the real world.

    To teach our candidates the hidden curriculum of being a professional church worker.

    Teacher candidates will:
    • Anticipate professional stumbling blocks and social, emotional, and spiritual pitfalls of young teachers.
    • Receive dispositional training and experiences and practice how to enhance their own dispositions.
    • Establish a healthy work/life balance.
    • Develop and implement spiritual wellness checks and spiritual growth habits.
    • Create a sustainable, lifelong learning approach and engage in advanced leadership development and training.

    To provide mentoring or coaching for our teacher candidates, they will receive spiritual, psychological, and academic mentoring and support, as well as frequent constructive feedback, from a highly motivated, trained, and equipped Lutheran teacher currently serving in the field.

    The research literature (Brookhart et al, 2016) certainly indicates that goals and objectives should be measurable so that one can assess progress and achievement (or lack thereof). To that end, we will conduct and analyze student self-assessment surveys immediately once they “graduate” from the four-year JCP and after their first year of teaching to see where the program can be improved and tweaked for effectiveness.

    Lutheran teacher candidates will evaluate the overall effectiveness and significance of the program as well as their mentor and the mentor’s overall effectiveness and support. Moreover, mentors will also be assessing their mentees (first year teachers) with a qualitative and quantitative tool or approach.


    Originally, the JCP was developed for teacher candidates who were entering or in the midst of student teaching. Seeing its value, the School of Education (SOE) has sought to expand the program to include all four years of college. Beginning this year, freshmen are brought together three times a year to listen to “spies” in the field. These CUW graduates encourage future educators in their career choice, provide useful tips for navigating the world of Lutheran schools, and network with them as mentors in the field. Connecting with their mentor spies begins a lifelong process of learning through professional experiences with peers. Broadley, Martin, and Curtis (2019), highlight how “identifying a lifelong engagement in learning communities will encourage pre-service teachers to actively engage with other professionals and become responsible for their own ongoing learning and development” (p.5).

    The fall meeting introduced freshmen to the program. Numbers 13-14 was read and summarized, and the rationale for the program was explained. Professors from the SOE shared their personal history and motivation for entering the Lutheran teaching vocation. As “spies” they encouraged these future educators in their career choice. Then freshmen had a chance to discuss their backgrounds and inspirations for being teachers. Being together in a non-academic setting provided the freshmen a chance to bond with the professors and to see them as mentors.

    The winter meeting brought SOE professors back with a recent CUW graduate to tell the freshmen what the land of teaching is like and how God helps in overcoming “giants.”

    They shared advice for making the most of the college experience and on preparation for the teaching ministry. Freshmen had the opportunity to ask questions about the first year and Lutheran teaching in general.

    The spring meeting will feature the SOE professors meeting with the freshmen along with seniors in the education program. They will share keys to Christian leadership on campus that translate into leadership skills for the classroom. Being leaders like Joshua and Caleb is essential now more than ever in this postmodern and post-Christian culture.

    Each year the SOE will add more topics to the JCP. (Future expansion topics are listed but not finalized.)

      • Helping future teachers with communication in the social arena is the subject of “Developing Your Communication Skills Beyond the Classroom.”
      • “Apologetics Intensives: From Theory to Practice” will showcase practical ways to defend the faith.
      • Tackling major cultural changes and how Lutheran schools can address them effectively is the subject of “Cultural Hot Spot Issues.”
      • “Hot Seat Simulations: Christian Leadership Moments Beyond the Classroom” will provide students a chance to address real scenarios involving witness and discipleship.
      • Taking care of body, mind, and spirit is the subject of “Mental, Physical, and Spiritual Wellness.”
    • Who mentored you in the past? Whom are you mentoring now?
    • What other “giants” do new teachers need to address with the help of veteran teachers?
    • What other programs for new teachers are used in your school?
    • Contrasting public versus parochial education is the focus of “Differences and Opportunities Compared to Public Teaching.”

    As the senior year comes to a close, “Moving/Summer Transition,” “Financial Planning and Must-Dos,” and Mentor Assignments/Sending” are the final topics.


    Even though the JCP expansion to the underclassmen is in its embryonic stage, we are excited by the initial responses from the freshmen. After the winter event, students remarked how helpful the program was.

    Jim Pingel is Dean of the School of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin. Adam Paape is Secondary Education Department Head. Jim Juergensen is Director of LCMS Placement. Brad Alles is Assistant Professor of Education.


    A Report of the Commission on Theology and Religion of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. (1981). The Ministry: Offices, Procedures, and Nomenclature.

    Broadley, T., Martin, R., & Curtis, E. (2019). Rethinking Professional Experience Through a Learning Community Model: Toward a Culture Change. Frontiers in Education. 4(22), 1-15.

    Brookhart, S., Guskey, T., Bowers, A., McMillan, J., Smith, J., Smith, L., Stevens, M., & Walsh, M. (2016). A Century of Grading Research: Meaning and Value in the Most Common Educational Measure. Review of Educational Research. 86(4), 803–848.

    Henry, T. (2018). Herding Tigers: Be the Leader that Creative People Need. New York: Portfolio/Penguin.

    Kindall, H., Crowe, T., & Elsass, A. (2017). Mentoring Pre-Service Educators in the Development of Professional Dispositions. International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education. 6 (3), 196-209.


    Spy character © iStock/powerlines.

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