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(Seventh in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)
The global/local news landscape offers up to us almost daily examples of moral and ethical failure. As Christians, we may be more disappointed than shocked because we understand the fallen nature of humanity and the fact that we cannot escape brokenness – the line dividing good and evil runs down the center of each of our hearts. Yet our faith, in the power of a risen Christ redeeming humanity and his creation, inspires us to not stay in despair over this brokenness, but to continue to work toward shalom and restoration. We remind ourselves that each human being is made in God’s likeness, and challenge our students to live lives of obedience and faithfulness, to be like Christ.
It is this challenge to students that I want to focus on. In the process of attempting to teach our students the desire to act morally and ethically we are essentially showing them what goodness looks, acts, and smells like – “a more perfect way” – and asking them to internalize and live out that goodness. It is not just about “being good,” and it is not enough to just not disobey. We need to show them that following Christ is an above and beyond/different way of living and to call them to that “foolishness” Christ asks of us (Matthew 5, I Corinthians 1:21ff).
Many students each day are taught to “be good” in schools around the world, yet only some are given spiritual foundations as to why they should “be good.” Just being “good for goodness sake” or for personal gain as in good grades-good scholarships-good college-good job-good life thinking will only be so effective when push comes to shove in life situations that students will encounter. The tests and trials of life in big and small situations will reveal what they really believe and their actions will reveal their worldview. The latter part of the saying “Time heals wounds and wounds heels” reflects how we so often see careers and reputations undone through moral and ethical failings – research tells us it is hard to end our careers well. Moral and ethical failings are often the result of pride (“It can’t happen to me because I am above it all”) or laziness (“I can cut this corner or treat someone this way and get away with it”) or magical thinking (“It won’t happen to me or I won’t get caught”). Lack of discipline, lack of courage, and lack of character development all contribute to these failings. If I do not really regard others as image-bearers worthy of my love because of my desire to show Christ’s love, it is more likely that I will not see the need for ethical and moral behavior toward them. My best behavior done through my own power, if not directed toward worship, is more likely to simply increase my pride and self-reliance. If we do not encourage our students to see their behavior as connected or disconnected to foundational spiritual belief, it is not as likely that their lives will translate into obedience, humility, kindness, love, and other fruits of the Spirit.
How can we specifically work toward this outcome of a flourishing student? The aspect of adult modeling moral and ethical behavior looms large. We create classroom and school cultures where the desire to live morally and ethically can thrive or be discouraged. We must start with our own hearts, motives and worldview – as adults are we demonstrating spiritual obedience simply out of fear of judgment or out of true love for others and a desire to love God and to do the right thing? Bill Hybels’ book: Who You Are When Nobody’s Looking: Choosing Consistency, Resisting Compromise gives us an immediate challenge just from the title and is a great resource to work through with students or your own children. We need to both share and examine difficulties in this area and encourage good choices by students. It may be helpful with middle and high school students to make use of dilemmas and case studies so that moral and ethical principles can be applied to real life situations. A book such as Rozema and VanderArk’s No Easy Answers – Making Good Decisions in an Anything Goes World or CSI’s Exploring Ethics texts are very helpful tools.
As I have thought recently about effective leadership at the principal, superintendent, and head of school level in Christian schools, it occurs to me that there are at least three areas that are critical to do the job effectively. I have identified these areas with the acronym PEP – Priorities, Entrepreneurialism, and People Centeredness.
The leader of a school plays a critical role as spiritual leader. I believe that, like a teacher modeling for students, the modeling of the leader is critical for the entire school staff. The leader encourages or discourages spiritual growth and calls the followers to goodness or inadvertently gives permission for poor behavior because of the leader’s poor example. Great leaders must demonstrate consistently implemented values and a transparent worldview. They must determine, and commit to, what is most important for the school – communicating this clearly and often. They help others set priorities that promote and enhance the mission and vision of the school. They are the chief mission and vision carriers, the key person who reminds others what the school stands for, how it is distinctive and true to its mission, and where it hopes to head in the future. They must be “passioneers” with integrity – if they are not the lead cheerleader, who will take on that role? Strong leaders seek to embed the mission and vision of the school in people, policy, processes, and practice.
The leader of the school demonstrates an attitude of continuous learning and improvement, open to and seeking out new ideas. Leaders relish feedback about the school for improvement and search out new opportunities for the school to impact their students, the school community, and the world. They are willing to take risks, encouraging and supporting innovation in teaching and learning. They are purposeful in helping others to embrace a larger vision and commit to a multi-year plan of improvement. They seek excellence by benchmarking results and utilizing research based best practices. They model being the chief learner and work to establish a culture of learning. They are uneasy with the status quo and have a passion for true worship/service, desiring to offer their very best as praise to God.
The focus of the leader should be to genuinely love all the people he/she serves. Leaders must truly seek the best for each person – demonstrating this by seeking to put in place processes and policies that help to develop the capacity of each person. They must see the image of Christ in each person and seek to understand their gifts and potential contribution to the school. Leaders need to put in place professional development processes and leadership structures that encourage and challenge staff members to develop their gifts and to grow as a learning leader. Leaders must be careful to balance grace and truth in their interactions, processes, and accountability structures.
Leadership is not easy – it requires all kinds of “above and beyond” efforts and a heart that is attuned to, and seeks, God’s leading and wisdom. Yet what is sometimes unsaid is that it can be a very rewarding experience to be able to work with, and impact in positive ways, the lives of students, teachers, staff, parents, and community. When leaders are filled with “PEP” they are a huge blessing to all in their school and community.
(Fifth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)
Are we fogging the mirror? The statement,“We believe all children are made in the image of God,” has powerful consequences that I invite you to think about related to this aspect of flourishing. Are the ways we teach our students encouraging them to be more creative and divergent thinkers and therefore increasing their flourishing? A flourishing student is certainly one who demonstrates a developed sense of thinking divergently and creatively about problems and solutions. How can this capability be developed and enhanced over the course of a student’s educational experience? One of the things that we grieve in the process of the education of children is the loss of creativity. In his well-known video, Sir Ken Robinson alludes to the book, Breakpoints and Beyond ,and a test of creativity. The gist of this study, and his point, is that creativity diminishes each year from kindergarten forward. Robinson wryly suggests that the common denominator in life for children is that they have attended school. A sad commentary!
Robinson is not alone in his concerns. In a recent blog post entitled “My Son is 8. He is a Maker,” professor Scott McLeod, writes about his 8 year old son, lamenting that the process of “making” is getting squashed out of his son’s life by school. Others who have had a similar personal experience share their stories in the comments to this post. I especially was touched by the woman writing about her 16 year old daughter’s experiences and the comment by a teacher who is attempting to teach her AP English class creatively.
School has wounded some learners and damaged their creativity and divergent thinking. In fact, wounds of creativity are one of the several types of wounds listed by author Kirsten Olson in her book Wounded by School. This controversial book says that the way we educate millions of American children alienates students from a fundamental pleasure in learning, and that pleasure in learning is essential to real engagement, creativity, intellectual entrepreneurship, and a well-lived life.
As Christians, we believe that each person bears God’s image and that we reflect his goodness, beauty, and creativity. I have asked the question previously in this blog: “If we ‘kill creativity’ through teaching that puts kids to sleep (physically or mentally!) and don’t encourage/allow children to be creative, have we limited their opportunity to image God?” This is a very sobering thought!
We have an unprecedented array of both technological tools and global awareness/opportunities today as we work with students. In his new book, Brain Gain – Marc Prensky, best known for his “digital native, digital immigrant” language, argues that technology actually complements and frees the mind for greater creativity. It is up to us as teachers and administrators to build an encouraging environment/opportunities, give permission/encourage students, and create a culture of expectation for creative work.
A word about standards and creativity – they are not in opposition to each other – it is not an either/or scenario. In the McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning) paper Five Things That Make the Biggest Difference in Schools, Bryan Goodwin suggests: “Standards should not be the ends of education, but rather the beginning, the platform for creativity, innovation, and personalization.” As we now recognize, creativity is at the top of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy – how perfect that the highest thing we can do is to image our creator’s creativity!
Some creativity links for you to explore:
What would happen if we “Let Kids Rule the School”?
Creative cities are happy cities – towns where learning is held highly and creative work is valued.
A creative young maker demonstrating creative things kids can do: Sylvia
Curriculum of Creativity – a compilation of ideas.
What might be done to produce different learning environments that stimulate creativity?
Will Richardson blog post: “How do we help our students establish themselves as a “node” in a broad, global network of creativity and learning? Shouldn’t that be one of the fundamental questions that drives our work in schools right now?”
Video creation - by Rushton Hurley – Next Vista for Learning - five minute videos created by students about things to be learned, global study and service.
Careful – this video is just for fun, but you may recognize something you have said to stifle creativity: “Anti-creativity checklist” created by Youngme Moon, Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.
And to close, some wonderful creative student efforts happening at two of our CSI schools in Canada:
Toronto District – Unique Programs
Abbotsford Christian – Student Showcase
(Third in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)
If you were to interview teachers and ask them why they went into education as a profession, a fairly common answer might be “to see the light bulb go on in a student’s mind.” What the teacher is really speaking about is that they live for the moment when understanding occurs. In educational terms, we might say that this is when the student connects the new information to their existing framework of understanding. It is a joyous moment – it is the closest we can come to visibly seeing growth happen in students right before our eyes!
As students mature, we seek to help students ask good questions, to teach them the habits and attitudes that help them to discover the connections between what is known and what is unknown. We want students to increasingly be able to see these connections on their own. I believe that this quality is one of the outcomes that we work toward as we seek to develop flourishing students.
This quality is very important in the big picture of life. People who are able to see connections understand the relationships between things and devise creative solutions. People who are able to see connections between people and situations are people who can effectively make positive change happen. People who see connections between things are able to be effective visionaries because they see the big picture, can anticipate potential problems, and develop effective action steps.
From Colossians we know that in Christ all things cohere. Shouldn’t we try to emulate this coherence and connection in the educational experiences that we provide for our students? When we keep knowledge in separate boxes we make it more challenging for students to build effective schemas, or frameworks of understanding. I am confident that the more we help students see the connectedness that Christ has designed in creation, the more we will make significant gains in helping them become flourishing individuals.
Wow – it’s the end of the year already – 2012 has flown by! It is time for a number of hopefully helpful, inspirational, or intriguing goodies that I like to share with you. Enjoy the collection and in the spirit of Christmas pass on to others what you think they may find helpful!
Let’s start out with some science:
One of David Mulder’s science education students at Dordt College – Amber VanderVeen – has put together an online resource website. Thanks, Amber and Dave!
One of the science teachers at Lansing (MI) Christian, Omar Bjarki, made me aware recently of a YouTube channel called Minute Physics. Here you will find fascinating topics relating to physics explained in a matter of minutes. Great for your class or your own learning! Thanks, Omar!
I recently overheard a middle school science teacher raving about the Forensic Science Unit on this middle school teacher science site.
I am always on the lookout for new ways to encourage reading. This caught my eye – 8 Free IPad Apps for Young Learners.
I have mentioned Bloom’s Taxonomy so many more times than I thought ever likely when I first learned it! Here is a nicely explained version of the latest taxonomy including the creating aspect.
I am seeing a lot more blogging activity by principals, teachers and students, which is encouraging! See what the best bloggers are doing – here are the latest Edublog 2012 awards for various types of blogs that have been deemed to be the very best!
What could we learn from Finland? I blogged about this in September 2012 and here is an interesting selection of some of the differences: 26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox Education System.
Provocative Dept.#1: Are we paying attention to what our students are saying? Are we asking them what they think about how they are learning? They may be saying: “I hate school, but I love learning!” Check out what the kids are saying in these videos.
Provocative Dept. #2: What would schools look like if we were organized around the idea of students as empowered, passionate, interested, self-directed learners? Here is a quick summary and current critique by a high school sophomore at a Tedx youth event.
Blended learning – want to know more? Here is a very helpful report from FSG (a non-profit consulting and research company) entitled: Blended Learning in Practice: Case Studies from Leading Schools.
Are any of your teachers using Learnist.com? “It’s like a Pinterest for education, as it allows users to collect web resources and add them to “Learnboards” to educate an audience about a particular subject.” – Hauna Zaich, Edutopia.
The end of higher education as we know it? Here’s a good short article on the impact of the rise of MOOC’s!
Are badges a better way for kids to show what they know? Here are six frames to help us understand badges’ potential for showing student learning inside and outside of school. Also – Learn “Why a Badge is Better than an A+”.
40 Predictions for the Future – an excellent list by Tom Vander Ark.
If Pinterest is new to you, you should check out the neat way resources are organized. Here is a really helpful Pinterest site by New Tech that is dealing with educational topics.
What is the correlation between socio-economic status and achievement? An oft debated topic thoughtfully dealt with by Grant Wiggins.
I got a kick out of this picture of the technology available in the 1980’s (see right) that is now all contained in our smartphones – amazing!
If you enjoyed my blog post on World Class Learners by Yong Zhao or would like to know more, here is a link to a 9 minute audio entitled World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.
Great info about the value of education and teachers in this report A Dozen Economic Facts by The Hamilton Project, part of the Brookings Institution.
Dr. Todd Hall has been doing some amazing research on the spiritual lives of Christian college students – here is an overview. I encouraged schools to consider using his Spiritual Transformation Inventory in 2007- – if any of you are using it I would love to hear from you!
I leave you with some good humor: “O Fortuna – bring more tuna” – this is what happens when we don’t understand the words – you will not ever hear this piece of music again without these images popping into your head – have a wonderful Christmas break!
In the Christian school community we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Cardus, the Ontario think tank, and to those who have funded the Cardus Education Survey. The survey results for the U.S. and Canadian Christian schools have given solid and substantive evidence that Christian education is making a difference and is worth doing. Last year survey results were released for North American schools (introduced here and then discussed in a four part series – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) and this fall the results for Canadian schools were released.
Recently, Cardus has presented the results of the Canadian data across Canada and at the Christian Schools Canada conference held in October. You can hear a keynote presentation by Ray Pennings, one of the study authors, by clicking here.
The title of the Canadian Cardus Survey, A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Measuring Non-Government School Effects in Service of the Canadian Public Good, makes a strong argument for the value of non-government education that “produce graduates who embody commonly desired excellences and characteristics in generally even higher proportions than do government-run public schools.” This is no small accomplishment, given that Canadian schools have ranked among the top of the world on recent international tests, such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment.)
Below are some highlights from the study in three different categories.
Cultural, Economic, and Social Engagement:
- Graduates of non-government schools tend to be equally or more involved in politics and culture than are government school graduates
- Involvement in cultural activities seems to be shaped by the community context of the graduates. Thus Christian school graduates have a greater involvement in choirs, while independent non-religious school graduates attend concerts and the opera more frequently.
- Because of overseas “mission” or “development” trips, Christian school graduates have had much more cross-cultural experiences than graduates of other schools.
- Graduates of Christian schools are more likely than any other group to feel thankful for their current life circumstances, to feel capable of dealing with life, and to consider themselves goal-oriented. However, they are less likely to be risk-takers and more likely to conform.
- Christian school graduates attain similar or slightly fewer years of education as government school graduates.
- Christian school graduates are more likely to have a master’s degree than an undergraduate degree. If they are on a university track, they have a higher likelihood than government school graduates of continuing on for a higher degree.
- Christian school graduates on most measures highly evaluated their experience and the preparation it offered, but did not report the same joy and pride in their schooling brand (as independent non-religious school graduates.)
- In general, even with fifteen or so years of hindsight, graduates of non-government schools evaluate their school cultures positively, claiming them to be close-knit and expressing a positive regard for teachers, students, and administrators, and reflect that they offered good preparation for later life . . . it is likely that an unusual ethic of care characterizes the school culture in many non-government schools.
Spiritual Formation and Religious Engagement
- Christian schools seem very effective in contributing to the religious and spiritual formation of their graduates. By almost all measures and indicators, they were more effective than all other school sectors in doing so.
- Christian school graduates have ample opportunities through school and church to develop skills for eventual participation and contribution in the civic core of society.
- Graduates of Christian schools are grounded, contributing, faithful, diligent, conservative, and dependable. It seems likely that such citizens contribute to the peace, stability, and flourishing of a society.
I would like to congratulate our CSI schools in Canada – I believe that they are doing a great job of meeting their missions and seeking to move their schools forward!
One of the best new books that I have been recommending to others recently is Yong Zhao’s book: World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. Why do I like this book so much? Here are five reasons.
1. Our current state – Zhao makes a compelling case for our loss of creativity among students (it gets worse the more we educate students!) and points to curriculum narrowing and the latest school reform efforts. He demonstrates that there is an inverse relationship between entrepreneurship scores and international test scores – in other words some of the countries scoring best on the PISA tests are showing a low level of entrepreneurship among students. He argues that, due to curriculum narrowing with NCLB, time for the arts, music physical education, and even science has been decreased, resulting in a marginalized curriculum. With a global job shift underway, entrepreneurial skills are more needed than ever – and we are not preparing students for this changed world.
2. The myth of superior Chinese education – Zhao points out that while we have been trying to learn how countries such as Singapore, Korea, and China get superior international test scores, they have been trying to learn how the United States remains the hotbed of innovation. He asks: “Why does the United States remain the world’s innovation hub despite its long history of poor standing in international education assessments? Where did all the creative entrepreneurs come from?’ His answer is that China has been even better than the U.S. at killing the creative spirit. For example, the preeminence, and I would add, idolatry of, the national college entrance exams in Far Eastern countries, locks and dooms students to limited life opportunities and are one of the major factors behind the despair, depression, and high suicide rates of youth in these countries.
3. Changing the paradigm – simply put, is schooling about narrowing down human diversity into a set of desirable skills for employment or about celebrating human diversity (individual, cultural, and economic differences) toward enhancing and expanding talents? Traditional education will only get us so far – we need to be paying attention to education that is child centered, that recognizes the gifts and needs of each learner, capitalizes on their strengths, and gives them the freedom to sharpen their talents and expand their opportunities.
4. Product oriented learning – citing past examples of student oriented learning and recent engagement (or should I say student disengagement) data, Zhao believes that “freedom to learn and authentic student leadership” constitute the first fundamental principle of the new education paradigm we need for the 21st century.” Therefore, school must have environments that have a broad range of experiences for students, promote personalized learning, are flexible, and involve students as decision makers. He goes on to examine various product oriented learning environments and shows how project based learning is making a difference for students and exemplifies the design principles he suggests.
5. Global, world-class education – in order for schools to develop entrepreneurs, they must move beyond their physical boundaries and engage with others around the world to network and solve problems. I appreciated his specific examples of schools doing this. In order for students to be global entrepreneurs they must develop their cultural intelligence in order to effectively network. Zhao closes by giving us this helpful summary – we must pay attention to the “what” (student passions, interests, creativity); the “how” (problems, products, caring about people’s needs); and the “where” (global perspectives, partners, and competencies.)
The ideas expressed in this book would fit well with a transformational and Christian approach to education. I highly recommend that our schools (teachers, administrators, and boards) read and discuss this book and then consider what it means for their school’s mission and vision moving into the future.
For those of you new to reading this blog, at the end of last year I proposed that Christian schools consider adopting a Flourishing Index – a list of outcomes that we desire for our students. I also think that this index could provide helpful targets that we could measure ourselves against. For more information, you may wish to read the two blog posts that were written last year as a way of gaining familiarity with what I am suggesting.
While I did not consciously realize it at the time I was creating a Flourishing Index, I have since discovered two wonderful resources: one from a Christian perspective and one from a secular perspective. I would like to start with renowned Christian philosopher and Christian education thinker Nicholas Wolterstorff this month and discuss the other author next month in this blog.
As someone who has thought a lot about developing distinctively Christian curriculum, I was encouraged to read that Wolterstorff had also puzzled about what makes a curriculum distinctively Christian, and this led him to the idea of flourishing as a unifying concept:
“It became important for me to figure out what holds a curriculum together. You’ve got sciences and arts and my own passion, justice. What holds it all together? It eventually became clear to me that there is a biblical category of flourishing, of shalom. [It is] “peace” in the New Testament, but eirene in Greek is a pretty weak translation of what the Old Testament means by shalom. It means flourishing. That’s what a Christian college should be about. Not just planting thoughts in people’s heads and getting them into professional positions but flourishing, in all its dimensions. Source: Faith and Leadership, 2012
He defines flourishing and elaborates upon the idea of flourishing as shalom in this video:
In a review of Wolterstorff’s book, Educating for Life, reviewer John Shortt highlights this definition of flourishing, which I believe captures the essence of flourishing: “Shalom is not merely the absence of hostility for, as he memorably puts it, ‘to dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in one’s physical surroundings, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy living with oneself’ (p. 101).” I am particularly struck with the Joy aspect of living in harmony with God, neighbor, and self – a deep sense of happiness and contentment.
As we spend the next months unpacking the concept of flourishing through discussion of the elements of The Flourishing Index, I invite you to consider how flourishing is really the ultimate outcome of a truly distinctive Christian education.
In case you have missed the discussion, here is why some in the educational community are looking at Finland these days. Put simply – how do they get the kind of educational results that they are getting? What is their secret?
Well, one reason that we should pay attention to Finland is that since PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tests have been inaugurated over a decade ago, Finland has consistently been at the top of the charts! Tony Wagner from Harvard wanted to get answers to the above questions; his Finland visit and reflections are captured on a recent hour long movie that has come out: “The Finland Phenomenon.” As you will see from just the video trailer below they do some things very differently from typical North American schools.
I find that their approach is a much more attractive model for Christian schools to follow than that of our public sector schools who are being forced to a greater and greater degree into test-based accountability, more prescribed curriculum, more focus on only core subjects, and greater control. I believe that the Biblical principles, such as honoring the learner as image-bearer and operating with a high degree of trust, are lived out to a greater degree in the public schools of Finland than in North America. Canadian blogger/teacher Joe Bower put it this way: “Finland’s successful pursuit of policies driven by diversity, trust, respect, professionalism, equity, responsibility and collaboration refute every aspect of reforms that focus on choice, competition, accountability and testing that are being expanded in countries around the world.”
If you would like to learn more, I suggest you start by purchasing the video and watching it with your staff – it should spark a profitable discussion. If you Google “Finland Phenomenon,” you will also find many other blog posts and discussions on the topic – it is gaining a lot of attention.
How can we argue with the results?
There has been a lot of talk in the school world this year about “moving to the Common Core” (don’t tune out dear Canadian readers – this will apply to you too!) and what that might mean. I see this movement as a good thing overall – at best it gives us in the States a sounder set of standards and common language. At the least, it gets schools who have been not focused on curriculum renewal back to a focus on what should be happening in their core business – teaching and learning.
And yet, I wonder if the “movement” will result in anything more productive for any school? Don’t get me wrong – I am all for aligning to a common set of standards, but my concern is that we simply stop there after alignment. After all, meeting a standard, while admirable, is only reaching a certain level of competence. That has been my point in the recent flourishing conversation that I have raised in this blog. Translating the idea of standards to real life may be helpful in making my point.
If I am an employee of a company/school/institution, there are certain standards and expectations. They are laid out in a job description. The standards may be formal and informal, written or unwritten. If I meet the standards it can be said that I am doing my job – but these standards likely don’t speak to all aspects of who I can be in the position and what I can bring to my employer. They don’t spell out levels of creativity, of caring, of passion, as I go about my work and interact with others and carry out my work. These aspects are the “value add” pieces that I might bring to my work – that go beyond an expected standard. These aspects are the way that we bring joy into our work and life, and what we enjoy and appreciate about others.
Standards are not enough for any school, let alone a Christian school. We can’t just stop at kids meeting standards and expect that that is good enough. Our job is to get them to the goal of flourishing. In the Christian school context that includes connecting head, heart, and hands. It includes helping them to see God’s design in creation and understand his passionate desire for relationship with them. It also means teaching students how to act on his desire to make all things new in creation and relationships, wherever he calls them to work someday.
Dear Reader – It is time to say goodbye for the summer! This is the last post on the blog for this school year – we will now take a break for the summer months – and let you catch up on reading all those posts you missed this year. :) Thanks for reading Nurturing Faith this year – see you in September!
I first heard of, and then peeked, at Seth Godin’s manifesto, “Stop Stealing Dreams,” via Twitter. I was reminded of it again by one of the regular readers/commenters on this blog – thanks, Jim P.! This manifesto is one of the more thought provoking works I have read in the past year. The manifesto/book is available free for download – the link is at the end of this post.
I want to highlight some of the ideas as an inducement to get you to read the entire manifesto – well worth an hour or two to read through this provocative and thoughtful writing. The manifesto consists of 132 short paragraphs in large print spread over 191 pages – so I will list the paragraph number and the page number as dual references to particular ideas or quotes.
- 4/12 – What is school for? To his points I would add – what are the distinctive goals of Christian schools?
- 8/21 – “Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?” To which I would add – does it produce a passion in kids for the kingdom of Jesus Christ?
- 11/24 – “Do we need more fear? Less passion?” ; 29/45, 46 – fear and passion as the two tools that educators have to work with
- 14/27 – Seth’s question for school boards: “What are you doing to fuel my kid’s dreams?”
- 17/29 – A dozen ways to reinvent school
- 22/37, 94/128 – Scarcity and abundance
- 39/61 – Assemblers or linchpins/artists?
- 40/62, 63 – Why school needs to be more like FIRST robotics
- 57-60/82-88 – The problem of small dreams and dreamers
- 73/105 – Slader – Cliff Notes for math – see any problem worked out
- 74/107 – The role of the teacher in a post union era
- 90/124 – Average American’s annual amount of reading and high student expectations
- 92/127 – Do kids achieve because of or in spite of schooling?
- 95/130, 116/161, 124/175, 127/180, 129/183 – The coming melt-down of colleges
- 106/146 – Why not teach these topics instead?
- 113/156 – What is the value of advanced math?
- 121/169 – Why homeschooling isn’t the answer for most
- 123/174 – The new role of libraries
I hope you take the time to read this manifesto and reflect on what Godin is saying. He is making a significant contribution to the discussion how school needs to change and focus on different kinds of things with kids. Here is the link to access the material.
Last month I introduced a new set of student outcomes to aim for with our students in my post, Proposing a “Flourishing Index”. I suggested that flourishing, not merely meeting minimum standards, should be our goal in Christian education. What are the qualities or key components of a Christian education that have the best possibility of helping students to flourish?
- Connection – Our first need as human beings is to belong. Our identity comes from the fact that we are God’s children and heirs of the kingdom. Our kids need to understand this from the time they enter our doors. Helping all kids to feel like they belong is fundamental. Kids need to be taught to see all others in the world as image-bearers of God, created in his image (Galatians 4:6-8).
- Competency – When we can do something well, our confidence increases. We know in our hearts whether any praise is deserved. Our students need to master the basics to feel confident so that they can take on new and larger challenges.
- Coherence – When we understand how things fit together, we develop a schema or framework that helps us to understand present situations and be confident in new situations. Whenever possible we should be working toward demonstrating coherence and connection in Christian schools if we desire to image Christ, in whom all things cohere (Colossians 1:16, 17).
- Contribution – Who are you as a person? As a learner? As a producer? How have you been wired and what is your unique contribution? Why were you born in this time and place and how might God advance his kingdom through you and the gifts and talents he has given you?
- Community – One of the first things we learn in kindergarten is that community is important. Students learn that each individual has a contribution to offer to the larger community.
- Creativity – from my April 23, 2011 post: “Creativity is today considered to be the highest level of thinking, as evidenced by the fact that it is now placed at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking. As Christians we understand that we are made in the image of God. Likewise our own creativity is a reflection, in a small way, of the Creator of All.”
- Christlikeness – this is our ultimate goal for our students. To be like him – “in whom are found all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”- Colossians 2:2b. To be like him – “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:5-7.
I believe these seven aspects are critical for an education that equips students to be both faithful presence (being Christ) to others and (living Christ) as transformational impacters of culture.
From time to time I get the question – should we use “Christian” or secular textbooks? I am careful how I answer because there may be a presumed “right” answer by the questioner. Frankly, I have potential issues with both approaches – let me explain further.
I start from the premise that all truth is God’s truth and that we see his truth, design, beauty, goodness, and handiwork in all created things. That said, a text (whether Christian or secular) reveals God’s truth, but in the case of a secular textbook may not point to it explicitly. There is no such thing as sacred and secular truth – all things cohere in Christ – truth is truth whether we acknowledge the source or not. 2+2=4 is what it is, however the difference is whether I point to man as having discovered it or whether this is a fact about how God has put together the universe. The best scientific findings, for example, simply point to the truth that God has embedded in creation. Science will continue to reveal God’s truth, whether it is acknowledged by man as having its origin in God or not. The condition of the human heart as we study it in literature and social studies, the reason for actions and decisions, etc. simply reveals the brokenness of man and his need for a Savior.
A key component, of course, is the teacher who is using the text. I could use a secular text in ways that point kids to God’s truth and also use that opportunity to discuss/critique a non-Christian view that is espoused and commonly held in the world’s thinking. Of course I could do the same with a Christian text. It would depend though on whether the Christian text thoughtfully examined and taught all viewpoints on a subject or was more of a “propaganda” tool. Unfortunately, there are poor quality Christian texts that fall into that category.
Another issue to consider with either scenario is whether you have teachers who are equipped to teach thoughtfully – they may not know how to teach a Christian worldview. They may then just use a poor, “propagandistic” Christian text or use a “secular” text and not be able to lead students in a thoughtful critique in either situation. In either scenario, the desire is that the teacher is well equipped theologically and philosophically to reveal and guide students into God’s truth. If the teacher is well equipped, the secular text may do a more complete job of revealing the secular bias that can then be thoughtfully critiqued through an avenue such as a thoughtful, faith-learning integrated essential question with a follow up assessment asking students to show thoughtful reflection.
Whether we use a “Christian” text or a secular text, two things are paramount to keep in mind:
First we must hire and train teachers who are passionate about their faith and are eager to learn more about how to help kids wrestle with the issues of life. We want teachers to thoughtfully and prayerfully share their own Christian perspective related to the subject matter. This perspective will be demonstrated within their curriculum by the kinds of unit/essential/driving questions that they ask of students and what kinds of things they ask students on assessments. If there is no written evidence of this in in curriculum maps or student assessments, one can rightfully question what worldview is being advanced.
Second, schools are sometimes careless about designing and constructing a quality curriculum that links mission and content and getting it in written form. It is not helpful to invest in teacher and curriculum development if what is developed is not recorded for later use. The assets of a school community, in terms of well developed learning experiences for students, may be walking out the door as experienced and gifted veteran teachers leave an institution without articulating what and how they taught. New teachers need these foundations to stand on and build from as they learn how to interpret the school mission through quality curriculum that demonstrates God’s timeless truth.
Last month we raised the question of why our parents and students have not placed a higher value on cultural and intellectual engagement in our society. The authors of the Cardus Survey also indicate that the data shows a reluctance of students to aspire to more elite institutions for continued study. What might be the reasons for these choices?
For starters, perhaps we should trace back our DNA a bit as schools in Reformed tradition. Many of the schools in the Christian Schools International family were begun by Dutch immigrants of the mid to late 1800’s and in Canada the early to mid 1900’s and this may contribute to what results have been achieved by students from our schools. These immigrants were a group who were leaving the Netherlands in part due to religious dissent and the desire to maintain spiritual purity and preservation of their religious beliefs. They were not from the intellectual elites or the professional class, but mostly lower class working poor. Many went into farming and other types of manual labor as is typical for first generation groups. Yet they placed a high value on education and not just any education, but an education that was Christian and supportive of what was being taught at home and church. Their faith and practice of living virtuously enabled them to become successful in the North American culture, but may not have changed their identity as much. As is true with immigrants, they may have suffered from an “inferiority complex” of being strangers/outsiders who couldn’t speak the language fluently or navigate social structures easily. They naturally tended to want to conserve their culture and traditions. However these tendencies did not encourage their descendents to typically move much outside of the comfortable cultural confines of church and local community. Might this a reason for the limited aspiration and cultural engagement of graduates from their schools?
While graduates did well over the years as immigrants turned into second, third, and fourth generation citizens, these outstanding individuals seemed to be the exceptions rather than the product of a strategic vision of the school where they were educated. As we now understand more of what makes an exceptional worker, professional, or cultural contributor and the soft skills needed, which include high moral grounding and work habits, we understand that our graduates are much more likely to succeed wherever they end up because of the type of beliefs and values they have been exposed to in a strong Christian education.
It seems then that our issue is one of vision, expectations, and pedagogical practices for our students, rather than a wholesale change in the intangibles they are currently receiving from our schools. We must recognize that as educators we are by profession and nature “conservers” and not the risk taker big picture visionaries that are needed to bring a global picture to our students. We may need to enlist others as student mentors and coaches to help effectively challenge and prepare our students and to teach them how to navigate as a Christian in different cultural settings. A Christian businessperson, cultural leader, professional, entrepreneur may be more able to do this in a mentor relationship. To more effectively raise up students who are going to be cultural leaders, we must expose them to the kinds of experiences that allow them to understand “how the world works” and develop an even deeper framework of belief and understanding that helps them to understand the spectrum of belief and thought represented by cultural leaders. We must also take advantage of technology that allows our students to connect and collaborate with others around the world and that moves them out of local cultural isolation. However, it is critical that we continue to embed strong theological and prophetic ideals, Christian disciplines and practices, and personal moral and ethical development into their educational experiences.
To engage more effectively in this discussion, I recommend these five excellent questions drawn from the discussion guide that follows the Cardus Education Survey:
- What if Christian school leaders were more audacious in their goal, expecting students to be unwaveringly committed both to their families and to being part of culture through politics, the arts, and the world of ideas?
- If Christian schools want to promote those bold outcomes, will they be willing to make the structural changes necessary to do so?
- What structures and pedagogy must be in place for schools to more thoroughly develop culture engagement in their graduates?
- Are there more effective means of cultivating critical thought as a way for students to effect culture more meaningfully? Would this require new methods of training teachers and preparing and selecting school leaders?
- Are Protestant schools focusing on pietistic behaviors rather than a systematic theology and therefore unable to produce graduates who are truly engaged in culture?
One of the experiences from the late 80’s that I wish I could have a “do again” opportunity were the Chicago conferences on Christian education held in 1987, 1988, and 1989 at Trinity Christian College. I was able to attend one of the conferences and it was a time of rich and stimulating discussion about the changes that needed to happen in Christian education to keep pace with a changing world. I say I wish I could do it over because, as I look back at the list of the invitees, the conference organizers were able to bring to the table many of the best thinkers (then and in the future) in Reformed Christian education circles for these discussions and I benefited greatly from that time.
I feel like this time around I might have more to contribute to the greater discussion. I had experienced K-12 education, but had not thought about it from a Christian perspective. The conversations and the work that was produced from these conferences were helpful for not only me but a great number of others through the publication of the book 12 Affirmations: Reformed Christian Schooling for the Twentieth Century, written by Vryhof, Brouwer, VanderArk, and Ulstein and printed by Baker Books (now out of print). I know that many others used the book like I did – for productive conversations with their own building faculties.
For all who loved and used that book, and those who don’t even know it existed, there is now good news! The 1990’s book has been revised: Twelve Affirmations 2.0. We have one of the key organizers of the original conferences to thank – Dr. Steve Vryhof. Steve has collaborated with Elaine Brouwer, Tim Krell, and others to produce a clearer, more up-to-date, set of affirmations about Christian education.
The revised 12 Affirmations are divided into three groups – foundational, educational, and communal affirmations. Like the original book there is a short, concise statement/affirmation and then explanatory paragraphs unpacking the statement. There are also discussion questions listed at the end of each affirmation. Vryhof has formatted the book in such a way that it lends itself to communal reading. He suggests several audiences might benefit from a thoughtful discussion of the material:
- Read and discuss one affirmation per staff/board meeting
- Read and discuss at a staff/board retreat
- Read and discuss at a parent book club
- Read and discuss at a church’s adult education meeting
- Read and discuss with donors/constituents
- Read and discuss with 11th and 12th graders
Through his provocative work, Vryhof encourages us to consider:
- How to better identify and cultivate student gifts
- How to better increase student motivation and learning power
- How each person brings much to the table of community
- How to move toward student flourishing as a chief educational outcome
His ultimate hope is that this book will stimulate others to action in the same ways that the first 12 Affirmations was able to accomplish. We should be grateful as a Christian educational community that this book has been revised and revitalized for the next generation – thanks Steve for your hard work to make this gift available! The book is available for purchase here.
Well, here is the rest of the story: last time we celebrated the positive results that were learned about Protestant schools and kids, and so in part 3 we look at some of the challenges facing Protestant schools in particular. The authors of the study are very clear: while there are many ways that Christian schools are serving a public good, they don’t find Christian schools to be living up to their “world –changing” missions in several ways. Their concern is that graduates are “showing a surprising lack of engagement in areas traditionally thought to influence culture: through the political sphere, relationships with people in positions of power and status or people earning higher university degrees, and intellectual engagement in the arts” (p. 24).
Why is this the case? The study authors wonder if the high level of compliance and respect for authority contributes to a lack of motivation to interface with culture in positive ways. Are our students questioning the status quo? How can students be impacting culture if they don’t have any interest in politics and the contemporary cultural scene? The research reports that Protestant Christian kids are less likely than their other private school peers to engage in political discussions with colleagues, family, and friends. If they are not participating at this level then it is likely that their ideas and opinions are not having much impact on the larger political and cultural dialogue (p. 27).
Schools seem to be reflecting the wishes of their parents in this regard. According to the research done via surveys of administrators, parent support of students being taught to confront culture or change society are among the very “lowest reported goals in current schools” (p. 29). This leads me to wonder, “Do parents really understand the missions of many of our schools? Do they desire to have their students be world transformers?” The overriding concern expressed in the study is this: “Christian schools are not universally preparing their graduates to navigate the traditional paths of power established in today’s culture and thus undermine their potential for robust cultural engagement and contribution through these means.” (p.29) The study authors go on to say: “In this same way, we find involvement in the arts and other intellectual endeavors to be surprisingly low for Christian school graduates. Christian school graduates participate in cultural activities less and donate less of their time and money to the arts. These results may indicate a weak involvement in higher culture that prevents Protestant Christian school graduates from full engagement in their communities and their world” (p. 29).
It is encouraging that no evidence exists in the study that Christian schools are isolationist – in fact the authors’ perception is that there is significant desire to engage the world, it just seems that schools are much more in the critiquing mode than creating mode of engaging culture. They suggest that the ways students engage culture need to be broadened: “In most schools, we find the lens of cultural engagement to be narrow, promoting what students can do, like service and vocation, rather than a larger view of navigating the spheres, processes, and networks of government, the media, and arts. Likewise, few schools are found to be systematically, through curriculum and pedagogy, integrating academic learning with engaging the world outside of school” (p.30).
I find this research to be a helpful challenge to our schools. We are starting from a good foundation and need to continue to challenge our students to lift their eyes and hearts to the broader challenges that are presented by the world. In the final installment re: The Cardus Study next month, we will look at some other possible reasons for this current state of our schools, examine some possible solutions to move us forward, and conclude with some stimulating questions for further discussion and ferment.
If Christian schools are formed to bring honor to God through the education of children about God’s Word and world, then why don’t some Christian schools ask others to come in to see if they are doing just that in the best possible ways? Why aren’t they asking for help from fellow educators and holding themselves accountable to identified standards of excellence through an accreditation process? This question has disturbed me over the past several years as I have worked with schools to help them improve what they are doing through school accreditation.
Here are several good reasons why Christian schools should be seeking accreditation:
- To connect what you say with what you do – A lofty mission is a wonderful thing, but not worth the paper it is written on if it is not lived out. If we are to offer our best we must know what the best is and connect our missions that talk about excellence to practices of excellence. We need to ask others for their objective opinions to see if we are connecting mission and practice.
- We ought to submit to one another – We ought to, especially as Christians, be willing to approach one another in humility and seek wisdom from each other. If we think we have it all together and don’t need what we might learn from others, then we are perhaps manifesting a spirit of arrogance that is not Christ-like. We all have things to learn from each other and we are accountable to each other as fellow workers in Christ’s kingdom.
- To offer our best out of love and gratitude - If as followers of Christ we seek to offer our lives as living sacrifices and offer our best efforts as praise, then we must seek out marks of excellence – what is the best and how can we work toward it? In both Old Testament and New Testament we see examples of God’s displeasure with offerings done out of tradition or cognition and not from the heart. He was pleased with those who gave their best from the heart and was not concerned with the size of the gift.
- We should not operate from a spirit of fear or inferiority – Sometimes we may be reluctant to open our schools to others because we don’t “have it all together yet.” The truth is that every school is operating on its own journey of situations and circumstances, working with the people and resources God has blessed them with. I have done multiple visits and have yet to find a school that has everything in place. We are all working with strengths and weaknesses and so this awareness should not hold us back.
- We should use our time and resources wisely – Some may feel accreditation is spending extra time or resources that the school does not have to find out things they already know. The accreditation process does take some extra time and energy but it is a valuable thing to do because it has the possibility to affirm and/or redirect current practices and future visions, to focus many ideas and goals down to the most critical ones, and to help give guidance to further improvement steps. It can be a critical lever to help move improvement efforts forward with board, staff, and stakeholders. The process can help the school take a comprehensive look at what it is doing, how it is meeting its mission, and how to best use its resources to move forward.
A set of key questions has arisen as schools in the CSI community, founded largely by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, have moved from schools that served an immigrant community to being schools that serve the broader community. That question is: “What is our identity and given that identity, what type of student do we serve? What kinds of services should we be providing?”
Schools have taken several approaches to answering that question. In the early days (pre-1970’s), students with special needs were often sent to public schools, to self-contained boarding schools (Elim Christian School being one example), or kept at home in the case of more intense special needs. For the purpose of this discussion we will define special needs as those students who, due to physical, cognitive, emotional, or social/behaviorial issues demand additional services and support beyond that of the average student. This could include students on either end of the academic spectrum whether impaired or gifted.
The current approaches fall into these categories:
- The Christian school community in a given area should share the extra cost to educate children from Christian families to the greatest degree possible.
- The Christian school draws an arbitrary line as to what services can be offered and borne by the larger parent community. This may vary from school to school; the line typically may include students with mild cognitive impairments, for example.
- The Christian school operates with a selective admissions policy in the academic and behavioral realm and only allows students within a prescribed band to be admitted.
- The Christian school community accepts students with special needs, but the additional cost for services is borne entirely by the parents of the students.
My hope in writing this post is that we might have a broader discussion of this issue, not to provide answers. As you read the four categories above, you may have found yourself raising certain questions:
- How can schools make it financially feasible when they take all students? Doesn’t that raise tuition to an unaffordable level for the average parent?
- But, aren’t we supposed to be our brother’s keeper? Isn’t it the job of the entire Christian community to function as a whole, as a body?
- How do we draw an arbitrary line that doesn’t feel arbitrary to parents? What about parents of students who are just on the other side of the line? When do we make exceptions?
- Was Christ’s ministry just to the best thinkers or to all? Shouldn’t we be emulating him in our ministry to students?
- But, isn’t it more honest to say we are not equipped to take on students that we can’t service? Isn’t it unethical to take students for their tuition dollars and then not service them appropriately – on either end of the spectrum?
- Do we need services for gifted students? Won’t they just do well anyway?
- Is it fair to penalize parents for the needs of their students? Why should a Christian education be less possible for those who are blessed with children who have special needs?
- How does the broader community view our schools in the light of the categories that were described above? Does it challenge or affirm the stereotypes they may already have about Christian schools?
- What would Jesus do if he were the head of your school?
What do you think?
Cardus released an executive summary in May 2011 of the results of its two-year, largest-ever study of Christian education called The Cardus Education Survey, and a full summary in August 2011. (We previously introduced the Cardus Survey in Nurturing Faith in January 2010 – see this link for more background information.) The study sought to answer the question: “Are the motivations and outcomes of Christian education aligned?” In other words, are we getting the kinds of results that we are expecting from our efforts to educate Christianly? The study attempted to measure three specific outcomes: spiritual formation, cultural engagement, and academic preparation.
The short answer, thankfully, is yes! The research results indicate that there is evidence of alignment between our missions and our student outcomes. However, there seems to be, as always, room for greater awareness and improvement. As news sources reported, there were differences between the results from Catholic and Protestant schools, and as one source simplified it: “Protestant Schools Focus on Faith; Catholic Schools Focus on Intellect”.
What is the profile of the typical Protestant school? The Cardus Survey suggests this summary statement: “Protestant Christian school graduates have been found to be uniquely compliant, generous individuals who stabilize their communities by their uncommon and distinctive commitment to their families, their churches, and their communities, and by their unique hope and optimism about their lives and the future.”
Are the findings above exciting or disappointing to you? While I am gratified and pleased that Protestant education is turning out stable, thankful, generous family and community members, it seems to fall a bit short of many of our transformational, world engaging, culture changing missions. The authors of the Survey ask, “What if Christian school leaders were more audacious in their goals, expecting students to be unwaveringly committed both to their families and to being a part of culture through politics, the arts, and the world of ideas?” and “What if Christian schools would inspire students to develop a ‘whole gospel’ mindset – reverence for creation, acknowledgment of the fall, worship of the Redeemer, and a taste for restoration – rather than a more narrowly-focused understanding of Biblical roles as husbands, wives, fathers, mothers?”
The results of this survey provide us with very valuable information that we can use as a springboard for more discussion – let’s not miss this opportunity to engage our school communities. Cardus has provided us with some excellent follow-up tools such as a facilitator’s guide and a pre-made Powerpoint to facilitate discussion in our communities. Let’s continue this dialogue also on this site in coming months.
To effectively lead a school is challenging enough in the best of times, but in the challenging times in which we are living, the key issue of the management of change places additional stress on both Christian school boards and administrators. How can the school be governed in a way that is proactive and not just reacting to the latest problem? How can we reflect being the body of Christ in action?
In recent years there have been more instances of boards seeking to solve problems by firing administrators, which makes them feel better temporarily, but does little to address long standing dysfunction in their governance system. Some boards have sought answers by moving from the traditional governance system to the newer Carver model. Conversely, others have gotten more involved in the day-to-day operations and have increased their management role, or in some cases, administrators might say “micromanagement” role.
I am excited to share with you that finally the Christian school community has been presented with a well thought through and balanced approach to governance that embodies the best Christian principles. In his new book, Mission Directed Governance: Leading the Christian School with Vision, Unity, and Accountability, veteran administrator Len Stob shows us a more helpful way through his mission directed approach. His approach deals with three critical questions:
- How does the school identify and protect its foundational beliefs?
- How does the school identify and promote its mission and vision?
- How does the school identify the roles of authority, determine the process for decision-making, and ensure accountability?
Stob takes the reader through a thorough critique of existing governance options and then lays out how the mission directed governance system works. He gives practical ideas and tools for implementing this system. One of the chapters I appreciate most is his chapter entitled “Measuring What is Most Important.” Stob makes helpful suggestions as to how we can determine if we are meeting our school missions and nurturing faith in the process.
I recently asked Len why he wrote the book and how he hoped the book would be used. Here are his thoughts:
As we developed the mission-directed governance system, we found that it worked. The administrative team encouraged the writing of the book for the purpose of explaining the concepts and rationale for the mission-directed governance system to new board members, or when there would be a change in administration.
In conversations with administrators and board members from other schools, they expressed interest in the concepts as well. In so many cases, administrators and school board members are frustrated because they feel the pressures to improve, but they find it so difficult to work together and to think strategically.
The importance of thinking strategically is not merely to have a long-range plan for financial stability, facilities, or promotion. The primary focus needs to be on the mission of the school. How do all aspects of the school contribute to the purpose of the school with concentration on student learning? There needs to be unity of the board and school head as to what are the vision, the goals, and priorities. Further, there needs to be accountability.
It is almost impossible to have vision, unity, and accountability under the traditional governance system. Under this system, board’s are not really in control of the school’s direction. The traditional governance system is designed to protect and preserve undefined assumed community values. The system is designed to prevent new ideas from moving past the discussion stage.
In frustration with the traditional system, some schools are adopting the John “Carver” model. This alternative is designed to run the school like a business. The primary problem is that the board is independent from the community, and more importantly is no longer tied to the theology, philosophy, and mission of the school.
The mission-directed governance system blends the best of the traditional and governance-by-policy systems. It provides a unity under a defined mission and clearly puts the board in charge of the school while allowing the board to concentrate on strategic planning with board-approved goals and priorities that advance the mission. Assigning specific goals to the school head and measurement of the important aspects of the school provide real accountability.
Len has written the book so that it is easy for school leaders and boards to study and use. The chapters are of a reasonable length and there are helpful reflection/discussion questions at the end of each chapter. You can learn more about the book, read an excerpt, and make contact with Len here. I highly recommend that you read and utilize this valuable resource for Christian schools!
One of the most powerful things we can have students do in a Christian school is to ask them to think deeply about how their faith connects with their life and the real world. It is also one of the most authentic and integrative experiences. I am encouraged by the number of schools who have developed culminating projects and require them as part of either /both the 8th and 12th grade years.
I previously wrote about culminating experiences in this blog back in December 2007. I believe that culminating experiences are one of the best practices to enhance and encourage faith development and that is why I list it as one of my 12 Faith Enhancing Practices. For those of you who may be interested in developing culminating experiences, let me share a source for more details in setting up this kind of assignment.
Teachers and administrators at the Christian Academy of Japan have been developing and refining their process and have posted their information on their website. http://community.caj.or.jp/info/index.php/Senior_Comprehensives They call this assignment “Senior Comprehensives” and list four assessment components of the work:
1. Research portfolio
2. Writing portfolio
3. Hands on project
4. Oral presentation
Examples of each of the elements are on the site, including video examples of student presentations. A timeline of expectations and assessment rubrics are also shown.
I encourage all schools to have these kind of learning experiences in place for students. They are engaging, demanding, and rewarding for students and teachers. Culminating experiences are the kind of teaching and learning that we need to do more of in order to effectively prepare our students and meet our missions.
If your school does this kind of experience, would you please consider sharing a link to your information in the comments below so that we can better learn from each other?
Recently CSI asked me to create a paper explaining the differences between the traditional enrollment policy of Christian schools, which I will call covenantal or believer-based, and missional or open enrollment policies. What is the origin and thinking, the theology and philosophy behind each of these approaches? What might be the best approach for your school?
For starters, the practice of many of the schools served by CSI is that they are operating under a covenantal approach – their enrollment policies state that at least one parent must be a believer and assent to the vision, mission and beliefs of the school in order for their child to be able to attend. This may be further verified by requiring a pastor’s letter to indicate that the parent is practicing their faith through church attendance. In the paper I trace the history and thinking undergirding this model.
There are CSI member schools that operate using a missional or open enrollment policy. There is no belief requirement from parents who want to have their child attend the school, they simply must assent to the fact that their child will be instructed according to the stated mission, vision, and beliefs of the school.
Some schools use a blend of the approaches, usually specifying the percentage of families that will be allowed to fall into the missional enrollment category.
The paper seeks to shed some light on each approach and concludes with several discussion questions. This short and provocative paper can be used with faculty, parents, or boards to examine the history and issues around each approach. The paper can be accessed here. Please use the comment section for further discussion – thank you.
We are living in instant times. We are fixated on the newest and latest. Sometimes we forget how we have gotten to where we are. Since CSI just celebrated 90 years, I thought it might be a good time to consider some of the rich history that is ours to see what can be gained from the past for living in today’s times.
A book that I recently read was 22 Landmark Years, Christian Schools International, 1943 – 1965 written by John VanderArk, who served as Director of CSI from 1953-1977. The comments below are reflections and quotes from that source, published by Baker Books.
VanderArk begins his preface with a quote: “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well (that) the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning…”. Would you be shocked if I told you that this was a September 26, 1642 letter explaining the reason for establishing Harvard College? He goes on to say that “the purposes of life and learning are essentially theological issues, and one’s theology is important. Consequently people who take their faith seriously wish to entrust the education of children to those of a similar faith.”
While there were schools started by various denominations, VanderArk states that many of them closed as civil education gained ascendancy and can’t truly be considered the forerunners of today’s Protestant Christian schools. He points out that the rise of secular education that focused students on national citizenship to the exclusion of the consciousness of the kingdom of God was a primary cause for the establishment of Christian schools. While many in the late nineteenth century were enamored by Enlightenment thinking that promoted the concept that “knowledge is power” and that man is the measure of all things, the Netherlands immigrants who began many of the schools in CSI thought otherwise. While they taught their children to appreciate their heritage and to embrace citizenship in their new country (whether Canada or the U.S.A) their focus for their children was on preparation to live and worship God above all in this world and the world to come.
We are linked to those who have gone before us and their story can both enlighten and encourage us. Their struggles are our struggles, just in different clothes. We seek to show students that all of life belongs to God, that no part of it can be understood apart its Creator. It is our turn to share the story. As VanderArk warns: “The distance between a goodly heritage and its extinction is but one short generation.” Let us be faithful!
Public education cannot and will not point children to God. Simply put, all education is religious in nature – it is either man centered or God centered. Public education cannot legally acknowledge God as creator and sustainer of life. Who can be thanked in a public school curriculum? Where is praise to be directed?
- Do you believe Sunday School and youth group alone can adequately provide a solid foundation for the faith formation of youth?
- Can kids truly be expected to be effective “salt and light” in public K – 12 education? (see my blog post of 4.28.08)
- When your church recognizes and prays for those adults who are nurturing faith of kids in your church, do you also recognize and pray for those “missionary teachers” in Christian day school and encourage them in their work?
- Kids are having less conversations about faith today according to Barna research. Where can kids best have conversations about faith on a daily basis and begin to understand how faith relates to all of life?
- Our first mission field is our own kids – what good is it to “save the world and lose our own soul”? (our kids as flesh of our flesh)
- A prime strategy in use in world mission outreach is to begin a Christian school right after establishing a church. It works – why do we not believe it to work in North America?
- Why do some of us pledge in our baptismal forms to do all in our power to raise children to love and serve the Lord and then not help provide Christian day school education for all families?
- Ask your pastor if he/she would have been better equipped for their work if he/she had been trained at a “public school” seminary or a Christian seminary and if not, ask them why any different approach should be used for kids and their spiritual training and development.
- Christian education and advocating for missions/evangelism are not antithetical – each of our children is a “mission project.” If faith is more caught than taught, don’t we want kids to have the most contact with adults who are living out their faith and showing how God is revealed through all of learning?
“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7.
During an online discussion in the winter Distinctives class (that I teach) this past winter, one of the students, Brian VanderHaak, Headmaster at Christian Academy of Japan, shared with the rest of the class what he had delivered as a graduation speech about the nature of Christian education. I contemplated editing for length, but think that it needs to stand as a coherent message. Although longer than the usual blog post, it is very worthwhile reading. Brian captures well the kinds of things we should be emphasizing with our students – a distinctively different education!
To the graduation class of 2003:
By now you have figured out that life is more complicated than the pat answers you playfully decided in 10th grade answered every question in life (and in my class): God, Jesus, and the other one I won’t bring up here because I would have to spend a lot of time explaining it to those not in the loop.
As children you eventually reached a point where these simple answers were no longer acceptable for any question. A teacher may have asked: “Who was in the belly of the whale?” and in your excitement you’d wave your hand. The teacher would call on you and you would answer innocently: “God.” “Well yes,” the teacher would say reassuringly, “that is true because God is everywhere… but who else was in the belly of the whale?” “Jesus?” you would venture. “Well yes, Jesus is God and God is everywhere, but who else is in the belly of the whale?” And so on. It didn’t work as well when you got older and the questions became something more like “Who espoused the doctrine of election and what does it mean?”
Now, we at WCA have done a pretty good job of educating you in and about that increasingly complicated world you encountered:
You can do intricate math equations.
You can dissect and identify amphibian innards.
Hopefully (because it’s my fault if you can’t) you can analyze literature and history to identify the text, sub text and find all the beauty and baggage that comes between the lines.
You know the books of the Bible and can discuss the history of the church.
You can do this stuff in a couple of languages and maybe even identify a few Latin phrases: “Hey, that’s a Latin phrase!” you might say some day. “I took Latin at WCA… I don’t have a clue what it says, but that’s Latin all right.”
But I think we may have failed to teach you something. Something very important. Something essential. It wasn’t intentional, but it was, with the clarity of hindsight, a critical mistake. In spite of this though I think, I pray, I see some evidence, that it was neither a fatal nor hopeless omission.
When your parents brought you to the doors at 1820 Franwall Ave, many, probably all, of them were nervous, even scared. They were scared you might get bumps, scrapes, and bruises – and terrified that you might be responsible for someone else’s bumps, scrapes and bruises. They were concerned you might get your feelings hurt – which can leave a bigger scar than any cut. It is very difficult for a parent to endure their baby (at any age) suffering an injustice or slight. We might say tough it out, let it slide, be cool, but inside we relive over and over every emotional trauma we felt at your age. To be a teacher and a covenant parent is to die a thousand deaths while a school full of children, either maliciously or cluelessly tear each other down right in front of us.
And as they dropped you off at WCA’s front door they worried along with us:
That you wouldn’t learn enough to be successful in life, or that you might learn too much about something we didn’t want you to know anything about and you might become successful at that.
That you might not fit in, or that you might fit in too well.
That you might soil your pants or throw up on the teacher’s shoes.
That you might end up in the principal’s office for garnering too much attention or, worse yet, might end up not being noticed at all.
But those fears were misplaced. We worried about the wrong things. When your parents walked hand in hand with you down to that first class, or later drug you out of bed and pushed you out of the car on this end, they should have been scared to death. They should have lain awake nights worried. They should have been terrified that we at WCA, we Christian schoolteachers and covenant parents, would do our job. You see, the most important part of our job, the very essence of why we are here, what we need to be struggling with constantly in addition to how to properly place you in the right math class or what college we can get you into is this: Our calling is to teach you that Christianity is a radical religion. A radical religion. We have prepared you to claim your place in the world – but I’m concerned we haven’t done enough to prepare you not to be of this world.
Now, I apologize for my sin of omission, because the good Lord knows we spent enough time together, so I had plenty of opportunity. And it wasn’t for lack of caring or that I didn’t think it was important. Perhaps it is the term that throws us off. We mistakenly attach the term radical exclusively to liberal extremists or conservative fundamentalists of any religion.
Or perhaps we are thrown by the nature of radicalism – its level of commitment, the counter-cultic nature it implies, and the political and social fanaticism that often accompanies it. But that is wrong.
Mainstream Christianity is the most radical thing in the world!
You think it is radical to put on a vest full of explosives and try to take out as many people as you can? You think it is radical to riot or fly a plane into a building? That’s nothing. That’s expected. That’s human. Return hate with hate? Return injustice with injustice? Be oppressed and lash out? That’s standard operating procedure for fallen man. You want radical?. You want extreme, on the edge, set the world on its ear radicalism? Turn the other cheek.
I am unimpressed and not surprised when someone lashes out. I’m dazzled, awed, mystified (though I shouldn’t be) when someone returns hatred with love. Someone cuts you off in traffic and you shoot at him or her? Kid’s stuff. Someone disses you and you lash out with tongue or fists? Child’s play. You want to play with the truly tough crowd? Those that have what it takes to do the unexpected?
Are you ready for that?
Did we prepare you for that?
I once read about a man whose teenage daughter had been brutally raped and murdered – and God called on him to forgive the monster that did it – which he did – and he then engaged in years of praying for this man’s conversion. Can you imagine? This man had held his baby girl in his arms, like so many fathers here tonight, and whispered to his daughter that he would always be there for her and protect her. He admitted that humanly it wasn’t possible to for him to do, but God had given him the strength. To accept that and act on it? That’s radical.
But those are extreme situations. Perhaps one of the reasons we are so scared of the radical nature of Christianity is that we put it in context of extreme lifestyles or behaviors or situations.
Some of you might indeed be called to some form of radical poverty. To sacrifice all those material things that fascinate and bind you: nice homes, nice clothes, nice cars, really good desserts, etc. And that will be radical, to go in the face of a lifetime of conditioning by the media and the hopes and dreams of those around you. Because I’ll tell you that I hope and pray none of you ever knows want or need, even in the service of the Lord. It’s part of our parental instinct to want you comfortable and cared for. But to give that up? To place yourself at risk financially? That is radical and we all recognize it as such.
And some of you might be called to dangerous professions – that is also radical. Agur Adams, I was told by his mother (through gritted teeth as I remember), considers Navy Seal training to be a calling. As long as there is evil in the world God will call Christians to those dangerous professions. It is certainly radical for a well-educated, capable individual with incredible potential to put their biological life on the line for what they believe.
Yes, there are many obviously radical Christian callings that God may direct at some of you. But most of you will assume your place in the middle class, or better, and at first glance radical will seem as remote and distant and disconnected to your life as the bizarre setting of The Heart of Darkness.
But you want radical with a capital R? You want to know what it is like to be a Christian today? And I submit to you that there is no such thing as a Radical Christian – the phrase is redundant – to live as a Christian as taught in the Bible is to be radical. You want to be that Radical?
Dedicate your life to radical parenting. Raise Godly Christian children in a world intent on controlling their minds, bodies and wallets.
You want to be Radical? Be talking to fellow workers, be talking to your bosses, and make a stand when something unethical is considered.
You want to be Radical? Be hanging out with friends and challenge their lifestyle choices.
You want to be Radical? Intervene when someone you barely know says something racially inappropriate.
You want to be Radical? In a world that claims that he or she with the most toys when they die wins, Radical is accepting that nothing you have is yours – it all belongs to God.
A saying I hate but I hear often is, “On their death bed, no one wishes they had spent more time at work.” How about living a life where you hold every second as belonging to God – a life of purpose and dedication and hard work? Somehow that too has become radical.
You want to be radical? Are you ready to accept the fact that you are required to be Radical? In a world that says that cool is king, that emotion is weakness, live like Christ. Christ showed righteous anger, Christ cried out to God the Father, Christ loves the unlovable, Jesus wept.
When I had many of you in 7th grade you would scramble to participate in class. Your hands would flail around while you called out, “ooh ooh ooh” trying to get my attention. In 8th grade that started to change, but there were still moments of passion. By 10th grade it was slouch and grouch many days. I would glance up and see that vacant stare — not defiant — just the “I’m too cool to look interested” look. This look, by the way, I’m convinced is part of what drives many people out of teaching. This look that I’ve learned from experience has little to do with what is going on inside.
But God has given you each a set of wonderful talents. He has also given you a gift that is unique in creation – the ability to reason. And with these talents comes obligations. Be passionate about your gifts – don’t let cool, or concern about the perceived value of what you have to say, or let others reactions keep you from using those talents. To speak out or act out in spite of your human and fallen desire to do just the opposite: that’s Radical.
It is not radical to live in a convent or behind a wall – that’s the safe route. It is a wonderful calling to be involved in full time ministry like teaching or preaching or mission work. And the sacrifices involved do require a radical commitment. But you want Radical?
Try being a light to the world every day while selling real estate
Try being a light to world on a construction crew
Being an independent businesswoman
Climbing to the top
Going to school
Try keeping that light out from under a bushel while seeking pleasure.
Now, pleasure is not forbidden to us as Christians – but worshiping pleasure is. Radical is ignoring what the world says about fun, pleasure, and fulfillment and, instead, looking to the Bible. You want a Radical lifestyle? Get used to looking there first.
Do you remember this one? A student who is no longer with us (and that we miss) challenged me in class one day while we were talking about our call to evangelize. She said, “ When I’m at the club, getting my freak on, I have no right to get in my friends’ faces and preach to them.” No right? How about obligation?
I have some regrets in my life: like crashing my freshly painted van rummaging around on the floor for a Led Zeppelin 8 track to put in the tape deck. But the biggest regrets I have are lost opportunities to witness. Not that God needed my help, but God desired it, He required it, and I blew it. It is Radical to be ready and willing to step up to the plate anytime, anywhere, every time.
Everything about our post-modern/relativist society (and this is the last time you have to hear me use those terms) screams out to be accepting. You believe what you want to, I do my thing; I’m ok, you’re ok. Radical is to realize that your neighbor might be the nicest person alive, better than you in many regards, generous, a good parent, have a perfect lawn, and might be damned to hell as an unbeliever. It makes us uncomfortable to confront that reality as well as the reality that we have a role to play here. To accept that is radical.
It is also Radical to engage in evangelism without the alienation. What about loving non-believers every day, including the ones that make us uncomfortable – the ones whose lifestyles or personalities make us want to hold them at arms length? Radical is not letting your prejudices get the better of you. We are not called to condemn as much as to be God’s instrument for transformation.
I’m loath to stop – like somehow I can make up for the lost opportunities we had in the classroom to talk about the Radical nature of Christianity. But I’m hopeful that you’ll get there and that you do understand. I see signs that, as a group, you are well on your way:
Some of your senior papers dealt with grappling with issues of lifestyle and commitment.
We had a discussion in class recently about whether racism would diminish and one of you asked: “What can we do?” Not sullenly or hopelessly but – “But what can WE do?” Ready to accept the challenge.
One of you actually said in class last week — in response to a tease from another during a report on capitalism — that there was more to life, and to you, than cars. I see so many hopeful signs.
You see, Radical isn’t a mindset – it’s action – it’s the way you choose to live your life. I’m going to ask you to pray with me in a moment. Know that I, and these other covenant parents and educators have committed ourselves to a lifetime of carrying you in prayer. Of praying for you. But I can’t do this one for you. No one can.
Six years ago our pastor in Washington State, during a series of sermons on prayer, called on us as individuals to pray what he called “the scary prayer.” He could just have well called it “the Radical prayer.” He challenged us to, for once, not call on God to bless our jobs or our families or to let us know if something specific in our lives was a good choice (like what college we chose). But to pray: simply and humbly: God – your will be done in my life. And then stop and listen for the answer.
But I warn you, don’t be naïve. Don’t believe you can control the process. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, said: “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God… We must not… assume that our schedule is our own to manage – but allow it to be arranged by God.” Not long after he wrote this he was hung by the Nazis in a concentration camp. This was his punishment for resisting their policies and standing up against the persecution of the Jews.
Up to that point, that sermon, I had spent my entire life praying something like:
Lord, if this business is what you want me to do, then bless it.
Lord, if this house is what you want us to build, then make it possible.
Lord, if this is the girl I’m supposed to marry, then make it so she doesn’t hang up on me, again.
Basically, I lived my life as I saw fit, and challenged God to open doors and windows as He saw fit. After this sermon Bette and I prayed this Radical prayer: We had just finished building a new house we had spent years designing and dreaming about. I had just gone back to school to get my teaching credentials, and we had plotted our career course out to teach in the local schools. We were surrounded by friends and family. My mom finally had all of her children return to the area, and we were living within a few miles of her. Bette’s parents had moved from Chicago to be closer to their grandkids, my children. Our lives were well planned and in order.
And we prayed: “God, do what you will with our lives. Amen.” A month later we were on a plane to interview for jobs in Silver Spring, Maryland, at a place we had never heard of, because of an ad in The Banner, our church magazine, that Bette had noticed by chance (or so we thought). An ad I didn’t even want to respond to. After the interview they offered us these jobs, and we said no repeatedly. Then God reminded us of our prayer. Two weeks after that we were in a U-haul driving across country. Two weeks to get ready for our lives to change forever and all because of a one-sentence prayer!
We tell people there are scratch marks all the way across the country on interstate 90. But the reality is that Radical does not mean miserable. This is why I think maybe we worry too much about the Radical thing rather than accepting it. WCA is where God has wanted us and He, in turn, has made our experience here rewarding, deeply textured, a blessing to us personally and spiritually. He did that by giving us you.
If you dare, 2003 graduates of WCA, pray quietly along with me these scary, radical words that are so familiar we do not realize how powerful, how live changing they are. Let’s pray: Here I am Lord. It is I Lord. I have heard you calling in the night. Where you lead me, I will follow. Amen.
How to best partner with churches has been a true conundrum for CSI Christian schools in recent years.
Cultural changes and shifts in church membership, coupled with students coming from a broadening number and variety of churches, have left schools confused about how to keep the home – school – church triangle intact, or even functioning at all. At the 2007 CSI membership convention we attempted to highlight the issue and make some progress on the issue of our common connection – the faith development of the students we share. If you are interested you can go back to earlier blog posts: here is the original post about the work, the report on the work we did at the convention, how it could be used with churches, and a subsequent post about how some schools attempted to follow up. One of the common difficulties in our larger (and even mid-size!) schools is that there are often over 100 churches represented in the student body. How can a school effectively connect with all of them, let alone do any planning together?
In the light of this persistent challenge, it was my pleasure last week to chat with Len Stob, superintendent, and Ben Dykhouse, Director of Christian Leadership, at Ontario (CA) Christian and to hear about their mentoring/discipleship program.
I will let Ben explain:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, writes that “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” In Growing True Disciples, George Barna gauges the responses of students involved in mentoring relationships. 30% of the students reported the experience as “life changing,” 60% said it was “really helpful,” 10% thought it was of “some value,” while less than 1% decided that it was “not helpful” (pg. 51). At Ontario Christian, we believe discipleship is a primary goal of the church, home and school. Thus, Ontario Christian is offering a Discipleship Program for students that will partner church, home and school to foster these characteristics of a disciple. Ontario Christian’s aim for this program is to give students another opportunity to grow in discipleship. So, what is Christian discipleship? Christian discipleship is acknowledging Christ’s Lordship and following him in all areas of life. Specifically, a true disciple will experience transformation in his/her relationships with friends, coworkers, family, and fellow church members. A true disciple will also embody a distinctively Christ‐ like lifestyle. Another characteristic of a Christian disciple is involvement with Christ’s church. Finally, a disciple has the desire to bring reconciliation, justice, and righteousness to his/her immediate community and to the world at large. One part of this program will be a mentoring relationship. Each student in the program will be paired with a mature Christian who attends the same church and is of the same gender. This mentor must be approved by the student’s parents, and she/he must meet certain requirements (see info via wiki link below.) This relationship will give the student the opportunity to experience spiritual growth in Christian community, dialogue with a mature Christian, and establish roots in her/his church that will last beyond high school. We strongly believe that whole‐life Christian discipleship does not happen without fellowship among other Christians. In other words, it does not happen primarily in personal devotions. This mentoring relationship is outlined in great detail see sections II‐IX on the wiki (see the link below.)
A second component to this Discipleship Program is partnering with the student’s home. With the goal of discipleship in mind, families of students in this program commit to eat a meal together at least three times per week. The family will also commit to have family devotions at least three times per week. Again, this is to emphasize God’s call to families to disciple their children and to put the arena of discipleship in the context of community. Materials for family devotions will be provided as a resource. However, families will not be bound to using these for their devotional time. Parents will also attend two meetings while their student is involved in the Discipleship Program.
Beyond discipleship growth and the forming of cross-generational bonds, Ontario Christian sees a “return” on the kind of positive campus culture that these sophomore and junior student leaders are able to assist in building. They are processing this work with their own staff at the end of each semester and are also hosting a symposium for youth pastors. They report that, due to the mentoring, students get more rooted in their own churches as well. It seems like a very exciting program that has strong promise to not only develop student leaders, but to strengthen church, school, and family ties.
If you are interested in knowing more details about this program you can contact Ben Dykhouse, Bible Teacher and Director of Christian Leadership at Ontario Christian High School. His phone number is 909.984.1756 ext. 39 and his email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. To see more details about the program including mentor qualities, tips for effective mentoring, qualities of an effective student disciple, contracts for mentors, students, and families, and discussion starter questions, please visit the DC (Distinctively Christian) Tools for Schools wiki.
“What the leader focuses on gets done.” As I go about the continent speaking and doing accreditation site visits, I get to see many schools in action and gain a sense of how leadership happens in each place. Since my job often focuses on helping others with change, I have been thinking about what motivates people to change and the role of leadership, formal or informal, in making change happen and as change relates to what makes Christian education distinctive.
I recently read Dan Pink’s newest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He describes management in the last 100 years as a version called Motivation 2.0, that relies heavily on control and extrinsic rewards. Pink contends that this style is out of sync with human nature itself, particularly in jobs of knowledge workers – the kinds of right-brain, creative, complex-thinking jobs that we see today. We are created to be curious and self-directed in our learning, but that somehow this desire gets “controlled” out of us – education being one culprit. Pink cites a Cornell study of 320 small businesses, in which half of the workers were granted autonomy and the other half relied on top-down direction, and states: “Businesses that offered autonomy grew at four times the rate of the control-oriented firms and had one-third the turnover.” Leaders lead out of their assumptions about the nature of human beings. Whether it is kids or teachers, if you assume the worst or the best about them, you will likely have people living up to those expectations. Do you as a leader bring out the best or the worst in your followers?
What Pink says about money and extrinsic motivation resonates with me as a Christian. In his proposed Motivation 3.0 model he sees purpose maximization as a key to long-term job satisfaction. We desire to work for higher purposes in life beyond ourselves. Christian education is, in the end, not about the money, but the highest purpose of helping student to know and live for Jesus Christ.
In a recent survey (Gates Foundation/Scholastic) of more than 40,000 public school teachers, supportive leadership was once again shown to trump financial incentives, such as merit pay. In order to retain good teachers, 68% said supportive leadership was absolutely essential, while 71% said monetary rewards for teacher performance would have moderate or no impact on student achievement. Teachers also highly desired “relevant” professional development, clean and safe working conditions, and time to collaborate with access to high-quality curriculum.
My friend Mark Eckel recently completed his doctoral work on the implementation of faith-learning integration and discovered that the key variable in terms of effect was leadership. He reports that the variable of administrative encouragement around faith learning integration happening in the classroom caused the largest shift in the total score for how teachers were integrating faith and learning! He states: “Learning how one teaches all things from a biblical point of view is the cornerstone of what it means to teach in a Christian school.” Amen!
As a leader (whether you are an administrator or teacher) I leave you with these questions:
- How do you know that faith-learning integration is being practiced in your classroom(s)? What evidence could you show me?
- If teachers/students are dependent on you as a leader to emphasize this area, then what are you doing to strengthen faith-learning integration?
As I finished watching the first episode of the new show Undercover Boss, I shed a tear and made a mental note to catch the next episode. Why did I enjoy the show so much?
For those of you who didn’t see the show or wonder what I am talking about – here is the premise. The CEO of a major company goes “undercover” in their own company and does the daily work of one of their lower level workers. In the process they learn much about the work, themselves and the functioning of the company. In the first episode we follow Larry O’Donnell who does five different jobs in Waste Management in five days, with varying success levels.
Hmmm…..why does this premise resonate? We know of someone else in history who abandoned the power and prestige available to him and became “one of us, like us in every way.” In the process of cleaning toilets, picking through recyclables, picking up litter, our CEO comes to the realization that the average worker in his company works incredibly hard, and that some workers persist with a positive attitude even though life has dealt them cancer, diabetes, and too many relatives to support on their income. Our CEO’s response is encouraging – he is outraged at injustice, awed by positive attitudes and persistence, and seeks to use his authority to make right the wrong values and practices that he uncovers.
Just as someone else in history went about his people “curing their illness, restoring sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, etc.” our CEO seeks to bring justice and healing to the situations he uncovers. As we consider both our historical example and our CEO, we recognize that all the people can’t be healed, all the problems can’t be fixed, but a vision of shalom and flourishing is presented nonetheless. Our CEO sees what each worker brings to their situation, and seeks at the end of the show to more closely match the passion and gifts of the people he worked with to better jobs – for example, our infectiously upbeat toilet cleaner is recommended for a job that more closely matches his ability to bring joy to others, and our litter manager is made a company mentor for those dealing with their jobs and difficult personal health situations.
Unlike Jesus, our CEO wasn’t crucified at the end of the episode, but in a company meeting where our enlightened CEO explained his epiphany and outlined positive changes for workers, it seemed to me that his fellow leaders weren’t fully sold on the concept – they gave a sort of “this too shall pass” look. The viewer wonders if Larry the CEO will be successful at implementing this new servant leadership style and make it stick.
This show not only made for good viewing – who couldn’t relate to their bosses actually having to do their work and live in their shoes 24/7 – the human desire to be fully understood, but it presents a concrete vision for leaders of how it might be to lead in a servant manner, emulating the “foolish” values of Christ that we try to teach our kids in Christian schools and helping others to flourish.
Through my work with schools via accreditation and school improvement visits, I often come away impressed by how much individuals can make a difference in the decision making process and how much one individual can impact the direction of an organization.
This is undoubtably one of the more difficult times of testing in the history of Christian education. So, how does a leader keep an organization from retreating into just thinking about budgets, enrollments, and marketing?
May I suggest 10 questions for reflection and discussion:
- Is your mission strong, understood by faculty and parents, and actionable? How do you know you are meeting it?
- Do your teachers know how to articulate a Biblical perspective at the unit level?
- Does your entire staff model and develop Christlike relationships with students and parents?
- Do your staff development and teacher evaluation processes reflect a balance between grace and truth, between helping people grow and holding them accountable? Do you regularly encourage your teachers?
- Do your budget choices keep teaching and learning in the forefront and are funds administered justly?
- Are you reaching out to, and impacting, your local community where God has placed your school?
- Are you asking students, teachers, parents, alumni, and broader community if you are meeting the mission of your school?
- Are you encouraging teachers to collaborate, share ideas, and are you providing opportunities (time) for them to discuss and improve their practice?
- As a leader are you building capacity into, and developing the skills of, the next generation of those who can lead our schools?
- Are you committing to a process of improvement such as accreditation?
For most of us it’s time to put things back in the cupboards and close the book on this school year. As a school leader, it is good to reflect back on the school year, and worthwhile to ask yourself some reflective questions:
Did I move my school closer to meeting our mission this year? What evidence do I have? How do I know?
How did I as a leader improve the school this year? Did my words and actions encourage faith and motivation to learn in my staff and students?
Did I settle for only visible improvements of bricks and bucks or did I also improve the less visible aspects such as the quality of instruction, the distinctiveness of the curriculum, the quality of instruction, and the bondedness of the staff and parent community?
Was my focus on how successful my school was or how much students and staff understood how to be bringers of shalom?
What must I commit to in the next school year?
Recently McKinsey & Company put out an interesting report “How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top.” In the report they make this summative statement: “The available evidence suggests that the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is the quality of the teachers.” They go on to say that high-performing schools consistently do three things well:
Hire the right teachers – “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”
Develop teachers into effective instructors.
- Put in place systems and targeted support to make sure that each child benefits from excellent instruction.
According to their synthesis of research, each principal’s time in effective schools is focused on instructional leadership. In our schools spiritual leadership is even more important. What implications does this have as you make plans to foster spiritual and instructional leadership growth in your school next year?
TTFN – As Tigger of Winnie the Pooh fame always said – Ta, Ta For Now! This set of four postings will be the last postings until next fall when I will resume posting on this site. This gives both of us, dear reader, a chance to catch up on our reading . . . . and reflection. Hope to see some of you at convention this summer. Have a terrific end of the year and summer!