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(Thanks to my friend Bryant Russ, Bible teacher at Lansing (MI) Christian School, for sharing this blog post.)
What do I teach that a YouTube video can’t?
This question has been on my mind since last week when I learned more about the universe in three days of watching educational Internet videos than I had in four years of high school science classes. No joke. I made a list of all the things I wanted to know about science—everything from what is a molecule? to Is time really relative?—and hit the web. Sites such as Coursera.com, TedEd, ITunes U, and Minute Physics on YouTube provided engaging, comprehensive, and understandable lessons that led me through each one of my questions and offered new ones to continue my online education. Oh yeah, and did I mention that all this was free?
So back to the question: What do I teach that a YouTube video can’t? This question is important to me because I’d like to know that I couldn’t be replaced by a computer. Unfortunately, after close inspection I’ve found that much of what I’m doing, and much of what most teachers are doing, can be done—and often better—by the Internet. If this is the case, why shouldn’t I be replaced by a screen?
Twenty years ago it was the job of a teacher to relay information to the students. Teach them charts, methods, dates, important people and events. But has the role of a teacher changed now that students could pass just about every quiz and test we give them if allowed to use their phones? Has the Internet altered the game? If the world has changed, and significantly, since this educational structure was conceived, shouldn’t we start considering what we teach that a Youtube video can’t before we’re all swapped out for iPads?
I’m not suggesting teachers abandon relaying information and giving instruction, but perhaps it’s time to shift the focus of education. Let me propose two things a teacher can do—and must do—to become irreplaceable.
1. Teachers can inspire interest, ignite curiosity, and kindle a love of learning in students. I would go so far as to suggest this is the primary role of a twenty-first century teacher. If your students read what they’re supposed to read, answer what they’re supposed to answer, and memorize what they’re supposed to memorize, but do not continue to learn your subject when the year is over then you have failed them—regardless of their report card grades. Your job is to get them interested. Why? Think about it. If they have an interest in your subject, whether you’re teaching literature or biology, they will continue to learn about it outside the classroom (i.e. more learning will happen) and at a significantly higher level of engagement (i.e. better learning will happen). You might not be as necessary for the relaying of information as were teachers twenty years ago, but you are just as important for sparking interest in the students so that they will seek multiple available resources for attaining the information. How can you do this?
- Demonstrate interest, curiosity, and a love of learning. If you’re not interested, curious, or in love with learning, please stop teaching. As a wise mentor teacher once told me, “You teach who you are more than you teach your subject.”
- Ask big, important questions. So often I find myself giving answers to questions that students couldn’t care less about. If they don’t care about the question, why would they care about the answer? We must be giving students questions—and big ones! Let your natural curiosity (see bullet 1) help guide what you do in class to the point that your students feel invited into a search for the answers to their important questions.
- Avoid using grades as motivation or a threat (“If you do this you’ll get an ‘A’” and “If you don’t do this your grade will suffer”). This is like putting the wrong kind of gas into a car. I get so annoyed when a student asks, “Is this going to be on the test?” or “Do I have to know this?” or “How many points is this worth?” and yet, I have to admit it’s our fault. We create these grade-obsessed creatures and almost always destroy natural interest in a subject when we use assessment for something it was never intended to be. (I can say with confidence that I am more eager and excited to learn than I have ever been in my life. I told my wife this; she said, “Too bad this didn’t happen about 15 years ago.” I replied, “15 years ago I was much too busy with school to be excited about learning.”)
2. Teachers can initiate and facilitate creativity in students. Put simply, our students shouldn’t just be learning stuff; they should be making stuff. I have never been more proud as a teacher than when my students make something (or make something happen) that they are excited about and invested in. In fact, I recently challenged my students with a project that demanded interest, investment, and hard work…then I let them go. To my surprise, not only did just about every single student get a ‘A’, but they worked so much harder (and learned so much more) than if they had simply been asked to regurgitate what they had memorized on a test. Our students are itching to do something; to make something. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to give a test than to offer and assist an opportunity to be creative. The irony is that when given the opportunity to do something significant it is often the unengaged, ADD kid who surprises you with something great. So many of our students are itching to just do something! Not only does this promote a higher level of learning (what is the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy again?) but it allows young men and women to have a purpose for coming to school. The creative person is the most valuable asset in today’s changing world, so shouldn’t we be focused on making creators?
While I am completely aware of the challenges of actually being this kind of teacher in a classroom filled with 25 rambunctious teenagers, I am totally committed to moving in this direction in order to distinguish myself from a machine that could otherwise do my job.
(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
(Thanks to my friend Dave Mulder, Instructor of Education at Dordt College, for sharing this blog post! Part 1 appeared last month (to read it scroll down the blog.) Dave teaches courses in educational foundations, methods for teaching science, and educational technology. He blogs on teaching, learning, technology, students, faith, and school culture at iTeach and iLearn.
Twitter as Part of Your PLN
I joined Twitter back in 2009, but it took a little time for me to find it a valuable resource for my own personal professional development. That is mostly because I wasn’t doing it right. Since then I’ve changed some of my practices using Twitter, and now it is one of the main parts of my PLN (Personal Learning Network.) Here are a few things I started doing that made Twitter so invaluable:
- Follow people who share your interests. Since Twitter is asymmetrical, I can follow all sorts of people and find out what they are reading and tweeting. Since I’m most interested in using Twitter as part of my PLN, I follow quite a few educators—both practicing teachers as well as educational theorists. These folks tend to share things about teaching or school culture that I find valuable.
- Use #hashtags to find and follow topics that interest you. You can search for hashtags on pretty much any topic you can think of that you might teach. #chemistry. #kindergarten. #VeteransDay. #UnderwaterBasketWeaving. Interested in educational technology? Try #edtech. General education topics? Try #edchat.
- Use a Twitter client. You can sign up for an account right at Twitter’s website and use the social network through the site, but I’ve found it easier to keep track of things I’m interested in by using a Twitter client—a program designed to organize my Twitterfeed and use hashtags to help keep track of conversations. I’ve been using TweetDeck, but I’ve also heard good things about HootSuite. (Both of these are free to download and safe to install.) For those on iOS or Android devices, you might consider Tweetcaster or Flipboard. (These are also free apps.) Do you need a Twitter client? No. But it might help you keep track of topics you are following.
- Post things yourself! Here’s the deal: if you are benefiting from things other people are posting, share the wealth! Tweet links to great resources you find. Tweet your questions out to your followers and see what kinds of answers you might get. Retweet things other users have shared so your followers can profit as well. Reply to tweets from the people you follow, and you might be surprised by the big names in education who communicate back with you directly!
Proposing a New Hashtag
I’ve been thinking lately about how we in Christian Education can support and encourage each other—serving as a PLN for other Christian teachers—and how we might use Twitter to do this. So I’m proposing a new hashtag: #ChrEd. When you find great resources, tweet them with the #ChrEd tag to denote them as related to Christian Education. I think #ChrEd is short enough that it won’t take up too many of your 140 characters, but descriptive enough that people will know what you’re tweeting about.
If you aren’t on Twitter yet, sign up! I think you’ll find it a valuable part of your PLN. Feel free to follow me (@d_mulder), and if you call me out by my @username, I’ll follow you back. Let’s support each other in the task of teaching Christianly!
Admittedly, I read a fair amount of books in a year. So, when one sticks in my mind and continues to provoke my thoughts, it moves to my mental list of “exceptional books” and I tend to talk to others about it. Recently I picked up Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book, Made for Goodness: and Why This Makes All the Difference, written with his daughter, Rev. Mpho Tutu. What a compelling and inspirational book!
I was curious how Tutu might hold this view of goodness in the face of all the evil that he has seen and heard. Yet Tutu argues that, being made by God in his image, we are both attracted to good and outraged by evil. God holds us in life, and we can face evil squarely because we know that evil will not have the last word. We are lovable and capable of good because God has loved us since before eternity. The Tutus encourage us to live into the goodness that God has hardwired into us, as opposed to “doing good” out of fear that we are not doing enough to please God. One of my favorite quotes in the book is the following: “The invitation to Godly perfection, God’s invitation to wholeness, is an invitation to beauty. It is God’s invitation to us to be life artists, to be those who create lives of beauty.” (p. 48) In teaching, we have so many opportunities to be life artists, instruments of God’s goodness, impacting the lives of our students around us.
The Tutus do not deny the power and pervasiveness of evil. They recount personal experiences and the horror stories of other’s suffering. As the leader of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to investigate apartheid era crimes, Archbishop Tutu heard stories reflecting the worst of human evil, yet is able to affirm that even in suffering, God sees and stands with us in all that we experience and endure in life.
I was struck by, and very appreciative of the Tutus’ description of forgiveness:
“We miseducate ourselves and our children with the trite phrase ‘Forgive and forget.’ Forgiveness is not a form of forgetting. It is, rather, a profound form of remembering. When we forgive, we remember who and whose we are. We remember that we are creative beings modeled on a creative God. When we forgive, we reclaim the power to create.” (p.150)
The authors remind us that we all long for goodness, for a return to Eden. They encourage us in closing to be much in prayer, to be listening for God’s voice: “God can help us choose, from among the plethora of paths that are spread out before us, the one that leads to flourishing.” To begin, we must see ourselves as God sees us, as the crown of his creation, created for his joy and beloved. This has implications for how we view others: “As we allow ourselves to accept God’s acceptance, we can begin to accept our own goodness and beauty. With each glimpse of our own beauty we can begin to see the goodness and beauty in others.” (p.198)
This book caused me to wonder if sometimes we focus too much on the shortcomings of ourselves, our students, our colleagues and allow ourselves to become negative, discouraged, cynical, and even bitter. The hard lessons learned in South Africa would point us in the direction of not ignoring the reality of evil, and certainly not letting it have the last word. We live in the hope of Eden and have daily opportunity to exude the goodness and beauty of our Creator, to image him and to celebrate it in other image-bearers before us.
(Thanks to my friend Dave Mulder, Instructor of Education at Dordt College, for sharing this blog post! Please look for Part 2 next month and in the meantime, send him a tweet!)
Think with me for a minute: Where do you go when you need advice, support, or new ideas for your teaching practice? Certainly formal professional development (PD) meetings have value for this, but you probably have other resources in education that you tap into as well. Do you turn to particular colleagues in your building? Do you email or visit with friends teaching in other schools? Are there journals, books, professional organizations, or websites that you use? All of these make up your personal learning network (PLN).
Consider your PLN…
Have you given much thought to your PLN? While large-group, general topic PD certainly still has its place in the realm of education today, many teachers I have spoken with express their desire for more targeted PD tailored to their individual classroom situation. (And let’s face it: if we believe differentiated instruction is good for our students, we also ought to own the fact that it’s good for us teachers as well!) Developing your PLN may help to provide you with more personally relevant PD. Enter Twitter.
A Short Introduction to Twitter
By now I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Twitter, even if you haven’t joined up. Twitter is a social network, and while perhaps not quite as popular as Facebook (“only” 500 million users, opposed to over 900 million for Facebook) there are a great many people sharing about a great many topics. And that fact means Twitter has some real benefits as a part of a PLN.
Twitter launched in 2006 as a microblogging site, and you’re still limited to 140 characters when posting (“tweeting”) to Twitter. The real benefit I see in this is that you have to be pithy and creative in sharing your message—or use your post to link to a blog post or YouTube video or other resource to share your ideas with more depth.
A key difference between Twitter and other popular social networks is that Twitter is asymmetrical: you can follow people on Twitter without them necessarily following you back. As counter examples, Facebook and LinkedIn are symmetrical: i.e., you have to mutually confirm that you have some sort of relationship with the person with whom you are connecting. I’ve found that Twitter is thus a different sort of community than Facebook, one better designed for broadcasting ideas to a wider audience.
Your username on Twitter is designated with an “@” symbol;, mine is @d_mulder. These @usernames help you communicate with fellow users as you tweet. For example, if you would tweet, “Hey @d_mulder, check out my blog!” I would be notified that you tagged me in your message, and I’d be more likely to respond.
One more unique thing for using Twitter: you can tag subjects using the “#” symbol. #hashtags are a shorthand way of flagging a topic of interest that other users can search for. You can hashtag anything, but it’s usually good form to only use a couple of tags in each tweet. For example, if you really wanted me to read your blog, you might tweet, “Hey @d_mulder, check out my blog! #science #teaching” Adding these hashtags tells me what I’ll find when I get there, and make me more likely to check it out.
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!
I have been amazed by the amount of progress that has been made during the last thirty plus years in our approaches with special needs students. I feel I can make that statement because, as a student seeking a special education degree those many years ago, I remember when laws such as Public Law 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act), also known as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), had just been passed. We were in the beginning stages of learning how to best educate students in a “least restrictive environment.” I believe that in the Christian education community we are making significant progress with both educating students in inclusive settings and building understanding and appreciation for inclusive students with our entire student populations.
I am delighted to pass along a gift to you and your schools from a former colleague of mine, Dr. Kathleen VanTol, education professor at Dordt College in the areas of Special Education and Teaching English Language Learners. Her students have put together a 24 page Disability Awareness Unit suitable for use in K-8 schools. Each grade will study a different disability and there are devotionals and a 15 minutes a day lessons that include teaching ideas, video links, and interactive activities.
This unit is very timely – below is the introduction the students included with the unit:
Inclusive Schools Week is the first week of December. Inclusive Schools Week is an annual event that celebrates students who have disabilities while encouraging all students to acknowledge that students are more alike than different! Making our students more aware of disabilities is one way that they can see things from others’ perspectives. Working to make our schools more inclusive is a constant goal. Knowing more about different disabilities will help students become more prepared to be inclusive of children with disabilities within their own classrooms as well as through daily interactions outside of the classroom.
Many thanks to Dr. VanTol and Dordt students for sharing this great resource!
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.
One of the things that summer does for us in the education profession is to restore our sight. We can easily lose our perspective as we near the end of the year – it is a challenge just staying focused as the tasks mount up. Summer gives us time to reflect – to see into the future, to look back, to see through some past problems/people, to soul search about any “blind spots” and “logs” (see Matthew 7:5) and to “look into” things that help us gain our balance and give us new hopes and dreams.
At the beginning of a new year, I encourage you to think about seeing. Will you take the time to truly see your students, parents, and colleagues and enter into their worlds? Will you recognize Jesus when he shows up in your school? Are you seeing the good or the bad in others? It likely depends on where you are focusing. Are we seeing beauty all around? It is essential that we help students see it, as beauty engages us and entices us to learn more – beauty is critical to the learning process. Will you take the time to see the needs of the world around you and through your keen sight provoke the missional imaginations of your students – to help them truly see as Jesus saw? Do you have a vision for the future impact, the ways God can use, each of those whose hearts and lives you have the opportunity to deeply impact?
At the beginning of the year, I encourage you to think about being seen. Not in the showy, attention-getting way that we first think about when we use the words “being seen.” Let me give you an example of what I mean. In his wonderful book, Nudge, Leonard Sweet tells this story.
Many decades ago some men were panning for gold in the state of Montana. The prospectors organized themselves into an informal cooperative and agreed up front that if they should strike gold they would tell no one about their find.
After weeks of hard panning and digging, one of them found an unusual stone. Breaking it open, they were excited to see that it contained gold. Soon the prospectors discovered an abundance of the precious metal. They began shouting “We’ve found it! We’ve found gold! We’ve struck it rich!”
They then proceeded to go to a nearby town for additional supplies. Before leaving camp, they reminded each other of the pledge of absolute secrecy. While they were in town, none of them breathed a word about their good fortune. However, when they were getting ready to return to camp, they were horrified to discover several hundred of the local townsmen preparing to follow them. And when they asked who had revealed the secret of their discovery, the answer came: “No one had to. Your faces showed it.”
How do you wish to be seen this year? What will students, colleagues, and parents see in you?
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?
Our opportunities to reveal God’s truth in all creation, to explore Biblical perspectives, and to nurture faith in students are core distinctives of Christian education. Yet, if the truth were told, it cannot be assumed that new graduates or even teachers with some experience have had the kind of background or training to make faith-learning connections or to teach the Bible effectively. This latter concern led Dr. Johanna Campbell, retired British Columbia Teachers’ Association leader and former teacher, to write a book entitled How to Profit From the Word: A Handbook for teachers of Bible in Christian Schools just for that purpose. From her website, she offers the following description of the book: “The first three chapters discuss the basic tenets of our Christian faith, using the Apostles’ Creed as an overall guide. Chapters 4-10 discuss curriculum frameworks, Christian methodology, pedagogy, learning the Bible in community, and what role the Holy Spirit plays in the classroom. There are five helpful appendices which give ideas on how to assess the subject ‘Bible’, how to journal through a Bible book, how to do a passage analysis, sample outlines on how to ‘camp’ around a Bible book, and a page listing some helpful resources for the Bible teacher.” The book is available on her website.
Johanna has also put together another inexpensive booklet called Bible Q & A: From Creation to New Creation. While this booklet is designed for children under 12, it could also be used effectively with new believers, for evangelism purposes, or for ESL students. These are “the basics” – in Johanna’s words – “a benchmark of biblical knowledge for both children and adults.” The booklet is now available in Spanish also and is being used presently by EduDeo in Honduras and Nicaragua. It is available in French as well.
Any Christian schools that teach French or Spanish could use the Bible Q & A for their high school students to give them a basic Christian vocabulary in the language they are studying. Study one Q & A (or a small related section) per lesson–5 minutes.
Kudos, Johanna – thanks for making these excellent resources available for teachers and students and thanks for your heart and passion to do this not for profit, but to advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. For more information, please visit her website.
I would like to share two resources that merit attention and may be helpful in nurturing faith with students.
The story of Corrie Ten Boom is one that some of us may be familiar with – a Christian woman in the Netherlands who hid Jews from persecution during the Holocaust. I learned about a resource related to this story from former Rehoboth Executive Director, Ron Polinder, who happened to sit down on a flight next to Susan Sandager, an actor who presents a one-woman dramatization called Time with Corrie. The informational brochure and contact information can be found here: Corrie Ten Boom -SandagerBrochure-7 copy. I believe with Ron that “Corrie’s story is one that we and our children and grandchildren and students should never forget–it is an important message . . .” There is much that our students can gain from the stories of heroes of faith such as Corrie that is instructive and inspirational for their own lives. The sharing of narratives and faith stories is one of the best ways that we can encourage faith in our students.
Kiva is a way to help connect people through lending to reduce poverty in the world. Individuals or organizations can lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world. The Kiva website indicates that there has been about $300 million dollars lent by 739,477 lenders since 2005 and that the repayment rate has been 98.94%! This seems amazing! Kiva does this work through 147 field partners and 450 volunteers in 61 countries around the world.
What is compelling to me about Kiva is that it is giving a hand up, as opposed to a hand out. If a class or classroom were to collect money, select a project, and connect with an individual, not only that individual could be helped, but the money could be reused next year with another class. Or ideally, if each class were to raise funds, there could be additional people helped each year due to the repaid money and the new funds. There are currently over 1,070 school teams lending money. The leading team is a school from Honolulu that has lent over $118,650! They have made it part of their senior capstone project. I’d love to see one of our Christian schools at the top of the leader board – what a great way to engage our kids globally!
I really enjoyed reading John Suk’s book: Not Sure: A Pastor’s Journey from Faith to Doubt. Maybe it is because we are similar ages, but I felt like I could really relate to his description of growing up in the culture of the same denomination. He takes us through the past and present of Christian belief by looking at history and reflecting on his own personal faith development. It is a painfully honest, yet hopeful book about a faith journey that a faith that lives and deals with doubt, a faith that receives grace as a little child.
A friend, who heard that I would be speaking in Hungary and Romania, suggested that I check out the site Live Mocha to learn some phrases. What a great tool – it says the word, shows a picture, and takes you through self-paced lessons – for free!
Another friend mentioned that he was in a study group on the book, Wasting Minds: Why Our Education System is Failing and What We Can Do About It by Ronald Wolk. I am about 2/3rds of the way through the book and appreciate the fact that the author (former editor of Education Week for 20+ years) is speaking boldly about problems and solutions. My favorite quote so far: “We will make real progress only when we realize our problem in education is not mainly one of performance but one of design. It is the obsolete and flawed design of the conventional public school that accounts for the poor performance of a great many students.” (p.25)
Infographics have grown in popularity – they are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. The graphic on the left comes from Daily Infographic and another leading site is visual.ly. The big news is that you can now create your own infographics – here are the details and you can also visit visual.ly. What a cool way to present information!
Did you know that the Blue Man Group is starting a school? What are the implications of this school that encourages better learning through fun?
The idea of digital learning badges is gaining traction and should give colleges and universities some pause. What are the implications for hgher education if I can learn anything from anyone at anytime and get a badge/certification of my competency? Would an electronic portfolio through a site like Mahara be more descriptive of my skills, abilities, and passions? Mozilla, the open source organization behind the Firefox browser has been a key leader in the Open Badges movement. Here is a great aggregation of information on badges and here are some examples of how this is working in real life.
Perhaps by now you have heard of TED Talks – short, stimulating lectures of less than 20 minutes or less – if not, Google it or go to YouTube for videos or ITunes for podcasts. The exciting news of this past week is that TED has now launched TED-Ed – a new educational channel on YouTube. They hope to add free video lessons to help educators supplement their curriculum.
The latest Pew Foundation report on teens, smartphones, and texting can be read here.
If you have IPads at your disposal, or just have one of your own, here are “40 Most Awesome Science Apps” that really do look very cool!
For my Canadian friends, a research based answer to the question: “Do Dual Credit Programs Help Students Succeed?”
Nice 5 minute movie on Project Based Learning and Student Engagement in Dawson Creek, BC – note the reference to dual enrollment.
Here’s what it can look like when schools move toward making 21st Century education happen.
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.
“Simplicity, clarity, and priority would be a dream scenario for our school!” a teacher told me. “How can we start to get there?” asked another. I could tell from the passion in their voices that they had been deeply frustrated by years of initiatives, lack of clarity, and failed improvement efforts. They almost didn’t dare believe that simplicity, clarity, and priority were possible, but were still willing to strive for those elusive goals.
Simplicity, clarity, and priority are addressed in chapter one of Mike Schmoker’s new book, Focus: Elevating the Essentials To Radically Improve Student Learning, and I think that through this book he has put an elbow into the sore spot of the backs of most North America educators – “it hurts so good that I know I need to do something about it!” His premise simply is that we have not taken the time to identify what we really need to be doing in terms of what we teach and how we teach. How can we gain clarity if we have not truly identified a “guaranteed and viable” curriculum? How do we set priority when looking at hundreds of standards in a content area? Why do we ignore things that are proven to work, such as the development and implementation of common assessments?
In the first chapters, Schmoker accurately describes educator frustrations and examines what we teach and how we teach. He makes an argument for simplification and focus on reading, writing, and authentic literacy skills. In the succeeding chapters he goes subject by subject and boldly suggests, according to research, what we should be emphasizing in each of the subject areas. This is not a “back to the basics” book, but a valuable book that identifies best practice that is advantageous in any instructional setting.
If you only could choose one book to read and discuss with your staff this year, this one would be a worthy choice. There is a lot of practical stuff in this book to push up against and have lively and productive discussion around. Schmoker has moved the discussion off the dime – I recommend you give it a read.
(Thanks to my friend David Mulder, technology director at Sioux Center Christian
Schools, for sharing this blog post.)
Part 2 – Now that we are here, what should we do about it?
Last month, I broached the subject of how we use technology in our classrooms. I explained the “Tech-on-the-Side” model and left off with the thought that this mode of thinking about technology in school may not be engaging 21st Century learners.
Here’s what I mean. Tech-on-the-Side might mean:
- Having your students word process a paper instead of handwriting it.
- Having your students research a topic on Wikipedia instead of cracking open the World Book.
- Having your students create a PowerPoint presentation instead of drawing a poster with colored pencils.
Now please don’t feel like I’m picking on you—I’m pointing the finger at myself first and foremost here, as I’ve done all of these things, even in the last couple of years. It’s not that these activities are bad or “wrong” in and of themselves. Rather, I don’t think they go far enough in shifting to really integrating technology in a seamless way in classroom practice. In each of these cases, we may be using a different tool, but the task is fundamentally the same.
As I see it, we are setting up a “digital dichotomy” in regard to the way kids use technology at school and at home. At home, many kids are living a tech-saturated life. At school, technology is perhaps viewed—by teachers—as something “extra,” rather than integrated into the fabric of everyday experience. How frustrating that must be for some of our students! Please note, I am not arguing that every lesson needs to be tech-enhanced…but teachers need to consider how their students see the world. At the risk of sounding trite, we are (largely) using a 19th Century school model to educate 21st Century learners.
At Sioux Center Christian School, we’re starting to work at this. We’ve in a process of shifting our vision for how we use technology from tech-on-the-side to technology integration. Changing vision can be a hard process—it means rethinking how we’ve “always done things,” which can be painful. Here are the significant points to our shift of vision:
- We must think differently about the kinds of assignments we give. We can’t just change the media from pencil-and-paper to keystrokes! The technologies we choose should allow students to employ higher-level thinking skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
- We must get the technology into students’ hands. The closer to them, the better. (SMARTBoards are good, iPads are better.)
- We must teach students how to use the technologies available to them, preferably just as they need to use them by embedding the tech learning in the project they are undertaking. Yes, they tend to be quick studies, but our students’ proclivities to use technology do not excuse us from the crucial role of guiding our students and teaching them to use technology responsibly.
- We must create a culture where it is okay to experiment, play, and reflect. Technology integration does not just “happen.” Teachers need the freedom (and time!) to explore. So do students.
- We must support teachers. Some teachers will naturally gravitate to incorporating technology into their teaching. Others will need some coaxing. In either case, teachers need to have a person (or preferably, people) they can rely on to support them as they try out new technologies. A technology coordinator is a great resource, but a professional learning community is even better. Teachers need training, coaching, and encouragement; we need to plan for this!
- We must budget for technology-related spending. (Aaargh…the money…) Yes, technology is expensive. Computers are not furniture, but neither are they consumables like pencils and erasers. It might make the most sense to think of technology in a similar category to textbooks; eventually they get worn out and need to be replaced. Just as schools plan to replace old, outdated, worn-out texts with new editions, schools need to have a responsible plan for regularly updating technology.
I recognize that some schools are already doing these things, but many others are surely not. Certainly change can be hard, but if it will ultimately provide our students with a more engaging, more authentic learning experience, our efforts are not misspent! In any case, I sincerely encourage you to start having conversations with your colleagues about how you use technology, and further how you integrate technology into your teaching practices.
In the past few years, I have found that my learning has been enriched and simplified – (no not really simplified, but expanded!) through the tools I am going to describe in this post. As a global thinker, I enjoy looking widely across the landscape, but also want tools to improve my basic efficiency and productivity as well as expand my capacity. These tools may be old hat for some of you, but if you have been wanting to venture out a bit, give some of these a try over Christmas break!
Tools I use everyday include Twitter and Evernote. I have explained in an earlier post why I find Twitter so valuable so I won’t repeat that here. Evernote is a note keeping and web collection tool that operates equally well on my smartphone, iPad, or laptop and syncs between them. I can send the tweets I want to save to Evernote, or make a voice or written note on it via my smartphone. I can put them into notebooks and assign tags (descriptive terms) to them. This makes it easy for me to categorize and search them.
What works better for me than bookmarks is the LiveBinders web application. When I find a webpage that I want to save, I simply click on my toolbar icon called “Live Binder It!” and a photo is taken of the webpage. I can save the screen shot in a particular notebook. Given my work, I have notebooks for presentations, writing, and particular subjects such as engagement, essential questions, etc. I can quickly look around my notebook and see visually what I have saved.
I use Google Reader – a collector tool that sends me updates whenever blogs that I want to keep up with are updated. This allows me to scan the subject matter quickly and the short descriptions help me choose what I want to read.
I find I am using wikis and Google Docs with increasing frequency. I started using wikis to share information related to my presentations or to set up spaces for staff groups to collaborate and do their work. They are simple to use and manage. I personally like Wikispaces. If I want to share a document quickly, build a mutual agenda, share information over time, and have it all be private or shared by invitation only, then I use a Google Doc (www.google.>>>). You can get to it quickly if you are already using Gmail for your mail program. In Gmail, I am using Google Calendar, which also syncs with a free touch screen calendar in my smartphone called Touch Calendar. I finally have given up my paper calendars!
Sometimes I want to share a larger document or save a presentation and so I would use Dropbox. I can access the information from anywhere because it is cloud based storage of larger files. I can also share these files or give others access to my folder in Dropbox.
If I am going to write a longer article or make a presentation or diagram, I still find Inspiration to be very helpful. I have used other mind mapping programs, but like the basic functionality and ease of use of Inspiration.
Reflect via this article from Donald Clark how these tools might change your learning and life – and how we have experienced more changes in the past 10 years than the last 100.
If you just got a new iPad for Christmas you may benefit from essential-ipad-guide written especially for school administrators – a helpful starting spot.
Blessings on the new year ahead – may it be a productive one for you! Please feel free to share other apps that you may have found helpful via the comments below.
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.
It seems appropriate to celebrate the positive results of Protestant Christian school education that we see through the research contained within the Cardus survey. As Christians we sometimes have difficulty celebrating the goodness and grace of God in our lives.
Yet here are many things worthy of celebration! Compared to their public school, Catholic school, and non-religious private school peers, Protestant Christian school students do the following:
- Show a higher level of commitment to their families, churches, and larger society
- Donate more money despite having lower household incomes
- Are more generous with their time
- Participate more in service trips for relief and development and in mission trips for evangelization
- Make family a top priority and consequently divorce less frequently
- Are more thankful for what they have in life
- Do not feel helpless when dealing with problems in life
- Report greater direction in their lives
- Are committed to progress in their communities
- Practice spiritual disciplines more frequently
- Are more committed to their churches
- Follow church teachings to a greater degree
- Use Scripture more to make moral decisions
- Believe religion should be a part of the public debate on social and political issues
- Demonstrate a theological sense of vocation
Christian educators should feel a sense of joy and satisfaction when thinking of the hours of prayer, instruction, correction and direction that go into being a part of producing students with the kinds of qualities listed above. We are also grateful for God’s grace in the lives of students in our schools. Who would not be proud of students displaying these wonderful qualities? Certainly our students make the world a better place and contribute significantly to daily life through their “faithful presence” and their obedience to Christ in living out their faith. We have much to be thankful for!
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?
We have reached the finish line for this year! I hope you have enjoyed reading Nurturing Faith. I keep a number of files of ideas to use when writing this blog and I still have a variety of interesting things that I would like to share with you below. Enjoy!
15 provocative things to read
Grand Rapids Christian High did an “old fashioned social network” and found it had unexpected results! Read about their “sharing wall.”
Want better student engagement in your class? See 7 Solutions for Educators Who Want 21st Century Students to Tune In.
The limits of standardized testing are well articulated by this AP student.
With increasing technology use, what is the role of the teacher – are they a dispensable algorithm or indispensable artist?
Helpful summary of how technology impacts the brain.
Can you get kids to talk about what you want them to discuss using backchanneling?
Take this 10 question quiz to see if you are a tech savvy teacher.
McREL says there are 5 things that make the biggest difference in schools.
A great resource site for new teachers divided by levels.
Best sites to check out how to use iPads in education.
Three reports that you should take a look at:
The-Rise-of-K-12-Blended-Learning – produced by Innosight Institute – it has very helpful explanations of blended learning models and gives 40 profiles of schools implementing new models.
The 2011-Horizon-Report-K12 “examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning, and creative expression within the environment of pre-college education.surface significant trends and challenges and to identify a wide array of potential technologies for the report. “
The Story is a unique chronological version of the Bible written by Max Lucado and produced by Zondervan with a focus on God’s story to his people throughout history. CSI will be making this resource and accompanying materials available to schools – contact Bible specialist Kent Ezell (email@example.com) at CSI for more info. He has been blogging on this resource here and here.
RADCAB: Your Vehicle for Information Evaluation is a book written by Calvin Christian (Minnesota) teacher Karen Christensson that is designed to help upper elementary and middle school kids think critically about information online. The acronym RADCAB stands for six important concepts for evaluating information.
Book: 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn – eds. Bellanca and Brandt, Solution Tree, 2010.
Book: 99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers: The Truth on Raising Teenagers from Parents Who Have Been There - the latest from Walt Mueller.
Your continued learning
In my speaking lately I have been encouraging schools to consider the power of PLN’s – Personal Learning Networks. If you are not familiar with the term or want to learn more, I suggest that you start here and here.
If you haven’t checked out Twitter, read why I am excited about it here and then get started!
Have a wonderful summer!
Yours for continued learning,
The number of books written on leadership each year is staggering, so to have credibility in the field over time is an accomplishment. What I like about the writing of Kouzes and Posner is that it is based on years of research, it is practical and accessible, and reveals biblical concepts.
Their recent book, The Truth About Leadership: The No-Fads, Heart of the Matter Facts You Need to Know, is just that kind of writing. They lay out ten truths in succeeding chapters. To the point of my title, most leader role models are local. In their research with 18-30 year olds, they found that people named family members as being the most impactful role models in their lives, followed by teachers/coaches, and then community or religious leaders.
What are the four characteristics of admired leaders that have been selected over 60% of the time? What are the character qualities that people most want in a leader?
Topping the list at 85% is honesty. (This certainly explains why “Honest Abe” who told the United States the truth about the human condition, heads the lists of most admired presidents, and why those who deceived the nation are at the bottom.)
Next is forward-looking. In a later chapter entitled, “The Best Leaders are the Best Learners,” the authors make a strong case for learning being the master skill of leadership. (I have decreasing patience for teachers and administrators who have stopped learning and resist new learning – it is not how God made us to be!) Again citing research, they mention that “learning agility” is the best predictor of success in a new job.
The third characteristic is inspiring. This speaks to enthusiasm, passion, energy, commitment, hope and vision. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, how can expect your teachers, students, or parents at your school to be passionate?
The final characteristic, getting more than 60% of the vote, is competence. Do you know what you are doing? Can you follow through? Can you get things done? Can you admit when you need help but are eager to learn? Do we do what we say we will do?
This book is a very helpful, readable, well-researched work that can be read in chapter chunks. I recommend you pick it up – we are all leaders!
My mind has changed about the value of Twitter over this past year. I have to say that Twitter has been a blessing to my learning in very significant ways. Granted, much depends who you follow in determining whether what you are learning may be worthwhile. But I have found much value in connecting with authors and organizations, friends, leading thinkers of the day, as well as new people who I learn of through their connections and retweets. Think of it this way – those of you still reading this post and who have read the Nurturing Faith blog in the past may find things that are of use in this blog – that is why you read it. In a sense you are following my mind and what I am thinking about, what I am discovering, what I am pondering, and understanding what I believe. Twitter allows us to follow the stream of consciousness of others that we want to connect with and learn from on a daily basis. In that sense, it is not at all unlike those disciples who followed Jesus and learned from him daily – we choose who we want to follow and be influenced by.
With Twitter I am able to learn of new things as they come out – new articles, books, ideas that are being formed, events happening in the world, discussions that are going on, ideas that are gaining steam. I don’t have to wait until a book is published by one of my favorite authors or until a blog post appears. It is very egalitarian in that I can connect with anyone who shares a particular interest, with people that in the past I might have been hesitant or intimidated to do so in person. Everyone is learning together. There is also the instant communication aspect – on a recent retweet this thought was expressed by a Twitter user from Egypt as they reflected on the power and use of social media in the uprising: “isteconnects: power of SM: “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world” – Cairo activist #edchat”. Twitter was used as not only an instant way for the participants to connect, but to share out to the world, through individuals such as Andy Carvin of NPR (see below), the raw content and updates of what was happening on a moment to moment basis. It increased my compassion level and prayers for those in this situation.
One of the things that I find to be true about Twitter is that is can be more authentic than other forms of communication like books or articles. By reading someone’s tweets, you can see their heart come through in ways that are not quite as clear in more formal venues such as books or articles. You can understand a bit more of what makes them tick, what they value, what excites or upsets them. Some of this authenticity can get edited out of more formal publishing or the author is more reserved due to the perceived permanence of the printed word. Yes, tweeters should be aware that tweets also have a permanence and can be read later by an interested party. Twitter can also certainly be a channel for self-promotion, but if this is overdone, readers can quickly tire of it and a person can lose respect and credibility.
Twitter definitely is not meant to be a vehicle to be used instead of face to face interactions – while it helps to connect across distances and allows us to form/maintain relationships, we can’t experience the fullness of the actual “presence” of others. Like other technology tools, it has its place and must be used wisely. In the bigger picture, it has been an amazing spur to my learning and curiosity. When I am learning and reflecting back to the source of truth, I believe I am experiencing just a bit more of who God has created me to be as his imagebearer and sensemaker in his world.
(Thanks to Mark Eckel for giving permission to share this post of March 25, 2011 from his blog, Warp and Woof.)
“I’m not a math person.” For years this had been my response to any question involving numbers, equations, or solutions. But I had wrongly given up responsibility for a crucial characteristic of God’s creation. I began to realize my answer was a wrong approach to math or, for that matter, anything else in life.
In the summer of 2003 I was asked to do a Christian school in-service on biblical integration including three hours on elementary math. I asked for and received the table of contents along with sample lessons from each textbook. As I pondered God’s natural revelation of arithmetic The Spirit began to open my eyes to at least twelve major concepts directly dependent upon Scriptural truth.
I used to believe that math was the most difficult subject for biblical integration. Indeed, it seems immediately plain that math is the essential core of God’s world. As I understand it now, math could well be described as “God’s language.” For instance, John D. Barrow’s book The Constants of Nature: From Alpha to Omega–the Numbers That Encode the Deepest Secrets of the Universe seems to mirror Scriptural injunctions concerning “the works of God’s hands” that endure “from age to age.” The stability of creation is consistently used as the measuring rod for God’s interaction with people. Why? The Creator’s truthful rule over this world and this life marks his dependability for the next world and afterlife (see examples in Psalms 35, 71, 73, 80, 88, 92, 95, 103, 118, 120, 146, and 148). Numerical order is essential for life and central to “the whole truth” of God’s creation.
Here is a sample of biblically integrative lesson plan goals from the first of twelve mathematical concepts entitled “systems and roles.” Each aim is premised upon observations from Genesis one and two. [I have created 12 lesson plans which include goals, objectives, anticipatory sets, readings, discussion, methods, and questions.]
- To prove God’s world is interrelated—each part working within the whole.
- To express how God brought various systems together in complementary equilibrium.
- To state that creation’s organization is based on the plans and decrees of God.
- To explain how something is “unique”—each thing assigned its place, given a role by God.
- To appreciate math as a system by which God runs His world.
After describing God’s numerical ordering of His creation Job cries, “And these are but the outer fringe of his works!” (26:14). Never again will I say, “I’m not a math person.” Since The Personal Eternal Creator binds His world with numbers, I am bound to discover more about math. Discovering more of God’s world helps us to know more of our God.