Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Cardus survey: Does Christian education make a difference?

Have you heard of the Cardus Survey?  As I travel for CSI, I’ve been met with some blank looks in response. Consequently, I’d like to make you aware of this important research survey that is going on through the work of Cardus, in Ontario, Canada.

The work of the study is described in a June 2009 Cardus email: “A representative sample of over 24,000 K-12 Christian education alumni from over 300 elementary, secondary and homeschooled settings across Canada and the United States will be surveyed. The objective of the study is to measure the alignment between motivations and outcomes for Christian education. The study will focus particularly on academic, spiritual, and cultural outcomes. An interview with the principal and teachers of each participating school will also be conducted.” And from a later email: “It is expected that the reports that come from this data will serve as a catalyst for a broader conversation both how Christian schools might improve as well as on the contribution of Christian education in the broader culture.” The results will be “the largest dataset of Christian school alumni ever compiled.”

On December 3-4, 2009, I was honored to be a part of a gathering of fifty leaders, representing the cross-section of Christian education organizations, who met in California to be updated on the Cardus Education Survey. Our task was also to provide input on the analytical framework underlying the project. (See the Cardus website for more information.)

This $1.1 million dollar, three-year study will also involve four major qualitative research projects through Trinity Western University, Southeastern University, Boston University, and Covenant College. You can read more about these projects on the Cardus Study website.

Your school may have been randomly selected to take the survey, but it is not too late to get involved.  If you are an alumnus of Christian schools, you can take an individual survey and encourage other alumni to take it. Taking this survey will assist the researchers in their data gathering activity. You can also sign up to get a free newsletter that will seek to inform you of the ongoing progress with the project.


Filed under mission measurement, resources, student outcomes

Connecting what is most important

Helping students to see how all things in this world cohere through Christ is one of the most important tasks of a Christian teacher. In these three short and helpful videos, my friend Michael Essenburg from the Christian Academy in Japan suggests three practical strategies that all Christian teachers can use. Maybe you could use them to provoke some good discussion at your next faculty meeting that could lead to deeper “truth-revealing” teaching – which in turn could better enable your school to meet its mission!

Help your students connect God’s world, God’s Word, and their lives:

Ask questions to DRAW others out: Your fellow teachers want to help their students better connect what they study and what the Bible teaches. You can help your fellow teachers by asking questions to DRAW them out.

Asking open-ended questions works: Help your students connect what they study and what the Bible teaches. Ask open-ended questions.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, curriculum, distinctively Christian, staff development, student outcomes

What is your school doing to improve? 10 questions for leader reflection

Through my work with schools via accreditation and school improvement visits, I often come away impressed by how much individuals can make a difference in the decision making process and how much one individual can impact the direction of an organization.

This is undoubtably one of the more difficult times of testing in the history of Christian education. So, how does a leader keep an organization from retreating into just thinking  about budgets, enrollments, and marketing?

May I suggest 10 questions for reflection and discussion:

  1. Is your mission strong, understood by faculty and parents, and actionable? How do you know you are meeting it?
  2. Do your teachers know how to articulate a Biblical perspective at the unit level?
  3. Does your entire staff model and develop Christlike relationships with students and parents?
  4. Do your staff development and teacher evaluation processes reflect a balance between grace and truth, between helping people grow and holding them accountable? Do you regularly encourage your teachers?
  5. Do your budget choices keep teaching and learning in the forefront and are funds administered justly?
  6. Are you reaching out to, and impacting, your local community where God has placed your school?
  7. Are you asking students, teachers, parents, alumni, and broader community if you are meeting the mission of your school?
  8. Are you encouraging teachers to collaborate, share ideas, and are you providing  opportunities (time) for them to discuss and improve their practice?
  9. As a leader are you building capacity into, and developing the skills of, the next generation of those who can lead our schools?
  10. Are you committing to a process of improvement such as accreditation?

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Filed under leadership, mission development, mission measurement, staff development, student outcomes

Timeless truth, different delivery #5 – Why?

(This post is part of a series – let me encourage you to read the previous posts that precede this post for helpful context – scroll down to view #1 & #2, then #3 & 4 above.)

While most of us are somewhat keeping up with tech changes on a personal level, I sense a level of skepticism by some about the value of using more tech in our instructional delivery at the school level. This is brought home in the dichotomy of hearing a principal pooh-poohing the idea that his school needs to move ahead with integrating technology, and moments later he gets a message on his Blackberry! It is true- we tend to get the value of tech for our personal use, but why don’t we allow students the same level of use as they try to do their work? The fact is we find it difficult to break out of our “teaching box” and teach differently than we were taught. We want to make sure that we are not leaving out essential skills and that is a good thing. However, given how much things are changing, I believe we are remiss if we don’t make time for both the conversation about what is truly essential (and what we can leave behind – we are not teaching penmanship as much anymore are we?) and how we will deliver instruction in relevant and engaging ways. We are moving from a culture of teacher delivery to a culture of guided exploration/collaboration and we must engage students in the learning process.

Are we getting better at engaging students? Yes and no. A recent study released in March 2009 from the Speak Up National Research Project indicated that “students are generally asked to ‘power down’ at school and abandon the electronic resources they rely on for learning outside of class.” (Education Week, 4/1/09)  Furthermore they don’t believe they are being adequately prepared for the tech demands of the marketplace. We can pooh-pooh the importance of engagement, but must acknowledge that how learners learn continues to tip in the direction of visual-spatial intelligence, and to not deliver instruction in those ways is simply sticking our heads in the sand. Richard Selznick, author of The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Disadvantaged Child, believes that 4 out of 10 elementary school students may give up on learning before graduation time and become “school casualties.” In his counseling work he has noticed that almost all of his clients are strong in “hands-on” and weak in language skills. The problem of course is that most classroom instruction is highly verbal and subsequently “deadening” to them. Their disinterest, distraction, and failure to follow through on work is sometimes viewed as laziness and low motivation.  These students are sometimes diagnosed with ADHD or dyslexia and prescribed medications. We can and should do better for kids who are square pegs and don’t fit our standard round holes, rather than knocking off all their God-given edges. We all know stories of people who barely survived school and once freed from formal education went on to make significant and meaningful contributions to life.

Recent research around the concept of “flow” in teenagers again points to the need for engagement and motivation. (“Flow” is the state in which we are so engrossed in doing something that we forget everything else. For more info, see the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi done in the 1990’s and reported in his books.) When do teenagers experience “flow” and when don’t they? Not surprisingly, classroom time rated among the worst experiences in terms of “flow”, while extracurricular activities were among the highest. For suggestions on how to change this phenomenon, click here:

So what does this have to do with nurturing faith? I suggest that a deadening education is an education that tends to discourage faith. When we don’t acknowledge that students are uniquely created and learn in different ways, then we disrespect them as persons and cause them to feel somehow “less than.” Without opportunities to learn using their individual strengths, we are disregarding how they have been created. Given that many of our students are visual-spatial, by not allowing them to tap into these strengths as learners, we are providing a deadening education. If as a learner I feel no sense of acceptance or place, it will impact my faith in a just and loving God. If I can’t feel a sense of being valued from my teacher for how God has made me, it will affect my desire to embrace the teacher’s worldview. If I am discouraged in my learning, how can I possibly desire to learn more? I pray that we are not fulfilling Neil Postman’s analysis that many children begin formal education as question marks and leave as periods, with the feeling, “if this is learning, I want nothing more to do with it.” How can this be honoring to a God who has provided us with a fantastic creation that is full of learning possibilities? God has made us to be learners, and when we shut that down in students, we bear an awful responsibility for the impact on their learning and faith development.

Technology is a gift that we have been given to nurture faith and make learning more accessible, engaging, and collaborative.  What is holding us back? Some of you may not have the technology you need, but others of you have more technology than you are even using. As one administrator commented, “It’s like we have a Learjet that we only drive to church and back.” I encourage you to have this dialogue around technology, engagement, instructional delivery, and faith – for the sake of the kids – and determine how to best move forward. Perhaps this brief survey below can help get the discussion started. (For the information on the graphic to be readable the rest of the rating scale needed to be cut off – it continues with neutral, disagree, and strongly disagree.)

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Filed under classroom, curriculum, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, staff development, student outcomes

Year–end resources round-up

Resources related to “Timeless Truth, Different Delivery #5” post:

Online tools for the visual/spatial learner:

Tools/project ideas related to Marzano’s Classroom Instruction That Works:

The wiki related to these ideas that is an ongoing resource:

I gave several presentations on Web 2.0 recently and share these potentially helpful sites for teachers:

Top Learning Tools for 2009
Master List of Web 2.0 Tools linked to Marzano’s Classroom Instruction That Works
Wiki of Cool Tools
100 Essential Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers
Web 2.0 tools listed by learning style
Web 2.0 for the Classroom Teacher: An Internet Hotlist on Web 2.0
Kathy Schrock’s list
Web Tools quiz and wiki
10 Interesting Ways to Use a Wiki in the Classroom
Using YouTube in your classroom
Video tutorial on using YouTube in the classroom

Books/resources that I have not had time to write about, but are worthy of your consideration:

Bringing Heaven Down to Earth: Connecting This Life to the Next by Nathan L.K. Bierma – a very helpful summary of Reformed worldview thinking particularly as related to views of heaven and our response. Great summation of many Reformed thinkers such as Mouw, Wolterstorff, Plantinga, others in engaging language.

Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion by Richard Foster and Gail Beebe – looking at personal faith formation through the eyes of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, etc. Offers practical faith practice applications at the end of each chapter.

God Wins: A Look at the Mysteries of Revelation by Lew VanderMeer – leader guide CD, classroom DVD offering 20 minute video presentations and session guides make this a helpful resource for high school Bible classes or church adult education classes.

Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott– impressive summation of a $4 million research project and nearly 6,000 interviews, this is a positive book about the Net Generation, how the Net Generation is transforming institutions, and how the Net Generation is transforming society. Should be required reading for all who work with kids in educational settings.

The Secret Lives of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens by Malina Saval – reminds us not to pigeonhole boys or give up on them too easily. The bullying and suicide rate info in this book is very sobering.

The Triple Bind: The Hidden Crisis Threatening Today’s Teenage Girls by Stephen P. Hinshaw with Rachel Kranz – author examines how girls are in a triple bind – expected to be good at the girl stuff and be pretty, sweet, and nice; be good at boy’s stuff such as winning, being competitive and getting all A’s; and remain perpetually “pretty, thin, and hot.”

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Filed under book, classroom, curriculum, devotional, resources

Does mist matter? A devotional for the end/beginning of a year

“Lord willing” was a commonly heard phrase in my childhood years. Perhaps having parents who had seen war and depression made them more aware of who was really sovereign.  Or perhaps it was a phrase reserved for older people, who live more with the realization of shortening years or have experienced the unpredictability of life. James reminds us:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15.

What power or influence does mist have? Can mist control very much or is it subject to other forces such as heat and light? If we are mist, it certainly puts the phrase “Lord willing” in a different light. This year ahead brings uncertainty at an earthly level – we have no guarantees for ourselves or the schools/churches/organizations we serve. We are here at God’s desire and for his purposes – what a delight to rest in that fact. We operate at his will and for his pleasure– let’s acknowledge our temporality and his sovereignty – even in our daily speech. We must trust he has “prepared in advance” the work that he wants us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Blessings on the new year ahead!

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Filed under Biblical worldview, devotional, leadership, use of time