Monthly Archives: March 2010

The imperative of Christian leadership

“What the leader focuses on gets done.” As I go about the continent speaking and doing accreditation site visits, I get to see many schools in action and gain a sense of how leadership happens in each place.  Since my job often focuses on helping others with change, I have been thinking about what motivates people to change and the role of leadership, formal or informal, in making change happen and as change relates to what makes Christian education distinctive.

I recently read Dan Pink’s newest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. He describes management in the last 100 years as a version called Motivation 2.0, that relies heavily on control and extrinsic rewards. Pink contends that this style is out of sync with human nature itself, particularly in jobs of knowledge workers – the kinds of right-brain, creative, complex-thinking jobs that we see today. We are created to be curious and self-directed in our learning, but that somehow this desire gets “controlled” out of us – education being one culprit. Pink cites a Cornell study of 320 small businesses, in which half of the workers were granted autonomy and the other half relied on top-down direction, and states: “Businesses that offered autonomy grew at four times the rate of the control-oriented firms and had one-third the turnover.” Leaders lead out of their assumptions about the nature of human beings. Whether it is kids or teachers, if you assume the worst or the best about them, you will likely have people living up to those expectations. Do you as a leader bring out the best or the worst in your followers?

What Pink says about money and extrinsic motivation resonates with me as a Christian. In his proposed Motivation 3.0 model he sees purpose maximization as a key to long-term job satisfaction. We desire to work for higher purposes in life beyond ourselves.  Christian education is, in the end, not about the money, but the highest purpose of helping student to know and live for Jesus Christ.

In a recent survey (Gates Foundation/Scholastic) of more than 40,000 public school teachers, supportive leadership was once again shown to trump financial incentives, such as merit pay. In order to retain good teachers, 68% said supportive leadership was absolutely essential, while 71% said monetary rewards for teacher performance would have moderate or no impact on student achievement. Teachers also highly desired “relevant” professional development, clean and safe working conditions, and time to collaborate with access to high-quality curriculum.

My friend Mark Eckel recently completed his doctoral work on the implementation of faith-learning integration and discovered that the key variable in terms of effect was leadership. He reports that the variable of administrative encouragement around faith learning integration happening in the classroom caused the largest shift in the total score for how teachers were integrating faith and learning! He states: “Learning how one teaches all things from a biblical point of view is the cornerstone of what it means to teach in a Christian school.” Amen!

As a leader (whether you are an administrator or teacher) I leave you with these questions:

  1. How do you know that faith-learning integration is being practiced in your classroom(s)? What evidence could you show me?
  2. If teachers/students are dependent on you as a leader to emphasize this area, then what are you doing to strengthen faith-learning integration?


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

Christian education: investment, sacrifice, or obligation?

This is the time of year for budgets, annual parent meetings, and staff hiring.  A lot of time, energy, and discussion are put into financial matters related to the cost of Christian education. What is the language used in our discussions with parents, board, and each other? Let us consider some thoughts around the words investment, sacrifice, and obligation. If our language conveys our values and really matters, then we should choose our words wisely.

It’s wonderful to hear parents talk about investing into the lives of their kids by giving them a Christian education.

When I think of “investment”, I think of these phrases:
Seen as a good thing to do with money – ex. The parable of the talents
Are a plan for growth and the future
Don’t always turn out like we planned, but we still make them anyway
Potentially impact future generations

When I hear parents describe their choice for Christian education in a negative tone as a “sacrifice,” I think of these phrases:
Something I have to do
Sometimes grudging obedience rather than my heart’s desire
Something I am giving up, not always cheerfully, to maintain something else
Sense of loss rather than choice
Sometimes used in “guilting” – “I sacrificed so you can have this”

I realize that the attitude of the heart is what determines how these words are used. I can also be forced to make investments for good (taxes come to mind) and do so with a resentful attitude.  I can also make a joyful sacrifice – the kind that is pleasing to the Lord, such as the Abel offers, or one at the cost of my life, such as Samson. On the other hand if I view sacrifice as obligation it may be like the cheerless Pharisee who tossed into the collection plate in large measure and made sure it was publicly visible. In Jesus’ observation, the widow “sacrificed” but she did so with a grateful and joyful heart as an “investment” in the work of the kingdom.

How we and our staff approach our work is also key. Do we focus on our “sacrifice” to work at a lower salary or do we see our work as an opportunity to “invest” into the lives of the kids and into our community and world?

The language we use and allow others to use really surfaces our values and our level of commitment. The Bible says that “where your treasure is there will your heart be also,” and provides many very clear stories of biblical characters who ran into trouble confusing obedience and gratitude – investment, sacrifice, or obligation.

What attitude does our language convey about how we approach the opportunity for a Christian education that can equip our children to hear the redemptive call of God on their life in personal and corporate ways?


Filed under distinctively Christian, leadership, parenting

Working and walking by faith

I have enjoyed reading Thomas Merton over the years and found this poem to be inspirational as I thought about working in Christian education. Often we do not get to see the fruits of our labors – maybe that is why house painting is such  popular summer job for educators! Our daily work is an act of faith in a sovereign and loving God. . .

This excerpt is from a letter that Thomas Merton wrote to a social activist (from: The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters by Thomas Merton):

“Do not depend on hope of results.

When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on,

essentially an apostolic work,

you may have to face the fact

that your work will be apparently worthless

and even achieve no results at all,

if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect…

The big results are not in your hands or mine,

but they suddenly happen,

and we can share in them;

but there is no point in building our lives

on this personal satisfaction,

which may be denied us and

which after all is not that important…

All the good that you do will not come from you

but from the fact that you have allowed yourself,

in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love…

If you can get free from the domination of causes

and just serve Christ’s truth,

you will be able to do more

and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments.

The real hope then is not in something we think we can do,

but in God who is making something good out of it

In some way we cannot see.”

1 Comment

Filed under devotional, encouraging the heart, student outcomes, worship

A great visualizer – God’s creation is beyond comprehension!

Take a look at this link (webpage should look like the graphic on the left) – once you get to the webpage, use the slider at the bottom to move from a coffee bean down to a carbon atom with no microscope needed! You will want to pass this on to anyone who teaches science.  Thanks to Paul Brinkerhoff for sharing this link.


Filed under classroom, creation & environment, curriculum, devotional, resources