Monthly Archives: January 2011

The “it” factor – does your school have it?

If “it” was like manufacturing, we could just buy the formula. But “it” has to be “produced” in every school, using the unique ingredients of each locale. Yet there are some practices that help us in any learning situation. What is the “it” I am talking about?

The “it” is what schools do that make them effective. Do we know what makes schools effective? Yes, as a matter of fact, we do. Beginning with Ron Edmonds’ work in the Effective Schools movement, and continuing today through the research work of Robert Marzano, Doug Reeves, Tony Wagner and others, we do know that there are practices that are more effective than others in helping both students and teachers to continue to develop their skills.

In their book, Change Leadership: A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools, Tony Wagner and Robert Kegan point to Seven Disciplines for Strengthening Instruction that they believe are central to any successful systemic instructional-improvement effort:

  1. Urgency for instructional improvement using real data
  2. Shared vision of good teaching
  3. Meetings about the work
  4. A shared vision of student results
  5. Effective supervision
  6. Professional development
  7. Diagnostic data with accountable collaboration

These ingredients are important parts of CSI’s new Measuring the Mission school improvement/accreditation process. I would like to strongly encourage all Christian schools to hold themselves accountable through this type of systematic instructional review process that leads to accreditation. Our calling to continuously improve our work comes not from NCLB or the provincial government, but from God. Let’s consider these reasons for engaging in continuous  improvement:

1. We really need regular, quality, focused conversation, around instructional improvement using data, with our staff – we know that when we involve and engage our teachers in the process, we inevitably see a greater understanding of our mission/vision and ownership of the needs of students and parents.

2. We must make our missions and visions come alive through a close linkage with what we do in the classroom and the student outcomes we are seeking.

3. We must offer our very best as a sacrifice of praise – how can we not seek excellence when we bear Christ’s name in the names of our institutions? Seeking excellence is an expression of gratitude for the great blessings we have received.

4. We must focus our energies on what really matters – there are many things seeking our attention, but let’s keep focused on the reasons we exist.

5.  School improvement/accreditation is never about the final approval by a team or organization, but the value is in the process of conversation and focus around things that really matter at the local level, yet as compared to external standards of best practice that are from outside of the school.

Any excuses we may be using to not engage in school improvement/accreditation processes such as “it’s too much work”, “we’re good enough already”, “ it will cost some money”, or “we don’t need to do that because we are a private school” are really inadequate in the light of the previous paragraphs! It is imperative to work on our distinctiveness, to measure our missions, to use data effectively, and to continue to develop programs of study for students that deeply engage them and lead them to understand and respond to God’s call to advance his kingdom.

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Filed under leadership, mission measurement, resources, student outcomes

What’s worth learning?

“They are so close to the Real Truth” is what I have thought on several occasions recently after reading some of the books written by the people I most respect in education today. Let me illustrate what I mean.

One of the best thinkers in education today, David Perkins, in his latest book, Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education (that I recommend to you to read by the way), ponders the question of selecting what is worth learning. He starts by considering Neil Postman’s thoughts from his book, “The End of Education,” where Postman urges that “meaningful education needs to be organized around the right ‘gods’ or ‘grand narratives’ that tie everything together.” Postman sees today’s gods of economic utility, consumerism, or technology as inadequate. Perkins states: “It’s not that these gods fail to offer grand narratives, they just do not provide very rich ones. They don’t tell us enough about who we are, supply strong and fruitful guidance around moral questions, and explain enough about the deep mysteries of the world…” Perkins goes on to suggest that Postman’s grand narrative themes of “Spaceship Earth” or “Fallen Angel” in his book do a better job of providing a narrative that potentially can link things together.

Perkins continues by discussing Howard Gardner’s suggestion of using three overarching themes: the true, the good, and the beautiful. He believes that these overarching concepts could “speak deeply and honestly both to the intricacies of today’s world and to academic disciplines.”

Perkin’s own synthesis and thinking leads him to this conclusion: “Looking across Postman, Gardner, and other sources, I’m struck by how his vision of meaningful education seems to speak to three basic agendas: enlightenment, empowerment, and responsibility.” He continues: “If much of what we taught highlighted understandings of wide scope, with enlightenment, empowerment, and responsibility in the foreground, there is every reason to think that youngsters would retain more, understand more, and use more of what they learned…our most important choice is what we try to teach.”

In Howard Gardner’s book, Five Minds for the Future, (I blogged about this earlier) he suggests that we need to work toward developing minds and hearts that are disciplined, synthesizing, creating, respectful and ethical. When pressed by an interviewer in a podcast, he acknowledged respectful and ethical minds as most important. Hitler after all had a disciplined and creative mind – however it was devoid of respect and ethics!

Learning can be most powerful in Christian schools because we have the best master narrative that we can give to kids to link together the purpose of life and what our purpose is for existence.  To Gardner I would ask:  How can we know what is good, true and beautiful if we don’t acknowledge a source of authority? Can man alone determine what is good, true and beautiful? To Perkins I ask – Haven’t we been down the enlightenment and empowerment path many times?  History is littered with ruinous revolutions using these words as justifications. For his word ‘responsibility,’ we again are left adrift – responsible to whom? Doesn’t this word beg for acknowledgment of a Higher Power, namely God, to whom we are accountable and responsible?  Yes, David, I deeply believe youngsters do retain more when there is an undergirding scope and narrative – that is why I am so passionate about Christian education! And that is why our discussions about what our curriculums contain, and what is worth learning, are of such critical and ongoing importance.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, curriculum, distinctively Christian, student outcomes

Synthesizing change – two fascinating videos!

Sir Ken Robinson’s work has been a gift to education in recent years. In his latest video, Changing Education Paradigms, he offers a fascinating look at where we have been, where we are, and where we need to head in education. The video I am sharing is an animation by RSA Animate – a very clever way to present a speech in visual terms. Enjoy – then discuss with a group! Run time for this video is 11:41.

Here is an updated version of what is happening in the world of social media penetration globally – you may be shocked by some of the stats in this video. It was created in May of 2010, so I am sure the numbers mentioned have increased even further. Run time: 2:55.


Filed under change, leadership, resources, staff development