Monthly Archives: April 2011

Competence, coherence, and creativity

“What makes young people catch fire, work hard, and persist despite difficulties?” This compelling question and succeeding answers are spelled out in a new book, Fires in the Mind: What Kids Can Tell Us About Motivation and Mastery, by Kathleen Cushman.  Cushman suggests it is helpful to consider the differences between student experiences and what their elders report. She does this by citing evidence from the 2009 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.

Cushman reports: “Four out of five teachers and principals in our 2009 survey told us that they believe connecting classroom instruction to the real world would have a major impact on student achievement. They also held that addressing the individual needs of diverse students is necessary to student success. A school culture where students feel responsible and accountable for their own education, they said, would greatly affect student achievement.”

Cushman goes on to say: “In that same survey, however, a majority of students reported that their teachers very rarely – or never – speak to them personally about things that matter to the students. Over a quarter of secondary school students said their teachers do not connect the school curriculum to its applications in the outside world. And only one in four students felt strongly that school let them use their abilities and their creativity.”

Cushman wonders: “What should we conclude from such disparate perspectives?” Hmm…great question!

As I have pondered this question, it appears that in this time of educational change there are three principles with which we should be concerning ourselves as Christian educators as we engage students in the learning process.

Principle #1: Competence – we are responsible for ensuring that students grow in understanding and wisdom that allows them to thrive as adults. Simply put, what should kids learn?

Principle #2: Coherence – we must help students make connections between what they are learning and how things fit together in a bigger picture. In Christian education we desire for our students to image Christ, in whom all things cohere. (Col. 1:15-20)

Principle #3: Creativity – there are many ways that we can learn something and express our understanding. Creativity is today considered to be the highest level of thinking, as evidenced by the fact that it is now placed at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking. As Christians we understand that we are made in the image of God. Likewise our own creativity is a reflection, in a small way, of the Creator of All.

My suggestion is that we value all of these areas equally in our educational process. It is easiest to get overbalanced in the competence area. As teachers, it is fun to tell others what we know; even though there is plenty of evidence today that telling is not the best way for students to learn. Consider how much fun it is for us to personally discover something instead of being told, yet we often persist in taking the easier “telling” route with our students. Here is one example of what could happen when we turn over some control.

Our greatest joys in the learning process come when things “connect” with our students and they “get it!” It is the joy of coherence that we are experiencing – helping others to see how it all fits together. Why settle for kids getting bits and pieces when we can help them to see how learning impacts their lives?

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?


Filed under curriculum, image of God, staff development, student outcomes

Ready to do an e-school day?

If you wanted to make up a snow day, would you rather add it in June or would you rather have kids make it up on a Saturday at home, using technology to complete assigned work? One school in Alabama opted for the latter – see the article here.

The school worked with both parents and teachers to prepare for the two e-days they scheduled. They live in a community where 98% of the homes have Internet access. The school reasons that parents already do many things like banking, shopping, and college coursework online and that this will serve to broaden the child’s learning experience.

On the same webpage of the Birmingham News, I see that the most read story is “Alabama home-school parents urge lawmakers to let their children play on public school teams.”

What strikes me is how much lines are blurring as to where learning occurs. This topic has been written and talked about for years, but I think we are finally reaching access levels where an e-school learning experience is possible in the mainstream cultural setting. If I am a parent, why can’t I request that you provide one day of the education I am paying for as an e-day? How would you respond?

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Filed under change, student outcomes

We are all leaders, so read this!

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!

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Filed under book, change, leadership, resources, staff development