Monthly Archives: September 2011

Happy 5th birthday, Nurturing Faith blog!

Source: Digivation via Flickr

It is a pleasure to welcome you back, or to welcome you for the first time to the Nurturing Faith blog for the 2011-2012 school year! This blog is a bit unique in that it is only published during the September through June school year and posts are made once a month.

Five years ago, blogging was a new phenomenon and no one was quite sure of its value or potential, but now we have seen that the Nurturing Faith blog has served an important function in the CSI school community. Between myself and guest contributors, the Nurturing Faith blog contains, as of this date, 218 posts representing 32 categories of thought. Those reading the blog have contributed nearly 800 comments of dialogue to the blog. At one point the blog was even rated #47 in the world (out of a half million blogs) by WordPress in its listing of growing blogs! The blog has anywhere from 50 to 1,000 views per day of the current posts on the blog.

I have come to appreciate the living, growing nature of a blog and although blogging has declined somewhat in light of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, it still serves a great purpose for writing beyond 140 characters, is more interactive than a journal, and more continuously accessible than a book. I personally have found the blog very helpful as I have taught online courses, staff development workshops, and in sharing thinking with educators around the world. I appreciate the opportunity to continue to write it for Christian Schools International. It has been a free medium (thank you WordPress!) and is free to the reader also – and hopefully it is worth more than what you pay for it!

Sincerely,
Dan

Dan Beerens
Author and Editor
Nurturing Faith blog

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The Cardus Survey results – part 1

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.

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Mission-Directed Governance – a great new resource!

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:

  1. How does the school identify and protect its foundational beliefs?
  2. How does the school identify and promote its mission and vision?
  3. 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!

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Filed under board governance, book, change, distinctively Christian, leadership, mission development, mission measurement, resources, student outcomes