There has been a lot of talk in the school world this year about “moving to the Common Core” (don’t tune out dear Canadian readers – this will apply to you too!) and what that might mean. I see this movement as a good thing overall – at best it gives us in the States a sounder set of standards and common language. At the least, it gets schools who have been not focused on curriculum renewal back to a focus on what should be happening in their core business – teaching and learning.
And yet, I wonder if the “movement” will result in anything more productive for any school? Don’t get me wrong – I am all for aligning to a common set of standards, but my concern is that we simply stop there after alignment. After all, meeting a standard, while admirable, is only reaching a certain level of competence. That has been my point in the recent flourishing conversation that I have raised in this blog. Translating the idea of standards to real life may be helpful in making my point.
If I am an employee of a company/school/institution, there are certain standards and expectations. They are laid out in a job description. The standards may be formal and informal, written or unwritten. If I meet the standards it can be said that I am doing my job – but these standards likely don’t speak to all aspects of who I can be in the position and what I can bring to my employer. They don’t spell out levels of creativity, of caring, of passion, as I go about my work and interact with others and carry out my work. These aspects are the “value add” pieces that I might bring to my work – that go beyond an expected standard. These aspects are the way that we bring joy into our work and life, and what we enjoy and appreciate about others.
Standards are not enough for any school, let alone a Christian school. We can’t just stop at kids meeting standards and expect that that is good enough. Our job is to get them to the goal of flourishing. In the Christian school context that includes connecting head, heart, and hands. It includes helping them to see God’s design in creation and understand his passionate desire for relationship with them. It also means teaching students how to act on his desire to make all things new in creation and relationships, wherever he calls them to work someday.
Dear Reader – It is time to say goodbye for the summer! This is the last post on the blog for this school year – we will now take a break for the summer months – and let you catch up on reading all those posts you missed this year. :) Thanks for reading Nurturing Faith this year – see you in September!
The day had come! As I sat down at my desk I realized the nest was empty. The last robin had left the nest and was sitting down below the nest under the deck rafters. It looked unready for the next step, tufts of feather fluff hanging off all parts of its body. I noticed also that the mother had not abandoned it, but kept bringing food to it on a regular basis. I wondered how long the life of this baby might last given predators and its seeming inability to find its own food. It finally moved into the grass area and began to give a few tentative hops, emulating the movement of its mother. Its wings were not any more ready to fly than the two sets of five gosling babies further away in the yard, but they certainly appeared more robust and capable of defending themselves.
I began to think about the love/care that God built into these bird creatures, and thought about the fact that this is how God has made them – they, not being capable of rational thought, simply act in what we would call blind faith. Certainly deciding to conceive and raise children is an act of faith. We cannot see what the future holds for any of us in the next few minutes or hours of our lives, yet we must, like the robin parent, just move ahead with life, as we cannot wrap our minds around what might happen next. We also know that if we cage our young, they will never develop the wing strength to soar.
We have opportunities to work with “short-winged” and “fluffy-feathered” ones every day. We are teaching them how to not only survive but thrive in a world where they will be a distinct minority in terms of their worldview. As evidence, I submit Kenda Dean’s recent estimate in her book Almost Christian that only 8% of youth have “a creed to believe, a community to belong to, a call to live out, and a hope to hold on to.” Barna’s estimates from his research suggest that only 3% of those ages 18-41 hold a biblical worldview. When we see these numbers it may make us desire to protect and shelter our students even more – but like the parent robin, our best contribution may be modeling a vibrant faith and faithful way of living, so that the remnant of youth that we have opportunity to work with may be seeing the world clearly, being challenged to apply the Gospel, and to be the prophetic and faithful Daniels/Danielles of this coming generation.
Here are some of the issues that concern me about the recent efforts to ramp up the teacher evaluation process in the U.S.
- The current discussion largely ignores research on the adult learner – we can intensify motivation, but cannot make people change unless they want to. So, how do we increase the “want to” without resorting to high accountability/sticks all the time?
- The current accountability situation in the U.S. has the cart ahead of the horse – we are in the midst of a quantum change around Common Core and in the meantime politicians have asked for educators to use a true “value-added” assessment before effective instruments have been put in place.
- There are very few true “value-added” tests and the concept itself is being questioned. (For more on this viewpoint see this excellent article by Linda Darling Hammond.)
- Student achievement is only part of the equation – we should seek not minimum competence but flourishing – for students to desire to learn and to be creative and curious – not the regurgitation of information from their short-term memory that will be forgotten next week. (see following post)
- We can and ought to do better in Christian education – we should be seeing each teacher as an image-bearer who needs encouragement and appropriate direction, not simply a producer of great student test scores. How will we choose to work with our teachers – toward student growth/flourishing and their own growth as individuals?
For further reading:
A comprehensive overview of the issues in the field by Charlotte Danielson – author of the Framework for Teaching – still the best description/rubrics of effective teaching practice that I have seen.
Here is a helpful and insightful blog post by Kyle Hunsberger written from a teacher perspective.