Monthly Archives: September 2012

Seeing and being seen: a devotional for a new school year

One of the things that summer does for us in the education profession is to restore our sight. We can easily lose our perspective as we near the end of the year – it is a challenge just staying focused as the tasks mount up. Summer gives us time to reflect – to see into the future, to look back, to see through some past problems/people, to soul search about any “blind spots” and “logs” (see Matthew 7:5) and to “look into” things that help us gain our balance and give us new hopes and dreams.

At the beginning of a new year, I encourage you to think about seeing. Will you take the time to truly see your students, parents, and colleagues and enter into their worlds? Will you recognize Jesus when he shows up in your school? Are you seeing the good or the bad in others? It likely depends on where you are focusing. Are we seeing beauty all around? It is essential that we help students see it, as beauty engages us and entices us to learn more – beauty is critical to the learning process. Will you take the time to see the needs of the world around you and through your keen sight provoke the missional imaginations of your students – to help them truly see as Jesus saw? Do you have a vision for the future impact, the ways God can use, each of those whose hearts and lives you have the opportunity to deeply impact?

At the beginning of the year, I encourage you to think about being seen. Not in the showy, attention-getting way that we first think about when we use the words “being seen.” Let me give you an example of what I mean. In his wonderful book, Nudge, Leonard Sweet tells this story.

Many decades ago some men were panning for gold in the state of Montana. The prospectors organized themselves into an informal cooperative and agreed up front that if they should strike gold they would tell no one about their find.
    After weeks of hard panning and digging, one of them found an unusual stone. Breaking it open, they were excited to see that it contained gold. Soon the prospectors discovered an abundance of the precious metal. They began shouting “We’ve found it! We’ve found gold! We’ve struck it rich!”
    They then proceeded to go to a nearby town for additional supplies. Before leaving camp, they reminded each other of the pledge of absolute secrecy. While they were in town, none of them breathed a word about their good fortune. However, when they were getting ready to return to camp, they were horrified to discover several hundred of the local townsmen preparing to follow them. And when they asked who had revealed the secret of their discovery, the answer came: “No one had to. Your faces showed it.”

How do you wish to be seen this year? What will students, colleagues, and parents see in you?

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Filed under devotional, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, image of God, resources, worship

A Flourishing Index – Part 1

For those of you new to reading this blog, at the end of last year I proposed that Christian schools consider adopting a Flourishing Index – a list of outcomes that we desire for our students. I also think that this index could provide helpful targets that we could measure ourselves against.  For more information, you may wish to read the two blog posts that were written last year as a way of gaining familiarity with what I am suggesting.

While I did not consciously realize it at the time I was creating a Flourishing Index, I have since discovered two wonderful resources: one from a Christian perspective and one from a secular perspective. I would like to start with renowned Christian philosopher and Christian education thinker Nicholas Wolterstorff this month and discuss the other author next month in this blog.

As someone who has thought a lot about developing distinctively Christian curriculum, I was encouraged to read that Wolterstorff had also puzzled about what makes a curriculum distinctively Christian, and this led him to the idea of flourishing as a unifying concept:

“It became important for me to figure out what holds a curriculum together. You’ve got sciences and arts and my own passion, justice. What holds it all together? It eventually became clear to me that there is a biblical category of flourishing, of shalom. [It is] “peace” in the New Testament, but eirene in Greek is a pretty weak translation of what the Old Testament means by shalom. It means flourishing. That’s what a Christian college should be about. Not just planting thoughts in people’s heads and getting them into professional positions but flourishing, in all its dimensions. Source: Faith and Leadership, 2012

He defines flourishing and elaborates upon the idea of flourishing as shalom in this video:

In a review of Wolterstorff’s book, Educating for Life, reviewer John Shortt highlights this definition of flourishing, which I believe captures the essence of flourishing: “Shalom is not merely the absence of hostility for, as he memorably puts it, ‘to dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in one’s physical surroundings, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy living with oneself’ (p. 101).” I am particularly struck with the Joy aspect of living in harmony with God, neighbor, and self – a deep sense of happiness and contentment.

As we spend the next months unpacking the concept of flourishing through discussion of the elements of The Flourishing Index, I invite you to consider how flourishing is really the ultimate outcome of a truly distinctive Christian education.

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Filed under curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, image of God, mission development, mission measurement, resources, staff development, student outcomes

What can be learned from Finland?

In case you have missed the discussion, here is why some in the educational community are looking at Finland these days. Put simply – how do they get the kind of educational results that they are getting? What is their secret?

Well, one reason that we should pay attention to Finland is that since PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) tests have been inaugurated over a decade ago, Finland has consistently been at the top of the charts! Tony Wagner from Harvard wanted to get answers to the above questions; his Finland visit and reflections are captured on a recent hour long movie that has come out: “The Finland Phenomenon.”  As you will see from just the video trailer below they do some things very differently from typical North American schools.

I find that their approach is a much more attractive model for Christian schools to follow than that of our public sector schools who are being forced to a greater and greater degree into test-based accountability, more prescribed curriculum, more focus on only core subjects, and greater control. I believe that the Biblical principles, such as honoring the learner as image-bearer and operating with a high degree of trust, are lived out to a greater degree in the public schools of Finland than in North America. Canadian blogger/teacher Joe Bower put it this way: “Finland’s successful pursuit of policies driven by diversity, trust, respect, professionalism, equity, responsibility and collaboration refute every aspect of reforms that focus on choice, competition, accountability and testing that are being expanded in countries around the world.”

If you would like to learn more, I suggest you start by purchasing the video and watching it with your staff – it should spark a profitable discussion. If you Google “Finland Phenomenon,” you will also find many other blog posts and discussions on the topic – it is gaining a lot of attention.

How can we argue with the results?

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Filed under change, leadership, mission development, mission measurement, resources, staff development, student outcomes, uncategorized