Monthly Archives: October 2012

Flourishing – a passion for learning

(This is the first in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

I believe we are made by God to be learners and to have a passion for learning. One of the main tasks in the garden for Adam and Eve was learning – caring for and subduing the earth. The separation from God interrupted this perfect state of learning and the need to work (work as sweat and toil) entered into Adam and Eve’s reality. Today our work still interrupts our opportunities for learning. We help students experience Eden and give them a glimpse of heaven (among other things – a state of uninterrupted learning in my view!) when we bring as much true, joy-filled learning as possible into the lives of those we are entrusted to serve in our schools.

To produce a flourishing student, we must seriously attend to increasing their passion for learning. If we are not increasing a student’s passion for learning I believe we are failing in our work. A student who is a passionate learner reflects the creativity and mind of Christ.  But what is the purpose of this passion for learning? Why have we been created with this passion and why do we find so much joy in learning? John Milton said, “The end of all learning is to know God, and out of that knowledge to love and imitate Him.” In other words our learning is a seeking after God – to understand the deep mysteries God has put into the world – and then to not only have knowledge for it’s own sake, but to use it to better love him, to worship him, and to serve him.

One of our favorite sayings in education that we often repeat is from Socrates: “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” And yet we turn around and engage at times in learning processes that move students at early ages from an intrinsic, God-given joy to focus children on extrinsic rewards . . . and then continue that through high school, college, and beyond. John Holt describes this process well: “We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.”

Contrast this with the kind of learning we do as adults. When we get engaged in doing some kind of learning, we move into what Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of “flow”, when we lose track of all time and it seems somehow suspended. Schlecty, an educator/author/researcher on student engagement marvels at how school dropouts in a bar can be so mesmerized and engaged for long periods of time with an online game of Trivial Pursuit – he goes on to wonder why we can’t achieve that level of engagement in school.  How can we change schools to encourage a greater passion for learning – or to not dampen down what is already there?

Source: Creative Commons – http://flic.kr/p/6arc2n

In a remarkable experiment, researchers at the Hole-in-the-Wall Project led by Dr. Sugata Mitra placed a computer into the wall of a building in the slums of New Delhi and let it sit there, with no explanation. Within hours, and with no outside help, the children had learned to use it on their own! The passion to learn is no doubt God-given, but we must take great care as educators to not dampen, but to enhance this passion.

We know that this passion for learning is a key 21st century skill. Those who can direct their passion and develop further learning will be the leaders as suggested by Eric Hoffer: “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” If we are serious about helping kids to flourish, fanning the flame of passion for learning is one of the very best things we can do to prepare them for the future. One of the most important feedback questions we might ask of our students and their parents at the end of a school year is: “Did my teaching and this school create a greater passion for learning than you came with at the beginning of the year?” Do you have the humility and the courage to ask such a question? And then act upon the data, as needed, to make changes in your school’s learning environment?

As Christian educators, increasing a student’s passion is never only self-focused – it is not just about increasing that student’s personal satisfaction or economic gain. It is about helping them to learn to live a hopeful, joy-filled life that spills over into the lives of others and reflects back joy to the Creator. In his book, Flowers for Algernon, author Daniel Keyes captures this joy:
“I’m living at a peak of clarity and beauty I never knew existed. Every part of me is attuned to the work. I soak it up into my pores during the day, and at night—in the moments before I pass off into sleep—ideas explode into my head like fireworks. There is no greater joy than the burst of solution to a problem. Incredible that anything could happen to take away this bubbling energy, the zest that fills everything I do. It’s as if all the knowledge I’ve soaked in during the past months has coalesced and lifted me to a peak of light and understanding. This is beauty, love, and truth all rolled into one. This is joy.”

Isn’t this the kind of passion for learning that we desire for all of our students?

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Filed under classroom, curriculum, distinctively Christian, staff development

The Cardus Study results for Canadian Christian schools

In the Christian school community we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Cardus, the Ontario think tank, and to those who have funded the Cardus Education Survey. The survey results for the U.S. and Canadian Christian schools have given solid and substantive evidence that Christian education is making a difference and is worth doing. Last year survey results were released for North American schools (introduced here and then discussed in a four part series – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4) and this fall the results for Canadian schools were released.

Recently, Cardus has presented the results of the Canadian data across Canada and at the Christian Schools Canada conference held in October. You can hear a keynote presentation by Ray Pennings, one of the study authors, by clicking here.

The title of the Canadian Cardus Survey, A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats: Measuring Non-Government School Effects in Service of the Canadian Public Good, makes a strong argument for the value of non-government education that “produce graduates who embody commonly desired excellences and characteristics in generally even higher proportions than do government-run public schools.” This is no small accomplishment, given that Canadian schools have ranked among the top of the world on recent international tests, such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment.)

Below are some highlights from the study in three different categories.

Cultural, Economic, and Social Engagement:

  • Graduates of non-government schools tend to be equally or more involved in politics and culture than are government school graduates
  • Involvement in cultural activities seems to be shaped by the community context of the graduates. Thus Christian school graduates have a greater involvement in choirs, while independent non-religious school graduates attend concerts and the opera more frequently.
  • Because of overseas “mission” or “development” trips, Christian school graduates have had much more cross-cultural experiences than graduates of other schools.
  • Graduates of Christian schools are more likely than any other group to feel thankful for their current life circumstances, to feel capable of dealing with life, and to consider themselves goal-oriented. However, they are less likely to be risk-takers and more likely to conform.

Academic Achievement

  • Christian school graduates attain similar or slightly fewer years of education as government school graduates.
  • Christian school graduates are more likely to have a master’s degree than an undergraduate degree. If they are on a university track, they have a higher likelihood than government school graduates of continuing on for a higher degree.
  • Christian school graduates on most measures highly evaluated their experience and the preparation it offered, but did not report the same joy and pride in their schooling brand (as independent non-religious school graduates.)
  •  In general, even with fifteen or so years of hindsight, graduates of non-government schools evaluate their school cultures positively, claiming them to be close-knit and expressing a positive regard for teachers, students, and administrators, and reflect that they offered good preparation for later life .  .  .  it is likely that an unusual ethic of care characterizes the school culture in many non-government schools.

Spiritual Formation and Religious Engagement

  • Christian schools seem very effective in contributing to the religious and spiritual formation of their graduates. By almost all measures and indicators, they were more effective than all other school sectors in doing so.
  • Christian school graduates have ample opportunities through school and church to develop skills for eventual participation and contribution in the civic core of society.
  • Graduates of Christian schools are grounded, contributing, faithful, diligent, conservative, and dependable. It seems likely that such citizens contribute to the peace, stability, and flourishing of a society.

I would like to congratulate our CSI schools in Canada – I believe that they are doing a great job of meeting their missions and seeking to move their schools forward!

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Filed under distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, leadership, mission development, mission measurement, resources

World Class Learners

ImageOne of the best new books that I have been recommending to others recently is Yong Zhao’s book: World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. Why do I like this book so much? Here are five reasons.

1.     Our current state – Zhao makes a compelling case for our loss of creativity among students (it gets worse the more we educate students!) and points to curriculum narrowing and the latest school reform efforts. He demonstrates that there is an inverse relationship between entrepreneurship scores and international test scores – in other words some of the countries scoring best on the PISA tests are showing a low level of entrepreneurship among students. He argues that, due to curriculum narrowing with NCLB, time for the arts, music physical education, and even science has been decreased, resulting in a marginalized curriculum. With a global job shift underway, entrepreneurial skills are more needed than ever – and we are not preparing students for this changed world.
2.     The myth of superior Chinese education – Zhao points out that while we have been trying to learn how countries such as Singapore, Korea, and China get superior international test scores, they have been trying to learn how the United States remains the hotbed of innovation. He asks: “Why does the United States remain the world’s innovation hub despite its long history of poor standing in international education assessments? Where did all the creative entrepreneurs come from?’ His answer is that China has been even better than the U.S. at killing the creative spirit. For example, the preeminence, and I would add, idolatry of, the national college entrance exams in Far Eastern countries, locks and dooms students to limited life opportunities and are one of the major factors behind the despair, depression, and high suicide rates of youth in these countries.
3.     Changing the paradigm – simply put, is schooling about narrowing down human diversity into a set of desirable skills for employment or about celebrating human diversity (individual, cultural, and economic differences) toward enhancing and expanding talents? Traditional education will only get us so far – we need to be paying attention to education that is child centered, that recognizes the gifts and needs of each learner, capitalizes on their strengths, and gives them the freedom to sharpen their talents and expand their opportunities.
4.     Product oriented learning – citing past examples of student oriented learning and recent engagement (or should I say student disengagement) data, Zhao believes that “freedom to learn and authentic student leadership” constitute the first fundamental principle of the new education paradigm we need for the 21st century.” Therefore, school must have environments that have a broad range of experiences for students, promote personalized learning, are flexible, and involve students as decision makers. He goes on to examine various product oriented learning environments and shows how project based learning is making a difference for students and exemplifies the design principles he suggests.
5.     Global, world-class education – in order for schools to develop entrepreneurs, they must move beyond their physical boundaries and engage with others around the world to network and solve problems. I appreciated his specific examples of schools doing this. In order for students to be global entrepreneurs they must develop their cultural intelligence in order to effectively network. Zhao closes by giving us this helpful summary – we must pay attention to the “what” (student passions, interests, creativity); the “how” (problems, products, caring about people’s needs); and the “where” (global perspectives, partners, and competencies.)

The ideas expressed in this book would fit well with a transformational and Christian approach to education. I highly recommend that our schools (teachers, administrators, and boards) read and discuss this book and then consider what it means for their school’s mission and vision moving into the future.

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Filed under change, classroom, curriculum, kids/culture, leadership, mission development, resources, staff development