Monthly Archives: May 2013

Flourishing – Understanding how God has gifted (students) and called them

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

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

I had two differing experiences in my educational career that dealt with the aspect of vocation. One was in my 8th grade year when my teacher took some time with each of us to talk about our individual talents and how we might use them in high school and beyond. A second came during a very confusing time of life as a college freshman – seeking direction in the guidance office, I was given a vocational test. The test suggested that I should consider becoming a rabbi; I thought this a curious outcome since I was not Jewish, but an evangelical attending an evangelical college. (Given that I am writing this blog on nurturing student faith, maybe that test was not that far off! :) Needless to say, one experience was helpful, and the other was not particularly so.

I hope that as K-16 institutions, we are now doing a much better job with helping students understand how God has gifted them and also helping to discern God’s call in their lives. But I wish I had more certainty – please write if you feel this is an area of strength in your school – I would love to share what you are doing!

Over the last decade, the recognition in the business world, that we should be working from our strengths rather than spending time trying to build weak areas, is a welcome relief to our previous deficit approach. I am specifically referring to the work done by Clifton and Buckingham and the numerous books written as follow-ups to this groundbreaking work. Using a strengths model, I believe that the time is ripe for us to better equip students through identifying their gifts/talents and having them practice using their gifts/talents in team settings. We have said that we believe all children can learn, so then we can’t continue to teach in the same ways – we need to be helping students know who they are and how God has wired them, thereby optimizing their talents in the classroom. Secondly, we know that cooperative learning is a research proven strategy, but unless we have identified individual gifts/talents, we likely will not effectively put project groups together where talents are maximized.

Last month I shared what Beaver County Christian is doing with having their alumni come in and talk about how their Christian education is impacting their careers. One of the benefits that I like about this project is that it serves to cultivate the missional imagination of the students. Through the stories shared by the alumni, students can begin to imagine how they might be listening for, and living out, God’s call in their lives. As a child I was brought to “missionary union meetings” to hear how missionaries were making an impact on the world out there. Although I didn’t always enjoy going, I usually enjoyed the engaging stories, the cool artifacts, and learning about the world on the other side of the globe. I realize now that my parents were trying to expand my missional imagination!

We are living in a time where we have a greater global awareness through our connectivity, more movement toward a personalized student educational experience, and more understanding how teams function best.  These three aspects may indicate that this is a perfect time of convergence around better equipping our students to flourish through understanding their gifts/talents and how God is calling them. What is working well in this area at your school?

Advertisements

22 Comments

Filed under Biblical worldview, church partnering, classroom, community, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, kids/culture, mission development, student outcomes

Are Finnish schools a helpful model for Christian schools?

9780807752579_p0_v1_s260x420It would be worth looking at Finland, if only as an educational model, due to their consistently world leading test scores, but they also demonstrate other desirable qualities as a society that Christian schools seek to emulate. If Christian schools are about producing flourishing students (for starters, search flourishing on this blog!) then we might do well to study the country that sits atop the European Union in terms of producing flourishing adults. If we are interested in happiness and blessings then we should be looking at Finland, among the world leaders in overall happiness of life and prosperity. If we are concerned about developing fine character, then we should study “sisu.” Finnish “sisu” is “a cultural trademark that refers to strength of will, determination, and purposeful action in the face of adversity, coexist(ing) with calmness and tenderness.” (Salhberg, quoting research of Lewis, 2005 and Steinbock, 2010.) Finns also value collaboration over competition, think “small is beautiful,” and rely on straight talk and simple procedures. These are value sets that closely parallel the values of Christian schools. Intrigued? Let’s explore some more paradoxes and lessons as described in Pasi Sahlberg’s excellent book, Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? and discover what lessons might apply to Christian education.

Sahlberg unpacks several paradoxes as he compares Finnish education to North America and the world:

1. Teach less, learn more – Salhberg demonstrates that quantity of instructional time does not equal quality of instruction. While teachers in the US log about 1080 instructional hours and Canadian teachers teach about 900 hours, Finnish teachers teach about 600 hours. He states: “Lower teaching hours provide teacher more opportunities to engage in school improvement, curriculum planning, and personal professional development during their working hours.” Moreover, Finnish children start school at age 7 but lead the world in literacy. Finnish 15 year-olds spend less time on homework than their peers in any other country – rarely more than a half-hour a day. 7% of Finnish students experience anxiety and stress when working on math compared to 52% in Japan and 53% in France.

2. Test less, learn more – according to the PISA database, Sahlberg notes that educational scores in countries that emphasis competition, choice, and test-based accountability have gone down, while in Finland, where the emphasis has been on teacher professionalism, school based curriculum, trust-based educational leadership, and school collaboration through networking, scores have gone up. It is also interesting to note that in Finland students receive a comprehensive evaluation of progress after each semester – this includes not only academic performance, but grades in behavior and engagement as well.

3. More equity through growing diversity – in spite of growing diversity, Finland’s performance has continuously increased and the variance between student achievement performances has decreased.  Almost half of the 16 year olds have had some sort of special education, personalized help, or individual guidance. Salhberg notes that the main principle of Finland’s reform efforts has been to provide educational opportunities for all students. While only 3.4% of children in Finland live in poverty (as compared to 21.7% in the US and 13.6% in Canada) the poverty rate certainly parallels what would be normative in our Christian schools.

4. Teaching as a profession – teaching attracts the best and brightest (only 1 in 10 are accepted into primary school teacher training), even though the salary is only slightly above the national average. Teachers take their work seriously and there are no formal teacher or school evaluation processes in place. Teachers work collaboratively with each other and teacher training institutions, and the teacher education process is research oriented so that graduates have the tools to adapt to a changing world. Teachers are expected to take risks, be creative, and be innovative. These values are reflected in Finland’s spending 4% of GDP in research and development, second highest in the European Union.

5. Do they spend more on education? No and yes – Finland’s spending (5.6% of GDP) compares favorably to other European Union nations (5.7%), the US (7.6%) and Canada (6.1%). Finland’s welfare state model provides all families with an equitable start via early childhood care, voluntary free preschool, comprehensive health services, and preventative measures to identify learning difficulties. Finnish children all get a free and healthy lunch each day regardless of their parent’s socioeconomic status.

I find much to admire in the Finnish system of education. Wherever God’s image-bearers are flourishing to this degree, there is significant evidence of God’s goodness and common grace at work. Equality as a guiding principle excites me – it is a valuing of the inherent worth of each child. I believe that if as schools we pursue equity, we will achieve excellence as a by-product, as demonstrated by Finland’s performance. Emphasizing teacher professionalism, trust, and collaboration are how we can bring the best of each individual and out of our teams – maximizing talents God has given each for both individual and common good.

Sometimes we feel change is not possible in our situations due to federal, provincial or state mandates. While we cannot turn our countries into Finland, there is much we can learn from Finland and much that unintentionally reflects Biblical principles. Let’s emulate and advance the good, right, and true qualities we see in Finnish schools.

Leave a comment

Filed under book, change, classroom, mission development, resources, stewardship

End of the year interesting stuff

It is always exciting to reach this point in the year and to consider God’s faithfulness! Hopefully in the next months you will have some time to reflect, rejuvenate and recharge. You might enjoy looking at some of these things that I found to be interesting, provocative or funny.

The understanding of Bloom’s Taxonomy is critical to teaching and learning – here is a great digital, iPad apps version:
Integrate iPads Into Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy With This ‘Padagogy Wheel’

Great graphic explaining flipped learning

Teacher appreciation – “I Teach Because I Can’t Do Anything Else!” – terrific thoughts about what makes teaching special compared to other careers – here is the website and here it is in a I Teach Because I Can’t Do Anything Else! with author credit.

“Teaching is the relationship between relationship, curiosity, and content” – great truth and helpful short video:

What teens share on social media, by gender and age: Pew Research Internet Study

Humor dept – from Alfie Kohn: Slogans in search of an acronym: Standardized Testing Undermines the Process of Intellectual Development

Six and seven year olds in first grade learning to read and write by using Twitter:

Helpful summary by Bill DeJager, SCSBC Director of Learning: What’s Trending in Learning: An Open Letter to SCSBC Board Members

Quotes:

“Christianity,if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance.The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” – C.S. Lewis.

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.” – Peter F. Drucker.

“We are experiencing the death of distance. Never has their been a time in our lives where distance has meant less than it does today.” – Ian Jukes.

“Apostles said to Jesus: ‘Lord, increase our faith” (Lk.17:5). They did not say “increase our numbers” or “Increase our influence” or …’ – Len Sweet.

A Learning-Centered Checklist for 21st Century Classrooms, Schools and Districts

What’s the Difference Between “Doing Projects” and “Project Based Learning”?

48 Free Education Apps Sorted By Grade Level

Very helpful site for elementary science teachers – clean, well-organized, and not overwhelming

Pinterest boards are quick ways to survey the field – here are ones from Edutopia and New Tech Network.

Wondering what is coming in the next five years? Here is Knowledge Works Forecast 3.0.

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!

Have a great summer!

Dan Beerens

4 Comments

Filed under change, leadership, resources, staff development