Monthly Archives: October 2013

Flourishing – Determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

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

One of the most significant flourishing outcomes that we hope for our students is our last item- a determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others. In order to do this, we must be able to bring together all aspects of head, heart, and hands – our cognition, passions, and behaviors. It is not that a people with this determination are saccharine sweet, out of touch with reality, or constantly smiling; rather, they know what they believe, who they are, and have a sense of their impact on others as they go through life. This determination comes from a sense of deep faith, gratefulness for God’s gracious gift of salvation, and a desire to live out a life of grateful service to others, to be Christ to them in small and large ways.

What we are really talking about is what attitude we choose to demonstrate each day, in each situation and circumstance. One of the most helpful quotes that speaks to the significance of a positive attitude is this famous one by Chuck Swindoll:

“Attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, money, circumstances, than failures and success, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, ability, or skill. It will make or break a business, a home, a friendship, an organization. The remarkable thing is I have a choice every day of what my attitude will be. I cannot change my past. I cannot change the actions of others. I cannot change the inevitable. The only thing I can change is attitude. Life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how I react to it.”
Charles R. Swindoll

Swindoll is saying that attitude is more important than most anything else in life:  it is a critical issue to address with our students. We can help students realize is that they have a choice about their attitudes. A broken or difficult past may haunt us, but we have a choice about whether we forgive and move on or not. We have the opportunity to choose our attitudes each moment and in each circumstance. We see this modeled by Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25-28) as they were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel and chose to spend their time praying, singing, and eventually giving witness to that hope and joy that was spilling out of them. All students have the potential to flourish in this way – it is not dependent on intellect – in fact, some “special needs” students often can be the best bringers of joy and hope.

Our ultimate hope for our students is summarized in this final Flourishing Index statement – that they learn to become Christ-like – giving evidence of the hope that they have through Christ, being grateful in all circumstances, being humble in times of blessing, and living selfless lives of service to others, which is the faithful presence of Jesus Christ in the world.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, community, encouraging the heart, image of God, kids/culture, student outcomes, worship

Impressive . . . and readable!

Visible-Learning-for-Teachers-Hattie-John-EB9781136592331The educational community worldwide owes a huge debt of gratitude to John Hattie. Hattie, a professor at the University of Melbourne, Australia is the author of Visible Learning, the result of 15 years of labor in the synthesis of educational research. The scope of what he attempted and completed is staggering: 800 meta-analyses of 50,000 research articles, 150,000 effect sizes, and about 240 million students! This work was reported in his 2009 book, Visible Learning. In his recent book, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, he adds the results of 100+ meta-analyses that have been completed since 2009 and attempts to build a bridge of clarity directly to the daily work world of teachers and administrators.

What struck me initially about this book is the fact that he uses the format of the lesson to explain the findings of his research, thus putting the research results in context for the practitioner. His sections in Part 2 of his book are 1) preparing the lesson, 2) starting the lesson, 3) the flow of the lesson: learning, 4) the flow of the lesson: the place of feedback, and 5) the end of the lesson.  He presents the research findings in a readable format for teachers and administrator that it is simply outstanding! I have never enjoyed reading research so much! The chapters are filled with helpful tables and diagrams that bring further clarity to the text. At the end of each chapter is a series of 4-10 questions for further discussion that could be used very effectively in faculty learning sessions.

As excited as I am about the content, accessibility, and usefulness of the book, I am even more overjoyed about the perspective that Hattie articulates in Parts 1 and 3 of the book. He acknowledges the significance of passion and the difficulty of measuring it. In particular he emphasizes the significance of teachers demonstrating a passion for having a positive impact on all students in their class: to monitor, self-assess, and modify their performance so that they make a difference in what they do. Hattie believes that a key to student learning is that educators must be passionate about evaluating their impact. While we associate a book of research like this with student achievement, Hattie makes clear that an over-emphasis on this area can cause us to lose focus on “what students, know, can do, and care about.” What he means is that the kinds of things that we have been addressing in this blog related to student flourishing, i.e. “the school and learning experience…must be productive, challenging, and engaging to ensure the best chance possible that students will stay in school.”

I deeply resonate with how Hattie concludes the book. After all the excellent presentation of research, he opens a discussion of eight mind frames of the teacher by stating the following:

“The major argument in this book underlying powerful impacts in our schools relates to how we think! It is a set of mind frames that underpin our every action and decision in a school; it is a belief that we are evaluators, change agents, adaptive learning experts, seekers of feedback about our impact, engaged in dialogue and challenge, and developers of trust with all, and that we see opportunity in error, and are keen to spread the message about the power, fun, and impact that we have on learning.”

Wow – right on John! Our ways of thinking, or worldview (my word), is the linchpin to student learning. What we believe about students, their capability, how to manage and engage them, the barriers to their learning, and our ability to impact them are, and always will be, the keys to student learning. Hattie provides a helpful, copy permission granted, self-assessment checklist that all of your staff could take to understand what their own mind frames are and what might be their personal strengths and barriers.

I have been challenging Christian schools to see all students as image-bearers of God – in this distinctively Christian worldview there is no room for giving up on kids or not appreciating the gifts that each student brings into the classroom. While it is easy to give lip service to this concept, what I appreciate about this book is that Hattie has challenged us to go a step further by examining our mind frames and linking those mind frames back to the research. If we are serious about offering our professional work back to God as worship, we must be reading books like John Hattie’s – books that show us the truth about what we know so far about student learning via research and also show us bridges to offer our very best work back as worship and praise to God.

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Should Christian schools be more like seminaries or churches?

Out of its best motives, the Christian day school movement was born from the deep conviction by parents that God’s truth be recognized in every subject and every aspect of learning. Knowing that a teacher’s worldview has a powerful and undeniable impact on students’ worldviews, public schooling was not acceptable to these parents because of concerns over what core values/worldview would be promoted. In a public school setting, where all worldviews sit on an equal platform, the highest aspirations for student outcomes often gravitate toward individual economic success and becoming a good citizen. By contrast, Christian education may also work toward these goals but holds a primary emphasis on nurturing students to love God and serve their neighbors in Christ’s name. Christian schools seek to unfold the wonder of God’s creation, teach students wisdom according to Biblical principles, and help students begin to practice for their life work of service/worship. Should the Christian school of today be more about this equipping in the same manner as a seminary or be more focused on working with a wide range of student belief as churches do? Our appropriate response may be – “It depends on the needs of the student and where they are at in their faith formation”, but I believe there is more to be considered because some schools only allow children of believers to attend, while other schools take all comers, regardless of parent beliefs.

Christian schools were originally structured to function more like seminaries than churches. This was based on the belief that Christian schools functioned as an extension of the Christian home – children of believers were also believers and were sent to a Christian school for discipleship. It is similar to when adult Christians desire to study the Bible more deeply, they may choose to attend a Christian seminary where they can study Greek, Latin, Biblical history, preaching, teaching, and discipleship. There is an assumption on the part of the Christian seminary that the student knows what they are signing up for and the seminary teaches from a certain perspective.  Similarly, parents who enroll their children in Christian day schools, desire and expect that teachers will teach from the perspective of God’s sovereignty and view each child as an image-bearer of God. They expect that the teachers will challenge their child to believe in Jesus and begin to understand what that means practically in life.

However should Christian schools more closely resemble today’s churches? In a world today where churches see themselves in a much more seeker oriented vein, is it appropriate also for Christian schools to be based upon the same type of missional approach? Just as anyone can come into a church on a Sunday morning, should parents of any or no belief be allowed to enroll their children in Christian schools? In both cases, many Christian school educators would say, “Yes, as long as parents and students coming in to the school understand what kind of education they are going to receive and are not disruptive to the process.” In talking with missional Christian schools, I have seen and heard a vitality and authenticity of conversations that can be had with students, as well as a lack of assumptions by students about faith (i.e., my parents are saved and so I must be too). Christian schools that go the missional enrollment route have found that they must take great care with articulating a biblical perspective in their curriculum and instruction so that they remain true to their mission, but I would add that this should be true of all Christian schools.

I believe that more dialogue on this question would be very helpful. How we should proceed may have a significant impact on how Christian schools are viewed by churches and parents considering Christian education.  I have worked as a teacher and administrator in both public and Christian school settings. I am under no illusions about the shortcomings or strengths of either. What I would like to see is more dialogue between Christians working in both settings, more prayer for each other, and more support from churches for both. We should desire that all students have the opportunity to flourish. I believe that a quality Christian school that takes its mission seriously has similarities to both a great seminary and a great church – revealing God’s truth in its teaching, making no false assumptions about individual’s faith, and connecting its purpose to the needs and challenges of the real world that Christ followers are called to serve.

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