Category Archives: book

End of the year interesting stuff

It is always exciting to reach this point in the year, to look back, and to consider God’s faithfulness! As we head into summer, we always have high hopes for catching up on our reading and reflecting. So, no guilt if you don’t look at things below, but here are things that caught my eye recently:

UnknownA few weeks ago I finished reading a wonderful book In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness, and Heart of Christianity by Jim Belcher, who I learned in the meantime has accepted a new job as President of Providence Christian College in Pasadena, California. His new book has received recognition as Christianity Today’s “Best of the Best” book for its 2013 Leadership Journal awards.

Here is a thoughtful post by Ontario, CA school head Paul Marcus about Christian schools being judged by the behavior of their students – Not Angel Factories

ImageI am just finishing Michael Frost’s new book, Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement.  This is an excellent book for Christian school leaders to read to help them in their task of cultural discernment. Not only does he point out ways that our culture sucks us into excoriation/escapism, but suggests how Christians might better love God by loving neighbors. This book provides excellent guidance for educators who seek to live out an incarnated life with students.

Good videos on vocation/work from Tim Keller:

Work defined – “arranging of raw material for the flourishing of everyone”

Why Work Matters – A Christian understanding of why your work matters and why God matters to your work

On the lighter side:  Video – How to Write a Worship Song( in 5 minutes!)

Fantastic collection of science resources for congregations and educator at The Ministry Theorem.

A very helpful video companion (and great charts also!) to the book Origins: Christian Perspectives on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design by Calvin professors Deborah and Loren Haarsma – available here.

Our Children Should Not Have to Choose Between Science and Faith by Tim Stafford

A follow-up to Stafford: Why You Might Have to Choose Between Science and Faith

What do we really tell our boys by saying “Be a man!”? This video trailer “The Mask You Live In” questions assumptions. Warning: Language is realistic, but may be offensive)

What will education look like in the future? Helpful infographic from KnowledgeWorks.

The study habits of today’s students: interesting infographic.

Excellent thoughts, research and resources on the use of lecture from Grant Wiggins.

Quote: “The observer of beauty always gets a passion to share that beauty with others. You always talk about what you love.” Tim Keller

How would you define beautiful work?

One pastor’s observations about the 5 Traits of Kids Who Keep Following Christ As Adults.

“Unsung Hero” video – the difference one life can make in the world – very touching!

Inspiring creativity in schools – relationship between chaos and creativity.

Buck Institute’s PBL project search tool – 500 projects!

This is a truly amazing video – Wonder! TED talk on the hidden mysteries of our world. 

 

Thanks for reading Nurturing Faith again this year! CSI will be discontinuing Nurturing Faith and so this will conclude posts on this site, although previous posts will be able to be accessed at this location.  If you have enjoyed reading Nurturing Faith, I will continue blogging at the following sites:

danbeerens.com – my personal website

CACE – as a CACE fellow, I will blog periodically on this site.

SCS Community – as a convener of these conferences, I will also be blogging on this site.

Blessings on your work and let’s continue the dialogue!

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Filed under Biblical worldview, book, change, classroom, community, creation & environment, curriculum, encouraging the heart, image of God, resources, staff development

I just need time to think!

Mark Eckel bookI am not really a big fan of “devotional” books. I sometimes find them less substantive than I had hoped for or a bit forced and trite. Despite that reservation, today I am delighted to be recommending a book to you that at first glance might fall into that category, but let me explain. Mark Eckel has put together a wonderful book entitled I Just Need Time to Think!: Reflective Study as Christian Practice. It is a collection of fifty thoughtful essays organized into these ten topics: study, retreat, discipline, holiday, reading, reflection, obstacles, walking, path, and place.  They are written in bite size amounts – perfect for use in a daily reflection time, and rich like cheesecake – even though tasty, you shouldn’t try to eat too much at once, but just savor it instead.

Let me tell you a bit about Mark: he is an outstanding Christian educator and a master weaver as a writer. In fact, the name of Mark’s blog (which I highly recommend you read) is Warp and Woof , which he describes as “the vertical-horizontal weaving of threads that create fabric. The intersection and unification of everything is the tapestry of life under the Lordship of Jesus. Wholeness begins with Him.” One of the beauties of this book is that he weaves together extensive reading he has done and study of the Bible and great books with practical insights about living out one’s faith. He expertly synthesizes historical Christian perspectives and has a knack for finding just the right quotation to underscore his points. He is a bridge builder – helping us to reflect on the accumulated wisdom of the ages to move to concrete ideas that we can implement (not to mention dozens of possible books to read!) His passion is to teach others how to think Christianly and to honor Christ through reflection and learning. We need more thoughtful weavers, bridge builders, and translators like Mark. It is evident that he has made the spiritual disciplines of reading, writing, and reflection a priority in his life – and you as reader get to benefit!

With Mark’s permission I want to share a poem that appears in his reflection entitled: Retreat: Cutting Wood on Sunday. His subtitle for the chapter is “Rest is doing something other than what we would normally do.” As someone who has looked for a good way to describe what Sunday is about, his statement that “we need to rest from our giftedness” struck me.  I know that when I do not do this, I do not rest well and I also violate what God intended for me when he gave me a day of rest. Here is Mark’s poem that he wrote to remind himself that rest is crucial:

Lord, when the alarm clock, stove clock, and time clock demand my presence,

When the pace of life is hectic,

When I wish there were six more hours in a day,

When the traffic light is stuck on red

And my family’s schedule demands I be in three places at one time,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when people expect too much of me,

When the boss has forgotten about the eight-hour day,

When I am constantly at others’ beck and call,

When the cell phone, Twitter, fax, and email all go off at once

And I begin to hate the human race,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when work occupies all my waking hours,

When television commercials say I must have more,

When my neighbors flaunt their newest toys,

When alcoholic does not apply but workaholic does

And I decide to go to the office on Sunday to catch up,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when money means more than people,

When I read The Wall Street Journal more than my Bible,

When overtime becomes my primetime,

When promotions and pay hikes are my ultimate goals

And looking out for number one has become my slogan in life,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, may I refocus my life on you.

May I restore my thoughts in your Word.

May I refresh my schedule by meditating on all your blessings.

May I relax my activity every week to enjoy the life you gave me.

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Eckel, Mark D. (2013-12-24). I Just Need Time to Think!: Reflective Study as Christian Practice (Kindle Locations 585-599). WestBowPress. Kindle Edition.

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Thoughts on the book: God is Alive and Well

51BUEzcU8lL._SL500_AA300_Like Mark Twain’s statement “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” the death of Christianity in North America is greatly exaggerated, according to Frank Newport in his latest book, God is Alive and Well: The Future of Religion in America. Newport is someone we should listen to on the topic: he is the Editor-in-Chief of the well respected Gallup organization, an organization that has been regularly polling about 350,000 people a year on many matters, including religion. In addition to that credibility, Newport is not a dispassionate observer, having grown up as the son of a Southern Baptist theologian and graduating from Baylor University.

Sometimes it feels difficult to get a true perspective of what is actually happening in the United States and it may seem like the country is on a rapid course to secularization. To begin the book, Newport makes the point that America is still very much a Christian nation, based on its data. While we like to think of America as a historically Christian nation, a surprising finding was that, based on the research of Starks and Finke, America was quite non-religious in the olden days and actually church membership is far higher today than it was in colonial times and has been consistently rising for the past 200 years! What has changed in recent years is the number of Americans who say they have no religious identity.

 Here are ten surprising findings, as well as some things we might guess intuitively:

  • 80% of all Americans are Christians, 95% of all Americans who have a religion are Christian.
  • Protestants are shrinking due to low immigration rates, low birthrates, low conversion rates, and not living longer than non-Protestants. Newport suggests the word Protestant may fade away as it is not a common descriptor used by young people today.
  • Due to a Hispanic influx, 45% of Catholic Church members aged 18-29 are Hispanic, and about one-third of all Catholic Church members in the age group 30-49 are Hispanic.
  • Americans who are the most religious (across all faiths) also have the highest levels of wellbeing, as defined by overall life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behaviors, work environment, and access to basic wellbeing necessities.
  • Old people are more religious than young people in all but 16 out of 142 countries.
  • Religious belief drops rapidly until it bottoms out at age 23. A steady upswing in belief occurs from age 24 to about 40. One plausible explanation is that having children does seem to affect the desire to be religious.
  • There are definite differences between states in terms of religious expression. (In short, Confederate states highest, Eastern states lowest, with the Midwestern states in the middle)
  • American women of every age group, in fact most women around the world are more religious and worship more often than men. A woman with a child in the home (18-44) is more religious than any other group.
  • More than 4 in 10 adults have left the faith they were raised in and switched religions: i.e. they have switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated to affiliation, or dropped any connection to religion.
  • Religion is personally more important to people with lower levels of education and income, while more socially important to those with higher levels of education and income.

Things Newport believes will happen:

  • Political parties will increasingly view religious people as a sector to be tapped and mobilized.
  • The country will become more religious in the future as Baby Boomers return to religion as they age. This is based on the fact that the return to religion by older people has shown to be a consistent historical phenomenon across the decades.
  • He sees two paths for the future of religion in America – the path of secularization many European countries have taken, or its own unique path with “religion changing, morphing, and transmuting itself into new but still vibrant forms.” Based on the evidence he sees, he believes that “America will become a more religious nation in the years ahead, albeit one that may look a lot different, religiously speaking, than it does today.”

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Whose responsibility is it?

Education for FlourishingIn their book, Education for Human Flourishing: A Christian Perspective, Spears and Loomis express concerns about the current educational emphasis on the pursuit of knowledge/technical prowess versus the pursuit of truth/virtue in the classroom setting. Are we educating for excellence and flourishing, or primarily to have students possess certain skills and pass high-stakes tests?

As Christian educators we might well agree that our work should transcend state/national standards. We are educating with an eye toward the student’s work/vocation and an understanding that our work is our acceptable sacrifice to God, not simply directed toward success and employment. Historically then, how have we ended up with our current state of education today? The authors believe that the concerns can be summed up in two words – a lack of wisdom and theology:

“Wisdom pursues how knowledge, within a discipline, is coherent, and recognizes how the seemingly discrete pieces of knowledge within a discipline fit together as a unified whole…the study of theology is a unique pursuit of wisdom because it is a study of God – the one who created and makes coherent all the universe.” Quoting Aquinas: “…we should pursue theology because we love God and want to better understand what he has revealed about himself.”

Spears and Loomis point out that the loss of theology as pre-eminent in the Enlightenment Era led to the loss of the connectedness in the disciplines.  This factor in turn led to empirical science being seen as superior to Christian revelation. (Earlier in the book the authors point out that both rationality and revelation are needed in Christian education.) They are concerned that in American education we are increasingly being drawn into a homogenous, technical, information narrowing educational process as contrasted with Jesus’ emphasis on the personal and connected model of teaching people. Given the current information economy, they believe that “schools no longer have the capacity to act as a trustworthy guide in the development of moral dispositions and actions.” If we seek to maximize human flourishing in a holistic manner, there must be space in the educational process for “creativity, complexity, diversity, richness, and multicultural understandings” that lead to human growth and flourishing. Spears and Loomis suggest that much of this responsibility for a high quality information economy falls to the leader of the school.

The authors are particularly critical of their own (departments of education at Christian colleges) in terms of effective leadership, good theoretical work and effective problem solving: “In fact, there have been no significant ideas originating from Christian schools of education for at least several decades…Christian schools of education appear resolved to operate within existing theoretical structures developed by the technical model of the secular academy.” In an earlier chapter, Spears and Loomis suggest that few Christian scholars are cognizant of the present direction of education and may have even lost the capacity to comment on it. At the current time, the authors point to Nicholas Wolterstorff as the only exception to a complete absence of Christians working in the theoretical field of Christian education.

The authors point out that the responsibility doesn’t simply rest there though – it must be shared by practicing educators. These educators need to approach their work “intelligently, integratively, and transforming present informational constraints,” and be “unified in Christ’s passion for human beings and their full and complex development.”

The book provides a helpful section relative to three options for Christian teachers teaching in public schools as articulated by J.E. Schwartz:

  1. Agent for enculturation – teacher views reality as split into sacred/secular, church and state with a high wall of separation, being passively obedient to school authorities, and valuing social stability,
  2. Christian advocate/evangelist – sacred is higher than secular, no split of knowledge and reality, teacher answers to a higher authority, and using school to further knowledge of God and spread a Christian pubic morality,
  3. Golden Rule Truth Seeker – life is integrated with no split of sacred/secular, no direct proselytizing, go where truth leads, honors truth, justice, intellectual honesty, and the quest for truth is ultimately a quest to know God.

The authors believe that the Golden Rule Truth Seeker is the best option for Christians working in public schools – it provides a position to maximize information and overcome the technical framework limitations of public education.

This book is a very helpful critique of the inadequacies of public education today and how Christian education is able to answer the deepest human needs with a holistic education. It rightly challenges those in Christian leadership positions, whether colleges or K-12, administrators or teachers, to understand more clearly the history and implications of the present course of American education. I wish the authors had gone further to present more concrete ways that Christian educators in both K-12 and college could partner together to reach the lofty goal of education for human flourishing. This partnering could include helping Christian educators to better understand how to construct and teach integrated units that get to wisdom and theology with students. The partnership could also articulate how Christians could become “golden rule truth seekers” in their settings. This is where the hard work remains and we desperately need our Christian colleges to begin this process with teachers in training.

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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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Sucked in or hopeful?

It has been said that there are two types of people in the world – those who see the glass half empty and those that see the glass half full. I would like to make the case that, as believers in the good news of Jesus Christ, we should be glass half full people. And if we are not, we can rightly be accused of not living into that good news.  In other words, it would be better for us to be in the starry-eyed optimist camp – we have been given every reason to be there.

What is prevalent is the 24-hour news cycle that now has a global reach and gives more details about every aspect of life. It used to be just hard news, but now we have access to every detail of celebrity relationships, fantasy football/baseball stats, and reality TV plots. The news has not only gone further in bringing us global vs. local/national stories, but also more micro, in terms of vast details about everything on the planet. While we find stories occasionally that increase our wonder and compassion, we most often hear stories that focus on the evil, the tragic, the macabre, and deficits of all kinds. We are sucked into this vortex of glass half empty stories that skew our perspective. As Christ followers, we must certainly tell the truth, but balance the worldly perspective by seeking stories of hope and renewal.Abundance-book-cover-large

A refreshingly optimistic book recently gave me pause to consider a different and more hopeful perspective. Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, examines our current global resource challenges and presents possible solutions through the use of technology, do it yourself innovators, techno-philanthropy (Bill Gates as an example), and the “Rising Billion” – the currently poor of the world who will reach higher standards of living through technology. In the words of the authors: “What all this means is that over the last few hundred years, we humans have covered a considerable stretch of ground. We’re living longer, wealthier, healthier, safer lives. We have massively increased access to goods, services, transportation, information, education, medicines, means of communication, human rights, democratic institutions, durable shelter, and on and on.” Because of the fact that we can now store, exchange, and improve ideas through the use of technology, new avenues of abundance are now possible. Example after example is given to demonstrate how live has not only improved, but how in the authors’ view we can solve many of today’s problems by the year 2035. I suggest reading this helpful review of the book.

While I do not hold the same level of optimism of the authors that we can solve the world’s problems by 2035, I find this book extremely encouraging and inspirational. Focusing on examples of possibility instead of problems for a change is refreshing – I believe it opens up creative thinking about how we can resourcefully use our gifts. I concur with the authors’ view regarding what is needed as our educational focus: “Teaching kids how to nourish their creativity and curiosity, while still providing a sound foundation in critical thinking, literacy and math, is the best way to prepare them for a future of increasingly rapid technological change.” I would add that teaching kids to understand that they are image-bearers and children of God is even more critically important. It is God who has given humans the ability to create technologies that alleviate human suffering and promote human flourishing – we celebrate those gifts in students, all the while giving praise to God for his lavish abundance in mankind and in creation. A book such as Abundance gives reports of God’s gifts of grace and how restoration is happening. Even though the authors do not acknowledge God, we can celebrate how God’s creativity in man is being demonstrated and how restoration and renewal is happening in our time in history.

As Christian educators, responsible for nurturing children,  we should be careful to keep a Christ-focused perspective that is not only based on reality, but a perspective that testifies to the hope that is within us – that victory has been won, Christ is sovereign and will make new this earth and those who believe. We are reminded of this by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” So then, how can any believer really allow themselves to be pessimistic? Christ is King!

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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.

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