Category Archives: change

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!

2 Comments

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

Why PBL? (Project Based Learning)

Over the last ten years, I have advocated in writing and speaking that Christian schools move toward project based learning. Why? Well, you can easily find plenty of rationale on sites like the Buck Institute or Edutopia online, but here are a few reasons reflecting a student perspective:

  1. It is more like real life
  2. It is more fun/engaging
  3. It is coherent and makes more sense
  4. It allows me to use and develop my gifts
  5. It sticks with me longer than memorized learning

I have argued that not only is this type of learning “stickier” but also better reflects our belief as Christian educators that learning should reflect the coherence Christ brings to this world, and it allows students as image-bearers to identify and practice gifts and habits of service. I believe it moves us toward the goal of helping students to flourish (link) in their lives.

One person who has understood and advocated for the value of project based learning for a long time is the retired principal of Toronto District Christian HS, and current Ontario Christian School Adminstrators leader, Ren Siebenga. Ren’s son, Nathan, principal at Hamilton District Christian HS, has implemented PBL there, and is also now co-hosting a summer academy for teachers (see below). I had the opportunity to speak with Nathan about what has been transpiring at his school and he shared the following with me.

What has impressed him most is the change in his students: the ability of kids to understand and articulate the mission of the school and to be deeply engaged in learning. He enthusiastically stated: “The kids’ ability to articulate the mission of the school through the project is life changing, kids can’t be the same. Our level of engagement of kids in their learning is incredible! It is kids running in the door in the morning.” In fact, Nathan noted that HDCH had to institute a late bus last year that ran at 5:30 so that kids could get home after their work sessions!
OCTA-2014-PosterNathan indicated that new teachers don’t have a lot of experience in PBL, and so he instituted a summer “boot camp” for training teachers and then opened it up – the result being that 25 teachers from all over attended. At the end of the week of the PBL training last summer, building principals were invited to come and hear the presentations of learning by the teachers. This helped the principals to provide follow-up support throughout the year.  Nathan expects 50-75 teachers to attend this year and the academy will be offering a second level of training. Co-sponsors of the event are Edifide, OACS, OCSA and CCEF (Canadian Christian Education Foundation). It is exciting to see how these four groups are working together to lead Christian education forward in Ontario, thanks to the vision and teamwork of leaders such as Diane Stronks, Jules DeJager, and Ren Siebenga.

PBL is in its fourth year at HDCH and Siebenga notes that at this point all staff are doing one project and are involved in exhibition of learning. The school-wide exhibition of learning is held every semester for the whole community from 6 – 9 p.m.

PBL is also being advanced across Ontario Christian schools by Diane Stronks, Director of Edifide, and OACS’s new Director of Learning, Justin Cook. Justin has done a great job of leading, recording, and reporting the PBL work that has been done with Ontario teachers in four regional training sessions this past year. You can view his summaries here http://www.oacs.org/author/justinc/ to see the work of the teachers he is spotlighting and the excellent presentation Prezis he has put together.

Ontario Christian schools have a legacy of producing thoughtful, biblically integrated curriculum for Christian schools and now through bold leaders, vision, and teamwork are producing excellent models to lead Christian educational practice into the future. Keep up the great work!

Leave a comment

Filed under Biblical worldview, change, curriculum, staff development, student outcomes

Promising developments to support Christian education

Recently I learned of several encouraging developments within organizations to support and promote the cause of Christian education. I will list ones I am aware of in this article and I invite you to share other resources in the comments section below.

CACE graphicIn November, Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa announced that they had received funding from the Verdoorn Foundation to set up the Center for the Advancement of Christian Education, or CACE for short. The goal of the center is to “help innovate, improve, sustain, and promote Christian education at the primary, secondary, and college/university levels.” In the words of President Erik Hoekstra, the Center will become “an information hub and provider of consulting expertise to Christian schools. The center will serve school boards, school leaders, teacher leaders, parents, and churches as a clearinghouse for Christian education innovation.” The work of the Center will focus in five areas:

  1. School Improvement and Innovation
  2. Pastor/Church Leadership and Development
  3. School Operations and Sustainability
  4. Sociological Research
  5. Political Action and Advocacy

Five to seven Fellows will work in these areas with schools on behalf of the Center, and the Center will be led by Education Department chair Dr. Tim Van Soelen.

cardusCardus, the Hamilton, Ontario think tank, and authors of the Cardus research on Christian schooling, announced the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative in partnership with the University of Notre Dame. Besides seeking to generate new theoretical and empirical tools for understanding religious schools, one of their main goals is to provide timely and informative summaries of existing research on religious schools, with the intention of making research accessible to multiple audiences. I am intrigued by the research evaluations already listed here. The report that may be of particular interest to CSI schools is “What Parents Want,” a recent Fordham Institute report based on a survey of American parents regarding the educational goals and the school characteristics that are most important to them. You can read the CRSI report here. You can also sign up for their education newsletter to receive updates.

a6bb37_5e568272d04c6a4002d08c018e378d6d.jpg_srz_p_175_125_75_22_0.50_1.20_0I would also like to share information about a couple of other groups that are being led by former CSI principals. Harriet Potoka, founding principal of Daystar School in downtown Chicago, is serving as the Executive Director of the Center for Christian Urban Education, a collaborative effort of Trinity Christian College and the Bright Promise Fund. Its purpose is stated as: “The Center provides a professional network for Christians involved in private, public, and Christian schooling in the unique context of urban life in North America.  It serves as a school improvement network, a center for conferences and symposia for urban Christian educators and utilizes the schools of the Bright Promise Fund as lab schools for teacher education and the sharing of best practices.”

Edusource logoThree “retired” CSI administrators provide leadership for about 50 Christian schools within a 70 mile radius of Chattanooga, TN through the work of Edusource Unlimited and the Southeast Center: Don Holwerda is the Executive Director and lead person with the SE Center activities, Larry Kooi is the Director of Operations and Outreach, and Barry Koops is the Director of Christian School Executive Search. They provide training to local schools through workshops and seminars to develop and implement plans to help schools achieve and maintain sustainability. They also seek to strengthen executive functions, develop programs and best practices for sustainability, and serve as a resource for innovation.

I am very encouraged by these ways that Christian education can be nurtured and encouraged! Thanks to those who have the vision of service and of coming alongside  leaders in Christian schools. I am sure I am missing many other good efforts going on out there to support Christian education. Would you please take a moment to share other efforts that I may be missing?

Leave a comment

Filed under change, distinctively Christian, leadership, mission development, resources

Four critical considerations for school improvement

School improvement is an ongoing task and should never be completed. In their quest to improve, schools should give consideration to critical questions.  I have tried to simplify the improvement process into four questions/steps and four alliterative concepts: Clarity, Consistency, Collaboration, and Constituents. The relationship of the questions, concepts, possible tools, and processes is shown in the table below:

school imp 4 things graphic

The first three concepts are listed in a logical order of implementation. Until we have clarity we cannot have surety of consistency. Until we have consistency we will not have the most effective form of collaboration – around student work.  While one could argue that this whole process is caring about constituents, I would like to suggest that our caring in the fourth step is much more specific and intentional – we are seeking to get honest feedback about the question of meeting our overall goals for each learner.

Leave a comment

Filed under change, classroom, curriculum, leadership, mission development, resources, staff development

A few things that caught my eye

Best way to take lecture notes – can you imagine everyone in the hall using this technology? :)

Here’s a RSA Animate style video explaining Common Core State Standards:

For over 180 videos of lesson ideas for teaching Common Core, check out this resource.

Still struggling to “get” Twitter? Are you a “Lurker”, “Participant” or “Author”? Here is a good intro video that explains the stages.

If you have tried Twitter and gone away from it, maybe this video from a University of Alaska professor will be helpful.

I love helpful visual diagrams! Katie Ritter has put together three very helpful ones. The one below that she calls Backwards EdTech Tool Flow Chart starts with the question “What do you want students to do?” and then moves to a guiding question. Depending on the answer you can move to a link to an appropriate web tool for them to use. Click here to access the chart. The other two tools that she created for her teachers at her school are also in PDF’s with clickable links. You can access them here.

Ritter chart

Excellent interview/article: Coming Out in the CRC: YALT’s Interview with Ryan Struyk – for those of you reading this and wondering about the abbreviations – the CRC stands for the Christian Reformed Church – the founding denomination of many schools in CSI (Christian Schools International) and YALT stands for the Young Adult Leadership Task Force.

Image of God – self perception vs. perception by others – does this get at why it is hard for us to accept grace and see ourselves as God sees us – as lovable and redeemed? Dove put together this video that has become the most watched online video ad ever according to this source.

Is this why glass ceilings persist and women are still paid less than men for the same work? Sheryl Sandburg, COO of Facebook, talks about if a businesswoman can be competent and nice in their work.

Here is a link to a commercial demonstrating the double standard that exists, as well as references to the full study done at Harvard.

The influence of grandparents on faith development –   interesting research results from USC sociologist Vern Bengston.

Great perspective piece on what Christmas is all about – A Christmas Apology, and the Seeds of Hope from Rachel Held Evans.

Write your own caption for this pic below from Paul Shirky which he calls School vs. Life! In any case, it speaks to the significance of our task as educators – helping kids make sense out the mess and at the same time connecting things back together in beautiful ways – blessings on your new calendar year ahead!

School vs. life -  paul shircliff @shirky17

Leave a comment

Filed under Biblical worldview, change, curriculum, discernment, encouraging the heart, image of God, resources, student outcomes

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Biblical worldview, board governance, change, church partnering, history

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!

Leave a comment

Filed under book, change, classroom, community, curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, kids/culture

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

What Do I Teach That A YouTube Video Can’t?

(Thanks to my friend Bryant Russ, Bible teacher at Lansing (MI) Christian School, for sharing this blog post.)

What do I teach that a YouTube video can’t?

YouTubeThis question has been on my mind since last week when I learned more about the universe in three days of watching educational Internet videos than I had in four years of high school science classes.  No joke.  I made a list of all the things I wanted to know about science—everything from what is a molecule? to Is time really relative?—and hit the web.  Sites such as Coursera.com, TedEd, ITunes U, and Minute Physics on YouTube provided engaging, comprehensive, and understandable lessons that led me through each one of my questions and offered new ones to continue my online education.  Oh yeah, and did I mention that all this was free?

So back to the question: What do I teach that a YouTube video can’t?  This question is important to me because I’d like to know that I couldn’t be replaced by a computer.  Unfortunately, after close inspection I’ve found that much of what I’m doing, and much of what most teachers are doing, can be done—and often better—by the Internet.  If this is the case, why shouldn’t I be replaced by a screen?

Twenty years ago it was the job of a teacher to relay information to the students.  Teach them charts, methods, dates, important people and events.  But has the role of a teacher changed now that students could pass just about every quiz and test we give them if allowed to use their phones?  Has the Internet altered the game?  If the world has changed, and significantly, since this educational structure was conceived, shouldn’t we start considering what we teach that a Youtube video can’t before we’re all swapped out for iPads?

I’m not suggesting teachers abandon relaying information and giving instruction, but perhaps it’s time to shift the focus of education.  Let me propose two things a teacher can do—and must do—to become irreplaceable.

1.  Teachers can inspire interest, ignite curiosity, and kindle a love of learning in students. I would go so far as to suggest this is the primary role of a twenty-first century teacher.  If your students read what they’re supposed to read, answer what they’re supposed to answer, and memorize what they’re supposed to memorize, but do not continue to learn your subject when the year is over then you have failed them—regardless of their report card grades.  Your job is to get them interested.  Why?  Think about it.  If they have an interest in your subject, whether you’re teaching literature or biology, they will continue to learn about it outside the classroom (i.e. more learning will happen) and at a significantly higher level of engagement (i.e. better learning will happen).  You might not be as necessary for the relaying of information as were teachers twenty years ago, but you are just as important for sparking interest in the students so that they will seek multiple available resources for attaining the information.  How can you do this?

  • Demonstrate interest, curiosity, and a love of learning.  If you’re not interested, curious, or in love with learning, please stop teaching.  As a wise mentor teacher once told me, “You teach who you are more than you teach your subject.”
  • Ask big, important questions.  So often I find myself giving answers to questions that students couldn’t care less about.  If they don’t care about the question, why would they care about the answer?  We must be giving students questions—and big ones!  Let your natural curiosity (see bullet 1) help guide what you do in class to the point that your students feel invited into a search for the answers to their important questions.
  • Avoid using grades as motivation or a threat (“If you do this you’ll get an ‘A’” and “If you don’t do this your grade will suffer”).  This is like putting the wrong kind of gas into a car.  I get so annoyed when a student asks, “Is this going to be on the test?” or “Do I have to know this?” or “How many points is this worth?” and yet, I have to admit it’s our fault.  We create these grade-obsessed creatures and almost always destroy natural interest in a subject when we use assessment for something it was never intended to be.  (I can say with confidence that I am more eager and excited to learn than I have ever been in my life.  I told my wife this; she said, “Too bad this didn’t happen about 15 years ago.”  I replied, “15 years ago I was much too busy with school to be excited about learning.”)

2.  Teachers can initiate and facilitate creativity in students.  Put simply, our students shouldn’t just be learning stuff; they should be making stuff.  I have never been more proud as a teacher than when my students make something (or make something happen) that they are excited about and invested in.  In fact, I recently challenged my students with a project that demanded interest, investment, and hard work…then I let them go.  To my surprise, not only did just about every single student get a ‘A’, but they worked so much harder (and learned so much more) than if they had simply been asked to regurgitate what they had memorized on a test.  Our students are itching to do something; to make something.  Unfortunately, it’s much easier to give a test than to offer and assist an opportunity to be creative.  The irony is that when given the opportunity to do something significant it is often the unengaged, ADD kid who surprises you with something great.  So many of our students are itching to just do something!  Not only does this promote a higher level of learning (what is the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy again?) but it allows young men and women to have a purpose for coming to school.  The creative person is the most valuable asset in today’s changing world, so shouldn’t we be focused on making creators?

While I am completely aware of the challenges of actually being this kind of teacher in a classroom filled with 25 rambunctious teenagers, I am totally committed to moving in this direction in order to distinguish myself from a machine that could otherwise do my job.

6 Comments

Filed under change, classroom, curriculum, discernment, leadership, resources, staff development, student outcomes

Are you a leader with PEP?

As I have thought recently about effective leadership at the principal, superintendent, and head of school level in Christian schools, it occurs to me that there are at least three areas that are critical to do the job effectively. I have identified these areas with the acronym PEP – Priorities, Entrepreneurialism, and People Centeredness.

Priorities:

The leader of a school plays a critical role as spiritual leader.  I believe that, like a teacher modeling for students, the modeling of the leader is critical for the entire school staff. The leader encourages or discourages spiritual growth and calls the followers to goodness or inadvertently gives permission for poor behavior because of the leader’s poor example. Great leaders must demonstrate consistently implemented values and a transparent worldview. They must determine, and commit to, what is most important for the school – communicating this clearly and often. They help others set priorities that promote and enhance the mission and vision of the school. They are the chief mission and vision carriers, the key person who reminds others what the school stands for, how it is distinctive and true to its mission, and where it hopes to head in the future. They must be “passioneers” with integrity – if they are not the lead cheerleader, who will take on that role? Strong leaders seek to embed the mission and vision of the school in people, policy, processes, and practice.

screen 22Entrepreneurialism:

The leader of the school demonstrates an attitude of continuous learning and improvement, open to and seeking out new ideas. Leaders relish feedback about the school for improvement and search out new opportunities for the school to impact their students, the school community, and the world. They are willing to take risks, encouraging and supporting innovation in teaching and learning. They are purposeful in helping others to embrace a larger vision and commit to a multi-year plan of improvement. They seek excellence by benchmarking results and utilizing research based best practices. They model being the chief learner and work to establish a culture of learning.  They are uneasy with the status quo and have a passion for true worship/service, desiring to offer their very best as praise to God.

People centeredness:

The focus of the leader should be to genuinely love all the people he/she serves. Leaders must truly seek the best for each person – demonstrating this by seeking to put in place processes and policies that help to develop the capacity of each person.  They must see the image of Christ in each person and seek to understand their gifts and potential contribution to the school. Leaders need to put in place professional development processes and leadership structures that encourage and challenge staff members to develop their gifts and to grow as a learning leader. Leaders must be careful to balance grace and truth in their interactions, processes, and accountability structures.

Leadership is not easy – it requires all kinds of “above and beyond” efforts and a heart that is attuned to, and seeks, God’s leading and wisdom. Yet what is sometimes unsaid is that it can be a very rewarding experience to be able to work with, and impact in positive ways, the lives of students, teachers, staff, parents, and community. When leaders are filled with “PEP” they are a huge blessing to all in their school and community.

3 Comments

Filed under Biblical worldview, change, distinctively Christian, leadership, mission development

Flourishing – thinking divergently and creatively about problems/solutions

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

Are we fogging the mirror? The statement,“We believe all children are made in the image of God,” has powerful consequences that I invite you to think about related to this aspect of flourishing. Are the ways we teach our students encouraging them to be more creative and divergent thinkers and therefore increasing their flourishing? A flourishing student is certainly one who demonstrates a developed sense of thinking divergently and creatively about problems and solutions. How can this capability be developed and enhanced over the course of a student’s educational experience? One of the things that we grieve in the process of the education of children is the loss of creativity. In his well-known video, Sir Ken Robinson alludes to the book, Breakpoints and Beyond ,and a test of creativity. The gist of this study, and his point, is that creativity diminishes each year from kindergarten forward. Robinson wryly suggests that the common denominator in life for children is that they have attended school. A sad commentary!

Robinson is not alone in his concerns. In a recent blog post entitled “My Son is 8. He is a Maker,” professor Scott McLeod, writes about his 8 year old son, lamenting that the process of “making” is getting squashed out of his son’s life by school. Others who have had a similar personal experience share their stories in the comments to this post. I especially was touched by the woman writing about her 16 year old daughter’s experiences and the comment by a teacher who is attempting to teach her AP English class creatively.

School has wounded some learners and damaged their creativity and divergent thinking. In fact, wounds of creativity are one of the several types of wounds listed by author Kirsten Olson in her book Wounded by School. This controversial book says that the way we educate millions of American children alienates students from a fundamental pleasure in learning, and that pleasure in learning is essential to real engagement, creativity, intellectual entrepreneurship, and a well-lived life.

As Christians, we believe that each person bears God’s image and that we reflect his goodness, beauty, and creativity. I have asked the question previously in this blog: “If we ‘kill creativity’ through teaching that puts kids to sleep (physically or mentally!) and don’t encourage/allow children to be creative, have we limited their opportunity to image God?” This is a very sobering thought!

We have an unprecedented array of both technological tools and global awareness/opportunities today as we work with students. In his new book, Brain Gain – Marc Prensky, best known for his “digital native, digital immigrant” language, argues that technology actually complements and frees the mind for greater creativity. It is up to us as teachers and administrators to build an encouraging environment/opportunities, give permission/encourage students, and create a culture of expectation for creative work.

A word about standards and creativity – they are not in opposition to each other – it is not an either/or scenario. In the McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning) paper Five Things That Make the Biggest Difference in Schools, Bryan Goodwin suggests: “Standards should not be the ends of education, but rather the beginning, the platform for creativity, innovation, and personalization.” As we now recognize, creativity is at the top of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy – how perfect that the highest thing we can do is to image our creator’s creativity!

Some creativity links for you to explore:

What would happen if we “Let Kids Rule the School”?

Creative cities are happy cities – towns where learning is held highly and creative work is valued.

A creative young maker demonstrating creative things kids can do: Sylvia

Curriculum of Creativity – a compilation of ideas.

What might be done to produce different learning environments that stimulate creativity?

Will Richardson blog post: “How do we help our students establish themselves as a “node” in a broad, global network of creativity and learning? Shouldn’t that be one of the fundamental questions that drives our work in schools right now?”

Video creation –  by Rushton Hurley – Next Vista for Learning – five minute videos created by students about things to be learned, global study and service.

Careful – this video is just for fun, but you may recognize something you have said to stifle creativity: “Anti-creativity checklist” created by Youngme Moon, Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.

And to close, some wonderful creative student efforts happening at two of our CSI schools in Canada:

Toronto District – Unique Programs

Abbotsford Christian – Student Showcase

1 Comment

Filed under change, classroom, curriculum, image of God, kids/culture, mission development, resources, staff development, student outcomes, worship

Developing a Personal Learning Network via Twitter – part 2

images(Thanks to my friend Dave Mulder, Instructor of Education at Dordt College, for sharing this blog post! Part 1 appeared last month (to read it scroll down the blog.) Dave teaches courses in educational foundations, methods for teaching science, and educational technology. He blogs on teaching, learning, technology, students, faith, and school culture at iTeach and iLearn.

Twitter as Part of Your PLN

I joined Twitter back in 2009, but it took a little time for me to find it a valuable resource for my own personal professional development. That is mostly because I wasn’t doing it right. Since then I’ve changed some of my practices using Twitter, and now it is one of the main parts of my PLN (Personal Learning Network.)  Here are a few things I started doing that made Twitter so invaluable:

  • Follow people who share your interests. Since Twitter is asymmetrical, I can follow all sorts of people and find out what they are reading and tweeting. Since I’m most interested in using Twitter as part of my PLN, I follow quite a few educators—both practicing teachers as well as educational theorists. These folks tend to share things about teaching or school culture that I find valuable.
  • Use #hashtags to find and follow topics that interest you. You can search for hashtags on pretty much any topic you can think of that you might teach. #chemistry. #kindergarten. #VeteransDay. #UnderwaterBasketWeaving. Interested in educational technology? Try #edtech. General education topics? Try #edchat.
  • Use a Twitter client. You can sign up for an account right at Twitter’s website and use the social network through the site, but I’ve found it easier to keep track of things I’m interested in by using a Twitter client—a program designed to organize my Twitterfeed and use hashtags  to help keep track of conversations. I’ve been using TweetDeck, but I’ve also heard good things about HootSuite. (Both of these are free to download and safe to install.) For those on iOS or Android devices, you might consider Tweetcaster or Flipboard. (These are also free apps.) Do you need a Twitter client? No. But it might help you keep track of topics you are following.
  • Post things yourself! Here’s the deal: if you are benefiting from things other people are posting, share the wealth! Tweet links to great resources you find. Tweet your questions out to your followers and see what kinds of answers you might get. Retweet things other users have shared so your followers can profit as well. Reply to tweets from the people you follow, and you might be surprised by the big names in education who communicate back with you directly!

Proposing a New Hashtag

I’ve been thinking lately about how we in Christian Education can support and encourage each other—serving as a PLN for other Christian teachers—and how we might use Twitter to do this.  So I’m proposing a new hashtag: #ChrEd. When you find great resources, tweet them with the #ChrEd tag to denote them as related to Christian Education. I think #ChrEd is short enough that it won’t take up too many of your 140 characters, but descriptive enough that people will know what you’re tweeting about.

If you aren’t on Twitter yet, sign up! I think you’ll find it a valuable part of your PLN. Feel free to follow me (@d_mulder), and if you call me out by my @username, I’ll follow you back. Let’s support each other in the task of teaching Christianly!

3 Comments

Filed under change, resources, staff development

Developing a Personal Learning Network via Twitter – part 1

(Thanks to my friend Dave Mulder, Instructor of Education at Dordt College, for sharing this blog post! Please look for Part 2 next month and in the meantime, send him a tweet!)

Think with me for a minute: Where do you go when you need advice, support, or new ideas for your teaching practice? Certainly formal professional development (PD) meetings have value for this, but you probably have other resources in education that you tap into as well. Do you turn to particular colleagues in your building? Do you email or visit with friends teaching in other schools? Are there journals, books, professional organizations, or websites that you use? All of these make up your personal learning network (PLN).

imagesConsider your PLN…
Have you given much thought to your PLN? While large-group, general topic PD certainly still has its place in the realm of education today, many teachers I have spoken with express their desire for more targeted PD tailored to their individual classroom situation. (And let’s face it: if we believe differentiated instruction is good for our students, we also ought to own the fact that it’s good for us teachers as well!) Developing your PLN may help to provide you with more personally relevant PD. Enter Twitter.

A Short Introduction to Twitter
By now I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Twitter, even if you haven’t joined up. Twitter is a social network, and while perhaps not quite as popular as Facebook (“only” 500 million users, opposed to over 900 million for Facebook) there are a great many people sharing about a great many topics. And that fact means Twitter has some real benefits as a part of a PLN.

Twitter launched in 2006 as a microblogging site, and you’re still limited to 140 characters when posting (“tweeting”) to Twitter. The real benefit I see in this is that you have to be pithy and creative in sharing your message—or use your post to link to a blog post or YouTube video or other resource to share your ideas with more depth.

A key difference between Twitter and other popular social networks is that Twitter is asymmetrical: you can follow people on Twitter without them necessarily following you back. As counter examples, Facebook and LinkedIn are symmetrical: i.e., you have to mutually confirm that you have some sort of relationship with the person with whom you are connecting. I’ve found that Twitter is thus a different sort of community than Facebook, one better designed for broadcasting ideas to a wider audience.

Your username on Twitter is designated with an “@” symbol;, mine is @d_mulder. These @usernames help you communicate with fellow users as you tweet. For example, if you would tweet, “Hey @d_mulder, check out my blog!” I would be notified that you tagged me in your message, and I’d be more likely to respond.

One more unique thing for using Twitter: you can tag subjects using the “#” symbol. #hashtags are a shorthand way of flagging a topic of interest that other users can search for. You can hashtag anything, but it’s usually good form to only use a couple of tags in each tweet. For example, if you really wanted me to read your blog, you might tweet, “Hey @d_mulder, check out my blog! #science #teaching” Adding these hashtags tells me what I’ll find when I get there, and make me more likely to check it out.

5 Comments

Filed under change, resources, staff development

An intriguing bag of “learning” gifts at year’s end

Wow – it’s the end of the year already – 2012 has flown by! It is time for a number of hopefully helpful, inspirational, or intriguing goodies that I like to share with you. Enjoy the collection and in the spirit of Christmas pass on to others what you think they may find helpful!

Let’s start out with some science:

One of David Mulder’s science education students at Dordt College – Amber VanderVeen – has put together an online resource website. Thanks, Amber and Dave!

One of the science teachers at Lansing (MI) Christian, Omar Bjarki, made me aware recently of a YouTube channel called Minute Physics. Here you will find fascinating topics relating to physics explained in a matter of minutes. Great for your class or your own learning! Thanks, Omar!

I recently overheard a middle school science teacher raving about the Forensic Science Unit on this middle school teacher science site.

I am always on the lookout for new ways to encourage reading. This caught my eye – 8 Free IPad Apps for Young Learners.

I have mentioned Bloom’s Taxonomy so many more times than I thought ever likely when I first learned it! Here is a nicely explained version of the latest taxonomy including the creating aspect.

I am seeing a lot more blogging activity by principals, teachers and students, which is encouraging! See what the best bloggers are doing – here are the latest Edublog 2012 awards for various types of blogs that have been deemed to be the very best!

What could we learn from Finland? I blogged about this in September 2012  and here is an interesting selection of some of the differences: 26 Amazing Facts About Finland’s Unorthodox Education System.

Provocative Dept.#1: Are we paying attention to what our students are saying? Are we asking them what they think about how they are learning? They may be saying: “I hate school, but I love learning!” Check out what the kids are saying in these videos.

Provocative Dept. #2: What would schools look like if we were organized around the idea of students as empowered, passionate, interested, self-directed learners? Here is a quick summary and current critique by a high school sophomore at a Tedx youth event.

Project based learning has grown in popularity – want to know more? The two best resources are The Buck Institute  and Edutopia. Here is a nice stream on project based learning at the early grades.

Blended learning – want to know more? Here is a very helpful report from FSG (a non-profit consulting and research company) entitled: Blended Learning in Practice: Case Studies from Leading Schools.

Are any of your teachers using Learnist.com? “It’s like a Pinterest for education, as it allows users to collect web resources and add them to “Learnboards” to educate an audience about a particular subject.” – Hauna Zaich, Edutopia.

The end of higher education as we know it? Here’s a good short article on the impact of the rise of MOOC’s!

Are badges a better way for kids to show what they know? Here are six frames to help us understand badges’ potential for showing student learning inside and outside of school. Also – Learn “Why a Badge is Better than an A+”.

40 Predictions for the Future  – an excellent list by Tom Vander Ark.

If Pinterest is new to you, you should check out the neat way resources are organized. Here is a really helpful Pinterest site by New Tech that is dealing with educational topics.

What is the correlation between socio-economic status and achievement? An oft debated topic thoughtfully dealt with by Grant Wiggins.

A 1980's smartphone!

This was your smartphone in 1980!
Source: pic.twitter.com/UfMyU8KH

I got a kick out of this picture of the technology available in the 1980’s (see right) that is now all contained in our smartphones – amazing!

If you enjoyed my blog post on World Class Learners by Yong Zhao or would like to know more, here is a link to a 9 minute audio entitled World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students.

Great info about the value of education and teachers in this report A Dozen Economic Facts by The Hamilton Project, part of the Brookings Institution.

Dr. Todd Hall has been doing some amazing research on the spiritual lives of Christian college students – here is an overview.  I encouraged schools to consider using his Spiritual Transformation Inventory in 2007-  – if any of you are using it I would love to hear from you!

I leave you with some good humor: “O Fortuna – bring more tuna” – this is what happens when we don’t understand the words – you will not ever hear this piece of music again without these images popping into your head – have a wonderful Christmas break!

Leave a comment

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

Disability Awareness: A gift for your use!

I have been amazed by the amount of progress that has been made during the last thirty plus years in our approaches with special needs students. I feel I can make that statement because, as a student seeking a special education degree those many years ago, I remember when laws such as Public Law 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act), also known as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), had just been passed. We were in the beginning stages of learning how to best educate students in a “least restrictive environment.” I believe that in the Christian education community we are making significant progress with both educating students in inclusive settings and building understanding and appreciation for inclusive students with our entire student populations.

I am delighted to pass along a gift to you and your schools from a former colleague of mine, Dr. Kathleen VanTol, education professor at Dordt College in the areas of Special Education and Teaching English Language Learners. Her students have put together a 24 page Disability Awareness Unit suitable for use in K-8 schools. Each grade will study a different disability and there are devotionals and a 15 minutes a day lessons that include teaching ideas, video links, and interactive activities.

This unit is very timely – below is the introduction the students included with the unit:

Inclusive Schools Week is the first week of December. Inclusive Schools Week is an annual event that celebrates students who have disabilities while encouraging all students to acknowledge that students are more alike than different!  Making our students more aware of disabilities is one way that they can see things from others’ perspectives.  Working to make our schools more inclusive is a constant goal.  Knowing more about different disabilities will help students become more prepared to be inclusive of children with disabilities within their own classrooms as well as through daily interactions outside of the classroom.

Many thanks to Dr. VanTol and Dordt students for sharing this great resource!

24 Comments

Filed under change, classroom, community, curriculum, devotional, encouraging the heart, image of God, 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.

1 Comment

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

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?

5 Comments

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

Are you moving far enough? (The inadequacy of standards)

There has been a lot of talk in the school world this year about “moving to the Common Core” (don’t tune out dear Canadian readers – this will apply to you too!) and what that might mean. I see this movement as a good thing overall – at best it gives us in the States a sounder set of standards and common language. At the least, it gets schools who have been not focused on curriculum renewal back to a focus on what should be happening in their core business – teaching and learning.

And yet, I wonder if the “movement” will result in anything more productive for any school? Don’t get me wrong – I am all for aligning to a common set of standards, but my concern is that we simply stop there after alignment.  After all, meeting a standard, while admirable, is only reaching a certain level of competence. That has been my point in the recent flourishing conversation that I have raised in this blog. Translating the idea of standards to real life may be helpful in making my point.

If I am an employee of a company/school/institution, there are certain standards and expectations. They are laid out in a job description. The standards may be formal and informal, written or unwritten. If I meet the standards it can be said that I am doing my job – but these standards likely don’t speak to all aspects of who I can be in the position and what I can bring to my employer. They don’t spell out levels of creativity, of caring, of passion, as I go about my work and interact with others and carry out my work. These aspects are the “value add” pieces that I might bring to my work – that go beyond an expected standard. These aspects are the way that we bring joy into our work and life, and what we enjoy and appreciate about others.

Standards are not enough for any school, let alone a Christian school.  We can’t just stop at kids meeting standards and expect that that is good enough. Our job is to get them to the goal of flourishing. In the Christian school context that includes connecting head, heart, and hands. It includes helping them to see God’s design in creation and understand his passionate desire for relationship with them. It also means teaching students how to act on his desire to make all things new in creation and relationships, wherever he calls them to work someday.

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!

4 Comments

Filed under change, classroom, distinctively Christian, mission development, student assessments, student outcomes

What bothers me about the current state of teacher evaluation

Here are some of the issues that concern me about the recent efforts to ramp up the teacher evaluation process in the U.S.

  • The current discussion largely ignores research on the adult learner – we can intensify motivation, but cannot make people change unless they want to. So, how do we increase the “want to” without resorting to high accountability/sticks all the time?
  • The current accountability situation in the U.S. has the cart ahead of the horse – we are in the midst of a quantum change around Common Core and in the meantime politicians have asked for educators to use a true “value-added” assessment before effective instruments have been put in place.
  • There are very few true “value-added” tests and the concept itself is being questioned. (For more on this viewpoint see this excellent article by Linda Darling Hammond.)
  • Student achievement is only part of the equation – we should seek not minimum competence but flourishing – for students to desire to learn and to be creative and curious – not the regurgitation of information from their short-term memory that will be forgotten next week. (see following post)
  • We can and ought to do better in Christian education – we should be seeing each teacher as an image-bearer who needs encouragement and appropriate direction, not simply a producer of great student test scores. How will we choose to work with our teachers – toward student growth/flourishing and their own growth as individuals?

For further reading:

A comprehensive overview of the issues in the field by Charlotte Danielson – author of the Framework for Teaching – still the best description/rubrics of effective teaching practice that I have seen.

Here is a helpful and insightful blog post by Kyle Hunsberger written from a teacher perspective.

Leave a comment

Filed under change, image of God, leadership, staff development, student outcomes

A provocative manifesto!

I first heard of, and then peeked, at Seth Godin’s manifesto, “Stop Stealing Dreams,” via Twitter. I was reminded of it again by one of the regular readers/commenters on this blog – thanks, Jim P.! This manifesto is one of the more thought provoking works I have read in the past year. The manifesto/book is available free for download – the link is at the end of this post.

I want to highlight some of the ideas as an inducement to get you to read the entire manifesto – well worth an hour or two to read through this provocative and thoughtful writing. The manifesto consists of 132 short paragraphs in large print spread over 191 pages – so I will list the paragraph number and the page number as dual references to particular ideas or quotes.

  • 4/12 – What is school for? To his points I would add – what are the distinctive goals of Christian schools?
  • 8/21 – “Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?” To which I would add – does it produce a passion in kids for the kingdom of Jesus Christ?
  • 11/24 – “Do we need more fear? Less passion?” ; 29/45, 46 – fear and passion as the two tools that educators have to work with
  • 14/27 – Seth’s question for school boards: “What are you doing to fuel my kid’s dreams?”
  • 17/29 – A dozen ways to reinvent school
  • 22/37, 94/128 – Scarcity and abundance
  • 39/61 – Assemblers or linchpins/artists?
  • 40/62, 63 – Why school needs to be more like FIRST robotics
  • 57-60/82-88 – The problem of small dreams and dreamers
  • 73/105 – Slader – Cliff Notes for math – see any problem worked out
  • 74/107 – The role of the teacher in a post union era
  • 90/124 – Average American’s annual amount of reading and high student expectations
  • 92/127 – Do kids achieve because of or in spite of schooling?
  • 95/130, 116/161, 124/175, 127/180, 129/183 – The coming melt-down of colleges
  • 106/146 – Why not teach these topics instead?
  • 113/156 – What is the value of advanced math?
  • 121/169 – Why homeschooling isn’t the answer for most
  • 123/174 – The new role of libraries

I hope you take the time to read this manifesto and reflect on what Godin is saying. He is making a significant contribution to the discussion how school needs to change and focus on different kinds of things with kids. Here is the link to access the material.

3 Comments

Filed under book, change, leadership, mission development, staff development, student outcomes

12 interesting things to explore

Here is a current listing of some things I found mentally stimulating:

I really enjoyed reading John Suk’s book: Not Sure: A Pastor’s Journey from Faith to Doubt. Maybe it is because we are similar ages, but I felt like I could really relate to his description of growing up in the culture of the same denomination. He takes us through the past and present of Christian belief by looking at history and reflecting on his own personal faith development. It is a painfully honest, yet hopeful book about a faith journey that a faith that lives and deals with doubt, a faith that receives grace as a little child.

A friend, who heard that I would be speaking in Hungary and Romania, suggested that I check out the site Live Mocha  to learn some phrases. What a great tool – it says the word, shows a picture, and takes you through self-paced lessons – for free!

Another friend mentioned that he was in a study group on the book, Wasting Minds: Why Our Education System is Failing and What We Can Do About It by Ronald Wolk. I am about 2/3rds of the way through the book and appreciate the fact that the author (former editor of Education Week for 20+ years) is speaking boldly about problems and solutions. My favorite quote so far: “We will make real progress only when we realize our problem in education is not mainly one of performance but one of design. It is the obsolete and flawed design of the conventional public school that accounts for the poor performance of a great many students.” (p.25)

Infographics have grown in popularity – they are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. The graphic on the left comes from Daily Infographic and another leading site is visual.ly. The big news is that you can now create your own infographics – here are the details and you can also visit visual.ly. What a cool way to present information!

Did you know that the Blue Man Group is starting a school? What are the implications of this school that encourages better learning through fun?

The idea of digital learning badges is gaining traction and should give colleges and universities some pause. What are the implications for hgher education if I can learn anything from anyone at anytime and get a badge/certification of my competency? Would an electronic portfolio through a site like Mahara be more descriptive of my skills, abilities, and passions? Mozilla, the open source organization behind the Firefox browser has been a key leader in the Open Badges movement.  Here is a great aggregation of information on badges and here are some examples of how this is working in real life.

Perhaps by now you have heard of TED Talks – short, stimulating lectures of less than 20 minutes or less – if not, Google it or go to YouTube for videos or ITunes for podcasts. The exciting news of this past week is that TED has now launched TED-Ed – a new educational channel on YouTube. They hope to add free video lessons to help educators supplement their curriculum.

The latest Pew Foundation report on teens, smartphones, and texting can be read here.

If you have IPads at your disposal, or just have one of your own, here are “40 Most Awesome Science Apps”  that really do look very cool!

For my Canadian friends, a research based answer to the question: “Do Dual Credit Programs Help Students Succeed?”

Nice 5 minute movie  on Project Based Learning and Student Engagement in Dawson Creek, BC – note the reference to dual enrollment.

Here’s what it can look like when schools move toward making 21st Century education happen.

Leave a comment

Filed under change, devotional, resources, staff development

If only we could focus better!

“Simplicity, clarity, and priority would be a dream scenario for our school!” a teacher told me. “How can we start to get there?” asked another. I could tell from the passion in their voices that they had been deeply frustrated by years of initiatives, lack of clarity, and failed improvement efforts. They almost didn’t dare believe that simplicity, clarity, and priority were possible, but were still willing to strive for those elusive goals.

Simplicity, clarity, and priority are addressed in chapter one of Mike Schmoker’s new book, Focus: Elevating the Essentials To Radically Improve Student Learning, and I think that through this book he has put an elbow into the sore spot of the backs of most North America educators – “it hurts so good that I know I need to do something about it!” His premise simply is that we have not taken the time to identify what we really need to be doing in terms of what we teach and how we teach. How can we gain clarity if we have not truly identified a “guaranteed and viable” curriculum? How do we set priority when looking at hundreds of standards in a content area? Why do we ignore things that are proven to work, such as the development and implementation of common assessments?

In the first chapters, Schmoker accurately describes educator frustrations and examines what we teach and how we teach. He makes an argument for simplification and focus on reading, writing, and authentic literacy skills. In the succeeding chapters he goes subject by subject and boldly suggests, according to research, what we should be emphasizing in each of the subject areas. This is not a “back to the basics” book, but a valuable book that identifies best practice that is advantageous in any instructional setting.

If you only could choose one book to read and discuss with your staff this year, this one would be a worthy choice. There is a lot of practical stuff in this book to push up against and have lively and productive discussion around. Schmoker has moved the discussion off the dime – I recommend you give it a read.

Leave a comment

Filed under change, classroom, curriculum, leadership, resources

Tough Question #3: Collaboration – a Christian responsibility?

Source: troglodyteking via Flickr

Something that has troubled me in recent years is the degree to which Christian schools collaborate and work together for the greater good. I have become increasingly concerned as the recent North American recession has brought a few things to greater light. Declining enrollment and budget shortfalls (due in some part to the troubled economy) should be encouraging us to work together even more for a common vision of Christian education.  I am deeply saddened when I’ve learned that some schools would rather maintain identity and pride of place than do what is best for families and students, and ultimately, the kingdom. Sometimes this is a parent problem and sometimes a board/administration problem.

A friend was recently telling me about how, due to low numbers, he was unable to offer a particular athletic program. His solution was to check with two other local Christian schools so see if his students could join with their team. The other two schools were fine with students coming over and joining their teams. When my friend offered these options to the parents, some parents were angry and said that their children would never join the other Christian school teams. One can only speculate – did old athletic rivalry mean that much to the parents that they would rather deny their children an opportunity, as opposed to letting them play for that rival Christian school? Aren’t we supposed to be on the same team? The same parents would not have a problem with their children playing on city recreation teams or “traveling” teams, but wouldn’t join another Christian school team! I was incredulous, but my friend insisted he was not making this up.

Perhaps even more dramatic examples occur when schools lose enrollment over a number of years, yet refuse to have their students join with another larger Christian school nearby. They cut programs and opportunities for students, try to sell parents on the personal, small school aspect, but largely end up offering an inferior education and ask enormous sacrifices of their teachers and administrators – low pay, little or no professional development, and heavy workloads. This is not excellence – these schools are bleeding to death, yet refuse to collaborate or close doors.

We are dealing with issues of pride and a lack of stewardship in these situations. Don’t get me wrong; small schools can be vibrant and wonderful places. But if pride of place and identity gets in the way of what is best for kids and the nurturence of their faith,  I believe we are better stewards if we seek to share our resources for the common good rather than prop up something that is not excellent. If we can’t offer our best, it is time to look in the mirror, acknowledge it isn’t working, swallow our pride, and join forces with others to better advance the kingdom.

4 Comments

Filed under board governance, change, leadership, stewardship

Rethinking how we use technology for teaching and learning – part 2

Source: http-/www.flickr.com/photos/dkdykstra/3253728272

(Thanks to my friend David Mulder, technology director at Sioux Center Christian
Schools, for sharing this blog post.)

Part 2 – Now that we are here, what should we do about it?

Last month, I broached the subject of how we use technology in our classrooms.  I explained the “Tech-on-the-Side” model and left off with the thought that this mode of thinking about technology in school may not be engaging 21st Century learners.

Here’s what I mean.  Tech-on-the-Side might mean:

  • Having your students word process a paper instead of handwriting it.
  • Having your students research a topic on Wikipedia instead of cracking open the World Book.
  • Having your students create a PowerPoint presentation instead of drawing a poster with colored pencils.

Now please don’t feel like I’m picking on you—I’m pointing the finger at myself first and foremost here, as I’ve done all of these things, even in the last couple of years.  It’s not that these activities are bad or “wrong” in and of themselves.  Rather, I don’t think they go far enough in shifting to really integrating technology in a seamless way in classroom practice.  In each of these cases, we may be using a different tool, but the task is fundamentally the same.

As I see it, we are setting up a “digital dichotomy” in regard to the way kids use technology at school and at home.  At home, many kids are living a tech-saturated life.  At school, technology is perhaps viewed—by teachers—as something “extra,” rather than integrated into the fabric of everyday experience. How frustrating that must be for some of our students!  Please note, I am not arguing that every lesson needs to be tech-enhanced…but teachers need to consider how their students see the world.  At the risk of sounding trite, we are (largely) using a 19th Century school model to educate 21st Century learners.

At Sioux Center Christian School, we’re starting to work at this.  We’ve in a process of shifting our vision for how we use technology from tech-on-the-side to technology integration. Changing vision can be a hard process—it means rethinking how we’ve “always done things,” which can be painful.  Here are the significant points to our shift of vision:

  • We must think differently about the kinds of assignments we give.  We can’t just change the media from pencil-and-paper to keystrokes!  The technologies we choose should allow students to employ higher-level thinking skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
  • We must get the technology into students’ hands.  The closer to them, the better.  (SMARTBoards are good, iPads are better.)
  • We must teach students how to use the technologies available to them, preferably just as they need to use them by embedding the tech learning in the project they are undertaking.  Yes, they tend to be quick studies, but our students’ proclivities to use technology do not excuse us from the crucial role of guiding our students and teaching them to use technology responsibly.
  • We must create a culture where it is okay to experiment, play, and reflect.  Technology integration does not just “happen.”  Teachers need the freedom (and time!) to explore.  So do students.
  • We must support teachers.  Some teachers will naturally gravitate to incorporating technology into their teaching.  Others will need some coaxing.  In either case, teachers need to have a person (or preferably, people) they can rely on to support them as they try out new technologies.  A technology coordinator is a great resource, but a professional learning community is even better.  Teachers need training, coaching, and encouragement; we need to plan for this!
  • We must budget for technology-related spending.  (Aaargh…the money…)  Yes, technology is expensive.  Computers are not furniture, but neither are they consumables like pencils and erasers.  It might make the most sense to think of technology in a similar category to textbooks; eventually they get worn out and need to be replaced.  Just as schools plan to replace old, outdated, worn-out texts with new editions, schools need to have a responsible plan for regularly updating technology.

I recognize that some schools are already doing these things, but many others are surely not. Certainly change can be hard, but if it will ultimately provide our students with a more engaging, more authentic learning experience, our efforts are not misspent!  In any case, I sincerely encourage you to start having conversations with your colleagues about how you use technology, and further how you integrate technology into your teaching practices.

10 Comments

Filed under change, classroom, resources, staff development

A few of my favorite web tools

In the past few years, I have found that my learning has been enriched and simplified – (no not really simplified, but expanded!) through the tools I am going to describe in this post. As a global thinker, I enjoy looking widely across the landscape, but also want tools to improve my basic efficiency and productivity as well as expand my capacity. These tools may be old hat for some of you, but if you have been wanting to venture out a bit, give some of these a try over Christmas break!

Tools I use everyday include Twitter and Evernote. I have explained in an earlier post why I find Twitter so valuable so I won’t repeat that here. Evernote is a note keeping and web collection tool that operates equally well on my smartphone, iPad, or laptop and syncs between them. I can send the tweets I want to save to Evernote, or make a voice or written note on it via my smartphone. I can put them into notebooks and assign tags (descriptive terms) to them. This makes it easy for me to categorize and search them.

What works better for me than bookmarks is the LiveBinders web application. When I find a webpage that I want to save, I simply click on my toolbar icon called “Live Binder It!” and a photo is taken of the webpage. I can save the screen shot in a particular notebook. Given my work, I have notebooks for presentations, writing, and particular subjects such as engagement, essential questions, etc. I can quickly look around my notebook and see visually what I have saved.

I use Google Reader – a collector tool that sends me updates whenever blogs that I want to keep up with are updated. This allows me to scan the subject matter quickly and the short descriptions help me choose what I want to read.

I find I am using wikis and Google Docs with increasing frequency. I started using wikis to share information related to my presentations or to set up spaces for staff groups to collaborate and do their work. They are simple to use and manage. I personally like Wikispaces. If I want to share a document quickly, build a mutual agenda, share information over time, and have it all be private or shared by invitation only, then I use a Google Doc (www.google.>>>). You can get to it quickly if you are already using Gmail for your mail program.  In Gmail, I am using Google Calendar, which also syncs with a free touch screen calendar in my smartphone called Touch Calendar. I finally have given up my paper calendars!

Sometimes I want to share a larger document or save a presentation and so I would use Dropbox. I can access the information from anywhere because it is cloud based storage of larger files. I can also share these files or give others access to my folder in Dropbox.

If I am going to write a longer article or make a presentation or diagram, I still find Inspiration to be very helpful. I have used other mind mapping programs, but like the basic functionality and ease of use of Inspiration.

Reflect via this article from Donald Clark how these tools might change your learning and life – and how we have experienced more changes in the past 10 years than the last 100.

If you just got a new iPad for Christmas you may benefit from essential-ipad-guide written especially for school administrators – a helpful starting spot.

Blessings on the new year ahead – may it be a productive one for you! Please feel free to share other apps that you may have found helpful via the comments below.

Leave a comment

Filed under change, leadership, resources, staff development, use of time

Rethinking how we use technology for teaching and learning – part 1

(Thanks to my friend David Mulder, technology director at Sioux Center Christian Schools, for sharing this blog post. Look for part 2 next month.)

Part 1 – What is the problem and how did we get here?

Do you have a computer in your classroom?  (Silly question in 2011?)  I want you to think about how you use the computer in your teaching practice.  Does the computer allow you to do things fundamentally differently?  Are you able to do things in your classroom using technology that you simply could not do otherwise?

Here’s the thing:  I’ve become convinced that the way we use technology in schools has to change.  And I’m further convinced that this change is going to be a big, big shift for most teachers and most schools.

I want to set the stage here by describing what we have going on at Sioux Center Christian School, which will perhaps help frame the conversation.  Beginning in the mid-1990’s we began adding computer technology to our school in a deliberate way.  By the early 2000’s, we had network cables pulled to every room in the school from a central server case, a computer in every classroom, two computer labs with about 25 desktop computers each, and regularly scheduled times for “computer class.”  (Depending how long you’ve been in the profession, I’d guess this sounds familiar to you, either as a teacher, or perhaps as a student.)

Fast forward a decade or so, and several cosmetic changes have happened.  We have largely gone wireless, with a wireless network throughout the building and several mobile computer labs (25 laptops on a cart, so the lab comes to you!)  Teacher laptops have replaced classroom computers and we’ve installed video projectors in most classrooms around school. In the past two years, we’ve also begun to add interactive white boards to some classrooms—the next big thing in technology.  Whatever your school’s level of technology, I’ll bet you can relate to the story so far to some degree.

Here’s the thing: I think these changes (adding laptops and SMARTBoards) are “cosmetic” changes, because while the tools and their availability may have changed, the way we used the tools fundamentally did not change.  We have been implementing what I now call the “Tech-on-the-Side” model.

Here is what the Tech-on-the-Side model looks like in practice:

  • A designated space for using technology, whether that is a separate room (a computer lab) or a part of the classroom (the computer corner).
  • A designated time for using technology, which might be a specific time each week when the class goes to the computer lab, or perhaps “computers” as a separate school subject.
  • A focus on learning how to use specific applications, such as web browsers, word processors, spreadsheets, presentation tools (i.e. – PowerPoint), and media-editing tools such as iMovie or MovieMaker, regardless of how these tools might be used to support classroom activities.
  • Tightly controlled access to technology, because the tools are limited, so we need to share and play well with others.

Does this sound familiar?

Now, I want you to think for a minute about how people use technology outside of school, in “real life.”  In almost every way, Tech-on-the-Side is the opposite of how technology is used life outside of school:

  • Rather than a designated space for technology, we use laptops, smartphones, iPads and the like wherever we go.
  • Rather than a designated time for technology, we use computers and other devices whenever they suit the task at hand—whether work or play.
  • Rather than learning specific applications foisted up on us, we tend to learn how to use the apps, sites, services, and devices that are most useful to us, most productive, or most enjoyable.

Tech-on-the-Side may have made sense a decade ago—even five years ago—but the world is changing.  The problem is that the Tech-on-the-Side model doesn’t really address the changes that have happened (and continue to evolve) in how we use technology in the 21st Century.  The Tech-on-the-Side mode of thinking incorporates technology in ways that simply replace current activities with ones that add a computer-based component, but the task itself remains unchanged.  Next month, I’ll offer some concrete suggestions for how to begin shifting from Tech-on-the-Side toward a more transformative way of thinking about using technology in schools: Tech Integration.

12 Comments

Filed under change, classroom, staff development

Tough Question #2: What services should Christian schools provide?

Source: Andreas-photography via Flickr

A set of key questions has arisen as schools in the CSI community, founded largely by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, have moved from schools that served an immigrant community to being schools that serve the broader community. That question is: “What is our identity and given that identity, what type of student do we serve? What kinds of services should we be providing?”

Schools have taken several approaches to answering that question. In the early days (pre-1970’s), students with special needs were often sent to public schools, to self-contained boarding schools (Elim Christian School being one example), or kept at home in the case of more intense special needs. For the purpose of this discussion we will define special needs as those students who, due to physical, cognitive, emotional, or social/behaviorial issues demand additional services and support beyond that of the average student. This could include students on either end of the academic spectrum whether impaired or gifted.

The current approaches fall into these categories:

  1. The Christian school community in a given area should share the extra cost to educate children from Christian families to the greatest degree possible.
  2. The Christian school draws an arbitrary line as to what services can be offered and borne by the larger parent community. This may vary from school to school; the line typically may include students with mild cognitive impairments, for example.
  3. The Christian school operates with a selective admissions policy in the academic and behavioral realm and only allows students within a prescribed band to be admitted.
  4. The Christian school community accepts students with special needs, but the additional cost for services is borne entirely by the parents of the students.

My hope in writing this post is that we might have a broader discussion of this issue, not to provide answers. As you read the four categories above, you may have found yourself raising certain questions:

  • How can schools make it financially feasible when they take all students? Doesn’t that raise tuition to an unaffordable level for the average parent?
  • But, aren’t we supposed to be our brother’s keeper? Isn’t it the job of the entire Christian community to function as a whole, as a body?
  • How do we draw an arbitrary line that doesn’t feel arbitrary to parents? What about parents of students who are just on the other side of the line? When do we make exceptions?
  • Was Christ’s ministry just to the best thinkers or to all? Shouldn’t we be emulating him in our ministry to students?
  • But, isn’t it more honest to say we are not equipped to take on students that we can’t service? Isn’t it unethical to take students for their tuition dollars and then not service them appropriately – on either end of the spectrum?
  • Do we need services for gifted students? Won’t they just do well anyway?
  • Is it fair to penalize parents for the needs of their students? Why should a Christian education be less possible for those who are blessed with children who have special needs?
  • How does the broader community view our schools in the light of the categories that were described above? Does it challenge or affirm the stereotypes they may already have about Christian schools?
  • What would Jesus do if he were the head of your school?

What do you think?

2 Comments

Filed under change, image of God, mission development

Mission-Directed Governance – a great new resource!

To effectively lead a school is challenging enough in the best of times, but in the challenging times in which we are living, the key issue of the management of change places additional stress on both Christian school boards and administrators. How can the school be governed in a way that is proactive and not just reacting to the latest problem? How can we reflect being the body of Christ in action?

In recent years there have been more instances of boards seeking to solve problems by firing administrators, which makes them feel better temporarily, but does little to address long standing dysfunction in their governance system. Some boards have sought answers by moving from the traditional governance system to the newer Carver model. Conversely, others have gotten more involved in the day-to-day operations and have increased their management role, or in some cases, administrators might say “micromanagement” role.

I am excited to share with you that finally the Christian school community has been presented with a well thought through and balanced approach to governance that embodies the best Christian principles. In his new book, Mission Directed Governance: Leading the Christian School with Vision, Unity, and Accountability, veteran administrator Len Stob shows us a more helpful way through his mission directed approach. His approach deals with three critical questions:

  1. How does the school identify and protect its foundational beliefs?
  2. How does the school identify and promote its mission and vision?
  3. How does the school identify the roles of authority, determine the process for decision-making, and ensure accountability?

Stob takes the reader through a thorough critique of existing governance options and then lays out how the mission directed governance system works. He gives practical ideas and tools for implementing this system. One of the chapters I appreciate most is his chapter entitled “Measuring What is Most Important.” Stob makes helpful suggestions as to how we can determine if we are meeting our school missions and nurturing faith in the process.

I recently asked Len why he wrote the book and how he hoped the book would be used. Here are his thoughts:

As we developed the mission-directed governance system, we found that it worked.  The administrative team encouraged the writing of the book for the purpose of explaining the concepts and rationale for the mission-directed governance system to new board members, or when there would be a change in administration.  

In conversations with administrators and board members from other schools, they expressed interest in the concepts as well.  In so many cases, administrators and school board members are frustrated because they feel the pressures to improve, but they find it so difficult to work together and to think strategically. 

The importance of thinking strategically is not merely to have a long-range plan for financial stability, facilities, or promotion.  The primary focus needs to be on the mission of the school.  How do all aspects of the school contribute to the purpose of the school with concentration on student learning?  There needs to be unity of the board and school head as to what are the vision, the goals, and priorities.  Further, there needs to be accountability. 

 It is almost impossible to have vision, unity, and accountability under the traditional governance system.  Under this system, board’s are not really in control of the school’s direction. The traditional governance system is designed to protect and preserve undefined assumed community values.  The system is designed to prevent new ideas from moving past the discussion stage. 

 In frustration with the traditional system, some schools are adopting the John “Carver” model.  This alternative is designed to run the school like a business.  The primary problem is that the board is independent from the community, and more importantly is no longer tied to the theology, philosophy, and mission of the school.

 The mission-directed governance system blends the best of the traditional and governance-by-policy systems.  It provides a unity under a defined mission and clearly puts the board in charge of the school while allowing the board to concentrate on strategic planning with board-approved goals and priorities that advance the mission.  Assigning specific goals to the school head and measurement of the important aspects of the school provide real accountability.

Len has written the book so that it is easy for school leaders and boards to study and use. The chapters are of a reasonable length and there are helpful reflection/discussion questions at the end of each chapter. You can learn more about the book, read an excerpt, and make contact with Len here.  I highly recommend that you read and utilize this valuable resource for Christian schools!

2 Comments

Filed under board governance, book, change, distinctively Christian, leadership, mission development, mission measurement, resources, student outcomes

Ready to do an e-school day?

If you wanted to make up a snow day, would you rather add it in June or would you rather have kids make it up on a Saturday at home, using technology to complete assigned work? One school in Alabama opted for the latter – see the article here.

The school worked with both parents and teachers to prepare for the two e-days they scheduled. They live in a community where 98% of the homes have Internet access. The school reasons that parents already do many things like banking, shopping, and college coursework online and that this will serve to broaden the child’s learning experience.

On the same webpage of the Birmingham News, I see that the most read story is “Alabama home-school parents urge lawmakers to let their children play on public school teams.”

What strikes me is how much lines are blurring as to where learning occurs. This topic has been written and talked about for years, but I think we are finally reaching access levels where an e-school learning experience is possible in the mainstream cultural setting. If I am a parent, why can’t I request that you provide one day of the education I am paying for as an e-day? How would you respond?

Leave a comment

Filed under change, student outcomes