Category Archives: change

Are Finnish schools a helpful model for Christian schools?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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