Category Archives: early faith

Shalom and parent teacher conferences

Photo credit: Sean Dreilinger

Photo credit: Sean Dreilinger

During the fall and spring conference time with parents, teachers typically report on the academic progress of students to parents. It should be a time to share celebrations and concerns. Sometimes the student is present or even “leading” the conference. I believe that this time with parents is a critical one as it is one of the few times that there is an intense focus on their mutually shared responsibility – the student. From the school side of the equation, this is a prime time to also communicate the mission of the school to the parents. From the parent side, this is an opportunity to have a significant time to have a conversation with another adult who has worked with their child about their view of the child’s growth.

I have been emphasizing to Christian schools that this precious conference time should be about more than simply academics. Conferences are the best time to discuss the whole child’s progress and, if we are true to our missions, we will take some time to consider the student’s spiritual growth. After all, one of our key distinctives as a school and one of the main reasons parents send their children is so that they will be nurtured in their faith; if we ignore this aspect or give it short shrift, we are missing a great opportunity!

Recently I have been suggesting that we consider the terms wonder, wisdom and work as we consider how to connect our work toward the ultimate outcomes of helping nurture student faith and to move toward shalom. Wolterstorff describes true shalom as harmony with nature, God, man and self. In connecting these words to the K-12 educational experience, I would suggest that wonder is harmony with nature, wisdom is harmony with God, and work is harmony with self and neighbor. I am wondering if this model might work not only for curriculum design, but also for conducting parent teacher conferences. Using this model as a guide for parent teacher conferences our questions/areas of focus with parents might look like this:

  1. Wonder: Is the student understanding and expressing awe about, and delight in, the created order? Do they understand their place in the world as imagebearers? Are they beginning to develop an understanding of beauty, complexity, design, and what excellence looks like?
  2. Wisdom: Is the student understanding and responding to the gospel? Do they understand how the world, including themselves, experiences sin and brokenness? Do they understand the good news through Biblical story, personal story, and teacher modeling. Are they begin to discern good from evil? Are they understanding what it means to embrace and live out their faith? How to live into the grace of Christ and extend it to others?
  3. Work: Is the student understanding who they are and showing a desire to live out the gospel with their neighbor? How have they responded to opportunities and challenges in the classroom to creatively contribute to the learning and life of others? Have they connected personal gratitude for the gospel with external actions? Are they beginning to understand what it means to restore this world to God’s original intentions?

I truly believe that if we used this model for our parent teacher conferences we would have a clearer focus on the distinctives of our school mission, a much more meaningful conversation with parents that goes beyond grades and test scores, and a greater potential impact on the students and parents we are called to serve.




Filed under Biblical worldview, early faith, encouraging the heart, parenting, staff development, student outcomes

What does REVEAL reveal?

For many years in Christian education, we lacked some basic data about the essence of what we were doing, i.e. the distinctive mission of our schools. In recent years we have had the assistance of two organizations to whom we owe a debt of gratitude in helping us think more deeply about our missions.

The Cardus Education Survey helped answer the question: “Is Christian education meeting its mission – is it achieving what it set out to do?” This research study was the largest and most comprehensive study ever done on the topic. The study leaders surveyed former graduates of Christian school and attempted to measure three specific outcomes: spiritual formation, cultural engagement, and academic preparation. For more background on this topic see previous posts on this blog – see here and here and here/here.

Recently the Willowcreek Association conducted some significant research work with Christian high schools that sought to understand if students were growing spiritually and what actions could be undertaken to encourage student faith development. They called this effort REVEAL (revealing whether or not one’s heart is for God) – building off from earlier adult spiritual development research by the same name. Willowcreek began this effort by conducting an April 2011 pilot with three Christian schools in Western Michigan. They gained about 1,400 student responses via a 25-30 minute online survey.

From this pilot they reported four key building blocks to consider for the next phase, which was completed in the 2012-2013 school year with a broader sample of schools:

1. Spiritual continuum – just as in their adult research, students demonstrated a spiritual continuum of intimacy in their relationship with Christ and love for others. REVEAL found that, in their experience, this continuum is highly predictive of spiritual growth. The diagram below explains the continuum:

Willowcreek Spiritual Continum Profile

2.  Stages of student identity development – diffusion, foreclosure, moratorium and achievement – allowed the researchers to understand to what degree a student was personally owning their religious commitment.

3.  School and parent impact model and Spiritual Vitality Gauge – these tools assisted in reporting the impact of the school and the parents on a student’s spiritual growth, leading to an overall individual Spiritual Vitality score that represents student growth in beliefs, practices, and faith into action.


4. Parent contribution to their children’s spiritual development – was there a relationship between adult spiritual growth and that of their children? What kinds of things that parents did contributed to their child’s faith formation?

In May 2013 the research survey was expanded to 19 different Christian high schools representing six states and two countries. Over 4,600 student responses were analyzed – you will have to wait and come back next month to discover their findings!

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Filed under early faith, mission development, mission measurement, resources, student assessments, student outcomes

Monsieur Lazhar – sowing seeds

(Thanks to my friend Paul Marcus, COO at Community Christian School, Drayton, ON and COO at Orangeville Christian School, ON, for sharing this blog post. Paul blogs at Paul Marcus Online.)

I had the opportunity to watch this  beautiful film on the weekend.  I’d never heard of it before doing some rummaging through the dearth of information on rottentomatoes.  It’s amazing what you find when you dig below the surface of mainstream monotony.

I’m not going to give a review here, there are many sites that can do that justice better than I.  However, I wanted to share a piece of a conversation that Monsieur Lazhar has with one of his colleagues at the school in which he just started teaching.  In fact, as we find out eventually in the film, he hasn’t actually taught before.  The internal struggle that he has is one that I think every educator has had at some point in their careers; I call it the ‘Just Sowing the Seed” struggle.  This is a struggle that exists because, no matter what consultants and pedagogues tell us, there’s no way to measure the meaningful progress that we’re making with students.  How many of us have had a child leave our classroom at the end of a year where we can’t discern a noticeable difference in their lives?

Monsieur Lazhar has this struggle as he works through his pedagogy.  He walks into a neighbouring classroom to see that it doesn’t ‘look like a hospital’ as his does.  Later as he’s having a drink with this colleague, the following dialogue ensues arising from his frustration and lack of confidence:

M. Lazhar: “And it’s my fault because I’ve forgotten to put some colour in their lives.”….”I feel guilty for having abandoned them”.
Colleague: “Even the ones we’re not able to reach we don’t abandon.”

We find out that Monsieur Lazhar’s comment may arise as an allusion to a life experience of his, but the response by his colleague is meaningful.  Even the ones we’re not able to reach we don’t abandon.  I’ve often been sitting with a group of teachers where we’ve felt equally discouraged and we’ve had to admit that we just have to ‘sow the seed.’  Teaching is one of those jobs that is thankless.  Sure, we get the gift cards at Christmas for Chapters and Tim Horton’s (Starbucks if we’re lucky), but we rarely see the product of our labour.  We have to submit that our work is a work of scaffolding: we do the work we can and we have faith that God will continue our work when our students have moved on.

Only if we stay in our craft for long enough do we have the opportunity to have a student who we’ve taught come and say “thank you,” and even then only if we’re the lucky few.  For now, we’ll have to take solace in the faith that God goes before us and with our students.


Filed under devotional, early faith, encouraging the heart, mission measurement, student outcomes

Take one step back please!

Watching the thought processes of our one-year-old grandson has been fascinating! I try to guess at what he is thinking as evidenced by his facial expressions, his eyes, and his movements. I marvel at all that I cognitively know is happening – the formation of brain synapses, the sorting out of the huge volume of sounds and letters and facial expressions, and the barrage of environmental stimuli he processes moment by moment. I seem to have missed some of this wonder the first time around with our own children – so busy with work, responsibility, and activity that seemed important at the time. It seems my grandson and I are united at times in wonder – his the wonder of a child experiencing all things as new, and my wonder in re-seeing reality at different levels and understanding the limits of my understanding and God’s complexity.

Could I ask you to take a step back to wonder? I fear that our structures form us and our school structures are especially designed for efficiency, not wonder. It is simply not efficient to engage too long in wonder – yet wonder is a key element of a truly Christian education. Wonder arises from a deep and attentive observation of reality – not through a quick skimming – the survival habit we are currently developing in our fast-paced world. It is the difference between raising kids or teaching students versus really entering into their world and their reality. Quality wondering takes a commitment to time and a willingness to ponder deeply – it must become a habit of our heart and mind. Religious scholar and educator Sofia Cavaletti put it this way:

“When wonder becomes a fundamental attitude of our spirit it will confer a religious character to our whole life, because it makes us live with the consciousness of being plunged into an unfathomable and incommensurable reality. If we are disposed to reflect on reality in its complexity, then it will reveal itself to be full of the unexpected, of aspects we will never succeed in grasping or circumscribing; then we will be unable to close our eyes to the presence of something or someone within it that surpasses us. Even calling it “the absurd”  is also a way of recognizing its immeasurability. But the religious person will break out in a hymn of praise and admiration.” (Cavalletti, Sofia. The Religious Potential of the Child. New York: Paulist Press, 1983.)

One major concern regarding children’s wonder raised by Caveletti is that we run the risk of extinguishing the emotional capacity of the child when we offer children too much stimuli too fast – the child loses the sense of surprise.  In her experience, spending time on worthy objects of attention and wonder such as the Gospel – in particular, the parables of the Kingdom of God, serve “to offer the child’s wonder an object capable of taking the child always farther and deeper into the awareness of reality, an object whose frontiers are always expanding as the child slowly proceeds in the contemplation of it.” In his book Eyes Wide Open, Steve DeWitt suggests that “wonder is what image-bearers feel when they glimpse a reflection of God’s beauty,” and that wonder reminds us of how God designed us to live: in shalom and harmony with God, man, creation, and ourselves. (DeWitt, Steve. Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything. Grand Rapids, Mich: Credo House Pub, 2012)

Our greatest gifts to our students this year may be to help them wonder deeply at how the image of God is made evident in them, to sustain and teach the habit of wondering, and then to teach them where to direct their consequent worship – toward the Creator.


Filed under early faith, encouraging the heart, student outcomes, worship

The urge to protect and the faith to fly

Source: Flickr via Mike_tn @

The day had come! As I sat down at my desk I realized the nest was empty. The last robin had left the nest and was sitting down below the nest under the deck rafters. It looked unready for the next step, tufts of feather fluff hanging off all parts of its body. I noticed also that the mother had not abandoned it, but kept bringing food to it on a regular basis. I wondered how long the life of this baby might last given predators and its seeming inability to find its own food. It finally moved into the grass area and began to give a few tentative hops, emulating the movement of its mother. Its wings were not any more ready to fly than the two sets of five gosling babies further away in the yard, but they certainly appeared more robust and capable of defending themselves.

I began to think about the love/care that God built into these bird creatures, and thought about the fact that this is how God has made them – they, not being capable of rational thought, simply act in what we would call blind faith. Certainly deciding to conceive and raise children is an act of faith. We cannot see what the future holds for any of us in the next few minutes or hours of our lives, yet we must, like the robin parent, just move ahead with life, as we cannot wrap our minds around what might happen next. We also know that if we cage our young, they will never develop the wing strength to soar.

We have opportunities to work with “short-winged” and “fluffy-feathered” ones every day. We are teaching them how to not only survive but thrive in a world where they will be a distinct minority in terms of their worldview. As evidence, I submit Kenda Dean’s recent estimate in her book Almost Christian that only 8% of youth have “a creed to believe, a community to belong to, a call to live out, and a hope to hold on to.” Barna’s estimates from his research suggest that only 3% of those ages 18-41 hold a biblical worldview. When we see these numbers it may make us desire to protect and shelter our students even more – but like the parent robin, our best contribution may be modeling a vibrant faith and faithful way of living, so that the remnant of youth that we have opportunity to work with may be seeing the world clearly, being challenged to apply the Gospel, and to be the prophetic and faithful Daniels/Danielles of this coming generation.

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Filed under devotional, early faith, encouraging the heart, kids/culture, student outcomes

Equipping teachers: two new Bible resources

Our opportunities to reveal God’s truth in all creation, to explore Biblical perspectives, and to nurture faith in students are core distinctives of Christian education. Yet, if the truth were told, it cannot be assumed that new graduates or even teachers with some experience have had the kind of background or training to make faith-learning connections or to teach the Bible effectively. This latter concern led Dr. Johanna Campbell, retired British Columbia Teachers’ Association leader and former teacher, to write a book entitled How to Profit From the Word: A Handbook for teachers of Bible in Christian Schools just for that purpose. From her website, she offers the following description of the book: “The first three chapters discuss the basic tenets of our Christian faith, using the Apostles’ Creed as an overall guide. Chapters 4-10 discuss curriculum frameworks, Christian methodology, pedagogy, learning the Bible in community, and what role the Holy Spirit plays in the classroom. There are five helpful appendices which give ideas on how to assess the subject ‘Bible’, how to journal through a Bible book, how to do a passage analysis, sample outlines on how to ‘camp’ around a Bible book, and a page listing some helpful resources for the Bible teacher.”  The book is available on her website.

Johanna has also put together another inexpensive booklet called Bible Q & A: From Creation to New Creation. While this booklet is designed for children under 12, it could also be used effectively with new believers, for evangelism purposes, or for ESL students. These are “the basics” – in Johanna’s words – “a benchmark of biblical knowledge for both children and adults.” The booklet is now available in Spanish also and is being used presently by EduDeo in Honduras and Nicaragua. It is available in French as well.

Any Christian schools that teach French or Spanish could use the Bible Q & A for their high school students to give them a basic Christian vocabulary in the language they are studying.  Study one Q & A (or a small related section) per lesson–5 minutes.

Kudos, Johanna – thanks for making these excellent resources available for teachers and students and thanks for your heart and passion to do this not for profit, but to advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. For more information, please visit her website.

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Filed under Bible memory, Biblical worldview, book, classroom, early faith, resources, staff development


Growing up on a farm, the carpentry tools we used most often were a hammer and large nails with which we pounded together two by four’s to contain energetic young cattle trying to escape from box stalls. If you didn’t construct the stalls, gates, or fences well, the cattle inevitably would break through the barrier into places you didn’t want them to be. I have been told that this habit that I formed in my growing up years is demonstrated in my general fix-it carpentry around the house – I tend to pound nails too hard or over-tighten things down. My wife sometimes uses this analogy to gently remind me in my conversations that I don’t have to “pound the nail through the wood!”

Moralizing to kids in our care, and particularly to kids around faith matters, can be very detrimental in the same ways that over-pounding a nail or over-tightening a bolt can be. When we wrap up each Bible story neatly with the words “and so kids, don’t be like (fill in the blank)” we diminish what God is saying through the story and reduce Him to a formula. I recommend that you read this recent post on the Calvin Institute of Worship site about the problems of moralism versus faith formation. Although it is written for a church education context, I believe that there is much that applies to Christian day school education as well. Let’s allow room for the Spirit to touch hearts with the stories without needing to give a neat moral wrap-up.


Filed under classroom, early faith, student outcomes