Category Archives: leadership

A plea to Christian colleges

Over the past six and a half years that I have been writing this blog my main focus has been to encourage Christian schools to nurture student faith in three very distinctive ways: curriculum, classroom, and community. It’s been gratifying to hear that some of the posts have been a good encouragement to teachers and administrators who are serious about living out the mission of their school with their students. Schools can and should develop sound professional development experiences for their teachers to help them implement the school’s mission through curriculum, classroom, and community. I have been privileged to work with schools in this process.

 Much like students enter a class with varying degrees of academic readiness, I have found that teachers have an equally wide range of readiness to nurture student faith. What I have found in professional development workshops is that, when asked, many teachers have not been trained in how to teach Christianly – not that they are not Christians, but have not received instruction during undergraduate days about how to connect their faith and the mission of the school. This leaves the total responsibility to the school to try to develop this teacher’s understanding…and it is a daunting task.

 For starters in this conversation, we have candidates coming from a wide range of colleges. By their own choices, they may have attended a public college or university. I did, and was aware that when interviewing at Christian schools, I needed to be able to more clearly articulate my faith and how it impacted my teaching than a candidate coming from a trusted Christian college. My present concern is that I am not hearing rousing endorsements in my workshops from teachers about their training to teach Christianly while they attended a Christian college. This is concerning because it indicates that the Christian colleges the teachers attended did not show its teacher education majors how to effectively integrate faith and learning.

 I would argue that whether preparing teachers for Christian or public education teaching, the fact remains that to be true to its Christian mission, Christian colleges should teach all education students how God’s truth is revealed in the educative process. If Christian colleges are requiring a statement of faith in their entry process from students, it is only natural that all students understand how faith is understood and lived out in their discipline area. Having taught and been an administrator in both public and Christian education, I could argue that it might be even more important for Christians working in public education to have a sound worldview and grasp of how to impact kids for Christ – they have to do it more subtly and may have less collegial and administrative support.

In summary, I am pleading that Christian colleges be true to their mission, equipping students to understand and demonstrate, as possible, to those they will be teaching how Christ is Lord over all.  In order to impact others, teachers must begin with a solid understanding of their own of how our world belongs to God, and how in turn we can encourage students to respond back to God and others with love and service.

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Walking among the giants

burned treeA recent speaking engagement near Yosemite National Park afforded me the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful parks in the world.  One of the most striking features of the park is the Mariposa Grove containing ancient, giant sequoias. The enormity and majesty of these trees left me speechless, in awe of their beauty, size, and age, and lifted my heart to worship. My mind began to continue down this worship track as I walked down the trail on a perfect, sunny day for hiking. My first thoughts were of comparing these physically imposing giants to the spiritual giants/mentors in my life and how grateful I was for both such beauty and strength before my eyes and the beautiful, strong saints God had placed in my life.

One of the first signs along the trail talked about the humble beginnings of the sequoia trees. Both Douglas squirrels and boring beetles play a role in the egg size cones getting their start in life. Fire also plays a key role in opening space for seeds to start and in their spreading. I thought about the humble and sometimes trying beginnings of many giants in my life.

Grizzly giantAt the center of a sequoia, the wood is called heartwood – the structural support of the tree. Next is the sapwood, where the “veins and arteries” of the tree move the precious water and nutrients throughout the tree. The next layer, the cambrium, is the growing part of the tree. Finally the outer bark is quite thick and while protecting the tree, is renewed from within. The idea of “from the inside out” is a great metaphor for protecting our hearts so that we may continue to grow and also have the protection for our “outer bark” that encounters the outside world.

On my hike I saw many enduring giants, but none more impressive than the Grizzly Giant. The sign told me that this 1,800 year-old tree stands about the height of a 19 story building, a 747 jetliner, or the Statue of Liberty! What impressed me is that this tree has survived fires every 5-20 years. I wondered about the testing that great saints of the faith have endured and if the frequency of fire/testing in their life was similar. What an impressive tree – one of its limbs was estimated to be 7 feet in diameter and its trunk showed the centuries of fire scars.

One of the most interesting trees was one that I could walk through – the surviving Tunnel Tree. It was one of two trees that a tunnel was cut through for cars, to be used in promotional pictures of the park. While the more famous Auto treeWawona Tunnel Tree fell in 1969, this tree somehow has survived the tunnel carved through it in 1895. I wondered if the park would be here if these two trees had not suffered this fate. The sign at the tree indicated these trees were very helpful in building understanding of the uniqueness of this area and to eventually have this area preserved as a park. In this sense, these trees gave their life and suffered a near fatal wound so that many other giant trees could be preserved.

Visiting the Mariposa Grove was a deeply spiritual experience for me. In addition to assisting me in worshipping God for his truly awesome creation, it led me to consider with gratitude the giants of faith in my life. Many came from humble beginnings, developed strong cores nurtured by faith in God and spiritual disciplines, were tested by many life difficulties, and served as Christ types for those around them – giving their lives so others may flourish. Praise God for such giants in our lives!

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Filed under creation & environment, devotional, encouraging the heart, leadership, worship

What does REVEAL reveal? Part two

Last month we introduced you to the work done by Willowcreek Community Church with Christian high school leaders regarding measuring the spiritual formation progress of high school students. The intent of the survey was to help school leaders better understand whether students were exhibiting spiritual growth and what actions the leaders could take to better help students grow. Their attempt was to reveal the students’ hearts for God and for others. The results of this survey have not only personal implications, but broader implications for schools; this survey might be useful as a benchmarking tool to see if there was student growth in faith formation from year to year.

In May 2013, a 25-30 minute online survey was given at 19 different Christian high schools, with the highest percentage of participants at schools in Michigan, then Wisconsin, Illinois and Washington. Over 4,600 student responses were collected. The summary of the findings and observations are presented below from a REVEAL summary document and my phone conversation with the project leader, Terry Schweitzer.

Finding #1- Students:

  • “Many school leaders assume that the best predictor of spiritual growth is year in school. They presume that juniors and seniors who have attended the school longer would be further along on their spiritual journey than freshmen and sophomores. The survey results debunk this idea, showing that the relationship between year and school and stronger core Christian beliefs, spiritual practices, and virtues is flat.”

  • “Commitment to core Christian beliefs, engagement in spiritual practices, and behaviors that reflect Christian virtues rise at each stage of this continuum (below), showing a strong positive relationship between level of intimacy with Christ and spiritual growth. Additionally, students’ level of ownership of their faith and their spiritual journey increases as they progress into the more mature stages of growth. Drawing on this information, there are ways in which leaders of Christian schools can encourage students in each stage to keep moving forward in their spiritual growth. Different beliefs, practices, and virtues have been shown to catalyze spiritual growth for those in each stage. By encouraging the development of each, leaders of Christian high schools can make a stronger impact on the faith development of their students.”

STAGES - REVEALObservations: We know intuitively that students are at different stages on their faith journey. What are the intentional ways we can deal with the development of beliefs, practices and virtues shown in each movement in the diagram above? Are these faith enhancing practices embedded within our curriculum, classroom, and community in the Christian high school?

Finding #2 – School: “Results indicate that schools can best encourage students’ spiritual growth by helping them to own their faith and engage in spiritual practices. Schools and parents can maximize their effectiveness by working together to this end. Additionally, the results indicate that students’ spiritual growth can be measured using an overall Student Spiritual Vitality Gauge (StVG) score that represents students’ growth in Beliefs, Spiritual Practices, and Faith in Action. The StVG demonstrated both reliability and validity as a measure of growth.”

Equation:SVG

Observations: The Christian high school plays a very large role in student spiritual growth, as demonstrated by an effect size of .26 for parents and .30 for schools. The Spiritual Vitality Gauge (as shown above) could be calculated for individuals, classes, and for schools as a whole.

Finding #3 – Parents: The pattern of the data indicated “the close relationship between parental involvement in family spiritual practices and spiritual growth of high school students. . . these findings challenge Christian ministries to involve parents to a greater extent in programs aimed at children and to invest more in the spiritual growth of parents in order to create a spiritual tailwind that will lead to spiritual growth in children.”

bar graph 1

bar graph 2

Observations: The REVEAL survey results reflect the findings of the 2005 National Study of Youth and Religion Survey as reported in the book Soul Searching – “we get what we are” – meaning that the spiritual beliefs and practices of teens often closely parallels that of their parents. It appears that to foster the growth of teens, we must also involve parents. What is a bit surprising is that among the select group of parents who have made a choice for Christian education there are 35-72% of them who never or almost never engage in prayer, Bible study, and service. This demonstrates what those of us who have sat at parent interview tables have known – parents desire a Christian education for various reasons – some for safety, some for success, and some for shalom.  It appears that with these parents their profession of faith level is higher than their practice level. What are the implications for the Christian high school?

I believe the REVEAL folks have been a tremendous help to Christian schools with this work. They have demonstrated that it is possible to get a measure of spiritual formation of high school students. From this measure schools should be able to be more intentional and focused in their efforts to nurture faith with students.  My recommendation is that schools get involved with gathering this data from students and using the REVEAL tool annually. Schools need to commit to doing it for a period of years so that the results can be used in a benchmarking type of process to answer the question: “Are we impacting student spiritual growth?” and then “Given the results of REVEAL for our school, how might we work with students on their spiritual growth from year to year in order to better meet our mission?” For more information on REVEAL please feel free to contact Terry Schweitzer at Willowcreek Community Church.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, leadership, mission measurement, resources, 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?

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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.

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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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