Category Archives: mission measurement

A Flourishing Index – Part 1

For those of you new to reading this blog, at the end of last year I proposed that Christian schools consider adopting a Flourishing Index – a list of outcomes that we desire for our students. I also think that this index could provide helpful targets that we could measure ourselves against.  For more information, you may wish to read the two blog posts that were written last year as a way of gaining familiarity with what I am suggesting.

While I did not consciously realize it at the time I was creating a Flourishing Index, I have since discovered two wonderful resources: one from a Christian perspective and one from a secular perspective. I would like to start with renowned Christian philosopher and Christian education thinker Nicholas Wolterstorff this month and discuss the other author next month in this blog.

As someone who has thought a lot about developing distinctively Christian curriculum, I was encouraged to read that Wolterstorff had also puzzled about what makes a curriculum distinctively Christian, and this led him to the idea of flourishing as a unifying concept:

“It became important for me to figure out what holds a curriculum together. You’ve got sciences and arts and my own passion, justice. What holds it all together? It eventually became clear to me that there is a biblical category of flourishing, of shalom. [It is] “peace” in the New Testament, but eirene in Greek is a pretty weak translation of what the Old Testament means by shalom. It means flourishing. That’s what a Christian college should be about. Not just planting thoughts in people’s heads and getting them into professional positions but flourishing, in all its dimensions. Source: Faith and Leadership, 2012

He defines flourishing and elaborates upon the idea of flourishing as shalom in this video:

In a review of Wolterstorff’s book, Educating for Life, reviewer John Shortt highlights this definition of flourishing, which I believe captures the essence of flourishing: “Shalom is not merely the absence of hostility for, as he memorably puts it, ‘to dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in one’s physical surroundings, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy living with oneself’ (p. 101).” I am particularly struck with the Joy aspect of living in harmony with God, neighbor, and self – a deep sense of happiness and contentment.

As we spend the next months unpacking the concept of flourishing through discussion of the elements of The Flourishing Index, I invite you to consider how flourishing is really the ultimate outcome of a truly distinctive Christian education.

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Filed under curriculum, discernment, distinctively Christian, image of God, mission development, mission measurement, resources, staff development, student outcomes

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?

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

Proposing a “Flourishing Index”

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

I have been thinking about the student outcomes of Christian school graduates recently. Certainly we measure academic achievement.  But if we are “equipping minds” and “nurturing hearts” so that our students can be world transformers, it seems to me that we over-measure the first, do not measure the second aspect (faith nurture) well, and may really want to consider a third aspect to help us describe how academics and faith development come together in our desired student outcomes.

I believe that nurturing faith, in and through the educational process, is the distinctive characteristic of why Christian schools exist. Yet there is resistance when I bring up the idea of some measurement of whether a child’s faith was nurtured or not. What is ironic to me is that our parents are judging this all the time.  We ourselves also have a strong sense of how well our educator colleagues nurture, and certainly our students have a strong sense of how different teachers nurture their faith, yet we rarely ask for their feedback. We need to discuss this aspect more – it is such a critical part of our missions – but that is not the purpose of this post today.

Given how education is changing, we are in a process of “re-valuing,” and it seems appropriate to consider the following as we think about what we wish to measure: 1) new information has recently emerged about the significance of student engagement in learning, 2) an alarming number of our students become more disengaged in learning as they go up the grades, 3) research has shown that divergent thinking decreases from kindergarten forward, 4) a Gallup Poll from last summer indicated that only 1/3 of all U.S. students could be described as “hopeful, engaged, and thriving.” As Christian educators, we seek to 1) show our students the connectedness of this world through Christ,  2) demonstrate to them the importance of a lifelong learning passion, and 3) help them recognize and use their gifts and talents in a vocation that God calls them to in the world.

I propose that an additional set of indicators focus around the concept of student flourishing and be called the “Flourishing Index.” Below are some initial aspects that might considered criteria or demonstration of what it means to flourish:

•   passion for learning

•   desire to serve and make a difference

•   ability to see connections

•   blooming where planted

•   thinking divergently and creatively about problems/solutions

•   ability to demonstrate empathy for others

•   desire to act morally and ethically across all aspects of life

•   understanding of how God has gifted and called them

•   demonstration of effective life habits and spiritual disciplines

•   determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others

What else would you add to the “Flourishing Index”? At the end of the day and at the end of 12 plus years of education aren’t these the kinds of outcomes we are really hoping for?

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Filed under distinctively Christian, mission measurement, student assessments, student outcomes

The Cardus Survey results – part 4

Last month we raised the question of why our parents and students have not placed a higher value on cultural and intellectual engagement in our society. The authors of the Cardus Survey also indicate that the data shows a reluctance of students to aspire to more elite institutions for continued study. What might be the reasons for these choices?

For starters, perhaps we should trace back our DNA a bit as schools in Reformed tradition. Many of the schools in the Christian Schools International family were begun by Dutch immigrants of the mid to late 1800’s and in Canada the early to mid 1900’s and this may contribute to what results have been achieved by students from our schools. These immigrants were a group who were leaving the Netherlands in part due to religious dissent and the desire to maintain spiritual purity and preservation of their religious beliefs. They were not from the intellectual elites or the professional class, but mostly lower class working poor. Many went into farming and other types of manual labor as is typical for first generation groups. Yet they placed a high value on education and not just any education, but an education that was Christian and supportive of what was being taught at home and church. Their faith and practice of living virtuously enabled them to become successful in the North American culture, but may not have changed their identity as much. As is true with immigrants, they may have suffered from an “inferiority complex” of being strangers/outsiders who couldn’t speak the language fluently or navigate social structures easily. They naturally tended to want to conserve their culture and traditions. However these tendencies did not encourage their descendents to typically move much outside of the comfortable cultural confines of church and local community. Might this a reason for the limited aspiration and cultural engagement of graduates from their schools?

While graduates did well over the years as immigrants turned into second, third, and fourth generation citizens, these outstanding individuals seemed to be the exceptions rather than the product of a strategic vision of the school where they were educated. As we now understand more of what makes an exceptional worker, professional, or cultural contributor and the soft skills needed, which include high moral grounding and work habits, we understand that our graduates are much more likely to succeed wherever they end up because of the type of beliefs and values they have been exposed to in a strong Christian education.

It seems then that our issue is one of vision, expectations, and pedagogical practices for our students, rather than a wholesale change in the intangibles they are currently receiving from our schools. We must recognize that as educators we are by profession and nature “conservers” and not the risk taker big picture visionaries that are needed to bring a global picture to our students.  We may need to enlist others as student mentors and coaches to help effectively challenge and prepare our students and to teach them how to navigate as a Christian in different cultural settings. A Christian businessperson, cultural leader, professional, entrepreneur may be more able to do this in a mentor relationship. To more effectively raise up students who are going to be cultural leaders, we must expose them to the kinds of experiences that allow them to understand “how the world works” and develop an even deeper framework of belief and understanding that helps them to understand the spectrum of belief and thought represented by cultural leaders. We must also take advantage of technology that allows our students to connect and collaborate with others around the world and that moves them out of local cultural isolation. However, it is critical that we continue to embed strong theological and prophetic ideals, Christian disciplines and practices, and personal moral and ethical development into their educational experiences.

To engage more effectively in this discussion, I recommend these five excellent questions drawn from the discussion guide that follows the Cardus Education Survey:

  1. What if Christian school leaders were more audacious in their goal, expecting students to be unwaveringly committed both to their families and to being part of culture through politics, the arts, and the world of ideas?
  2. If Christian schools want to promote those bold outcomes, will they be willing to make the structural changes necessary to do so?
  3. What structures and pedagogy must be in place for schools to more thoroughly develop culture engagement in their graduates?
  4. Are there more effective means of cultivating critical thought as a way for students to effect culture more meaningfully? Would this require new methods of training teachers and preparing and selecting school leaders?
  5. Are Protestant schools focusing on pietistic behaviors rather than a systematic theology and therefore unable to produce graduates who are truly engaged in culture?

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Filed under distinctively Christian, mission development, mission measurement, student outcomes

The Cardus Survey results – part 3

Well, here is the rest of the story: last time we celebrated the positive results that were learned about Protestant schools and kids, and so in part 3 we look at some of the challenges facing Protestant schools in particular. The authors of the study are very clear: while there are many ways that Christian schools are serving a public good, they don’t find Christian schools to be living up to their “world –changing” missions in several ways. Their concern is that graduates are “showing a surprising lack of engagement in areas traditionally thought to influence culture: through the political sphere, relationships with people in positions of power and status or people earning higher university degrees, and intellectual engagement in the arts” (p. 24).

Why is this the case? The study authors wonder if the high level of compliance and respect for authority contributes to a lack of motivation to interface with culture in positive ways. Are our students questioning the status quo? How can students be impacting culture if they don’t have any interest in politics and the contemporary cultural scene? The research reports that Protestant Christian kids are less likely than their other private school peers to engage in political discussions with colleagues, family, and friends. If they are not participating at this level then it is likely that their ideas and opinions are not having much impact on the larger political and cultural dialogue (p. 27).

Schools seem to be reflecting the wishes of their parents in this regard. According to the research done via surveys of administrators, parent support of students being taught to confront culture or change society are among the very “lowest reported goals in current schools” (p. 29). This leads me to wonder, “Do parents really understand the missions of many of our schools? Do they desire to have their students be world transformers?” The overriding concern expressed in the study is this: “Christian schools are not universally preparing their graduates to navigate the traditional paths of power established in today’s culture and thus undermine their potential for robust cultural engagement and contribution through these means.” (p.29) The study authors go on to say: “In this same way, we find involvement in the arts and other intellectual endeavors to be surprisingly low for Christian school graduates. Christian school graduates participate in cultural activities less and donate less of their time and money to the arts. These results may indicate a weak involvement in higher culture that prevents Protestant Christian school graduates from full engagement in their communities and their world” (p. 29).

It is encouraging that no evidence exists in the study that Christian schools are isolationist – in fact the authors’ perception is that there is significant desire to engage the world, it just seems that schools are much more in the critiquing mode than creating mode of engaging culture. They suggest that the ways students engage culture need to be broadened: “In most schools, we find the lens of cultural engagement to be narrow, promoting what students can do, like service and vocation, rather than a larger view of navigating the spheres, processes, and networks of government, the media, and arts. Likewise, few schools are found to be systematically, through curriculum and pedagogy, integrating academic learning with engaging the world outside of school” (p.30).

I find this research to be a helpful challenge to our schools. We are starting from a good foundation and need to continue to challenge our students to lift their eyes and hearts to the broader challenges that are presented by the world. In the final installment re: The Cardus Study next month, we will look at some other possible reasons for this current state of our schools, examine some possible solutions to move us forward, and conclude with some stimulating questions for further discussion and ferment.

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Filed under distinctively Christian, mission development, mission measurement, resources, student outcomes

Tough Question #1: Why aren’t all Christian schools accredited?

Source: ben in CHI via Flickr

If Christian schools are formed to bring honor to God through the education of children about God’s Word and world, then why don’t some Christian schools ask others to come in to see if they are doing just that in the best possible ways? Why aren’t they asking for help from fellow educators and holding themselves accountable to identified standards of excellence through an accreditation process? This question has disturbed me over the past several years as I have worked with schools to help them improve what they are doing through school accreditation.

Here are several good reasons why Christian schools should be seeking accreditation:

  1. To connect what you say with what you do – A lofty mission is a wonderful thing, but not worth the paper it is written on if it is not lived out. If we are to offer our best we must know what the best is and connect our missions that talk about excellence to practices of excellence. We need to ask others for their objective opinions to see if we are connecting mission and practice.
  2. We ought to submit to one another – We ought to, especially as Christians, be willing to approach one another in humility and seek wisdom from each other. If we think we have it all together and don’t need what we might learn from others, then we are perhaps manifesting a spirit of arrogance that is not Christ-like. We all have things to learn from each other and we are accountable to each other as fellow workers in Christ’s kingdom.
  3. To offer our best out of love and gratitude – If as followers of Christ we seek to offer our lives as living sacrifices and offer our best efforts as praise, then we must seek out marks of excellence – what is the best and how can we work toward it? In both Old Testament and New Testament we see examples of God’s displeasure with offerings done out of tradition or cognition and not from the heart. He was pleased with those who gave their best from the heart and was not concerned with the size of the gift.
  4. We should not operate from a spirit of fear or inferiority – Sometimes we may be reluctant to open our schools to others because we don’t “have it all together yet.” The truth is that every school is operating on its own journey of situations and circumstances, working with the people and resources God has blessed them with. I have done multiple visits and have yet to find a school that has everything in place. We are all working with strengths and weaknesses and so this awareness should not hold us back.
  5. We should use our time and resources wisely – Some may feel accreditation is spending extra time or resources that the school does not have to find out things they already know. The accreditation process does take some extra time and energy but it is a valuable thing to do because it has the possibility to affirm and/or redirect current practices and future visions, to focus many ideas and goals down to the most critical ones, and to help give guidance to further improvement steps. It can be a critical lever to help move improvement efforts forward with board, staff, and stakeholders. The process can help the school take a comprehensive look at what it is doing, how it is meeting its mission, and how to best use its resources to move forward.

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Filed under distinctively Christian, leadership, mission development, mission measurement, resources, student outcomes

The Cardus Survey results – part 2

It seems appropriate to celebrate the positive results of Protestant Christian school education that we see through the research contained within the Cardus survey. As Christians we sometimes have difficulty celebrating the goodness and grace of God in our lives.

Yet here are many things worthy of celebration! Compared to their public school, Catholic school, and non-religious private school peers, Protestant Christian school students do the following:

  • Show a higher level of commitment to their families, churches, and larger society
  • Donate more money despite having lower household incomes
  • Are more generous with their time
  • Participate more in service trips for relief and development and in mission trips for evangelization
  • Make family a top priority and consequently divorce less frequently
  • Are more thankful for what they have in life
  • Do not feel helpless when dealing with problems in life
  • Report greater direction in their lives
  • Are committed to progress in their communities
  • Practice spiritual disciplines more frequently
  • Are more committed to their churches
  • Follow church teachings to a greater degree
  • Use Scripture more to make moral decisions
  • Believe religion should be a part of the public debate on social and political issues
  • Demonstrate a theological sense of vocation

Christian educators should feel a sense of joy and satisfaction when thinking of the hours of prayer, instruction, correction and direction that go into being a part of producing students with the kinds of qualities listed above. We are also grateful for God’s grace in the lives of students in our schools. Who would not be proud of students displaying these wonderful qualities? Certainly our students make the world a better place and contribute significantly to daily life through their “faithful presence” and their obedience to Christ in living out their faith. We have much to be thankful for!

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