Welcome to Voices 4 Christian Ed. Each week, one of four authors will offer his thoughts on topics of interest to Christian school leadership. Your voice is also welcome here; please comment on these posts so that together we can create conversation on the essential issues facing Christian schools.
“Is your Christian school influential in the lives of your graduates?”
“How do you know?”
“I met one of our graduates the other day in a store and asked her whether she liked our Christian school. She said it really prepared her for college.”
Would that answer from one person be enough to persuade you? How does a school measure the influence of its education beyond graduation? If you were to survey graduates, when would be the best time to get the most accurate assessment? Five years out? A decade? What questions would you ask: achievement in college? Naming key points of a Christian worldview taught at your school? Generosity of time or money? Church participation? Something else?
“…Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways” (Proverbs 4:23–26).
As leaders of your board, school, family, or classroom, you need to know that there is a battle going on for your credibility and character. In today’s volatile social media environment, every word, action, or random musing is being scrutinized and judged, even those made years ago. Whether you think that is fair or not doesn’t really matter. While we are blessed with God’s forgiveness, the world isn’t as forgiving, and even though we may receive forgiveness from God, consequences often remain for misspoken words or improper actions.
One of the most powerful parts of our role as leaders in Christian education lies in the area of initiating difficult conversations. These are the conversations that involve confronting a staff or faculty member regarding a questionable comment or action they have demonstrated.
They are the conversations wherein the question of whether someone is a good fit for ABC Christian School is broached. They are the conversations that require us to, as tactfully as possible, directly address an issue or problem that is affecting student learning/mission fulfillment in our schools. And I think they are one of the most important actions we take, because they get to the heart of why we exist and whether we are going to faithfully pursue our vision and mission.
Decades ago, while meandering through a magazine, I stopped at a letter to the editor, entitled something like “Jigsaw Puzzle Education.” The writer was troubled at the state of education, claiming that teachers were not connecting one fact or idea to another. His analogy went something like this: teachers ask students to learn that 2 + 2 = 4, but without any reference to the broader context of life.
He said that this way of teaching is similar to asking students to connect two pieces of a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle without ever seeing the picture on the box. Two facts may connect, but for the students, it has little meaning beyond that. The writer said it would be frustrating for students, seeing no sense in learning the tidbit connection without seeing how it fits in the whole picture.
As you begin your planning for professional development and goal setting for next school year, I would like to revisit the basics of biblical worldview. I invite all of you to assess your school in at least two important areas: to what extent do you intend to integrate worldview principles into your practice, and to what extent are you actually doing so?
Over this past year, we’ve been looking at the relationship between power and leadership, including some of the key factors that impact the power dynamics in our schools. I’d like to turn now to some reflections on different ways of doing leadership and how those impact power in our schools. For our first step on this journey, I want to draw from the excellent work of the restorative practices movement. Restorative practices draw from a variety of disciplines and seek to build healthy community, increase social capital, reduce anti-social behavior, and repair harm and relationships.
“My son will not amount to anything.” Decades ago, when a student’s father said that in anger during our parent-teacher conference, I cringed. He saw it and pulled back, “I guess he will find a job someplace, but school is not for him.” Since then, I’ve wondered many times whether some kids lack the brain power to learn anything beyond the repetition of a task. Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University, says they can: “I think anyone can learn anything under the right circumstances.”
For Christian schools, this debatable issue has appeared in several places. Some Christian high schools still market themselves as college prep schools, clearly communicating that they make little accommodation for students who may not be interested college prep subjects. More and more, Christian schools have access to programs in the community that train students for trades, with these students, in effect, having dual enrollment in two schools. Many have special education programs that help students with learning differences, including students who learn only elemental parts of various subjects.
I am preparing to teach Christian School International’s annual Principal Development Institute (PDI) at the end of this month, and as I work through the curriculum and reflect on what advice I would give to these school leaders (or any leader of people, for that matter), I always come back to one practice. Solitude.
A few weeks ago, when we were celebrating our family advent time and had lit the candle of hope, we all shared something that gives us hope. One of my daughters said, “Going to church gives me hope, because it makes me feel that I’m not alone in trying to follow Jesus. We’re all in this together with other people trying to do the same thing.” That statement has stuck with me and taken my mind and heart in all sorts of reflective directions. I’d like to share with you the strongest one:
I see my journey of faith as a grand adventure, the kind of adventure that will entail all sorts of unexpected mini adventures along the way: new awakenings of grace and wonder and times of distance and quiet that require a deep faith to move through. And all the while this deep hope of my place in the Christ story is centering the day-to-day of my life and calling me further on the adventure. All of that said, it may come as no surprise that I love J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I guess I see myself as a bit of a Bilbo Baggins, called (maybe even cajoled: “I don’t want any adventures. Not today. Thank you…”) to a grand journey with a grand goal when large parts of me would rather just stay in a place of comfort in my hobbit hole (suburban house, couch, fireplace, big screen TV, dark ale…you get the picture).