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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.

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Can Everyone Learn?

“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.
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My Number One Recommendation for Leadership Development

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.
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Collaborating Our Way toward Authentic Reformed Worldview

How can you get beyond merely integrating a biblical worldview into your curriculum and move toward curriculum integration as a means for your entire school community to participate authentically in the biblical story?

At CSI, we believe that a sound biblical worldview integration (BWVI) process asks school faculties to delve deep into the question of their place in the biblical story. This necessarily precludes any pre-packaged or top-down approach that neglects the value of asking a faculty to collaborate and think deeply about the biblical Big Story. The process is as important as the product. Here I reprise last month’s blog reference to Daniel Pink’s work on intrinsic motivation. Pink said, “There are at least three aspects that foster intrinsic motivation. The first is autonomy, or self-direction.” According to Pink, for most of us, “our ‘default’ setting is to be autonomous and self-directed.” The second aspect is mastery, or becoming better at something that matters. Pink says this “turns out to be the single most motivating aspect of many jobs.” Third, there is purpose: “Humans, by their nature, seek purpose—to make a contribution and to be part of a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.”
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Bilbo Baggins and the Power of Hope

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).
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Myopia and Trifocals

I see quite well, actually. From a distance, that is. Computer screens, books, the print on my pill bottles? Not so well. I use reading glasses, cheap ones, with multiple pairs at every landing point of my day. I have an eyeball distortion, called presbyopia, a Greek word meaning “old eye.” (Presbyterian means “rule by elders.”) For most people, this aging of the lens begins in one’s 40s. Reading glasses correct the problem, with higher magnification necessary as one ages.

In school leadership, boards and administrators often have vision diseases that prevent them from seeing God and the world rightly. When administrators wear the correctives lenses of the Bible, they can lead teachers to supply these glasses for students and help them overcome a major vision defect: myopia. This myopia, left uncorrected, blinds people from seeing God’s vision for his people. When school leaders themselves have this disease, they can lead followers on a path that may look satisfying but is loaded with potholes and ditches of quicksand.
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In the Swamp

If you know me at all, you know I have a passion for being outdoors, and I especially enjoy hunting. One morning recently I got up extra early to sneak into a new stand on the farm where I hunt. This particular stand hadn’t been used at all this year, and the property owner was going to walk me to it, as I had no idea where it was. Under cover of darkness we snuck quietly through the swamp, crossing shallow creeks and winding through trees and windfalls.
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Stakeholder Collaboration/Executive Led: A Biblical Perspective on Leadership of Faculty and Staff

Last month, a colleague detailed for me how a surprise edict had come down from administration to his department that outlined a new procedure his department was to follow. “Bart, no one saw this coming. It gives us much more work, without any increase in resources. We don’t even know what problem we are supposed to be solving. You know, it makes me feel like I must be an incompetent teacher who doesn’t know much about what I’m doing.” This colleague is a recognized leader in his field who has traveled the nation giving seminars on his subject area!

Do you see yourself anywhere in this scenario? Which part? I, unfortunately, have been on each side at one time or another. In this blog, I am going to Daniel Pink’s book Drive, and Richard Rohr’s The Divine Dance, to identify some underlying principles I believe are in play here that may provide us some guidance.
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Manifesting Faithful Presence

The holiday season is upon us, and soon we will be besieged with school events, commitments, family reunions, and the world’s take on Christmas. For me, this season starts with my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving and progresses to the most stressful holiday for me, Christmas. It became stressful when I lost sight of God’s view of Christmas and focused on the world’s view of Christmas. It seems I get focused on trying to find the perfect gift instead of focusing on the most perfect gift ever given. So this year, we’re going minimalist and focusing on important things instead of gifts, concentrating on enjoying each other’s presence instead of each other’s presents.
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How do you get your pizza?

Every Friday at lunchtime, our secondary campus music department brings in pizza to sell as an ongoing fundraiser. There’s usually a pretty big line of students, and several of the teachers also enjoy the option of having pizza for lunch. The students are very gracious and let teachers go to the front of the line, but there is one adult who never takes the students up on their offer. Each time he buys pizza, our secondary campus principal lines up with the students. A couple of month ago I asked him about this. He said he learned it from former Regent College president Walter Wright, who lined up for coffee with his students as a deliberate eschewing of his power to exercise privilege.

Students notice that the principal lines up and waits like they do. Just to be clear, I am not passing judgment on the teachers who go directly to the front of the line; they may have important meetings, intramurals, or student supervision scheduled and need to get there. This isn’t about them going to the front; it’s about the principal waiting in line.
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Life Imitates Heart

The 30-second ad showed a dad washing his car while his young son imitated him: soaping when the dad soaped, spraying when the dad sprayed, drying when the dad dried. Then dad sat down and leaned again a tire; so did the son. The dad pulled out a cigarette and lit it; the son took one and put it in his mouth. End of ad.

I recall this ad every time I think about the gap (sometime a chasm) between my preaching and practice in a Christian high school. Sponsored by the Mormon Church, the ad depicted how imitation is a powerful tool for learning, both for good and for ill. These days we use the term “follower” as a negative, e.g., “He’s just a follower,” like a student who follows the leader of a social group into trouble. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an America writer who celebrated “self,” said, “Imitation is suicide.” Likewise, Samuel Johnson claimed, “No man was ever great by imitation.” In education, imitation is in a recession; what’s taken its place is innovation, originality, and creativity. For the proponents, imitation is lazy, restricting, and deadening.
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