Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking about organizational culture in the context of my own school system and in the context of other schools with which I work. My reflections on this topic are shaped by a mixture of my own experiences and random readings and coursework, but are most heavily influenced by the work of Andy Hargreaves and the leadership/teaching of Lloyd Den Boer.
I’ve worked in leadership in three different Christian school settings, evaluated and consulted for many others, and served on several boards for not-for-profit organizations. I have seen thriving organizational cultures in which those involved flourish personally while also enabling those around them—colleagues and students alike—to flourish as well. These thriving cultures I would like to call authentically collegial communities. These are the kinds of school cultures where faculty and staff work together to enhance student learning because they believe it is the right thing to do, but also because they feel a strong desire to do so. They are also the places where faculty and staff work well together, not only despite their differences, but often because their differences come together to create strength. The leadership in authentically collegial communities serves to facilitate and support authentic collaboration, to highlight needs, and to inspire toward a direction—hopefully the fulfillment of the school’s vision and mission.
Back in 1968, Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner published a book called Teaching as a Subversive Activity. It shook schooling to its roots; in some ways it advocated chopping off the roots. Remember its location in history. The late 1960s and early 1970s in North America were a hippie heyday: Woodstock, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” “Let it all hang out, “Have it your way,” and burn the flag.
This book blasted traditional education: lectures killed the human spirit; storing up facts was trivial; logical thinking was deadening; students’ being inactive in seats dulled minds; teachers were teaching what one could see in the rear-view mirror and not preparing students for the future…which is where they would live! The writers compared schools to prisons and factories.
This is part two of a guest blog written by CSI partner Dr. Richard Edlin, the director of Edserv International in Warrawong, Australia. What follows are discussion points for Christian schools raised by the imagination perspective presented in the earlier blog. Each point merits further discussion and critique by stakeholders in Christian school communities.
- There is such a thing as a Christian imagination. Imagination is not inherently evil; it is a part of the very character of God that he has graciously gifted to humanity. The responsibility of Christian school communities, as they nurture children with the challenge of the lordship of Christ over all creation, is to explore every subject— including the way imagination contributes to every key learning area— from a biblically faithful worldview or metanarrative perspective.
This two-part guest blog is written by CSI partner and my good friend Dr. Richard Edlin, the director of Edserv International in Warrawong, Australia.
– Joel Westa
As created beings, one of our greatest treasures, perhaps the dearest fingerprint of God in us, is our ability to imagine. But inevitably, whenever I speak about the “biblical imagination” someone will object, “Isn’t the imagination a bad thing? Doesn’t the Bible say our imaginations are evil?”
— Michael Card, Christian musician
Panval Viaduct on an Indian postage stamp
Rajaram Bojji is a former managing director of the Konkan Railway Corporation. The Konkan railway line is 738 kilometers long on India’s west coast, linking Mangalore with Mumbai, and was completed in 1998. As an engineer, Bojji oversaw the construction of many sections of the line, including the famous 424 meters long and 67 meters tall Panval Nadi Viaduct near the port city of Ratnagiri beside the Arabian Sea.
As a part of his Extreme Railways television series, Chris Tarrant travelled the Konkan railway. During the filming, he interviewed Bojji, and together they inspected the Panval Viaduct, watching as a passenger train traversed its heights. In describing the marvel of the viaduct—the largest in all of India—Bojji said to Tarrant, “There must be some kind of divine spirit that makes humans imagine and do things that look impossible.”
With thanks to those who contacted me to engage in the conversation regarding communities of candor and care, I want to extend the discussion we started with my last entry. I am motivated to continue the conversation because I feel it is an essential component of competent Christian school leadership, and because the importance of conducting critical conversations is an issue that seems to be all around me.
Here’s a fictionalized example of a difficult staffing issue. A principal, who has been at her current school for a few years, is dealing with a staff member who has been there for over 25 years. The principal’s overriding frustration is that the issues with this staff member have been present for those 25 years but have not been dealt with. This staff member has been left to assume that these practices are acceptable when they are not, and sadly, the parents who have expressed concerns over those years have come away with the assumption that these poor practices are just something they need to put up with. In my personal experience as a Christian school leader, evaluator, consultant, and colleague, this scenario is all too common.
“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?
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?
“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.