The Christian School Principal

The Key to School Improvement

Leadership in our schools

leadership

Does the Christian school movement suffer from a lack of quality leadership?  The answer is YES.  The person in the position that is key to improving the Christian school movement is the Christian school principal.  It is also true that any commitment to improving Christian schooling must involve those persons at levels above that of the local Christian school.  In most cases, that would involve a commitment by the leadership of a local church and the members of a board responsible for policy making concerning the Christian school.  But it is the Christian school principal that must lead and direct the activities of the local Christian school.  The local Christian school is the site where improvement must occur.

These are the realities.  It will be the best of times in the movement if we are willing to address current conditions and apply the Word of God and the findings of the best research about the schooling of children and about the key roles of adults in carrying out the ministry of a Christian school.  It will be the best of times if we redefine the role of the Christian school principal in a way that leadership is less hierarchical, meaning that all stakeholders are involved in planning the ministry of a local Christian school.  It will be the worst of times if the role of a local Christian school principal continues to be defined as that of a manager, with authority based upon position.  It will be the worst of times if we continue to be satisfied with current realities, especially assigning people to work in leadership roles who have little if any preparation for that role.

Why should we give renewed attention to the role of the Christian school principal?  Because the local school is the place where improvement will or will not occur.  That is where the pedal hits the metal.  That is where students learn or fail to learn.  The persons in the role of local school principal must be prepared to lead any effort to bring new life to the movement.

Think about it…

Let me pose a number of questions for you and offer a challenge for those reading this blog to respond in writing to the issues raised.

  1. Are the Christian school principals presently serving in the movement prepared I to lead an effort to bring about significant school improvement?
  1. Do current preparation programs for principals give adequate attention to the spiritual and cultural nature of a local Christian school ministry and ways to bring about change within that cultural system?
  1. Can principals presently serving in local Christian schools be trained “on site” to lead cultural change in the Christian schools of this nation?
  1. What are the greatest challenges to bringing about significant improvement in the movement?

The future of the Christian school movement depends upon what Christian school principals understand about the culture of the school that he/she leads and the plans made to address the needs of the students that are enrolled.

Religion and Education

Religion is inherently educational, and education is inherently religious.

muslim-children

Photo Source: Wikipedia

In order to survive and flourish, all religions demand an educational component.  This is true of false religions as well as of Christianity.  Religion is inherently educational.

Militant Muslims

Muslims train and teach their children to become accustomed, willing, and in fact eager to commit the most barbaric acts imaginable to please Allah.  They plan to eliminate all other religions and create a global caliphate.  They intend to begin this themselves and for their children to complete the task.

Judaism and Christianity

Judaism and Christianity are thoroughly educational. Our Lord Jesus could have chosen to come to earth as a scribe, a Pharisee, a tax collector, a farmer, a shepherd, or some other kind of professional or manual laborer.  His choice was to be known as “a teacher come from God”, often called “Rabbi.”

The last words He spoke to us were “Go . . . teach all things”.  This is not “the great suggestion”: it is the great commission.  2 Timothy 2:2 describes this as a process: “the things that thou has heard of me . . . the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”  Paul teaches Timothy, Timothy teaches faithful men, faithful men teach other faithful men, and so on until a faithful link in the chain teaches us.

All Education Systems

Just as important, but much more subtle, all education is inherently religious.  In other words, we educate for a reason.  We educate children in order to perpetuate our worldview, our culture, our religion.

We observe this in literature: every novel, short story, and poem is written with an educational purpose.  That’s why literature is so powerful, for good or for evil.  Art for art’s sake does not exist.

When Nathan had to confront David regarding his great sin, he was putting his life in danger.  He disarmed David by telling him a short story that stirred his righteous indignation.  The king determined the appropriate response, painting himself into a very small corner.

The process simplified is that literature disarms, engages, and persuades.  Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan precisely for this reason with the same outcome.  He often used parables in this way.

Insightful, alert English teachers play a critical role in Christian education.   How valuable they are!

Education may not appear to be religious and may even insist that it is thoroughly secular.  Me thinks they do protest too much.  Secular humanism is, of course, a religion.

Be not deceived:  Religion is inherently educational, and education is inherently religious.

The Selfie Syndrome

Combating Self-Absorption

In our vision statement for ministry, what is the trait that we most desire for our students?  The nebulous answer is success.  But pulling back the veneer, what do we really want?  Contrast that envisioned goal with what we see happening all around us.  True!  It is not just in students.  It is rampant in all sectors of our culture.

Using a selfie stick

Photo Source: Wikipedia

What is it, you ask?  The Selfie Syndrome!  That is the term used by Michelle Borba in a recent article in Time magazine.  She noted that the “rise of social media, as well as changes in our culture and parenting styles” had produced a generation of self-absorbed youth.  She offered some alarming statistics:

  • Narcissism rates up 58% compared to three decades ago
  • 20% of middle school students contemplate suicide as a solution to being bullied
  • Nearly 3 out of 4 college students admit cheating in class
  • One-third of college students report being depressed to the point of “having trouble functioning”

Probably safe to say this not what was envisioned a generation back.  So what can we as Christian educators do to cast a better vision for our students?  Here are several thoughts to get us started:

  • Model a life of Serving Others – Jesus came to earth as a prophet, priest, and king; however, his greatest example to us is that of a Before he completed His mission at Calvary, he washed feet.  (John 13; Philippians 2:5-8).   Let students see you serving fellow teachers by providing a meal in times of illness, praying with and for parents, and assisting students even when you are not required to do so.
  • Seek Empathy opportunities – While we should show sympathy to our students, we seek opportunities to be empathetic. Empathy begins in the classroom—guide students to understand personal needs of classmates; show students ways to be loving and kind to those that are different than them.  Help students to “walk the mile” in the shoes of others.  Guide students to give time and/or money to relief efforts.  Seek local service opportunities to assist elderly, work in homeless shelters or rescue missions, etc.
  • Focus on Self-Sacrifice not Self-Esteem – In a culture that bombards leaders with the need to teach self-esteem, do not lose sight of the truth that success is when self-sacrifice guides one’s life. Jesus reminded His disciples that to be His follower one must deny self rather than be consumed by self-interest.  It is interesting that in our world given to building self-esteem that suicide rates are on the rise.  Rarely do students need help building an esteemed self.
  • Honor those that Sacrifice – Our first thoughts may go to our military members or first responders. While these are worthy examples, the news is full of examples of those that “esteem others better than themselves.”  What about a person who donates an organ to family, friend, or total stranger?  It may be someone who sacrifices money or possessions for storm victims, the poor, or a missionary or mission project.  Remember, you will get what you honor.
  • An Others Project – Choose a year-long or short-term school or class project that allows teachers and students to see, understand, empathize, and sacrificially invest in others. Promote the opportunity to the students.  Let students offer ways that they can be used to meet the needs of others.  Facilitate opportunities for students to have an actionable part in helping.  Money does not solve all problems and it is often too easy to give money and then return focus to self.

Part of an effective teacher’s vision is that students learn to live for something greater than self.  As our culture caters to the desires of self, let’s be intentional about showing and teaching our students that the end of life lived with Selfie Syndrome is not success, rather disappointment, depression, and destruction.

FOCUS WARS

The bored Awakens

Do your students always seem to be gazing into the solar system? For learning to be at its best, students must be engaged 100% of the time.

lightsabers-clash

Photo Source: Wikipedia


Are your students busy or engaged? Remember, whoever is doing the most work is doing the most learning. Get your students engaged. Student engagement is defined as “students’ cognitive investment in, active participation in, and emotional commitment to their learning” (Zepke & Leach, 2010, pg. 168).

According to Marzano and Pickering, (2011), student engagement encompasses the following four areas:

  • Emotions: “How do I feel about this assignment?”
  • Interest: “Does this assignment capture my interest?”
  • Perceived Importance: “Will I really need to know this?”
  • Perceptions of efficacy: “Can I do this?”

Students must answer “yes” to these four questions for them to want to be involved in the learning activity. The better a teacher knows his students, the better she/he can design an assignment that meets the needs of these four criteria.

Schlecty (1994) gave three characteristics of engaged students. Teachers need to observe their classrooms for students who

  • are attracted to their work.
  • persist in their work despite challenges.
  • take visible delight in their work.

Children almost always portray these characteristics when playing video games, playing with Legos, or playing sports. The same needs to be true regarding academics. How much engagement occurs by watching, listening, note taking, copying, highlighting, discussing, dissecting, or building? Choose activities that are engaging! “High levels of active engagement during lessons are associated with higher levels of achievement and student motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000)”.

There are four essential goals for engaged children:

  • Success (the need for mastery)
  • Curiosity (the need for understanding)
  • Originality (the need for self-expression)
  • Relationships (the need for involvement with others) (Strong, Silver & Robinson, 1995)

Engaged students will experience these goals within the classroom on a daily basis. Teachers need to think of creative ways to keep learners engaged by tuning in to their interest.

“Psychologically, engaged learners are intrinsically motivated by curiosity, interest, and enjoyment, and are likely to want to achieve their own intellectual or personal goals. The engaged child demonstrates the behaviors of concentration, investment, enthusiasm, and effort. Because children with low levels of engagement are at risk for disruptive behavior, absenteeism, and eventually dropping out of school, the need to increase engagement is critical to children’s success in school.” (Jablon & Wilkinson, 2006)

Real learning is not a spectator sport! Create a climate of engagement that draws student attention and promotes learning.

References:

Jablon, S. & Wilkinson, M. (2006, March). Using Engagement Strategies to Facilitate Children’s Learning & Success. Young children on the Web.

Marzano, R. & Pickering, D. (2011). The Highly Engaged Classroom. Marzano Research.

Ryan, R. & Deci, E. (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 54–67

Schlecty, P. (1994). Schlecty Center on Engagement.

Strong, R., Silver, H., & Robinson, A. (1995). Strengthening Student Engagement: What Do Students Want (and what really motivates them)? Educational Leadership, 53, 1,  8-12

Zepke, N. & Leach, L. (2010), Improving student engagement: Ten proposals for action. Active Learning in Higher Education. 11(3):167-177