WHAT MAKES A SCHOOL A GREAT SCHOOL?

Part 1 of 4

We have already defined the characteristics of an excellent teacher and one might assume that a great school is simply a collection of great teachers.  Nothing could be farther from the truth: many great teachers do NOT a great school make, and some great schools have few great teachers.  So, what are the unique qualities all great schools share?

Schools may appear to be organizations, but they are in fact organisms – living, breathing, dynamic, growing relationships between teachers and students, among teachers, among students, and so forth.  That being said, we can properly conclude that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  In other words, a great school is more than isolated great parts.  What makes up the glue that transforms the parts into a great whole?

The first is an overarching MANDATE – a vision that fuels and directs the activity of administrators and teachers.  For our school, it is simply “Equipping Tomorrow’s Christian Leaders”.

We believe in the depths of our soul that almost all the leaders of the church 20 years from now are sitting in Christian school classrooms and home school study areas today.  For decades our churches, colleges, missionary force,  and day schools have been aging and decreasing in size and number. If we fail to train our students to lead, the fundamentalist strain of Christianity will cease to matter very much.

So we teach them that there is no difference whatever in the value of God’s calling to churchplace vis-à-vis workplace ministry.  We show them this principle in the Bible from the lives of Moses, Daniel, and many others.  We model it by having church members in business and the professions speak in our chapels. We also invite school parents in the professions, and sometimes believers not connected organically with the school, to inspire the kids.  When Christians exercise political influence, we have a much better chance of living quiet and peaceable lives.

Training the next generation of leaders

The next mayor of North Charleston has to go to high school somewhere.  Why not this school?  So does the governor, congressmen and senators, supreme court justices – listen, the president of the United States will go to high school somewhere.  Why not my school?  How literally awesome would it be to have dozens of men and women like Asa Hutchinson in Washington!  The faculty must live and breathe this high expectation for every student, and the kids must embrace it.  This is the first hallmark of a great school.

Should You Be “The Sage on The Stage”?

Thoughtful educators continuously engage in reflective practice.  They read professional journals and articlesTeacher reading to class of teenagers (14-16) about education.  They listen to their students and the parents of those children.  They evaluate their instructional methods and classroom practices in light of classroom or school-wide assessments, standardized test scores, and other measures of student progress.  They are aware of current trends in education, and they weigh the value of new methods and tools for student learning.  They reflect on their practices and their beliefs about education, and they strive to make their classroom the very best place for meeting the very individual needs of the children God sends to them and parents entrust to their teaching and care.

Be a Critical Thinker

Thoughtful Christian educators engage in reflective practice but reject many of the practices of progressive American education because the practices and the principles those practices reflect conflict with biblical truth about the nature of children and the nature of learning.  Recently, Education Week published a blog by Maya Thiagarajan that questioned some of those progressive principles and practices.  Maya is an American-educated English teacher who has been teaching in Singapore.  She is the author of Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting in the Global Age.  In her Education Week guest blog on August 15, 2016, Maya frankly discusses five “universal education truths” that as an American teacher she believed and “religiously” followed until her move to Singapore in 2010.  I am going to consider each of the “five truths” in a series of posts, beginning with the third in Maya’s list.

Role of the Teacher

Truth #3: Good teachers are always “the guide on the side.”  No good teacher should be “a sage on the stage.”…With phrases like “sage on the stage,” American educational rhetoric literally ridicules the idea that a teacher has wisdom to offer young kids.  In every way, the rhetoric exhorts teachers to stay on the sidelines and play only a facilitating role while empowering kids to take the lead.

While I think that playing the role of a guide or facilitator has its place in a 21st century classroom, I’ve also started to think deeply about the Singaporean belief that the elder not only has wisdom to offer the child, but also has a responsibility to be front and center in the child’s life.

When I read American rhetoric exhorting teachers and parents to empower children by giving them more choices and greater freedom (and in the process, less explicit guidance), I can’t help but wonder whether it makes sense to marginalize the role of the elder.  When we let machines and peer culture teach our children, aren’t we devaluing our own wisdom and expertise?  Aren’t we abdicating a central responsibility that the elders in communities around the world have performed for millennia?  Don’t children benefit from some explicit guidance?  And shouldn’t there be some times when we are “the sages on the stage”?  (Thiagarajan, 2016)

What is a Sage?

Consider the meaning of sage—a wise and venerated elder.  Consider the pattern of learning repeatedly emphasized in Scripture—an elder (parent, grandparent, pastor, teacher) instructing, guiding, and mentoring one who is younger and/or uninstructed in truth.  Consider the example of Christ with His disciples.  Isn’t it apparent, then, that Christian school teachers should be the “sage on the stage” in their classrooms?  If you think that means a daily lecture in every discipline where students are passive listeners to your continual droning, then I pity the children in your classroom.  If you think that means a classroom without digital resources, online connections, and multi-sensory experiences for learners, then you are misunderstanding the real meaning of sage.

If your classroom is a place where you wisely direct active learning experiences for your students, connect to digital and online resources that enrich and reinforce student learning, share your knowledge of a subject with engaging lecture that sparks student questions and discussion about significant topics, and lovingly shepherd children and teens through their many social, emotional, and spiritual crises – then I think you truly understand what it means to be “the sage on the stage.”

Reference:

Thiagarajan, M. (2016, August 15). Five lessons from teaching in Singapore. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2016/08/five_lessons_from_teaching_in_singapore.html?qs=teaching+in+sigapore

This article will be included in the Winter 2017 issue of The Journal for Christian Educators, a publication of the American Association of Christian Schools.

Upcoming Articles

Five week Series

We are excited to announce that Dr. Jeff Walton will be writing a five-week series for us at FOCUS.  Each week Jeff will be discussing a “universal education truth” for educators in today’s world. The first post will be discussing the role of the teacher in his/ her classroom.

Get to know Jeff

He serves as the executive director of the American Association of AACS staff member, Jeff Walton, photo by Hal Cook, 2015Christian Schools headquartered in Chattanooga, TN. He is the editor of Journal for Christian Educators. He has served in Christian education ministries for 33 years as a high school teacher, school administrator, college administrator, and association officer.

 

How to Be an Eternal Thinker

For a society that seems enamored with futuristic thinking, the youth of the present generation could be described as excessively fixated on the present.  In spite of the media bombardment that casts dispersion on

global-thinkingthe past and glorifies the unknown beyond, educators work daily with young people that seem to embrace the here and now.

The secular educational culture of the 21st century seeks to develop global thinkers.  In a recent article published in Educational Leadership, Veronica Mansilla, part of a team from Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, discusses “ongoing research into global competence and how we can best nurture it in our schools.”  She explains that a significant outgrowth of the project has been the establishment of a definition of global competence that has been embraced on multiple continents and by the U. S. Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO):  the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.”

As I read the article, I questioned the goals for Christian education.  What kind of attention and effort is given to develop eternal thinking?  As I read on, I realized that as Christian educators called to live in this present world, we are also called to develop eternal thinkers.  Mansilla stated confidently that “nurturing global competence will require more that adding more [content] to our already full K-12 curriculum.”

In order to achieve global thinking, Mansilla proposed that educators cultivate four global thinking dispositions into their students—

  • A disposition to inquire about the world
  • A disposition to understand multiple perspectives—others’ and their own
  • A disposition toward respectful dialogue
  • A disposition toward taking responsible action

Mansilla continued to explain that to assist teachers in help teachers succeed in the quest to develop global thinkers, her group is working to develop global thinking routines.  Why?  Because research screams that “students cultivate dispositions not through occasional lessons, units, or . . . events, but through ongoing participation in classroom cultures in which these dispositions are visibly valued and extensively practiced.”

The author’s concluded “when teachers make these routines habitual practices—part of “the way we do things here”—they pave the way for the kind of learning need[ed] to prepare . . . youth for our interdependent world.”

Wow!  I conclude that Mansilla in “spot on” in her message.  To develop global thinkers, the secular educational system is diligent in integrating global dispositions into the fabric of the secular classroom, and it will be successful.  The system will produce global thinkers.

But what about Christian educators?  How focused are we on developing eternal thinkers.  Are we distracted from the quest to produce students that “seek first the kingdom of God?”  Have we become so focused on teaching material and educational excellence (and I understand that both of these have merit) that we have lost sight of the eternal mission of our calling?

As I reviewed Mansilla’s four dispositions, I found a renewed energy to develop eternal thinkers.  Truly, if our students “gain the whole world” and do not learn to think with eternity in mind, the educational process is vanity.  What “routine habitual practices” are a part of our Christian education classroom that will ensure that we develop eternal thinkers?  We can succeed, but we must be intentional in our efforts.  Eternity is at stake!

Can you share a disposition(s) for developing eternal thinkers that you have made part of your classroom or school?

 

Mansilla, V. B.  December 2016/December 2017.  Educational Leadership.  How to be a global thinker?  ASCD:  Alexandria, VA.

Principles For Crafting Effective Report Card Comments

Words Fitly Spoken

Proverbs 25:11 reminds us that a “fitly spoken” word is a beautiful thing!  Nowhere does this hold true more than in report cards comments.report-card

Teachers often find writing report card comments to be a daunting and dreaded task.  And, certainly, there are some pitfalls to avoid.  However, a well-crafted report card comment can bless our students and families.

Here are some principles for crafting effective report card comments.

Say something specific.  General comments like “Johnny is a good student” or “Sally needs to focus more” are too general to be helpful.  Be specific with comments, such as “Johnny consistently does his work and engages in class discussion” or “Sally is often distracted by extra materials on her desk.”

Keep it simpleKeep your sentences short and your word choice intentional.  If you haven’t conferenced with parents before, you should shortly after they read this comment.  Allow you comment to summarize a previous conference or set the agenda for a future conference.  A report card comment should not explain concerns in detail.

Compliment thoughtfully.  Comment on what makes the student different from other students.  Parents are encouraged when teachers share what they see in their child.

Choose one or two “opportunities for improvement.”  Word your comment carefully to help students and parents recognize weaknesses as opportunities.  For example, “Sixth grade offers Suzy the opportunity to strengthen her organizational skills.”

Make a target suggestion or goal.  Give parents and students hope by offering specific suggestions.  The sentence above about Suzy might be followed by “Getting her daily agenda initialed by teachers every day would be a great place for her to start.”

Keep comments student-focused.  Don’t refer to yourself too often.  A well-crafted comment often never contains the word “I.”  Instead of “I enjoy teaching Ralph” (too general and too teacher-focused), try “Ralph’s curiosity makes him a joy to teach.”

If in doubt, don’t.  Report cards follow students throughout their educational career.  If you are in doubt about the content or tone of a comment, don’t use it.  Seek advice from a colleague or administrator and try again.

Do you find writing report card comments daunting?  What have you learned as you’ve undertaking this challenging task?

 

Excellence without Excuses

School has been is session for approximately 9 weeks. Have you stopped to give yourself a self-evaluation? Take time this week to self-evaluate to make sure you are doing everything excellencewith excellence. Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Check your habits against these ten indicators to see if you are doing the small, day-to-day actions with excellence.

  • EXUBERANT – The American Heritage Dictionary defines exuberant as “full of unrestrained high spirits; abandonedly joyous; growing or producing abundantly”. Does this describe your testimony, attitude, spirit, or public relations style? Would colleagues describe you this way? I Corinthians 15:58 reminds us that we are always to “abound in the work of the Lord”.
  • X-RAY VISION – Have an “eagle eye” at all times. Continuously observe the countenance, demeanor, body language, and friend choices of your students. This will tell you how to help and encourage your students.
  • COMPASSION – Be considerate of parents and students. I John 4:11 states, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Are you even-tempered? Do you love and listen to your parents and students? John 21-22 reminds us to “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference.”
  • EQUIPPED FOR THE DAY – When the day starts, are you ready for it? A teacher should be equipped for the day spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, and professionally. Do whatever it takes to be ready for the day when it starts. Ho Boon Tiong reminds us that “The more you prepare outside class, the less you perspire in class. The less you perspire in class, the more you inspire the class.” Being prepared and equipped for the day should be routine. John Maxwell reminds us that “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”
  • LEADER – Teacher-leaders should always be credible in what they say and do. Is your message reliable? Cooperative and flexible should also be attributes of a good leader. And a leader must work well with others in a collegial manner.
  • LIFE-LONG LEARNER – A teacher must be a life-long learner…always thirsty for more knowledge. Teachers need to be professional readers in order to stay fresh and vibrant in the classroom. Dr. William Glasser reminds us that “Getting the job done, even done well, is good enough for nonprofessionals, but continually improving the way the job is done both for themselves and others is the hallmark of professionals.”
  • ENERGIZED – An energized teacher shows excitement for the content material, takes pleasure in teaching, demonstrates involvement in learning activities outside school, and practices energizing others. Check your vocal delivery, word choice, humor, eye movement, facial expressions, gestures, movement, and energy level. Have variety in your delivery style. Our message is too important to bore students with it.
  • NEEDS-ORIENTED – Teaching with excellence means that you recognize the needs of students and can differentiate for them. “Effective teachers recognize that no single instructional strategy can be used in all situations.” One size doesn’t fit all! Anita Turner reminds us that “A great teacher has the ability to present a delectable assortment of activities or lessons that will satisfy even the most finicky intellectual, emotional, and social appetite.”
  • CREATIVE – Imagine what good teaching looks like, and do it! Be creative! Do not let inhibitions scare you from being creative. Get out of your box! Creativity makes a lesson exciting and memorable for a student.
  • EXEMPLARY – The American Heritage Dictionary defines exemplary as “one that is worthy of being copied”. Are you worthy of being copied in word and deed? The Bible tells us that whatever we do in word or deed, we are to do all to the glory of Christ. John Maxwell reminds us that “You are what you do daily.”

Teachers that strive for excellence do the small things well, care about others, constantly improve themselves, and give it their all! Willa Foster wrote that “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” Autograph each day with excellence.

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.

Death Education

Are your students prepared for a tragedy?

Death Education

As we begin a new school year, our buildings are teeming with energy and excitement.  There is an edge that comes with a re-start—both for teachers and students.  Some teachers are embarking on their inaugural school year as a teacher.  Students have enjoyed a summer with activity and diversion; however, most are ready to get back to the routine of socialization, education, and extra-curricular enjoyments.

But what happens when this excitement is punctuated by a tragedy?  What are you doing as a teacher to prepare students for the unexpected?  What are you doing to prepare students for the inevitable?  Do you actively provide curricular initiatives in Death Education?

graveyard Picture

Photo Source: Wikipedia

While I am sure that few have teaching units in Death Education, we should intentionally teach students to understand, deal with, and prepare for death.  It is still true: “No one is prepared to live until he is prepared to die.”  As educators, we must not only help our students prepare for death, but we must also prepare them for those times that death strikes uncomfortably close to us.

This past school year during graduation week, a student in a school that I serve, died in a boating accident.  The impact on a family, a peer group, a school, and a greater community was shocking.  While we know that these things can happen, as educators we are often caught off guard.

The educational process should include instruction in Death Education.  Of course, protocols for this teaching will be different based on age and grade levels.  But educators should integrate truths about death into students’ learning experiences.  Ruth Haycock’s Encyclopedia of Bible Truths for School Subjects suggests appropriate concepts to include into a curriculum.

Some obvious biblical concepts that should be taught—

  • Spiritual vs. Physical Death
  • Causes of Death
  • Nature of Physical Death
  • Life after Death
  • God’s Power over Death
  • The Body after Death
  • Post Resurrection Events
  • Believer’s Attitude Towards Life and Death

Death Education should not be taboo in our classrooms; rather, teachers should intentionally integrate truth about death into curriculum.  Prayerfully, your students and your school community will be spared from personal tragedy this year; however, as teachers we must be proactive in preparing students to face death.

Only when students understand and are prepared to deal with death can they be fully prepared to for life.

What are some suggestions that you can share about how to implement death education into the teaching process?

Aloha: Welcoming New Teachers

Works for us

AlohaPhoto Source: Wikipedia

Aloha is a small word with a big reach. Think of it as a hug. In Hawaii, we use it to say hello, good-bye, and as a synonym for love. The word aloha also describes our approach to helping new teachers get connected to our church, school ministry, and community.

Our school enrollment averages around 200 students from kindergarten through 12th grade. We have one class per grade where we try to do it right and do it well. We have 13 full-time teachers; but because it is Hawaii, every year we say good-bye to at least one terrific teacher and hello to a new one. Over the past 30 years, this has added up to a lot of hugs.

For many of these new teachers it is their first teaching opportunity. For them, moving to Hawaii is both exciting and a little scary. Here are a few of the things that have worked for us to help make the move easier for them.

Before They Arrive

Helping new teachers feel loved and wanted begins before they arrive. Moving to a new ministry can be exciting and scary. Knowing that information reduces anxiety, we try to create an environment where new teachers are comfortable asking questions. We have found that sending emails and text messages works well because of the time zone differences, but this also works well because it allows the new teachers to ask all sorts of questions as they think of them without feeling like they are bothering someone. We ask one or two of our current teachers to connect with them as well. The more information we can give them before they arrive the better.

When They Arrive

My wife and I and two or three of our teachers like to greet new teachers at the airport with a smile, a flower lei, and a short tour of the island. During the first week, we want to accomplish three things.

First, we want to familiarize them with the island. This means spending the day with them as we circle the island while sharing with them about ourselves, our diverse culture, and our unique history. Moving to a new place is always better after making new friends, so we try to take other teachers with us on these excursions to help foster opportunities for new friendships to develop.

Second, we want to help them get established in their new home. Since new teachers will not be paid for another two or three weeks, we take them grocery shopping and the church picks up the tab for the first $100. We also ask the new teachers to make a list of things they need for their house and classroom. We call this a wish list. We post the wish list in the back of the church auditorium and challenge our church folks to provide the items. Our church families are great about adopting new teachers and making them feel loved and part of the church.

Third, we want to help new teachers get connected with our church. During that first week, our pastor and his wife will work on connecting with them. We encourage our college and career Sunday school class, church members, and school staff to reach out to our new teachers as well by including them in family activities. We know that the more connections the new teachers make, the faster they will feel like they are a valued part of the ministry.

After They Arrive

After playing tourist for the first week or so, we want our new teachers to get busy working. Working together builds unity, and at the beginning of the school year we have lots of opportunities for unity!

For instance, we always schedule a church-wide work day for families to come help the teachers get the campus and classrooms ready. We also have a day set aside for new teacher orientation. This way they can have the principal’s attention, take care of paperwork, and get some individual help before the other teachers come for in-service training. Once in-service training begins, an experienced teacher is asked to help the new teacher. This mentor shows the teacher how to get the classroom and lessons ready for school.

We do other things as well, but these are a few of the things that work for us. At our school, loving and helping new teachers is a planned activity, but it is also a part of who we are as a church and school. For us, we have discovered that aloha works!

Author

John Goodale earned a B. A. in pulpit communications from Tennessee Temple University and an M.A. in education administration from Liberty University. He has been a teacher and principal at Ko’olau Baptist Academy in Kaneohe, Hawaii, for 30 years.

Copyright Journal for Christian Educators, Spring 2016 Vol.22 NO 3.  Reprinted with permission of the American Association of Christian Schools.

Recommitting to a Christian Philosophy and Community, Part 2

Today’s post is a continuation from our last post.  You can read part 1 here.

Value

In the absence of truth, values have become subjective and relative. Moral absolutes have given way to the consensus of the majority in which what was good is now bad and the bad has become acceptable. A biblical worldview looks to the Scriptures to define what is good and what is valuable.

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Doing the will of God, obeying the laws of God, sharing the love of God, and thinking the thought of God bring priorities, proper conduct, motives, and beauty to life (Garrick 1985). Through teaching, discipline, and modeling, regenerated hearts are led to submit to a life in accordance with God’s moral law.