Category Christian School Education
Title Christian Schools for Human Flourishing
Author/s Timothy P. Wiens, EdD
Preview It is our job to help our students achieve more than they thought they could. The same is true of our faculty. We should be placing them in situations where they are provided with the tools and knowledge to grow and the safety of an environment where they might dream big dreams, feel free to make mistakes along the way, and develop the art and craft of teaching. This is one more strategy that will help us ensure our students will reach the outcomes we have established for them.
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The world has changed dramatically in my 23 years as an educator. When I began teaching high school history in 1993, I had no idea how the Internet and the interconnectedness of the world would impact education in both the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Today, in some ways, I remain a dinosaur. I am not on the cutting edge of technology; I do not read e-books. I love books printed on paper. I love to listen to lectures and engage in Socratic dialogue with students and faculty alike. I also lament that schools-including Christian schools-are allowing technology and algorithms to replace the relationships that foster a high quality education.

Today, despite my tendencies to prefer the traditional and to borrow from those who went before me, I recognize and embrace the need for innovation as we seek ways to engage students and send them into a world I could not have imagined when I began my career. Our students' brains are being shaped in very different ways than were those of students from generations past, and they need an education that speaks to these neurological changes. Yet we must also recognize the benefits of an education that harkens back to the past and sees the need to prepare students for more than just a career as cogs in the world's economic engine. This homo economicus philosophy is antithetical to what Christian schooling should be about.

Over the past quarter of a century, I have worked in public schools, independent schools (nonsectarian and Christian), and in higher education. Each school and school system I worked within had a distinctive mission and ethos. To say "public schools do this, nonsectarian independent schools do that, and Christian schools do the other" is too simplistic. Public school districts are driven by local and state mandates as well as local cultures and mores. Some have chosen to follow the Common Core State Standards; others have not. Their student outcomes vary greatly from school district to school district, city to city, and state to state. Nonsectarian independent schools, each governed by an independent board, respond to a multitude of perceived student and community needs. Christian schools, likewise, differ in their mission and ethos as they seek to meet the varied needs of their constituents.

In visiting schools across the country and in working with educational leaders, I have seen several common themes that impact how our schools form students. These three are most pertinent here:

  1. Great schools have a coherent educational philosophy.
  2. Great schools employ quality assessment strategies-for both faculty and students.
  3. Great schools provide robust leadership training for classroom teachers.

Coherent Philosophy of Education

As we consider building student outcomes that drive the curriculum and pedagogy we use within our classrooms, we must begin with philosophy, which is built fi rmly upon our theological perspectives. There is a logical continuum that I use to guide my thinking on the issue.

Theology - Philosophy - Pedagogy - Learning Outcomes

As Christian educators, our theology informs all decisions. It is our foundation, our bedrock. Our philosophy of education must therefore be built upon this foundation. For example, our philosophy of education helps us determine the curriculum, how we choose textbooks, and how we determine pedagogical methodologies and classroom management approaches. Each of these areas impacts student outcomes.

Too often, schools have mediocre outcomes because they have not unified constituents around their philosophy of education-or have not even defined one. But our educational philosophy impacts every academic decision. An absent or unclear philosophy of education leaves us susceptible to poor choices about programs and curriculum. If your institution embraces a liberal arts philosophy of education, how does that affect the possibility of adding an engineering track to your science curriculum? If you are a classical school, does the AP curriculum make sense for you as you work toward your distinctive outcomes? Our choices have far-reaching ramifications and must therefore be built upon a clear educational philosophy.

Quality Assessment Practices

In conducting academic and programmatic audits for Christian schools over the past decade, the most common area of weakness I continue to see is in the area of assessment. It begins with our faculty and staff: how do we hold them accountable? How are we ensuring we are placing the right teachers in the classroom-teachers who are rightly guiding our students in achieving the outcomes we have established?

We must ensure not only that our students are provided with quality formative and summative assessments, but that our teachers are assessed in a manner that promotes continual growth. Quality schools create a culture in which faculty members desire feedback and use assessment to improve their practice. Just as students need formative assessment to improve their learning, teachers and administrators need formative assessment to improve their effectiveness. Our assessment practices help us judge the quality of our programs and our faculty. There is nothing more important than the faculty in ensuring high-quality student outcomes.

Leadership Training & Support

Preparing our faculty to lead is of utmost importance as we consider student outcomes. The tyranny of the urgent must not prevent us from implementing schoolwide professional development programs that will prepare our faculty to be teacher-leaders. Such programs can bolster our teachers and provide opportunities to hear their voices, ideas, and perspectives. Teachers have the potential to lead in new and innovative ways. We must provide the space and time for them to do so. Quality schools invest in these types of programs that give teachers-regardless of their tenure-the time, space, and resources to fl ourish. Teachers who are passionate about what they are doing and believe they have a meaningful place in the institution have a profound impact on student learning.

Conclusion

Today's Christian schools have the opportunity to provide the world with graduates prepared to engage the world and lead the way-in a word, to flourish. We must also enable our faculty to flourish. Through providing a coherent educational philosophy that guides all decisions, providing effective assessment and accountability of our faculty, and enabling our teacher-leaders to grow and develop professionally, we will, in the end, see greater student outcomes within our schools and will more effectively impact the world for Christ. I want our students to know and understand they are far more than cogs in the world's economic engine; they are Christians prepared to flourish.


Timothy P. Wiens, EdD, serves as the head of school at Delaware County Christian School, is the cochair of Vanderbilt University's Peabody Professional Institute for Independent School Leadership, and teaches within Peabody College's Master of Arts degree program in Independent School Leadership. Tim is married to Dr. Kathryn Wiens. They have one son, Eliot, and a Great Dane, Greta.

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