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Arising Trends

Arising Trends

Lately, I have been interested in what trends are happening in America.  Of course, I am mainly interested in how these trends affect education.  I have been reading blogs, theological posits, and scholarly journals about changes in our culture and future developments. For example, the trend in media is to make everything individual profile adaptable.  Anyone with Netflix or Hulu will see this.  Technology is moving to hands-free automaticity in order to remove the human error factor.   Look at Google’s, Fords, Tesla, Waymo, Lyft, Uber and other self driving car programs. As a school leader and someone who desires our students to be able to flourish in an everchanging society, I feel the pressure to position the school in a place to provide the teaching and learning needed to address these challenges.

Consumer Students → Innovative Students

I recently read a blog and article about how to turn this generation from consumers to creators.  How do we make creators out of students who are known for expecting everything to individually adapt to them?  As the role of a teacher changes, so too must that of a student.  In the education realm there is a push to transform students from consumers to creators. Much of this movement is driven by technology, which has opened up a new world of possibilities for students who otherwise had to wait until after graduation before they could think of making significant contributions to the real world.

As we investigate how to be more effective, we are seeing more curriculum strategies that lean on real-world application over closed-circuit projects. Students are being asked to interact with their communities and take on the responsibilities of entrepreneurs, rather than just playing the role. These immersive techniques, coupled with follow-up presentations in which students become teachers, open up a much deeper level of understanding. Some educational leaders have gone so far as to invite students to co-develop their own curricula.  Obviously, these are more geared for upper grade school students.  However, what does this mean to Salem Christian School?  How can our students best compete against these students for the college acceptances?

This trend isn’t just about entrepreneurship. Students-as-producers can be found in everything from media production to game design and programming. In fact, we are adding a Computer Aided Design class next year.  We look forward to more hands-on activities, facilities, and equipment (think  3D printers) that provide excellent, engaging opportunities to teach digital literacy, citizenship, and creator’s rights.

The Value of an Authentic Christian Education

There has been a push toward an increase in real-world learning experiences.  This most certainly will continue into the years to come.  More and more schools are recognizing the value of closing the book (literally) in favor of practical learning.  In fact, Salem Christian School has created math lab in the high school to provide this framework.  Granted, we are not ready to divorce ourselves of traditional books and formats that continue to work just for the new shiny bobbles tempting us.  But, the question we hope to answer is, “What is the best way to provide such experiences for students?”

We endeavor to use research, common sense, and experience to determine what is best for teaching and learning at Salem Christian School.  Authentic learning can take many forms. Vocational training and apprenticeships give students the freedom to discover and foster their passions. In addition to allowing students to test-drive careers, these real-world experiences also help schools establish relationships within their communities. These partnerships can lead to further collaboration down the road, with business leaders coming to talk in schools or providing on-site demonstrations for students interested in pursuing their fields. Although we are not a vocational school, we’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a few of these opportunities within the Junior Seminar and Senior Seminar courses.  However, we are not a vocational school and have not fully engaged in this type of active learning.

Discussions about the value of simulations, activity based methods, and portfolio-based assessments have also been part of the discussions.  Simulations, like the “farming in the gilded age” activity featured on Teaching Channel, promote critical thinking, reflection, and problem solving. Portfolios and project based instruction divert focus from pure memorization toward authentic demonstration of learning. They allow students to take ownership of their studies as they find unique and creative ways to display the knowledge they’ve acquired on a particular topic.

Whether students are immersed in business, engineering, design, event planning, or finances, authentic learning experiences help prepare them for higher-ed and work-world success.

Emerging Roles for Teachers

After decades of relatively unchanged form and function, the job description of an American teacher has undergone some significant transformations in a short period of time. The traditional “stand-and-deliver” method of instruction is being pushed out by the “guide-on-the-side” approach, just as the “cemetery” classroom is being replaced with creative, comfortable learning spaces.

Today’s teachers are trending in the direction of mentors and coaches for their students, overseeing activities and providing assistance when needed, but not the helicopter oversight that was once an expectation. Teachers are lecturing less and consulting more, encouraging students to discover and explore their passions in a more flexible manner.

Even grading looks much different than it did 10 years ago. Although, SCS doesn’t anticipate this change, some schools are eliminating exams from their curricula altogether. However we are expecting educators to pay increased attention to each student’s strengths and weaknesses and evaluate their levels of knowledge throughout the course. This is particularly noticeable in the elmenetary school with our implementation of Daily Five, AIMSWeb, and Dibels.  We have continued to document the rise of standards-based grading, and those who have adopted it tend to swear by it. However, we are increasingly looking at mastery.  This is especially true in the primary grades. How well do our students answer the essential questions of our curriculum? And, how do we communicate this best to students, parents, colleges, and colleagues?

Of course, we can’t discuss the changing role of the teacher without mentioning professional development. Salem Christian School is on the trajectory to lead in the area of professional development, unlike other schools.  The slowly changing public school culture has created a bit of a disconnect between instructional training and the skills/traits necessary to be a successful educator. There are waves of initiatives meant to address the lowering or raising of test score.  SCS is free of this unfocused approach to teaching and learning.  Education sees that effective data strategies are few and far between, and administrators are still far more likely to err on the side of status quo than risk being the first to take action on a new initiative or technology. Salem Christian School embraces the idea of teacher efficacy and advancing teaching and learning.  SCS recognizes the need for ongoing and updated professional development that remains a critical talking point, not just for teachers, but for those tasked with leading them as well.

SCS still values candidates’ educational backgrounds far more than their technical knowledge. We want people who understand the fundamentals of teaching and learning.  We want people who are innovative and energetic in the classroom.  Our students need people who are constantly trying to improve.  A strong educational background provides the best platform for future growth.

Essentially, we want our students to be challenged and prepared like the best of the peers in other schools.  Salem Christian School wants to provide authentic learning experiences, recognize the changing role of teachers, and address the shift from students as consumers to creators.  These are just three of the subjects we expect you to be confronted with in the near future.  It’s important to note that none of these are “classroom initiatives,” or programmatic changes that shift a school from its traditional mooring.   No matter the person’s role in the education of a child, they will want to stay informed about these developments so the school will be well positioned to adapt with the changing tides and confront the shifting sands of the future.


Head of School Blog

 

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Embracing Dissapointments

Embracing Disappointments

My father says when you get upset or disappointed about something or someone you have two choices, “Stay mad and miserable for the rest of your life, or get over it.”  This adage has  proven helpful over the years.  Of course, as a believer, we need to accept that maybe this is exactly how God has it planned.  I have seen Him cover my inadequacies MANY times over the course of my life and career.

When I returned from the week away I was confronted with the realities that there was going to be a 2-3 week delay for the new building being ready.  Of course the stress of ensuring everything being in place ratcheted up 500 fold.  I sat back and thought about what this would do for us as a community and how God will work it all out.  Then, I read something from Oswald Chambers.  He said:

There are times when it seems as if God watches to see if we will give him the small things to surrender, just to show us how genuine our love is for Him.  To be surrendered to God is of more than our personal holiness.  Concern over our person casts our eyes and attention on ourselves rather than on Him.  And, we become overly concerned about the way we walk, talk and look.

He exhorts his readers through Biblical text to cast out our personal selves and look to God when it isn’t what we perceive as perfect.
So, this year isn’t going to begin with a perfect building ready to go.  It will begin with beautiful children ready to learn.  Not only are they going to be ready to learn, they will be ready to learn in a place that infuses God into every detail of the curriculum and student life.
I am excited about what this will bring as a community.  I look forward to us working alongside one another in order to get this done.  I look forward to seeing us embrace the new space and bathe it in prayer.  I look forward to the time when we can each take a piece and place it in the classrooms.  This will be an exciting time in our school.  Join me in embracing what God has done and is doing.


Head of School Blog

 

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cultureware

Culture Wars

The longer I am a follower of Christ, the more I am convinced that we must passionately engage God’s purpose and conform our perspective into God’s view of the world, not our own.   Left to ourselves without the miraculous discernment only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit, we would never be able to understand the world clearly.  This is why those in a Christian school sacrifice so much.  They do this in order to ensure that each subject is enlightened with the Gospel so that our students can see the whole truth and shine it on the lies with which our culture seduces them.cultureware

This is especially important since we are in the midst or an epic cultural war in America and the Western world. Unmistakably, the Christian is being pushed out of our society and relegated to the margins at best.   I just read a quote by George Wegel in First Things, magazine “It’s a Culture War, Stupid…” I was struck with this simple assertion.

Wegel continues to posit that the Church is in the midst of the darkest times that we have seen in millennia and that this dark time is easily seen looming in the short distance.  He calls for the Church to don its spiritual armor, provided to the saints,  and battle for the souls that are damned to eternity without God.   He considers those who persist in denying that the Church is engaged in a culture war are either combatants or victims, whether they choose to accept it or not. He provides several examples.

One example that I have recently read in numerous posts and articles is the lauding of how Iceland has nearly eradicated Down Syndrome from the country.  Wow, impressive.  The Health Services of Iceland and the American media have praised this accomplishment.  Wait! What’s the catch?  What is missing from this fascinating “advance” is that this was accomplished by selectively aborting those babies so that society could be cleansed.  Seem familiar to the goals of some in the 1930’s and 1940’s?  Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood founder, would be proud of their eugenic cleansing.   This evil cannot go unchecked by the Church.  I cannot help but think of Isaiah’s words, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (ESV)”  We are now praising evil as if it is good in our society; furthermore, society condemns and ridicules the Christian for the ridiculous notion that EVERY life is valuable no matter what.

Wegel (2017) says:

Canada’s vulnerability to the culture of death is exacerbated by Canada’s single-payer, i.e. state-funded and state-run, health care system. And the brutal fact is that it’s more “cost-effective” to euthanize patients than to treat secondary conditions that could turn lethal or to provide palliative end-of-life care. Last year, when I asked a leading Canadian Catholic opponent of euthanasia why a rich country like the “True North strong and free” couldn’t provide palliative end-of-life care for all those with terminal illnesses, relieving the fear of agonized and protracted dying that’s one incentive for euthanasia, he told me that only 30 percent of Canadians had access to such care. When I asked why the heck that was the case, he replied that, despite assurances from governments both conservative and liberal that they’d address this shameful situation, the financial calculus had always won out—from a utilitarian point of view, euthanizing [my friend] and others like him was the sounder public policy.

Like in Canada, America is a mature democracy, where that utilitarian calculus among government bureaucrats and bean-counters wouldn’t survive for long if a similar, cold calculus were not at work in the souls of too many citizens. This one reason why the Church must engage the culture war, not only in Canada but in the United States and throughout the West: to warm chilled souls and rebuild a civil society committed to human dignity.

This is why the Christian school, like Salem Christian School in Macungie, PA, must develop students’ minds so that they love God with all their minds, bodies, and souls.  We passionately desire to partner with Christian parents so that their children see the world as God would see it.

For example, in our World Studies courses we provide instruction that sees it as a civic responsibility to influence the world with the Gospel. We want to stand with parents, churches, and society in order to win the war for our youths’ souls.  The Christian school will stand in the the gaps so that America does not reduce a human being to an object whose value is measured by “utility”.  Even a secularist can see that it is to destroy one of the building blocks of the democratic order—the moral truth that the American Declaration of Independence calls the “inalienable” right to “life.” That right is “inalienable”—which means built-in, which means not a gift of the state—because it reflects something even more fundamental: the dignity of the human person. (Wegel, 2017)

When we lose sight of that, we are lost as a human community, and democracy is lost. So the culture war must be fought for the sake of our country and the sake of these souls lost if they do not know Jesus. And a Church that takes social justice seriously must fight it.  Please keep your Christian school in prayer.  We are on the front line.  The Christian educator is there to battle for the hearts and minds of their students.  They are there to not only shelter them from the onslaught; but, provide them tools to fight the Good fight wherever God takes them.


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Self Advocacy and Data Use

Last week I discussed the emerging culture of data use at Salem Christian School. I would like to continue this conversation. However, I would like to expound on student use of data as a pursuit of excellence. We are excited to see the programmatic growth and the teaching and learning developments at Salem Christian School. We are seeing the benefits of adaptive lessons based upon using the classroom assessment and national tests. The key to our vision of data use is to benefit the student not a bureaucratic sense of accountability. A school, Christian school or not, is about the students. One of our visions is to help students become life-long learners. And, we consider a healthy self-advocacy is important to being a life-long learner. Of course, as a Christian school we hope that this would provide the tools necessary to accomplish this vision. This is why we will be continuing to help the students use their information and feedback to build better understandings.
As we move forward we will be trying to incorporate the best of research. The researchers, Hamilton et al (2009), suggests the following steps to carry out this recommendation:
  1. Explain expectations and assessment criteria.
  2. Provide feedback to students that is timely, specific, and helpful.
  3. Provide the means and tools for students to respond to the feedback.
  4. Use students’ data to inform instructional and programmatic changes (p. 9).
There are a few things that need to be considered as we move forward.
  • Students need to understand the goals. If teachers are trying to show students how to examine their own data, they must understand the goals and the criteria that will be used to assess the goals (Hamilton et al, 2009). Teachers must explicitly tell students the goals to be attained through each unit or lesson and how these goals tie into state standards. This is why the essential questions are posted in the teachers’ plan within the student and parent portals in addition to the homework.
  • Teacher feedback is crucial. If students are to use their own data to improve achievement, teachers need to provide the feedback and information for them to use. The classroom instruction should be “designed to help students understand their own strengths and weaknesses, explaining why they received the grade they did and identifying the specific content areas the student should focus on to improve their scores” (Hamilton et al, 2009, pp. 20-22).
  • An opportunity to ask questions and reflect is important. It is important that students have time to process and learn from the feedback in class (Hamilton et al, 2009).
We must be aware that there could be some challenges. According to Hamilton et al (2009), there can be a couple of roadblocks to using this recommendation. Parent, students, and teachers should be aware so that we avoid the hazards.
1. “Students view the feedback they receive as a reflection on their ability rather than an opportunity for focused improvement” (p. 24).
  • Hamilton et al (2009) suggests that teachers give students feedback that is explanatory and provides students with a chance to improve. Teachers should also emphasize the students’ level of performance on a task in relation to the learning goals and avoid making global statements about the student’s ability. In addition, teachers should encourage goal setting because students may be more willing to view feedback as a source of useful information if there is a larger goal that they are working to achieve. (p. 24)
2. “Teachers within a school have different approaches to providing feedback to their students” (p. 24).
  • Here, Hamilton et al (2009) suggests that teachers should engage with students in ways he or she finds effective; however, teachers may benefit from professional development on how to provide concrete and constructive feedback that informs student learning through students’ own data. (p. 24)
3. “Teachers are concerned that they do not have enough instructional time to explain rubrics or help students analyze feedback” (p. 24).
  • Hamilton et al (2009) says that time spent explaining assessment tools and strategies for analyzing feedback is essential to helping students understand their own achievement. Hamilton et al (2009) also suggests that incorporating time for students’ analysis of their own data into routine classroom activities may help students develop a habit of learning from feedback, making them more independent as the year progresses. (p. 26)
Hamilton, L., Halverson, R., Jackson. S., Mandinach, E., Supovitz, J., & Wayman, J. (2009).  Using student achievement data to support instructional decision making (NCEE 2009-4067). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education Retrieved from  http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/practiceguides/dddm_pg_092909.pdf .

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