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Head of School Blog

. . . insights on children, faith and Christian education in addition to being a resource for educators and parents on children, teaching, learning, and leadership.

 


I hope you enjoy the posts.  Education is about learning from each other.  I would love to hear your thoughts about these or any other related subjects.

What makes Salem Christian School so special?
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I am asked that question a lot. This is a place that pulls you in, that engages you, excites you, and endears you.  Every day on our campus, you can see our commitment to our mission  to educate, nurture, and challenge the whole child to make a difference in the world, wherever they are called to by God.  We offer an innovative and rigorous curriculum rooted in the liberal arts and sciences.   We endeavor to see Salem Christian School maintain its position as the premier Lehigh Valley Christian school.
We see each child as a unique individual with great potential.  We do it with innovation and creativity, and by encouraging students to think outside the box. We do it with an incredible staff of dedicated teachers who spark students’ intellectual curiosity. We want students to ask “questions and have the skills, knowledge, courage and freedom needed to discover the answer to life’s big and small questions.
We are a school that understands that a child’s formative years are important to who they become.  We challenge our students to reach lofty goals as artists, scientist,  and athletes. We want our students to become the best that they can be and use their minds, bodies, and souls to love God with abandon.
Please visit our campus and see for yourself what makes this school an extraordinary learning community rooted in the belief that the Christian faith is necessary to unlock truth and the fullness of understanding.


Mark A. Stanton, Ed.D.

Salem Christian School


Anticipating The Birth!

Rogier_van_der_Weyden_Annunciation_Louvre_Visit

 

The Advent is about celebrating and anticipation of the arrival of Emmanuel, Jesus Christ. It uses a Christmas wreath to set the stage for the Christian holiday. The imagery is used to help retain the focus of Christmas. The Advent wreaths are circular, representing God’s infinite love, and are usually made of evergreen leaves, which “represent the hope of eternal life brought by Jesus Christ.” Within the Advent wreath are candles that generally represent the four weeks of the Advent season as well as “the light of God coming into the world through the birth of Jesus Christ. Each of the candles has its own significance. Individually, the candles specifically symbolize the Christian concepts of hope (week one), peace (week two), joy (week three) and love (week four). Many Advent wreaths also have a white candle in the center to symbolize the arrival of Christ. According to tradition, this center white candle lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Advent-WreathLast Sunday, December 3, was the first week of Advent. On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14, NIV)

This first candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.
This upcoming Sunday, the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle is lit. This candle typically represents love. Some traditions call this the “Bethlehem Candle,” symbolizing Christ’s manger:

“This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12, NIV)

Normally, I avoid liturgy and the man-made trappings of the faith. However, this tradition has such beautiful imagery and helps me properly prepare for this blessed season. Will you join me this week in meditating on the significance of what that baby wrapped up laying in the feed trough means to the world? Celebrating with an Advent wreath during the weeks before Christmas is a great way for Christian families to keep Christ at the center of Christmas, and for parents to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas.

Sources:
Kellner, K. A. H. (1908). Heortology: A History of the Christian Festivals from Their Origin to the Present Day Kegan Paul Trench Trubner & Co Limited. p. 430
https://web.archive.org/web/20111119020903/http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/advent-resource-guide/. Retrieved December 1, 2016

The Protest That Changed The World
martinluther
October 31 of this year was a 500 year anniversary of a momentous occasion in human history. It was 500 years ago that Martin Luther posted his protests of the Catholic church failings. From that simple protest that would likely get him into serious trouble, possibly including a painful death, Martin Luther began a movement of thought that has shaped the world.

Martin Luther is a hero of the church! The miracle that set Martin Luther on his path is an amazing part of Church history. The event which radically changed the course of Luther’s life took place near Stotterheim, Germany on July 2, 1505.

Luther had recently completed a Master’s degree and started his law studies at the University of Erfurt. While he was on his way back to Erfurt after having visited his parents, Luther was caught in a terrible thunder storm a few hours outside of his home at the university when lightning struck near him and he was thrown to the ground by the air pressure it created. At this moment he decided to succumb to God’s calling to dedicate himself to serving in the Church. To his father’s disgust and anger, Luther honored his solemn promise; he had one last party with university friends on July 16 and the next day he entered the Black Monestary in Erfurt to become a monk. Little did Martin Luther know, he was just beginning to fulfill what God called him to do.

He later was called to return the Church to proper teaching and practices. Luther rejected several teachings and practices of the only Catholic Church of the time. He strongly disputed the view of indulgences. He knew that freedom from God’s punishment for sin could not be purchased with money. Luther proposed an academic debate of the practice and efficacy of indulgences in his Ninety-five Theses of 1517.

This protest was met with anger from the powers of the day, Pope Leo X and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Martin Luther refused to renounce all of his writings as was demanded by the Pope and the Emperor. Thus, at the Diet of Worms in 1521 Martin Luther was excommunicated by the Pope and condemned as an outlaw by the Emperor. Catholic church teaching stated that excommunication meant that the person was destined to hell. And outlaw status stripped him of any societal privilege and required severest prison if not death.

Martin Luther was so convinced that Scripture taught differently, he risked his life for the Truth. Luther believed and taught that salvation and, consequently, eternal life are not earned by good deeds but are received only as the free gift of God’s grace through the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin. Furthermore, the Church cannot take this away. They may take his freedom and his eternal life; but, he must teach the Truth as God had revealed in Scripture.

His theology challenged the authority and office of the Pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge from God. Luther insisted on Christian or Evangelical as the only acceptable names for individuals who professed Christ. He always wanted unity for the sake of Christ, but he was not going to sacrifice Truth at any cost.

His translation of the Bible into the German vernacular (instead of Latin) made it more accessible to understand and read for the common folk. For the first time God’s Word was able to be studied and understood by anyone who could read and did not need a priest or clergy to do it for them. This event had a tremendous impact on both the church and western culture. It fostered the development of a standard version of languages, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the writing of an English translation, the Tyndale Bible. His hymns influenced the development of singing in Protestant churches that led to today’s praise teams. His marriage to a former nun, set a model for the practice of clerical marriage, allowing Protestant clergy to marry. From this simple protest, nailing 95 needed reforms on a church door, came Protestantism that shaped the world and influenced the colonies, that led to the individual rites of citizens, which led to the formation of the United States.

What would the world look like if Martin Luther did not succumb to God’s calling?

Sources:
Brecht, Martin (2015) Martin Luther: His road to Reformation, 1483–1521. Retrieved November 1, 2017

Maier, P. L., & Copeland, G. (2004). Martin Luther: a man who changed the world. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Pub. House.

Kids Deserve It
This week I have given a few tours of the school. That in itself is not that unusual. I have the privilege of escorting people around the school often. Many times the parents bring their children with them. This week a family considering moving to the area came in for a tour of the school. Dad, mom, an elementary student and a toddler followed me around the building sharing about who we are and what we do while answering questions that they had.

The elementary student greeted me by hiding behind his dad. That quickly faded to at least 10 questions in regards to clubs. “Do the clubs have a special room for them? Do I have a choir class? Do I have recess? What is for lunch today? What room is used for STEMM? Do I have homework?” Occasionally, an interjection of a statement would come. “I want to work with computers when I grow up! I enjoy art too.” I have to say, it was an interesting tour. Later the dad apologized for so many questions. There was no need to apologize. I loved the questions. I got to see what he was interested in and what he valued. This shy boy at first became an inquisitive and wondering child.

Children deserve to be given the time and respect to acknowledge their concerns and questions. Questions drive the wonder of the universe. Our wonder of how the universe works and what our purpose is, is at the heart of the Gospel. We are designed to ask questions. We are designed to wonder. Kids deserve adults and teachers who understand the miracle of our cognitive design.

The role of children’s questions in their cognitive (the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses) development has been largely overlooked. If questions are a force in cognitive development, the following must be true:

  1. Children must actually ask questions that gather information;
  2. Children must receive informative answers to their questions if they are able to be of use to cognitive development;
  3. Children must be motivated to get the information they request, rather than asking questions for other purposes such as attention;
  4. The questions children ask must be relevant and of potential use to their cognitive development;
  5. We must see evidence that children’s questions help them in some way-that is, that they can ask questions for a purpose, and use the information they receive purposefully to successfully achieve some change of knowledge state.

I know, by the time a parent has heard “why” 1,000 times before breakfast patience is a bit thin. However, it is important to allow them to ask and persevere through the onslaught of questions. Kids deserve to be heard and allowed to question in order to foster their brain’s development. The child’s mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses hinges on the questions they engage.

Sources:

Preface. (1999). Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 64(2), Vii-Ix. doi:10.1111/1540-5834.00016

 

A Legacy to Share
This past week at Grandparents Day I had the privilege to share a story. This story breaks through my tough exterior developed in my years growing up in the tough suburbs of a Detroit. I hope you enjoy it.I am fortunately from a multi-generational Christian family. It wasn’t until well into my adulthood did I appreciate this to its fullest. My family, not unlike every other, had some unsavory folks in its tree. But, overall from the Huguenot’s in France to the church builders of today, a significant amount of my family is involved in ministry. This history is so important. For this and other reasons I am compelled to share this story that I have come to know better.to-roscmn-002Just recently I was copied on a chapter of an upcoming book about a missionary’s life. In this chapter it discussed how paternal and maternal grandparents in addition to two of their friends chartered a church in the expanding urban suburbs of Detroit in its heyday. I learned that they sold their home in the very
upscale island of Grosse Isle and moved to the outer fast growing suburbs to help build a church with the proceeds from the sale. From this church start these grandmothers and grandfathers alongside of their best friend would go visit and welcome sharecroppers and recent arrivals looking for the rare job in 1941 to the community and invite them to come to this fledgling congregation. On one of these evangelistic outreaches the grandmother and her best friend met a young lady who was living in a home with a dirt floor fashioned out of an old chicken coop within a neighborhood that shared an outhouse and had no running water. The situation was tough. The mother was abusive and the father was an abusive alcoholic with much more to come to light later in life.

This girl’s name was Fran. Considering her circumstances, Fran had little prospects but follow in the footsteps of her mother’s poor choices. Without the supernatural changes the Gospel provides, Fran would be another poor lost soul. Fran, by her own account was a crusty, dirty, and very naughty young girl who was more street smart than any 12 year old should be, but for some reason Zaida was determined to reach this young girl. Zaida had her daughter who was the same age as Fran. Zaida would have her bring Fran home from school since they were in the same classroom and lived so close to the school. She fed her, made her shower, and shared the gospel with her. Soon her sister and brother followed suit. The one requirement was that they went to church on Sunday and the youth group of this new church. Zaida and her friends knew that this young girl had value and potential and that perhaps this intervention would not only change her life, but that of her family.IMG_2215

Fran grew to be an amazing young lady who understood that the Gospel changes everything. She felt the calling to be a missionary. She left to go to a mission board and training facility in Missouri, but in those days a single woman could not be a missionary on her own. They would not let her serve where she knew God was calling her. So, she left the missionary organization to forge a path on her own. That strength of determination and feisty-ness she learned as a child would serve her well.

Through a foundation set up in the 1950’s, Fran became a missionary in Mexico. She went to the Universidad de Saltillo, in Saltillo Mexico to learn her trade and secure a nursing degree. While achieving a bachelor’s degree in nursing in Spanish, while not knowing Spanish or anyone in Mexico, she befriended a single woman pediatric doctor who worked and taught at the university hospital. This woman would become a life-long friend, support, ministry partner, and sister.

Together Chalita (/Cha-lee-taa/), the pediatrician, and Fran established clinics in some of the poorest outlying villages all while maintaining their positions in the University health system. Fran rose to be the lead nurse at the hospital, she met dignitaries and had been requested specifically by a few governors.

When Fran and Chalita passed away a year ago this week, Chalita posthumously received an award from the state of Coahuila (/kwa-wee-la/) Mexico for her significant impact on the poor and needy through the decades of service. Fran who was living in Texas for her latter years worked at Rio Grande Bible Institute continuing her work with the poor and needy and incarcerated. Thousands have written, called and given testament to the impact that she has made.

The part of the story that makes me so emotional is that Fran is as much of an aunt to me as my father’s sister. You see, that was my grandmother, Zaida Louise Stanton who knew the gospel changes. I would spend many summers and holidays with Fran. The countless people changed in the villages, suburban Detroit, and in my family is because of the legacy my grandparents, their friends, and others leave. This is because of a grandparent who knew a legacy of a Christian education and charity was essential to the success. This grandparent knew that the Gospel changes everything. It surpasses the squalor of poverty and the socio-economic status label someone holds. It surpasses the hardship of giving up a home that was worked so hard to achieve. It surpasses the fear and anxiety of living in a strange place and seemingly all alone. This gospel changes everything.

This is my legacy of which I am the most pleased to share – How unsavory became delightful because of the Gospel. Thousands of lives impacted because of the commitment to follow the calling of God. Of course, I miss these people greatly, but what brings my emotions to the surface and moves me to tears is that they used their lives for what they were intended. They sacrificed so the Gospel was spread.

I ask that you come alongside of us and help us make an impact. We are a thriving Christian school in a region and a time that sees Christian schools closed or on the precipice of extinction. We need your help. We need you to impact the lives here at SCS.

I ask that you consider financially sacrificing so that we can complete the renovations, continue with our next project to renovate the gymnasium floor, walls, stage upgrades and bleachers so that our students can have the proper and safe equipment needed to flourish. I have a donor who specifically asked me to challenge you to meet their $50,0000 pledge before the year’s end.

Not everyone can afford to donate. However, you can pray for us. You can come in as an aid in the elementary classroom in the mornings, you can help monitor recess or lunch. You can download our school app on your android or apple smartphone. Or, if you have a great idea, then let us know. We want you to be involved and pass on the legacy of the Gospel from generation to generation. Help us develop students who love God with all their minds, bodies, and souls.

 

World Class Education
The United States is spending twice as much on education today than we did 20 years ago. Of course we have 20% more people than we did then (U.S. Census), and we have a much more diverse society than most of the others. However, the fundamental difference between the U.S. and other countries is raising eyebrows. U.S. students ranked 17 th in science, 25 th in math, and 14 th in reading in the latest data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the most widely used global assessment of student achievement. Who’s beating the U.S. in these important categories – and how?

As I had mentioned in my previous blog, Vivien Stewart in her book, A World Class Education , looks at five countries—Singapore, Canada, Finland, China, and Australia. These are nations where students are doing significantly better on global assessments than students in the U.S. despite differences in the demographics, political systems and cultural contexts, there are some common policies and practices that drive success. Understanding how other countries are succeeding can offer insights that help us do a better job here in the U.S. (Stewart, 2012)

As Stewart points out, even a small improvement in the skills of a nation’s labor force can have a big impact on its economy. What kind of input could a mid-size Lehigh Valley Christian school have? Although we are located in a small part of Eastern Pennsylvania, we are in a global market. And, in a global market where companies can find well-educated workers in a growing number of countries —often at lower-cost— the U.S. will face greater competition if this trend continues. Our students are no longer competing against just within the borders, they are competing against billions around the world. Salem Christian School envisions that its students are impacting the world in whatever vocation they find themselves. To do this they need to rise above and compete with the best of their peers. Salem Christian School has the similar challenges to nations trying to rise to the top and compete strongly within the global market.
Finland has demonstrated a strong commitment to education and its results demonstrate this commitment. Finland is an interesting example because as recently as 1970, only 40 percent of Finnish adults held a high school diploma. Today, its students rank among the top on global assessments of student learning. Current parents (Partner Survey, 2017) and prospective parents (Barna, 2017) desire strong academics in a nurturing and spiritually rich environment.

Stewart points out, one key to Finland’s success was the decision in 1979 to require a two-year master’s degree for all teachers, even those teaching primary school. Teachers are trained to spot students who aren’t doing well early on, and each school has a multidisciplinary team of education professionals available to support students and help them catch up. In addition to the number of teachers pursuing or have obtained graduate degrees, Salem Christian School has invested in professional development significantly. Teachers are engaged in Professional Learning Communities, continuing educational opportunities, seminars, and practitioner research. There is a significant dedication to the development of the teachers at Salem Christian School.

Similar to Finland, we also did away with traditional structure and replaced it with a more flexible approach that encourages creativity and problem solving, individualized learning, and a wider range of academic and vocational options. The elementary has brought in Daily Five method in language arts and is researching guided practice in mathematics. The high school has developed block scheduling, dual enrollment, Math Lab, and other creative and innovative methods to ensure there is a strong liberal arts program. Additionally, the school has developed things such as Middle School challenge, First Fridays, and other school cultural events to expand the learning and engage students through an infusion of fun activities.

The modernization of our education system has helped put us in the ranks of the most innovative and prosperous in the Lehigh Valley and Northeast region. We hope to make a significant impact with our small portion.
Like Finland, Singapore decided that its future lay in tapping its only resources, human capital. In the Singapore system, all the key elements work closely together to produce continuous improvement. This has been the direction Salem Christian has taken over the last few years. It must be purposeful and intentional. It must fit the mission and vision. Similar to Singapore, we have introduced innovative and flexible learning choices for students. This is especially noticeable in our Language Arts program and you can see this developing through our research in guided instruction in math. Singapore has a policy called “teach less, learn more” that’s designed to encourage more innovative curricula and use of classroom time. This is the movement that we are taking. How can we ensure that our students are learning? Students should be the center of the classroom, not a system or teacher. It will be exciting to see how we use data and research to learn how to continue our path towards this goal.

I agree with every expert I have read that the quality of student learning is only as good as the quality of the teachers. This requires investing in strong evaluation and development systems that involve teachers from the start, include multiple measures of effective teaching, and that fuse teacher evaluations with high-quality professional development. This happens behind the scenes at Salem Christian School.

As an administrator it is exciting to help our teachers reach their goals. Each year (or continued from previous years) the teachers articulate their goals for teaching and learning. Each classroom visit, evaluation, and professional development is primarily focused on these goals. This focus, like in Finland and Singapore, will help Salem Christian School demonstrate what a world class education is. Moreover, what a world class education is that is wholly developed, because it is infused with the Gospel. After all, the Gospel changes everything!

Sources:
Barna and ACSI Research, 2017

Ng, P.T. Educ Res Policy Prac (2008) 7: 5. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10671-007-9042-

Partner Survey 2017

Stewart, Vivien. World-Class Education : Learning from International Models of Excellence and Innovation, (2012). ASCD, Alexandria, VA.

 

Models of Excellence
Some people travel the world to bask in the sun on warm beaches, others to see historical monuments or cultural centers. Others travel to new places just for special events. I have relatives that travel in order to attend a game at every major league baseball stadium. I love to travel. One of the things that I really enjoy is when I get an opportunity to visit other schools. I learn so much each time I make the visit. Schools are microcosms of the communities they serve. Although they each have their niche within the local community, they still reflect the societal culture in which they exist. When observing the school, you can see the struggles of the past and the tensions of the present but also a glimpse of hope for the future. In the 21st century, the desire of families and governments everywhere, poor as well as rich, is for children to get a good education and become positive citizenry. Schools come in all shapes and sizes. They come with nuances of mission and vision.  In many parts of the world, especially in rural Africa and South Asia, school buildings are very basic— simple buildings and roofs with mud or concrete floors and battered secondhand desks, if there are desks at all. At the other extreme, you’ll find schools that feature gleaming new buildings and look more like colleges, full of the latest technology, they are modern showpieces of pride and ambition. Inside the world’s school buildings, there is also enormous variety in the quality and style of education provided.

 

Around the United States and world, I have seen unimaginative rote learning where children sit in rows, copying from the blackboard or reciting from old books published for their grandparents. But I have also seen innovative programs where dedicated educators or philanthropists are introducing problem solving and project-based learning, or building science labs in elementary schools located in drug-infested and poverty stricken neighborhoods. I have seen heroic individuals who are making a difference in children’s lives everywhere. The challenge today is how do we cultivate effective classrooms and an effective school. How do we create an effective and high-quality education for the children in our charge and impact the world, one child at a time.

 

The global knowledge economy is a game changer. All over the world— from Australia to Cambodia, India to Finland, South Africa to Mexico— countries have been improving the education system as a pathway to participation in that economy. Our students compete against these students in the ever increasing global market. In the past, education systems, including Christian schools, tended to be inward looking. They were building systems and curriculum based on the teachers and what is most expedient for the schools. Schools and education systems considered themselves to be unique and thought that differences in culture and operating systems made policies and practices developed elsewhere irrelevant. But today, administrators and educators everywhere are looking for innovations and ideas for how to improve their systems from wherever they can find them. We recognize that no single nation has all the answers to the educational challenges produced by this new knowledge and innovation economy, and a new global marketplace of educational ideas is therefore developing. Many high-performing nations have, in fact, been systematically searching the world for improvement ideas for a long time. The United States has been an important source of these ideas because of its lead in world affairs and economic clout.

 

Perhaps because of the U.S. position as the world leader on education in the mid– 20th century, American K– 12 educators have not been very active participants in these international bench marking activities until recently. As a nation, we are feeling the economic pressures of rising powers of China, India, Brazil, and Europe. Now that it is crystal clear that other systems have moved ahead of the United States in important respects, there is growing interest in understanding more about how school systems in other parts of the world have raised their achievement.

 

If we are to pursue excellence, then we as a Christian school need to look outward. We need to see what is working around the world. How does this happen? Not by chance, that is for sure. The Christian school needs to connect with the booming Christian school movement in Africa, Asia, and South America. What are our Christian brothers and sisters doing in education? What are our secular colleagues doing for the betterment of teaching and learning? This discussion of data requires us, teachers and parents, to look out past the borders of campus to the local community, state, nation and beyond. What research out there can help us do a better job with our modern learners? I look forward to discussing excellence found in the schools around the world and here at home.

Sources:

Stewart, Vivien. World-Class Education : Learning from International Models of Excellence and Innovation, ASCD, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central.

 

Student Tools for Leading Their Learning
selfadvocateHow does this look? I mean, how does it look when a student is using tools to lead their own learning. It happens regularly throughout the days of school. But, an example is when the elementary-grade teacher, leans in and listens intently as her student reads aloud. The teacher is listening for greater fluency in student’s oral reading, a skill they have been working on for several weeks. As she listens, she hears greater rhythm, ease, and confidence in the child’s voice. The teacher keeps a record and carefully notes hesitation, miscues, errors, and the length of time it takes the student to read the passage. During the daily five time the student and teacher can have a follow-up discussion by reviewing the student’s previous goals and successes and reviewing a chart that shows the growth in her reading level. The student and teacher have an opportunity to focus in on fluency and the word substitutions in addition to other phonetic or comprehension goals. The teacher has the opportunity to engage in a conversation about vocabulary. Statements such as,”Let’s take a look at this word,” can be heard throughout the language arts instruction time. “Read it back to me.” The student struggles at first, but calls out the word. The coaching from the teacher and the student use of the feedback has enabled the child to correctly read the word or passage that was troublesome before. The teacher is likely to share with the student while she reads it aloud. The teacher shares the word that was read in place of the actual written text. Then she shares with the student, “we call that a substitution. Meaning, you substituted a more familiar word in the place of another word. Sometimes that works; but, often it does not. Do you think you know what happened as you were reading?” This provides the student the opportunity to share and explain the thought process.

This dialogue is essential in a healthy classroom. And it is even more healthier when the students need to use the information and learn from it. Salem Christian School has been incorporating processes like this into our program. That is why we have adopted the Daily Five Method among other advancements that we have made over the past few years. We look forward to using this data to help students and teachers take teaching and learning to the next level.

 

Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment,” by Ron Berger, Leah Rugen, and Libby Woodfin.

 

Self Advocacy and Data Use

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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 .

 

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.

 

Embracing Disappointments

welcome to dissapointmentEmbracing 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.

Arising Trends

 

trendsArising 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.

 

Faith of Dissent

I may be somewhat out of step with my fellow Evangelical Christians in acknowledging a certain affinity for St. Benedict and the way of life he represents. Mind you, I am not advocating his theological beliefs.  There are vast differences between our theological mountains.  But, I admire some things about the dedication.

In my time in Europe during my high school years, I made the chance discovery, via the evangelical Lutheran church my host family attended regularly, of the ancient Daily Office.  This Daily Office was associated with the early monasteries and prescribed in St. Benedict’s Rule. These folks immersed themselves in the Psalms and the rest of Holy Scripture as they prayed in addition to hymns and chants.  Daily prayer structures the entire day and the whole of their life in the Benedictine community. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if our school community of Christians were to take up this practice. If our parents, faculty, administration, staff, student and I did so, it might just change the course of history.

We often must stand against the assumptions of the prevailing culture. Given my strong Christian roots and world travels, I recognize the perils of Christians ascribing to their ethnic nationalisms near canonical status.  We see God in view of our culture rather than seeing our culture in view of God.  Advancing our national pride can deflect so many from their primary allegiance to God’s kingdom. Indeed, we need to bring our faith into a commitment that grows deeper each day. God’s Word and common sense dictate that this depth can only be reached by reaching to God first.

H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture (1951) may offer a key to grasping this ideal. Niebuhr’s posits “Christ against culture” is generally associated with the Evangelical Christians who are generally based on the fidelity to the Gospel, not on ethnic distinctives. In my own experience as a follower of Christ and a Christian educator, I find that many of my fellow Christians, especially students, too easily speak of “engaging the culture”without having a strong sense of why they are doing so or of its associated perils. But I get this. Any effort to transform culture may do nothing of the sort if the Christian community does not first recognize the ways in which it is distinct from the culture it aspires to change.

Christianity, by design, is a faith of dissent. We are to be outliers, persons who stand out from the norm.  We are to be counter-culture.We are to provide the victory.  Often,many churches have permitted the various cultural revolutions to redirect the faith away from the hard path of obedience to one that simply affirms everyone without seeking to transform their affections and their lives by God’s word. It seems easier for Christian schools to declare the love of God without emphasizing the need for the disciplined life as a vessel of this love.Nevertheless, proclaiming a boundlessly permissive love is not the gospel. “Jesus did not die to liberate us from norms for living but to save us from the power of sin so that we might live for his glory in his good creation empowered by the Holy Spirit (Dreher, 1957).”

Our students may or may not recognize that there is a great falsehood we are fed by our post-Christian culture.  We are falsely led to believe that we belong to ourselves and that “one’s individual desires [are] the locus of authority and self-definition.” We are indeed not our own but belong to the God who has saved us in Jesus Christ. Just like those Benedictine monks, we as followers of Christ need to embrace order, obedience, and, above all, daily prayer. Where else could one find a community, than in a Christian school, whose very foundational principles and directives contradict our culture of hedonism and egoism and stand in the gap to save the next generation from the perils of a secular life?

Where indeed. Of course,the vast majority of Christians don’t embrace the Christian school.  They are lured by the lights and offerings of a secular setting.  People visiting this Christian community should see how we have in some fashion exemplified the Benedictine way. We need to be intentional.  We need to educate our children, and embody something of a parallel polis—that is, an alternative to the modern political community.  We need to demonstrate the fulfillment of living within and alongside the prevailing culture but not investing too much hope in it. We do not want to have our students eschew politics entirely, but have them recognize that no matter who is in administration in Washington, no matter how ostensibly pro-Christian, is capable of stopping cultural trends toward desacralization and fragmentation that have been building for centuries.

I enthusiastically agree with Dreher’s  (distinguished professor and author) counsel here: “For serious Christian parents, education cannot be simply a matter of building their child’s transcript to boost her chance of making it into the Ivy League.” And: “The separation of learning from virtue creates a society that esteems people for their success in manipulating science, law, money, images, words, and so forth.” It is right to understand education as formation of the whole person and not simply as the key to a better job. This is precisely why our school wants to develop students who love God with all their minds, bodies, and hearts.

 

Shifting Sand

IMG_0288If you are interested in learning about the efficacy of learning, you probably have heard of Scott McLeod.  Although he uses the provocative title, Shift Happens, he asks some powerful questions and provides some interesting assertions.  A few years ago I was introduced to him through a video in an in-service.  I was gobsmacked with what he had to say.  For some reason, he has reentered my sphere and it what he has to say is even more relevant today that it was just a few years ago.

A few years ago, I was listening to his TED talk and he piqued my interest when he said, “if a job is able to be moved somewhere else, it probably will.”  WOW!  What does this mean to an educational system that is preparing students to be economically viable and masters of information?  As an educational leader and as a school, we need to answer these questions.  Dr. Mcleod asserts that the world is shifting into new directions.  And, I assert that the souls in the seats of our classroom deserve a solid and viable answer.  Furthermore, I would conclude that we need to have this and every generation duly educated so that the Gospel is those who carry the Gospel must be able to do by being relevant to the continues to spread in earnest.

McLeod posited that, in summary, there are currently two big shifts and a problem.  The first shift is economic.  He asserted that as a society, “We are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist.”  This small idea was planted in me and among many other things has driven me to push for better, stronger, and more nimble instruction in the schools I lead.   I have to ask, “If this is true, then what we are preparing our students for?”  I would be a billionaire and a noble prize winner if I knew this answer for certainty.  For clarity, I am neither of these.

I was fortunate to see an interview with Dr. McLeod where he claimed that he rarely is an early adapter to new technology.  However, he saw wearable tech and immediately asked, “How can this be used for teaching and learning?”  How can this or any other technology or methodology enhance classroom instruction, observations, walkthroughs and instructional rounds?

To address this economical shift, we have to think about every little thing as an opportunity and how we can capitalize on change. We need to be sure that our curriculum should emphasize this.   It seems apparent that being nimble and visionary is imperative.  It’s not an abandonment of the traditional values of education, but of an emphasis on process as well as product.

Think about it, as soon as the gadget or app is invented it is nearly a dinosaur.   As educators, parents and students we need to be innovative, risk taking, student centered, and grounded in 21st century instruction. This is the only way we are going to be sure our students a prepared what is coming ahead, not what has already happened.  We need our students to have the ability to ask questions and leverage the tools of today so that they can be the entrepreneurs, innovators, and inventors of tomorrow.  To do be prepared for the unknown they need to have the basics and the creative skills and thinking that are used to shape tomorrow.

The second shift is about our information landscape.  This has shifted since the printing press.  At that time information and knowledge was available for the masses.  We are now seeing something similar.  Instead of the dispersion of information, these days anyone can create and publish any bit of information with little cost and great ease.  We are hyper-connected across the globe, finding content and each other with little effort.  This expansive information landscape requires questions.

As a school we need to adapt to the informational and economic landscape of our time with eyes on the future.  This adaptation needs to occur in the youngest grades throughout the schools.  No longer is the “right” answer good enough.  These factual recall and basic skills work of years past are just that basic.   Yet, we cannot forget that the basics are still necessary.  However, the structure of our curriculum and the delivery of the teaching must require our students go beyond the basic factual recall.  Google can answer what the Intolerable Acts are and when they occurred.  But, what our students need to do in the  forward learning environment is to educate our students in how to ask questions and use the tools to connect these Dr. McLeod believes that educators increasingly will realize that learning doesn’t have to tied to the school day…, but rather a more open and flexible structure. Who knows if he is right?  As a private Christian school, we have great opportunities.  But, we still need to realize that humans learn the same way.  It’s the cultural and societal shifts that require the school to approach the ever changing student.

One thing that I appreciate about Salem Christian School is that we understand that each student is different.  (Albeit, we will always have room to grow.)  We do know that each student is a unique part of God’s creation.  And, God has provided this student with a specific and personal set of strengths.  Each person has a particular place in the universe that only he or she can fill.

 

Singapore Math
Singapore Math PictureThis week I would like to talk about math, because I like it.  In fact, it is one of my favorite subjects.  I am very proud of the efforts our school has made in math.  I look forward to analyzing the data we will be collecting over the next few years.  Great commendations should go to the teachers, recognizing their ability to deliver such a promising program.  Specifically, I would like to share about our Elementary math program.

Covers fewer topics in greater depth

Compared to a traditional and Common Core math curriculum, our program, Singapore math, Math in Focus,  focuses on fewer topics but covers them in greater detail. Each math textbook builds upon prior knowledge and skills, moving the students towards mastery and automaticity. We work hard so that the students are ready for their next level. By the end of sixth grade, Singapore math students have mastered multiplication and division of fractions and can solve difficult multi-step word problems, including basic algebraic understandings.

Our Math was found to emphasize the essential math skills recommended by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).  They do this by focusing in on the essentials that build strong number sense and mathematical reasoning skills.

Three-step learning process

The younger grades spend a significant time building number sense through their work in part-part-whole.  This is the mathematical equivalent to phonics in reading.   The students learn that numbers, quantities, and algorithms are representative of something.  They learn how to take numbers apart and put them back together in a way that gives meaning.

They learn practical steps to solving word problems.  I loved math but loathed story problems.  No one taught me how to approach them or gave me the tools and confidence necessary to attack them.  Our students are taught the bar model beginning in grade two.  Our second grade teacher helps her young pupils see that 100 is comprised of other things.  We can find whole parts and missing parts, just by using the bar model.  Later in the intermediate grades, the teachers and students work through more challenging and complex uses of the bar model.  Just a bit of secret, I used the bar model to quickly solve ratios on the GRE (Graduate Records Exam) that I took for entrance into graduate school.

A bar model used to solve an addition problem. This pictorial approach is typically used as a problem-solving tool in Singapore math.

Three Step Process: Like We Learn

SCS math program teaches students mathematical concepts in a three-step learning process: concrete, pictorial, and abstract. This learning process was based on the work of an American psychologist, Jerome Bruner (1960). In the 1960s, Bruner found that people learn in three stages by first handling real objects before transitioning to pictures and then to symbols. That is why we teach the students in this matter.

The first of the three steps is concrete, wherein students learn while handling objects such as chips, dice, or paper clips. They use something that teachers call manipulatives, anything that the student can move around, touch, or manipulate in order to learn the concept or skill.  Students would learn to count these objects (e.g., blocks) by physically lining them up in a row counting them or grouping them. They would then learn basic math operations like addition or subtraction by physically adding or removing the objects from each row.

Students then transition to the pictorial step by drawing diagrams called “bar-models” to represent specific quantities of an object.  This involves drawing a rectangular bar to represent a specific quantity. For instance, if a short bar represents six books, a bar that is twice as long would represent a collection of twelve. By conceptualizing the difference between the two bars, students could learn to solve problems of addition by adding one bar to the other, which would, in this instance, produce an answer of eighteen books. Multiplication, division and subtraction can be solved by this model.  Additionally, they can use this model to begin to conceptualize algebra with missing parts to a math algorithm (problem).

Bar Modeling allows the student to model the thought process used to solve the math problem.  And, the teacher can provide strong feedback in order to help prevent errant thinking.   The student can move onto more complex mathematical problems with exclusively abstract tools such as symbols and numbers.  
The third part, abstract is simply writing the algorithm with symbols.  3 +4 = ?   or   3 + x = 7.

We don’t spend much time on math facts like the addition facts and multiplication facts.  But, that doesn’t mean that they are not important.  The teachers review them in the morning meeting.  However, this is something parents can do at home with their children to ensure they are prepared by playing a game, flashcard etc…

 

Block Scheduling

Recently I was asked why we do block scheduling the way we do.  Much effort has gone into the study systems that will help SCS meet its goals of academic excellence and its extensive impact on student learning. As with any choice, there are both pros and cons. At Salem Christian School, we had to move towards a format which enables the school to provide more dynamic instruction, broader choices, and more nimble scheduling that this change enables. Some of the major advantages researchers have noted are the following:

Improved Teaching and Learning

With longer blocks, teachers have more time to complete lesson plans. More class time is available to develop key concepts, incorporate creativity into instruction, and try a variety of classroom activities that address different learning styles. Longer time blocks allow for deeper instruction instead of wider coverage.(O’Neil, 1995; Eineder & Bishop, 1997).

Ability to Focus Attention

Using active learning methods helps the students better understand and retain material.(Rettig & Canady, 1996). With block scheduling, students have fewer subjects during a semester, enabling the learners to explore deeper and allow the teachers to focus efforts.

Fragmentation Reduced

With block scheduling, instructional time is not fragmented by frequent transitions between classes. Fewer distinct classes means less time spent on classroom management activities, such as calling attendance and organizing and focusing the class. In addition, there are fewer opportunities for students to arrive late to class (Rettig & Canady, 1996).

Individualized Pace

The schedule allows advanced students to move through material at a more rapid rate, and they are able to finish sequential language classes within one academic year. (Woronowicz, 1996).

More Course Offerings

Students actually take more courses in a standard plan because they enroll in at least eight classes per year instead of six or seven (Rettig & Canady, 1996).

Stronger Inter-Personal Relationship

A hallmark of SCS is the family atmosphere. Anything to promote this is always welcome. The number of daily classes for which students and teachers must adjust and prepare is decreased, allowing students to develop the deeper interpersonal relationships that are integral to academic success (Rettig & Canady, 1996; Eineder & Bishop, 1997). Teachers get to know students more personally which enables them to adapt lessons to the interests of their students.

Attitudes and Comprehension Improve

Research indicates that teachers’ and students’ attitudes about their school improve. Both teachers and students state that they get more done in class and learn more because they are better able to focus their attention. Classes address material in more depth, and teachers feel students are better able to comprehend and retain concepts learned in a block period (O’Neil, 1995; Eineder & Bishop, 1997).

Source: http://www.ashland.k12.or.us/files/advantages%20of%20block%20scheduling.pdf

College Preparatory

Almost all of our students move onto a four-year college degree at some point.  The transition from eight 40-minute classes to four 83-minute classes is difficult.  The skill to handle this is learned in an environment that is more personally supportive and has more accountability for the student in high school than in college.  Thus, this model prepares the students for the expectations that they will face.  The second preparatory element of block scheduling is the use of college credit and dual enrollment at SCS instead of Advanced Placement courses.  This better aligns the schedule to accommodate these courses.

These were the reasons that we moved to this model and continue to stay within this model.  Of course, there are always areas to improve.  We could better use the model.  But, it has significantly made a difference in the academic prowess of our school.  In fact we have been used as a model for other schools in the northeast.

We had the same concern about gaps in the learning that seems like it would occur due to the space of time between courses.  There are two aspects to this that would need to  explore.  The first is whether the gaps do indeed pose a challenge.  The second is what does the school and students do to overcome the  challenges if they do indeed exist.

Theoretically, we are teaching towards mastery and automaticity.  This means, that the student has adopted the skills, concepts, or outcomes to a degree that he or she can confidently and automatically rely on them.   Of course there are skills and concepts that need multi-courses and years to develop.  But, these skills are scaled so that we can teach mastery of each step so that they can use them automatically as they move onto the next level of skills or concepts.  We see this most often in mathematics and reading.  We teach the same skills in reading instruction from grade one all the way through twelfth grade.  However, at every step the skills are expanded and become more complex.  The gap between the school years often allow us to catch the gaps that have occurred in students who haven’t truly mastered something and allows us to provide remediation and review.

We recognize that some courses are more vulnerable to this gap than others.  For example, we read in every class and incorporate writing in every class.  Thus, there is no specific gap in this, because we expand the vocabulary and writing skills each time we confront new material in other classes.   However, math is sequential in skills and may be more vulnerable to the skills.   Granted, geometry and algebra are very different maths.  Thus, the skills are different.  But, because we want to ensure mathematics ability is strong and continue to build on strong SAT scores, we require a math lab in the semester that students are not in a leveled math class.  At SCS, our students received significant more time in math each year than any other program because we have this system.  The math labs allow for remediation, enrichment, and SAT prep.  The teachers have developed this course (which is unique to SCS) in order to have outcomes that are tailored in order to ensure our students’ scores on college boards are strong.

All of this seems to be working well.  However, we want to measure it and have hard data that supports this.  Thus, we have instituted a few things.  We have entrance exams in every math course every semester.  It provides feedback to the students, parents, and teacher about retention and specific instructional needs for that semester’s students.  Additionally, we have instituted that every student in grade 8-10 takes the PSAT.  This will provide valuable data that we can track and use to measure the efficacy of our program.

Thank you very much for submitting your question.  I hope that I have answered it.  If it prompts more, then I can continue on this topic or move onto the next question when it comes.  

 

Data and the School

Data

Data and the School

Salem Christian School is continually pursuing excellence.  We know we have areas in which to grow.  Research shows that a flourishing school has a firm understanding of its success and the ability to measure the success and short comings.  The question is how do we do this?  We must have goals and desired outcomes for the teaching and learning at SCS.  Then, we must determine the paths that take us toward these goals.  Finally, we need to determine what success is and how do we determine if we have succeeded.

This requires us to use the data at hand to guide us in better serving the students we have the privilege of teaching.  We need to use the data to make wise decisions on how to best use the resources.   Considering our resistance to state and federal data mining efforts, Common Core, and other public school methods, we need to determine how we are going to make wise decisions based on our data at hand.

Data-driven decision making is widely accepted today as a necessary element of a flourishing school. Spurred by the movement toward standards and accountability in every state, educational systems today are under much greater pressure than ever before to produce measurable results. All across the United States, results in student achievement are driving responses by teachers and principals. Educators are realizing that failure to make changes that improve student achievement as measured by specific, external measures of performance is unacceptable. The ability to make quality decisions based on local data is important for the future of our school. This is why the faculty at SCS is working towards better using the interviews, questionnaires, Terra Novas, newly added PSAT’s and SAT data to drive us forward to a brighter future for all of our students.

 

Education Needs More Than Just Facts

Chesterton_quoteEducation Needs More than Just Facts.

All we are trying to do is teach our students what is real and true.  It is simple.  Well, maybe not.  But, it should be.  Without a confidence in what is real and true we become unmoored and hopeless. G. K.Chesterton, a Christian author, concurs, “ It is typical of our time that the more doubtful we are about the value of philosophy, the more certain we are about the value of education. That is to say, the more doubtful we are about whether we have any truth, the more certain we are (apparently) that we can teach it to children. The smaller our faith in doctrine, the larger our faith in doctors … (Chesterton, 1911)”

I would agree with his contention that without the presence of theology and philosophy at the core of the modern education, this inevitably leads to two mutually exclusive concepts of teaching and learning that are trying to co-exist.  He implies that this “constitutes a schism or schizophrenia at the very heart of the schooling:
“The truth is that the modern world has committed itself to two totally different and inconsistent conceptions about education. It is always trying to expand the scope of education; and always trying to exclude from it all religion and philosophy. But this is sheer nonsense. You can have an education that teaches atheism because atheism is true, and it can be, from its own point of view, a complete education. But you cannot have an education claiming to teach all truth, and then refusing to discuss whether atheism is true. (Chesterton, 1911)”
Chesterton regularly asserts, “The absurdity of the modern schooling’s attempt to build a university in the absence of universals. (1950) ” “Take away the supernatural,” says Chesterton (1911), “and what remains is the unnatural.”  “Education is only the truth in a state of transmission,” he wrote on another occasion, “and how can we pass on truth if it has never come into our hand?”

One consequence of this lack of truth or foundation in the school is what Chesterton called “standardization by a low standard, (Chesterton, 1928)” a dumbing-down of standards to a lowest-common denominator of prescribed mediocrity. In the absence of an integrated curriculum in which each discipline informs the other, each part making sense in the light of the whole, the modern academy has literally disintegrated itself into a plethora of fragmented particles, none of which is in communication with the other parts. “Everything has been sundered from everything else, and everything has grown cold. Soon we shall hear of specialists dividing the tune from the words of a song, on the ground that they spoil each other… This world is all one wild divorce court. (Chesterton, 1928).” When reading the reviews of Chesterton’s statements on education I was reminded of a conversation I had about Common Core.  First, I must say that I am ambivalent about Common Core.  Since I am in a private Christian school, we do not have to and have not adopted the state standards built around the National Common Core.  However, as professionals, we look at it, study it and see if there is anything to glean in our pursuit of excellence.  –Pardon the digression.  Amongst the many complaints I hear about the Common Core is the lower expectation and the indoctrination of a false and convoluted understanding of the world.  

In a recent blog I recently read, “Ironically, in exorcising the unifying spirit of theology and philosophy from the core curriculum, the modern academy has doomed itself to fractious fragmentation, in which each discipline has exiled itself from all the others. In excommunicating theology and philosophy, the modern academy has paradoxically excommunicated itself from itself!” (imaginative, 2014).  “Because the elementary school doesn’t teach theology,” wrote Chesterton, “it must be excused when it doesn’t teach anything. The bias of the modern world is so enormous that it will allow a thing to be inefficient as long as it is also irreligious.”  Isn’t this where we are?  

The modern fervor from almost any secular university and center of learning is against religion and is antagonistic and militant against Truth.  They vehemently oppose a unifying Truth.  Instead they prefer a hollow education to one that is “informed by the underlying meaning inherent in the truth-claims of religion or philosophy (imaginative, 2014).  I would agree with Chesterton (1950) when he says that this is education at all: “Every education teaches a philosophy; if not by dogma then by suggestion, by implication, by atmosphere. Every part of that education has a connection with every other part. If it does not all combine to convey some general view of life, it is not an education at all (Chesterton, 1950 p. 166).”
A cohesive and integrated view of a broad education is contrasted with the “disintegrated” education of the relativist:
“There is something to be said for teaching everything to somebody, as compared with the modern notion of teaching nothing, and the same sort of nothing, to everybody.” (Chesterton, 1950) Whereas the former conveys a philosophy by which one can understand the cosmos, the latter “is not a philosophy but the art of reading and writing unphilosophically [sic].” The former teaches its recipient how to think; the latter prevents its victim from thinking.”

I think my argument can get lost in the condemnation of a modern education.  Forgive me if that is true.  Because indeed, I am really espousing that there is an alternative to this hollow education.  Sure, the modern common school can have a robust amount of classes they offer with sparkling Chromebooks and magnificent edifices to their glory.  But, remember at the core it is missing key ingredients.  It is akin to the shiny genetically modified apple that is the perfect red with a shiny peel; but the substance is manufactured to look like the more nutrition realty.  The triumph of a Christian school is unfortunately, the tragedy of modern education, perceived with such brilliance by Chesterton, is that it has left us perilously ignorant of who we are, where we are, where we have come from, and where we are going.   In a Christian school Truth is at the core.  Truth is the mission.  The integration of philosophy and Truth is the essential ingredient that makes a Christian school what it is.   Those pupils and graduates of a Christian school are not lost and are not blissfully unaware that we are heading for the abyss.  In fact they have a perfect navigation system for life and have hope.

References:
Chesterton, G.K.  (1911).  Illustrated London News, May 13, 1911
Chesterton  G.K. (1950). The Common Man, New York: Sheed & Ward, 1950, p. 168-169
Chesterton, G. K. (1928) Culture and the Coming Peril, being the text of a speech delivered by Chesterton at the University of London in 1928; reprinted in the Chesterton Review, Vol. 18, No. 2, August 1992
http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/02/chesterton-and-the-meaning-of-education.html

 

Whom does the Christian School Serve?

Whom does the Christian school serve?

 

loyalty valueI would contend that the highest priority within the mission of the Christian school is service to God. We are created in his image and for his pleasure.  He desires our obedience, worship, and more. Actually, every aspect of life is worship.  In Christian education we should first seek to bring honor and glory to his name.

This honor and glory is demonstrated each time the education professional interacts with students and parents.  Thus, there is another layer to the question.  God has entrusted the care of his children to parents and they to the school.  God’s instructions to parents are found in His Word. Among the many notable passages are these:

  • “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
  • “He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children” (Psalm 78:5-6).
  • “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children” (Deuteronomy 6: 6-7).

In our schools, we have applied the commands in scripture with descriptors.  We have used the metaphor of a triangle.  The three sides of nurture are the home, church, and school working in harmony and unison to train the child in the way he or she should go.  Training a child is a combined effort.

Some claim that this model is outdated.  It originated when families were more intact.  It was created when churches were more supportive of Christian schools.  It was created when schools were more closely tied to a particular denomination.  Some point to these changes and conclude that the model is no longer applicable. Perhaps that is true.  Perhaps it is not true, and instead it is a call to biblical renewal.

Other changes in the culture of the Christian school is the 21st century parent.  In a recent presentation, Gene Frost, head of school at Wheaton Academy, says that parents before the 1980’s could be described as loyalty customers.  He contrasts those parents with the post 1980’s parent, which he called the value customer.

Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services, CSI clarifies the two categories in his blog.  He says:

To oversimplify, the loyalty customer’s highest priority is for the Christian school to be scripturally rooted.  The loyalty customer is satisfied with the Christian education product as long as the school is clearly Christian first.  The positive aspect of loyalty customers is their non-negotiable commitment to the Christian school.  They tend to be loyal to the school through good times and bad.  Their tuition is not a fee, but a contribution to the cause in which they believe.  The negative aspect of loyalty customers is that they demand little from the school in terms of excellence.  They are satisfied, and their satisfaction can lead the school to conclude that an okay education is good enough.

Value customers’ highest priority is that the Christian school be excellent in academics, program options, and opportunities for their children. The value customer is not satisfied with mediocre educators or education.  The value customer’s commitment to the Christian school is more tentative, because there is a qualifier attached—Christian and excellent. They are Christian school parents, so there is a degree of loyalty, but the loyalty is always being tested over against demonstrated value.  Tuition is a fee, which value customers willingly pay as long as they are convinced of the value.  The positive aspect of value customers is that their demand for the best pushes school beyond complacency to continuous school improvement.  The negative aspect of value customers is that their commitment is not a given, but tenuous.

Schools that do not understand the new reality seem to flounder in frustration and fizzle out. The value customer seeks inspired leaders driving programs toward excellence, a school that identifies what it is best at and does it, a school with systems in place toward continuous improvement, and a school that preserves its mission while stimulating progress.  I would extend beyond this consumer transaction that there is a “special” ingredient that adds value that cannot be found in another circumstance.  The Christian school value customer must see Jesus Christ and a biblical worldview integrated into everything.

As a Christian school administrator I need to recognize that Christian schools have both loyalty and value members. I need to celebrate both and understand the needs of both.  I don’t really see them as mutually exclusive.  Of course a parent should expect high quality.  Of course, they should be loyal to the purpose of Christian school.  Doesn’t the ideal of full biblical integration call for excellence and a value superior to what can be found elsewhere?  It is sinful to give less than we can.

Where I divert from Dr. Frost and Dr. Blamer is that it is a consumer relationship.  Yes, money exchanges in order to compensate individuals for some part of their service.  However, a true Christian school recognizes that staff, faculty, parents, and students participate in raising the value of the school.  Without each of us doing our part in excellence, the Christian school cannot be all it is intended to be, a place that brings glory and honor to our Heavenly Father. [/exand]

 

Traditions Of Teaching & Learning!

As would be expected of anyone in the throws of finalizing their doctoral dissertation, I have been reading A LOT lately about teaching and learning. Through this study, I have read again the Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayer.  She asks some very probing questions.   I thought I would hopefully burden you with the same deep contemplation on the answers to the questions.  Are you ready to go there?

“Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee-meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?

Have you ever followed a discussion in the newspapers or elsewhere and noticed how frequently writers fail to define the terms they use? Or how often, if one man does define his terms, another will assume in his reply that he was using the terms in precisely the opposite sense to that in which he has already defined them?

Have you ever been faintly troubled by the amount of slipshod syntax going about? And if so, are you troubled because it is inelegant or because it may lead to dangerous misunderstanding?

Do you ever find that young people, when they have left school, not only forget most of what they have learnt (that is only to be expected) but forget also, or betray that they have never really known, how to tackle a new subject for themselves? Are you often bothered by coming across grown-up men and women who seem unable to distinguish between a book that is sound, scholarly and properly documented, and one that is to any trained eye, very conspicuously none of these things? Or who cannot handle a library catalogue? Or who, when faced with a book of reference, betray a curious inability to extract from it the passages relevant to the particular question which interests them?

Do you often come across people for whom, all their lives, a “subject” remains a “subject,” divided by water-tight bulkheads from all other “subjects,” so that they experience very great difficulty in making an immediate mental connection between, let us say, algebra and detective fiction, sewage disposal and the price of salmon, cellulose and the distribution of rainfall-or, more generally, between such spheres of knowledge as philosophy and economics, or chemistry and art?

Are you occasionally perturbed by the things written by adult men and women for adult men and women to read?” (Dorothy Sayer, Lost Tools of Learning, 1945).

She asks these questions in 1945.  Are we still asking the same nagging questions?  Hopefully, Salem Christian School is continuing in its tradition of constant improvement.  And, through this endeavor we ensure that our students are not the topic of these questions.  Rather, we work feverishly to ensure that the generation that we influence are a different breed.  We hope that they shed the secular thought and transform to the Christ-like worldview.  Through that worldview they see the imperative to work hard, think hard, and communicate excellently.  After all, the Gospel is at stake.

 

O'Come, O'Come Emmanuel!

advent-wreathO’Come, O’Come Emmanuel!

I grew up in a Christian home with a history of many generations of family on each side that would consider themselves followers of Christ.  Because we worshiped in a Baptist church, we never practiced all the liturgical parts of the Christian faith that many other denominations practice.  Needless to say, I didn’t know much about Advent.  As an adult, I have come to value some of these traditions of the faith, like Advent.   I have come to appreciate the desire to focus myself on what this holiday is declaring.  Christmas is a highly symbolic holiday.  I hope that it brings me and you to a place of worship.

I have no doubt that Christmastime is always a special time for most everyone and moreover so for those of us who are followers of Jesus. Christmas is celebrated all across this planet in a variety of ways. Families have traditions that are often passed down from generation to generation.

Sometimes the traditions are not even understood by younger family members but are practiced and celebrated anyway.  Churches and religions have traditions too. One such tradition practiced by many religions is the Advent Season.  But what does “Advent” mean?  The word “advent” comes from the Latin “adventus” meaning “arrival” or “coming,” particularly of something having great importance. The first coming of Jesus Christ was the most significant historical event that has ever occurred.  The “arrival” of the promised Messiah has changed the world forever.

You are probably aware that Advent is the period of four Sundays and weeks before Christmas Day.  Advent means ‘Coming’ in Latin. This is the coming of Jesus into the world.  Many Christians use the four Sundays and weeks of Advent to prepare and remember the real meaning of Christmas.
Interestingly, there are three meanings of ‘coming’ that Christians describe in Advent.  The first, and most thought of, happened over 2000 years ago when Jesus came into the world as a baby to live as a man and die for us. The second can happen now as Jesus wants to come into our lives now.  And the third will happen in the future when Jesus comes back to the world as King and Judge, not a baby.  Knowing this has given me a newfound love for an already beloved Christmas hymn, ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel!’

As a believer I want to absorb everything this holiday represents.   I want t to look forward to Jesus.  I want to look forward to his birth.  Furthermore, I want to look forward to his coming again.  I hope that the symbolism of Advent will help me meditate more on what Jesus means to me and the world.  I want to better recognize his authority as the King of Kings.  I am thankful that I have a source of truth in a culture that doesn’t recognize the existence of Truth.  I want to revel in the miracle of the Virgin Mary’s giving birth to Jesus Christ.  And, I want to be able to share the good news and prepare myself for the teaching of Jesus Christ in anticipation of His return.  Will you join me in celebrating all that is yet to come because of what Jesus Christ did for us?

 

The Things I'll Never Forget

by Taylor Reinhard ’12

dreamstime_xl_42599873

 

One of the best things Salem offers is that it is a place where both great memories along with lasting friendships are formed. Some of my favorite memories in life stem from things that happened at Salem, whether it was during class, sports, or trips, and I still have friends that I graduated high school with that I see on a regular basis, because our friendships went beyond the time we spent with each other from 8:30am to 3:00pm Monday through Friday. These however are not the only friendships I developed at Salem, and this leads to what I think is the most special part of Salem, the teachers. I would be lying if I said that I loved every single subject and class I took during my time at Salem, but I would not be lying if I said that I felt like every teacher I had, especially in high school, carried a genuine care not only for the education of their students, but for their overall well-being and walk with Christ.
I recently graduated from college with a Bachelor’s of Science in Music and Worship, and will be using my gifts in music at a church in North Jersey to help them in their effort to further God’s kingdom in their communities. I didn’t even realize I had a passion for music until my senior year of high school when I first began taking guitar lessons, so I can safely say that no one at Salem pushed me to study music. What they did push me towards was the idea that a life in which we follow God’s plan and will for our lives instead of our own is the fullest life that we can live, and that often that means putting other people ahead of ourselves. It’s not important by what means I reach people for Christ, only that I reach them. These are the values Salem instilled in me, and continues to instill in its students today.
I learned plenty at Salem academically, and even felt confident in my education throughout college compared to other students, but it’s the things I learned outside of my textbooks that changed me forever. I may never be able to remember everything I learned about World War 1, or how to find the area of a trapezoid, and my grammar would not be nearly as good as it is without modern technology, but whose would? What I know I’ll never forget is that my life should always be pointing back to Christ, and that there is nothing more important than loving other people the way that Christ loves them. These are the things that were not only taught, but shown to me during my thirteen years at Salem Christian School, and for that, I am forever grateful.

By Taylor Reinhard, ‘12

Let's teach our children to be intolerant!

intollerance

LET’S TEACH OUR CHILDREN TO BE INTOLERANT!  Yes, I do mean this without any reservations.  But, first, we must understand when and how to do so.  Why should we tolerate things that are harmful and wrong?  Why should we accept the political correctness that squashes the Gospel?  We shouldn’t, and we should teach our children not to be so tolerant to these ideologies.  But, we must teach them to be tolerant and accepting of the people who espouse those ideas.  Can it be done?  If the Bible is true, then yes.  It can.  After all, we are told to love the sinner and hate the sin.  Isn’t it the same?

I read a quote by Dr. Machen recently and was intrigued.  Beyond the heady intellectualism of the words I found a truth that haunted me for days.  I already admit that I am different in that sense.  Most people would move on and forget the quote quickly.  I could not.

“Involuntary organizations ought to be tolerant, but voluntary organizations, so far as the fundamental purpose of their existence is concerned, must be intolerant or else cease to exist.”
― J. Gresham MachenChristianity and Liberalism

I was haunted about the immense privilege and responsibility of Christian school students, parents, and educators.    We voluntarily choose this organization.  We choose to immerse ourselves in the Truth each day.  We are a voluntary organization of folks who choose to ensure that the truth is instilled into the next generation, equipping them to change their future trajectory towards a more sacred path.

If Dr. Machen is correct, then we as believers who choose to follow Christ must be intolerant to the offenses against God’s truth.  We must stand up boldly and bravely proclaiming the Gospel and his truth.  However, in order to do so, we must ourselves understand God has absolutes for us to follow.  We must transform our minds to think like Christ.   Then, we must teach our children so they can be intolerant.  Why should we ever accept the counterfeit that steals of us of our purpose?

Mind you, I am saying that we be intolerant of the things creeping into our voluntary organization of Christ followers. I am not saying we should be intolerant of the people who are selling them.  To them, we show love and compassion while pointing out their goods are rotten.  Perhaps, we can persuade them with the prodding of the Holy Spirit to see that our organization is necessary.

Now can you see why it haunted me?  I could not shake the weight of my calling as a follower of Christ and educator.   It impressed on me the importance of teaching intolerance of the worldly things that are pervasive in our thought.  Are you ready to be intolerant? So, let’s be intolerant! Furthermore, let’s teach our children to be intolerant of the secular ideologies that are swallowing their eternal hope all the while loving those that don’t understand the harm they cause. 

 

The Joy of Changing a Life

Have you ever experienced the joy of changing a life?  That is precisely why Salem Christian School exists.  We desire to change lives and make an eternal impact.  If I may, I would like to share with you why Salem Christian School is an eternal investment worth making.  This school, since its inception in 1979, has been dedicated to developing students who love God with all their mind, body, and soul through challenging academics and a vibrant student life.  Furthermore, we are seeking partners who understand our mission and share our passion for the next generation.
It is exciting to be part of a growing school.  Salem Christian School has been growing in many aspects beyond enrollment and programs.  Our school has grown in its hunger for excellence.  It has developed a strong college and career guidance program.  It has added numerous programs and academic courses for students.  We have seen God answering prayers, giving direction, and blessing us in ways that were unexpected. God willing, our future looks bright.

In addition to some positive growth, during our recent self-study we found some areas that we need to address within our strategic plan.  Currently, we are engaged in procuring 6 desperately needed classrooms in addition to refurbishing some current space in order to accommodate an expanding program and student body.  Additionally, we have begun addressing our gymnasium needs.  We have been blessed with a gymnasium that is heavily used for co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.  In fact, 96% of our students are involved in extra-curricular activities that use the gymnasium.  We are very grateful for what God has provided and continue to use what we have to His glory.  We are committed to no debt; therefore, we need to raise an additional $200,000 to meet these completion and gymnasium renovation needs.   But, we know that He has great things in store for this important ministry in the future and always supplies what His ministries need.
We humbly request that you invest into Salem Christian School so that we can address the needed programmatic, infra-structure, and physical plant upgrades.  If you desire any additional information, please let me know.  We want you to be as confident in your investment of financial resources as we are.

 

The Philosophy of Christian Education
The Philosophy of Christian Educationeducation

As we continue to look at Curran’s and other researchers signs of a flourishing school we are confronted with the question, “Does your school have an adequate and realistic philosophy of education?”   There are so many ideas on how to teach.  And, SCS continues to evolve and grow in its delivery of the program.  However, within the mix of methodology and other items, foundation underpinnings of the school’s philosophical approach needs to be present.  That fundamental philosophy is the characteristic that make a Christian school Christian.   The philosophy behind a Christian education is distinctive in itself and deserves to be specially noted.

Education has been defined as “the process by which children and youth develop knowledge, skills, and character, especially through formal instruction, training, and study.  Philosophy, according to Webster’s Dictionary is “a pursuit of wisdom; a search for truth through logical reasoning; an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs.” The Greek define philosophy as “the love and pursuit of knowledge and truth.”

Adding Christianity, the essential ingredient, our philosophy of Christian education is like an artist who steps back from his work to view the masterpiece in its entirety. How he relates the parts to each other and to the whole reveals the mastery and success of his work. The effectiveness and outreach of our ministries hinge upon the development of our philosophy of Christian education.

A common phrase among Christian educators is “Kingdom building”.  Christian education in a broader sense is a lifelong, Bible-based, Christ-centered process of leading a child to Christ, building a child up in Christ, and equipping a child to serve Christ. There are five pillars required in order to  be considered a true philosophy of Christian education: Bible-based, Christ-centered, Holy Spirit-controlled, pupil-related, and socially oriented.

A Bible-based philosophy of Christian education presents the Bible as the foundation of all knowledge. Every aspect of education must be integrated into God’s truth. This would imply that the scope of God’s truth is universal. God’s truth is not dependent upon what education does.  Education uncovers that Truth and then facilitates the learning of the Truth for the student.

A living union of all aspects of education must take place. The home, church, and school must establish their precepts upon the Bible. Their premise must be that all truth is God’s truth; their communication must speak the truth in love seasoned with grace; and their conduct must speak louder than words realizing the powerful influence of godly behavior.  The hope is that  the result will be children of integrity and honesty balanced by God’s Word.  As a Christian school it is imperative to integrate the Truth in every discipline. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16).

A Christ-centered philosophy of education recognizes that Jesus Christ is our authority and Lord of Truth. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus Christ is our foundation. “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:11). “In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 3:3). Christ is to have the preeminence in all things.

Dr. Paul Kienel said:

“The purpose of Christian school education is to show children and young people how to face Christ and then with the vision of Christ in their hearts to face the present world and the world to come.” We should lead our students to salvation in Christ, build them up in their faith, and equip them to serve Him. The result will be a spiritual haven where Christ reigns and learning is paramount.

Oswald Chambers said it best:

“The sweet sign that God has done a work of grace in our hearts is that we love Jesus Christ best; not weakly and faintly, not intellectually, but passionately, personally, and devotedly, overwhelming every other love of our lives.”

This is the work of a Christ-centered philosophy of Christian education. A Holy Spirit-controlled philosophy of education acknowledges the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of parents, teachers, and students. The parents and teachers must have His guidance to impart the truth to their students effectively and appropriately. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide in you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16-17). Parents and teachers must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to think Christianly and to effectively communicate the truth in the education of their children. Students need the leadership of the Spirit to love him with all their being. Romans 12:2 tells us, “And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The Holy Spirit correctly focuses the student’s knowledge to bring about moral conformity and wisdom

A pupil-related philosophy of Christian education focuses on what God intends every child to be. Parents and teachers understand that each child is a special creation of God (Psalm 139) and made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Yet, due to sin, they are fallen and in need of a Savior. Without this circtical ingredient, the rest is for naught and hollow.   Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace are you saved by faith, that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God.” Ephesians 2:10 shares that “we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus.” Christian education is to instill in a child the knowledge of God; guide him in the development of his personal faith; and help him in the establishment of his Christian worldview.

A socially-oriented philosophy of education teaches young people how to interact and relate with the world. The student understands that all of life is God’s. There is no secular and sacred. All truth is God’s truth. The parents and teachers integrate faith and Biblical values into a lifestyle reflecting a Christian worldview by example and instruction to their students. “And whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Colossians 3:17).

 

Flourishing Schools: Is there an extensive and adequate student activities program?
studentactivitiesoutcomeI have been writing lately about flourishing schools.  In my role as the Head of School, I try to use the research on flourishing schools to help me examine my role in addition to the school’s efficacy.  I have been using questions in the self-evaluation.  One such question a school should ask itself in determining its strength and value is, “Is there an extensive and adequate student activities program?” To answer this, we must first agree with the value of student activities and exactly what student activities encompasses.Student activities are anything that the student does in a school program outside of the classroom and the specific learning outcomes described in the curriculum maps.  This would include athletic and non-athletic activities such as, athletics, clubs, and other outlets for students to extend themselves beyond the classrooms lessons.The nagging question for any educational leader is, “Do they help the students achieve those important outcomes?”  Student activities have assumed an increasing and apparently permanent role in schools, yet they seem to escape the critical scrutiny of curricular review that is applied to academic areas. Great, but, do student activities contribute to the achievement of intended learning outcomes?Student activities have assumed an increasing and apparently permanent role in schools, yet they seem to escape the critical scrutiny of curricular review that is applied to academic areas. Great, but, do student activities contribute to the achievement of intended learning outcomes?Research only provides limited help. Because the nature, number, and quality of student activities varies greatly from school to school, the conclusions can only be made in regards to a particular school.   Conclusions and suggestions may be helpful for pro-grams in other schools, but do not necessarily apply.  However, even though they are not generalizable, they can give insight during a school’s self evaluation when answering the questions about a flourishing school. Thus, I use the research from other schools to glean as much insight that I can.Here are some pf the common applicable themes from the research:

  • student activities provide motivation and recognition for many students who do not find motivation or recognition in the classroom.
  • Student activities enhance the student/teacher school/home and many other relation-ships, all effecting the school climate.
  • Although some activities rated higher than others in the categories of thinking, communicating, and cooperating, there is a clear consensus that student activities do contribute to the achievement of the learning outcomes.
  • Cooperation is the most highly rated outcome in both athletic and nonathletic activities. Since cooperation is an important life skill and cooperative effort in academic disciplines is limited, student activities fill a critical void in this area.

Of course there are many more reasons the student activities (athletic and nonathletic) are important.  This is why Salem Christian School works at ensuring the student life component of our program is robust.  Almost every student at our school is engaged in some student activity. Subsequently, we have implemented a Director of Student Life.  He is responsible for student council, spelling bees, Math Olympics,  fine arts events, varied clubs,  and many other opportunities for students to become involved.   Of course, our Director of Athletics is responsible for Middle School and High School, Varsity and Junior Varsity, ACCAC and PIAA games.    I for one am looking forward to seeing what programs Mr. Ference will be bringing to the school in future years through his position as Student Life Director. Additionally, I am excited to here of the addition of a junior varsity boys basketball team.

We welcome people with the ability and passion to offer after-school clubs, student activities, and other ideas.  Beware, if you have a great idea, we may call on you to come alongside of the school to get it started!

 

Flourishing Schools: Does your school have a principal who is an active leader?

2015This week I would like to delve into the first question that Mr. Curran proposes a school should ask in order to determine its effectiveness.   The question is ,”Does your school have a principal who is an active leader?” Any school, including Salem Christian School, has several leaders to whom this question applies.  Of course because of my role and position,  I have impact. But, the other leaders of the school have significant impact as well.

Just a reminder that last week I presented the research on effective schools.  Curran (1983) asked, “Does your school have:

  1. … a principal who is an active leader?
  2. …a positive school climate?
  3. …agreeable and workable discipline procedures and policies?
  4. …teachers who have high expectations for students?
  5. …parents who are involved in the educational process?
  6. …productive methods of evaluating curriculum?
  7. …effective methods of evaluating teacher performance?
  8. …consequential methods of determining and evaluating student growth?
  9. …a realistic philosophy of education?
  10. …an extensive and adequate student activities program?
  11. …significant student services?

Undoubtedly, it is impossible to express everything SCS has been doing.  Additionally, it is not to say that Salem Christian School has reached the pinnacle in any area.  Further research indicates that a school always has to be working towards improvement in every area.  Essentially, it is the process as much as it is the ends (Fullan, 2001).

The leadership team at Salem Christian School includes the Head of School, Mr. Stanton; Assistant to the Head of School, Mrs. Beres; Director of Athletics, Mr. Krage; Student Life Director, Mr. Ference; Director of Information Technology, Mr. Lewis; and Learning Support Coordinator, Mrs. Reinhard.  Together, this team is instrumental in leading this school forward.

Curran (1983), Hallinger, Wang and Chen (2013) provide a great description of what an active leader resembles.   Minimally, the school family-students, teachers, parents, and community members should know who the Head of School and other school leaders are.  An exemplary school must have a school leader that is visible.  This visibility is crucial in order to determine the school family’s needs and seek the appropriate methods of providing for those needs. The school leader must be knowledgeable in school affairs, especially in the areas of school curriculum, teacher performance, and student growth.

Leadership is the ultimate necessity for any successful group, organization, or endeavor. Leadership may be regarded as a series of functions that: build and maintain the group, get the job done, help the group feel comfortable and at ease, help to set and clearly define goals.  (Curran, 1983; Hallinger, Wang, and Chen, 2013)

In an effort to better answer this question , the Coffee and Conversation time has been implemented every fourth Thursday of the month.  We want to chat about the school.  We want to hear thoughts.  It strengthens our ability to lead the school in addition to strengthening the home-school partnership.  Every parent is invited to join me at 8:45 in the cafeteria for our next Cofeee (tea) and Conversation time on Thursday, October 27, 2016.

One of the delights of Salem Christian School is the conversations that are taking place.  Yesterday we spent an hour or so discussing how we can be better at ensuring our students are meeting our expected outcomes.  Today, I have had several conversations about academic and student life growth.  Almost every day through my walk-throughs I am able to see the instruction and learning taking place in the classrooms.  And, I get the privilege of writing a blog that describes excellent schools and shares about SCS.

I see each of the directors meeting with students, discipling students, and helping them reach their academic, future, and spiritual goals. It is a pleasure to work with people that enjoy seeing students flourish and achieve beyond what they thought they could.

 

Flourishing Schools

quote-martin-luther-when-schools-flourish-all-flourishes-55933Lately the Salem Christian School governance, administration, faculty, and staff have been discussing the indicators of a flourishing school.  The School Committee (school governance) has been systematically evaluating SCS and how this school matches the rubric of a flourishing school rather than just an effective school.  The administration and directors are reading a book on school change and have been having significant discussion on how we can most effective lead the areas of school that are under our responsibility.  The faculty has been researching aspects of the school that they are passionate about seeing get stronger.  It is exciting to see this continued self-examination blossom into programmatic growth.

Curran (1983), a leading researcher of effective schools, based upon his research as well as the wide body of research available has provided some questions a school could use in self-examination.  We are using asking these questions as we continue to look for areas to improve.  The answers testify to what an excellent school that SCS is.

The questions Curran (1983) asks, “Does your school have:

  1. … a principal who is an active leader?
  2. …a positive school climate?
  3. …agreeable and workable discipline procedures and policies?
  4. …teachers who have high expectations for students?
  5. ..parents who are involved in the educational process?
  6. …productive methods of evaluating curriculum?
  7. …effective methods of evaluating teacher performance?
  8. …consequential methods of determining and evaluating student growth?
  9. …a realistic philosophy of education?
  10. …an extensive and adequate student activities program?
  11. …significant student services?

 

Curran and the others research and write from a secular worldview.  Therefore, they are not expecting or infusing the spiritual component into the mix.  However, as believers, we know that this is an important ingredient in an excellent and flourishing school.

 

I look forward to expounding on each of these questions in future weekly blogs.  It provides an opportunity for self-reflection.  Additionally, the helps us to see what an exceptional program we have here at Salem Christian School.

 

Curran, T. J. (1983). Characteristics of the Effective School–A Starting Point for Self-Evaluation. NASSP Bulletin, 67(465), 71-73. doi:10.1177/019263658306746514

 

Christian Thought
westernveasternThis past summer, I had the opportunity to travel throughout China for two weeks promoting Salem Christian School and American  education system in general.   The trip was sponsored by a company that connects Chinese students interested in international studies with American private schools.  In 10 days, I traveled to 14 cities and 5 provinces in 7 flights, 4 trains, and a ferry with an additional countless hours in Chinese “Uber” service.  Within each of these cities we visited anywhere from two to four schools.In each location, I was expected to provide a presentation in each of these schools.  The presentation was to be 10-20 minutes.  Mind you, this would cut the time in half because it would need to include English to Chinese translation.  That is a short time to share the significance of experiencing the value of a Christian education at Salem Christian School.  Two days before departure, they requested I teach a lesson.  I wasn’t sure how I could  teach a proper lesson within these parameters regardless of having no idea on what would even be a profitable lesson to teach.  Initially, I  declined.

I stuck to a simple presentation; at least, until my second day when I was in Shanghai.  There I was relentlessly requested to teach a lesson.   I had an epiphany, likely the Holy Spirit prompting.  Why not share about the school through the construct of my worldview class I teach seniors?  It suddenly became clear on how I could teach a lesson and share the school in such a confined time and it still be valuable.

I began sharing  how Westerners think differently than those from Eastern cultures with a few anecdotal examples.   I contended that we derive our philosophical thoughts mainly from Greek philosophers.  An example of this is ‘The Allegory of The Cave‘ by Plato.

I shared the Allegory of the Cave by Plato.  In this allegory, three men were captive and chained facing a wall.  For their entire lives they could only see shadows and hear the distorted sounds of people walking by on a ledge far away and behind them.  One day, a man escaped the cave to see the world as it really was.  He returned to the ledge to talk to the two men left chained; but, all they could see was his shadow from the fire and his distorted voice.

The ‘Allegory Of The Cave‘ is a theory put forward by Plato, concerning human perception. Plato claimed that knowledge gained through the senses is no more than opinion and that, in order to have real knowledge, we must gain it through philosophical reasoning.  Reality and knowledge takes deep thought and experience to uncover.

This allegory describes western thought of knowledge, learning, and philosophy for thousands of years.  Although westerners think differently and certainly behave differently, there are certain universal truths.

Not unlike the escapee, we try to teach those universal truths and help students understand the world as it really is.  Christianity is about understanding the universe as God would have us see it.  We cannot fully uncover reality or entirely understand it without God.  Thus, Salem Christian School endeavors to teach pupils to think in light of His Truth.  Knowing the Truth will most definitely require the student to think differently than their secular counterparts.

Salem Christian School understands that every human being, no matter the cultural background, needs to transform their minds in order to understand the fullness of the universe.  And, by that, we mean seeing it how God sees it.  Thus, every subject taught and every aspect of the school is permeated with the Christian worldview.  This school’s foundation mission is to develop a student who loves God with all his or her mind, body and soul.  And, a vision for how it is done is integral to living out the Christian worldview philosophy effectively. And that describes a student’s academic life, student life, and spiritual at Salem Christian School.

 

Organic Child


Grocery stores are dedicating more and more prime space in their establishments to organic produce, meats, and other items.  We see changed packaging and delivery methods to reflect a better respect for health and naturally clean living.  organic-childWe see a great increase in farm cooperatives.  And, we can’t help but see blogs and posts dedicated to clean living, organic food, and free-range meats in every aspect of social media.   It was just announced that an organic or natural baby and child outfitter startup company is being sold for just over a billion dollars.  Clearly, American families, especially young parents, demand that their food and lifestyle be wholesome, fresh natural and organic products and services.Undoubtedly, these same parents are looking for the same high-quality and clean natural way of educating their most precious gift, their children.  These savvy parents read blogs and posts about their children’s learning styles, learning differences, methodologies, and everything they can in order to make the best choice for their son or daughter.  Rightfully so, these parents want their children’s instruction to match how they were designed.A flourishing school recognizes these trends in addition to ongoing educational research.  Another indicator of a flourishing school is to recognize the needs of the learner and constantly thrive to be more effective as a school system.Salem Christian School, a private Christian school in Eastern Pennsylvania, strives to be constantly improving and be a flourishing school.  This school is dedicating significant time and financial resources to being sure we are attending to our students’ intellectual, physical, and social need design.  Additionally, we recognize that there is a movement (we believe appropriately so) towards a natural and clean living that is more than just what we eat.Two of the action research projects at Salem Christian School are looking into how this research and trend impacts the school:The first Action Research Project asks the question, “How do we design a classroom experience, instruction, and free time to stimulate inquiry and active based learning?”  Mrs. Green, the first grade teacher is piloting this action research project.  Thus far there is attention being given to the second teacher in room, the classroom environment.  This means that the set-up, colors, and other aspects of the classroom make a difference in the child’s ability to learn.  It is fascinating to see how so many subtle and not so subtle things can make a difference in a child’s ability to learn.Developed through one of the school’s professional learning communities, the second action research project recognizes the child’s biological need for play and free-time in order to process what they have learned and spark the curiosity needed to learn more.   Research has shown that this “down-time” is necessary for humans to deepen the learning.  This action research is designed to facilitate this design.  This project asks, “How can we create a natural and authentic play experience that enhances the classroom experience, sparks curiosity, and engages students in a natural and “organic” play environment?”  The playground is being changed in order to provide a natural setting and environment in our attempt to provide an organic learning environment.
Constant Improvement
I hope that you are all doing well.  Salem Christian School is well into the swing of the new school year.  There is quite a bit happening at your school.   I am looking forward to the chat time on Thursday, September 22, 2016.  I hope that you can make it to the inaugural time next week.  Additionally, we have a few personnel needs that you can help promote.  As a culture of constant improvement we are excited about those teachers that are pursuing their graduate degree and the action research projects that are taking place.    I am very excited about what is happening at SCS and even more glad to share it with everyone.We are looking for someone to be an after-care worker each day of the school week.  The hours would be from 3:15-4:15 and possibly to 5:15 on the very rare occasion.  The requirements are to be good with children, a solid Christian, and dependable.  Please contact me if you are interested or know someone who may be.Additionally, we are looking for a long-term math substitute from December- January to cover for a maternity leave.  The requirements are a strong knowledge in math and preferably a related degree in education.   Please post this at your church and direct any inquiries to mstanton@salemchristian.org or call the school office.Enjoy coffee (tea) with the Head of School on September 22, 2016 and the 4th Thursday of each month at 8:45 in the cafeteria.  Mr. Stanton would like to invite you for a coffee (tea) time in which parents and other members of our school community are invited to sit for an informal chat about Salem Christian School and our shared vision for its continued growth and success.I am always grateful for parents and family members who are active in the school.  The input and support is very important.  Not only does this grow a strong school, it develops stronger students.

 

Coffee/Tea with Head of School

Coffee (Tea) with the Head of School.

On September 22, 2016 and the 4th Thursday of every month thereafter at 8:45-9:15.  Mr. Stanton would like to invite you for a coffee (tea) time in which parents and other members of our school community are invited to sit for an informal chat about Salem Christian School  and our shared vision for its continued growth and success.

I hope this to be a positive time that will help foster the already strong partnership that is exhibited at SCS.  Certainly, we will spend time in prayer for the school, students, and families.  Through this I look forward to hearing from families about things that are important.  I intend on asking questions that will help in the planning process.  Additionally, I anticipate sharing things about the progress of the school.

I hope to see regular attenders.  Of course, if we don’t have school on that date, we won’t have the gathering at that time.

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