Toby A. Travis, EdD
3 Essential Elements Unique to Authentic Christian Schools
In the article, 4 Essential Areas of Leader Involvement in the Nuts & Bolts of a School, I identified the “Nuts & Bolts” are referring to curriculum, instruction, and assessment. When it comes to the Christian School leader, however, there are unique considerations.
Before we look to those considerations, it must first be clear that what makes any educational element Christian is found in the way those elements are delivered. This includes: the environment the teacher develops in relationship to his or her students, the personal preparation of the teacher in understanding and reflecting on their worldview in relationship to the curriculum, and last and certainly least, the actual content of the curriculum. In too many schools, what primarily makes Christian curriculum Christian is integration of the Bible into the course material. In fact, many well-meaning publishers of so-called biblical-integration materials see this as their mission, and there are Christian schools and universities that promote and define integration of the Bible into all academic disciplines as the measure of Christian education. This approach, however, can work against the mission of a decidedly Christian school. Consider this observation by Dr. Richard Riesen, former principal of Pacific Christian on the Hill in Los Angeles: "I would suggest that the proper approach… is not to find Bible verses for the margins of our lecture notes or to require our students to do the same for science projects. There are of course times when the Bible lends itself perfectly to being used in this way, even in the classroom, but not usually. To ask a student to support an experiment on photosynthesis by looking up verses in a concordance that refer to the sun or to leaves is not only poor pedagogy; it is counter to, it possibly undoes, good pedagogy. It teaches wrong views of the Bible, for one thing — because photosynthesis is not a biblical concern. More important, it teaches students to read texts incorrectly, and a proper understanding of textual exegesis is absolutely central to all education… You cannot use Bible verses in support of anything you like simply because they contain words you are looking for. That practice, in religious matters, produces heterodoxy and pernicious nonsense." Rather than building a curriculum with the goal and agenda of integrating biblical text and references into the subject content, leaders have a much greater impact when involved in setting goals and agendas integrating Christian faith and worldview into the learning experiences. Through their direct involvement in curriculum, instruction, and assessment, leaders serve as models and living exemplars of this approach. The primary factors with the greatest bearing on the construction of a Christian curriculum are not related to course content. This is a challenge for some Christian educators to fully understand and embrace. Many fundamentally define curriculum in terms of course content. As argued earlier, curriculum is more about the means and the materials related to how a course is taught. The actual content, so long as it meets the necessary learning outcomes, is far less consequential. The essential means of authentic Christian course curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices are found in these three categories:
The Preparation of the teacher
The Environment of the learning
The Relationship of the teachers with students and peers
Schools know the importance of teachers mastering the material they are teaching. The best teachers possess a treasure-trove of knowledge, experience, and resources to meet their students’ learning needs at any given time. The same should hold true in the integration of their Christian faith. Christian school leaders must ensure the spiritual preparation of teachers. This preparation needs to be full and rich with the knowledge of the Scriptures, their experience in an active relationship with Jesus Christ, and the resources of a deep and clearly understood monotheistic worldview molding and shaping every thought and every word.
Trusted leaders know how critical the learning environment is for supporting student learning. The same is true for Christian faith integration. For example, some may view displaying Bible verses throughout the classroom as supporting course objectives and outcomes. The practice may, in fact, do so but is not an authentic indicator of faith-integration. A more meaningful way to identify authentic means and materials of faith integration is to ask the question, “Do students see and experience Christ through what they observe, what they hear, and what they feel?”
It has been said that “life is all about relationships” and faith integration into curriculum, instruction, and assessment is no different. If schools want to reach students for Christ, then their leaders, teachers, and staff must model Jesus. For many students the only close and personal image of Jesus they will know is a Christian school leader, teacher, or staff member. This relationship and interpersonal connection has the greatest ability of marking the school as Christian.
Authored by Toby A. Travis, Ed.D.
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 Riesen, Piety and Philosophy, 1429-1436, Kindle.