Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Let's Talk About Educational Revolution

A Legacy of Revolution
Our schools were first established in the 1870’s and we’ve believed in wholistic education since the beginning.  But we weren't the only ones, we were continuing a revolution started with the Protestant Reformation.  The early reformers understood that to be effective they needed to develop an educated mind.  The development of an active, curious, self-actualized individual is the fertile ground God intended for us.  

Luther and Melanchthon saw the path to reform in education. “To neglect the young in our schools is just like taking the spring out of the year.  They indeed take away the spring from the year who permit the schools to decline, because religion cannot be maintained without them.”

Under this belief these two reformers reorganized the schools in Eisleben and Madgeburg.  These schools had several key elements. 

First, teachers did not burden the children with too many books and studies.  They focused on how to think, what to think or the goal of covering every inch of a curriculum.

Second, the theoretical was always be matched with the practice. “They should learn to do, by doing”; was the mantra.

Third, independence of thought and individuality was honored and protected.  

Forth, competitive testing and pomp and circumstance was avoided.

These schools thrived until the counter reformation.  Not only was a counter system created, but it began to actively infiltrate and subvert the Reformation system.  You can mark the decline of the Reformation to the popularity of the new Counter Reformation system in education.  

Later in the United States Thomas Jefferson tried to create an education system based on the Reformation style.  It worked for a time until it began to follow the European style.  

God tried again to raise a movement when the early Adventists began their education system.  But eventually that revolution faltered in the late 1800’s. Enamored with pomp and circumstance and the trappings of the prestiges European and American secularized colleges, our institutions began to change.

It was at this time Ellen White, freshly back from Australia, boarded a boat with her son and several like minded revolutionaries, Sutherland, Magan and others.  Their goal explore the opportunities to restart the educational revolution in the South. Many of our current schools can trace their origins and founders back to this little boat.

For decades now we have studied our decline.  We have become convinced of the crisis and apparently the inevitable shrinking of our system; but crisis is actually an opportunity!  Here’s why, human nature will not easily allow for change and revolution without crisis.  

Our schools grew in the beginning not out of loyalty to the denomination, but instead out of a shared purpose and action. We were a movement instead of an institution; we were purposeful.  Called to make our communities better though meeting their practical needs of health and education. Then once proven trustworthy, sharing the gospel.  As we have grown into an "old" organization that purpose has been obscured by tradition. 

We stopped asking ourselves "Why" and settled for "Because".  For many years that answer was enough to keep us afloat, but as those generations went though our schools they found, that answer, to be dry and empty. 

We've tried to sell Adventist Education for its ability to make Adventists, and to raise test scores, but these are not the most compelling reasons for Adventist Education, they are by-products of a deeper answer. 

The answer to why Adventist Education is valuable is that it creates men and women who know Jesus. Men and women of action; skilled in the practical application of the knowledge they acquired. Who are driven to create opportunities for themselves and their communities.  We make the world around us better!  We fulfill our Creators intention.  The light on the hill that draws the world to Him is not a static activity of waiting, but an active search, reaching out into the darkness.

In studying the original blueprint it has become clear that our schools were never meant to stay insular in nature.  They were to be the embodiment of the great commission.

Just as the medical training at our colleges and hospitals was meant to reach out into the community and offer better living.  Adventist Education was meant to do the same, reaching out with the message of wholistic education.  

Done correctly the two arms of ministry make the surrounding community healthier, better educated and aquatinted with the Savior.  Freeing minds and bodies to hear and understand the gospel.  The left and right arms of our denominational work reach into the world drawing them to the body of Christ’s church.

This mission also serves to keep us focused on moving the gospel forward.  "When (the church) failed to continue the constructive work, which is centered largely in the education of the youth...internal dissension arose.  Their time was spent very largely in criticizing the views of their co-laborers who differed with them on some unimportant points of theology.  They paid much attention to doctrines, and spent the most of their energy in preserving orthodoxy.  They crystalized their doctrines into creeds; they ceased to develop, and lost the spirit of Christian Education, which was the oil for the their lamps...degenerating into dead orthodoxy, and opposing factions.”(A.E. Sutherland)  

Of all the issues facing the Adventist church this is one of the hardest to change; but it is essential if we are to become what we were created to be.  

Our education system must be fundamentally different!  “All education must grow out of the life of the people educated.  In order to educate children, parents must be educated also.  Real education must be education of the whole community, and it must take hold of the life which the people live, making them more intelligent about this life.” (Sutherland)  

Traditional education has focused on activities that limit free activity and thought.  It has sought to create implicit obedience instead of self-government.  Our education system, should seek something different, "originality and independence of mind, love of truth for its own sake, the power of reflecting and forming correct judgments”.(White)  
Our system was built to be different, we were always meant to recognize the needs of the individual.  Creating an education, customized to the learner.   "Permitting the student in council with teachers, to select subjects according to their future needs.”(A.E. Sutherland) 

Creating an individual "in the image of God, endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator-- individuality, power to think and to do.  The student in whom this power is developed are the students who bear responsibilities, who are leaders in enterprise, and who influence character.  It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other's thoughts.”(White) 

Teachers tend to teach in the manor they have been taught. The predominant model being used today is based on old pedagogues that revolve around the teacher and not a collaboration of student and mentor. These methods were originally designed to numb the free will of the students. "The memory was cultivated as a means of keeping down free activity of thought and clearness of judgement. In the place of self-government mutual distrust, espionage and informing. Implicit obedience relieved the pupils from all responsibility as to the moral justification of their deeds."(Rosencranz) 

If we want to see our teachers using a new pedagogue we must change the methods we are modeling. The model must be changed at every level, our schools are are the location of our future. 

We need a new pedagogue, the pedagogue of the self reliant student. The new model must value practical application, hands on learning, reflection, active assessment based on more than grade percentages, it must find room for creating and making, project based and service oriented learning, adaptability toward the varying levels of the students regardless of grade level. Our education should inspire the innate creative spirit. 

A.E. Sutherland, used the phrase “academic corpulence” in a lecture in 1919; he was concerned with the separation of the practical parts of education and the theory.  "The teacher is a better teacher if he/she is linked up with the experiment station(practical application)... No student has made the most of their life who has not come in close touch with the actual work of the station.  For teachers to carry out this program, making a successful combination of class room work and experimentation, or demonstration, the course of study must be reduced to essentials, not only must unimportant subjects be weeded out, but minor details and non-essential portions must be eliminated from those subjects that are retained.  This will reduce that academic corpulence to normal proportions. The time of the student is now too precious to allow him or her to pursue what the humorist has called "the tail of the details.” God's work is not to wait while his servants go through such wonderfully elaborate preparations...The world needs men and women of action, and our schools must prepare students to do by doing." (A.E. Sutherland)

How much has educational corpulence increased since 1919?  In order to free ourselves to teach and honor the necessary physical activity of a well rounded student we must be diligent in trimming "the fat."  Every school should carve out time each day for both structured play and free play in the elementary and practical application in our high schools and colleges.  

This can be scary, academic time is precious.  But this time of activity will make academic time more productive, allow the coverage of as much or more than would be covered if you didn't have the activity.  We also need to  focus on understanding, instead of time-lines.  Let's worry less about "getting to the end of the book" and more concern with how much our student truly understand.  Asking what did you learn instead of what grade did you make.

Let us teach student how to think, not what to think. Every year, time should be spent reevaluating what is necessary and what is redundant.  How can we combine subjects; accentuating their natural connections not only to be more efficient, but more effective in creating understanding in our students minds. 

The easiest route to change how we teach is by equipping the teachers going into the schoolroom.  Our teacher training should focus more on real classroom experience with teachers who exemplify the best. 

We must invest in veteran teachers who are already using this "new pedagogue" supporting them and encouraging them to continue and grow the ranks.  We need empower them as evangelists for the new pedagogue, so that they can ignite change in the staffs they join.

We were meant to be the dreamers, the troublemakers, the non-conformists, the free thinkers and the difference makers. It’s time to do something!  The Revolution starts with you and it starts now!  Let us relight the fires, let’s act more like revolutionaries. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Hiring and Referencing

Teachers and principals can make or break a school, their hiring plays the biggest part in the future success or failure of a school.  Because of this it is important to find and hire the right people.  This can be a challenge if you are not prepared and understand where you are, what you currently need and where you want to go in the future. 

Understand Your Needs

Every school is unique when it comes to hiring the perfect teacher or administrator.  You must know the environment, the best fit for that individual and the school community.  Specific needs might include certification, experience, personality, flexibility, and individual philosophy of teaching.  Don’t begin the process until you know the answer to these questions.  They will help shape not only the understanding of the type of individual you’re looking for but also the type of questions that would be most important to ask potential candidates.

Post the Position

NAD Education has a central location to post all openings in the NAD on the Adventist Education website.  The larger the pool of potential applicants the better.  Be as detailed in your description as possible, make sure to list contact information, the deadline for submission and qualifications.

Initial Sorting

After the deadline has passed scan each resume specifically for key words, skills and experiences that match your needs.  Note how the resumes and letters are constructed, are they organized, do they have gaps in the information, was this a generic interest or does the candidate exhibit a specific interest in your school.  Use this process to narrow the field and then look for individuals on their references that you or someone you trust may know.  Consider links to individuals that might not be listed and reach out beyond the list of references.  Your goal is to get as much information as possible about the individual before they are even considered for an actual interview.  All of these things will help narrow your list.

Deep Background and Reading Between the Lines

An interview is a snapshot of an individual and can be unreliable as a reference for how the person will actually fit in the position.  Interviews are too short a time to become familiar with how someone will perform long term.  The goal of spending time doing deeper background is to get clear understanding of the individual’s performance from people who interacted with them long term.  It’s important to understand that official references typically stay brief and often superficial.  Your successful discussion with a reference is based on what they said and what was conferred “in between the lines.”  Always ask these two questions; “Would you hire this person for a similar position?” and “Who else should I speak with about this candidate?”

Something else to add to your deep background is a search of social media website for the individuals being considered.  You won’t be the only one looking them up on these websites and you will be much better off checking them before you hire someone than finding out afterward through a constituent.

The First Interviews
An initial phone or teleconference is recommended to further narrow your candidates.  In this initial phone conversation, your goal is to establish how strong their interest is in the position, fill in any gaps or answer basic questions you need clarification on.  Try to get a feel for the candidate’s personality and comfort level.  Don’t rush this conversation, spend time to get to know them a little with small talk, ask them to share.  Take notes as you go through their resume.  Add your thoughts, impressions and any further questions you might research. 

The Second Interviews

At this point you should have a good idea who the top 2-3 candidates are.  It’s time to broaden the scope of understanding with your committee, chairperson or board.  Let them add their thoughts on the resumes, deep background and connections to the candidate to the discussion.  Let them share their impressions before you share your thoughts.  Let them formulate their own opinions for each candidate.  Some Conferences prefer at this point to bring only one candidate in, while others will bring in their top 2-3 for interviews.

Interview Questions

While you want to learn as much as possible about a candidate there are some things you should not ask.  While Title VII doesn’t have a list of questions that can’t be asked, anti-discrimination agencies use these types of questions to show bias and discrimination.

1.     Are you pregnant?
2.     What is your political affiliation?
3.     What is your race, color or ethnicity?
4.     How old are you?
5.     Are you disabled?
6.     Are you married?
7.     Do you have children?
8.     Are you in debt?

Here’s what you should do:
1.     Questions are easy, use scenarios instead to get a deeper understanding.
2.     Throw a trick question in for example: “You’re working with a group of students at a table when one of them throws up on the manipulatives. What do you do?”  Pay attention to the candidate’s response, body language and thoughts.  The best candidates will not only focus on the cleanup, but the sick student AND how they will handle their student’s response to the sick child to limit embarrassment.
3.     Relax, remember that this individual will become an integral part of your team, use the opportunity to find out their interests, hobbies and books.  Look for opportunities to laugh!
4.     Ask your candidates what they know about your school, the area and the Conference.  The amount of research they did can tell you a lot about how likely they are to succeed.
5.     Be specific when asking about the gaps or red flags on their resume. 

6.     Take a tour and make sure to note how the candidate interacts with students, teachers and parents.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Creator's create...

It is vital that the teacher and student become co-creators of knowledge instead of content consumers.   It's a simple concept covered in some form multiple times during teacher training.  But it's power is under appreciated and under emphasized.  In the rush to cover the curriculum teachers often forget their job is to co-create knowledge with their students.  Creatively re-imagining what has become "common knowledge" for the teacher, but is novel for their students.  That recreation should spark some new facet of understanding for the teacher as well.  That was the beautiful part of teaching that captivated my wondering mind, no day, no subject, no problem, no moment would be exactly the same twice.

When fully involved in the process of teaching, every teacher is a content creator and it's the perfect role to model for our students.  One of the best motivations for students is the realization they are producing content through their assignments and projects that is meant to impact the world outside the classroom.  They should see us producing content that impacts a broader audience too.  We all learn more when we teach others and it keeps us from stagnation and status quo thinking.

I want to challenge everyone, to be intentional about creating content for your students and the broader world.  This can be done in many ways: posting lessons and materials lists, mentoring newer teachers, sharing ideas with colleagues, writing, blogging, newsletters, presentations at Conference/Union/NAD events, sharing thoughts and articles at teachSDA on Facebook/Twitter, etc.

You are excellent educators with voices and thoughts worth being heard!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Adventist Education Matters

Wholistic education is the difference

“They (students) need the very best of instruction and religious training. They need that virtue that comes from God, added to knowledge, which will qualify them for trying and responsible positions. The intellectual and spiritual growth should be as marked as the development of the physical powers.” Sabbath-School Workers Jan. 1, 1889
Adventist Education was created alongside the medical work to be a preparation for young people to develop skills that would make them an invaluable part of any community.  Through their intelligence, diligence, kindness and skillful service graduates from our schools would become beacons of blessing no matter where they found themselves.  Their abilities would be hallmarks of excellence and would naturally lead them to positions of leadership and respect in their communities.

TeachSDA is continuing to advocate that administrators, teachers and students keep this goal in mind.  Our academic goals are not secondary to a solid relationship with Jesus.  They are an integral part of the holistic ideal of Adventist Education as missionary training.  We believe that every individual is a missionary called to minister in any area God places them in.  Through studies like Value Genesis it is clear that our religious emphasis has positive results, students who attend our schools are more likely to be active members for the rest of their lives.  Through our research in the academic programs of Adventist Education it is also clear that the longer students attend our schools the better they perform.  Often with standardized tests, SAT and ACT scores far above their counter parts in both parochial and public schools.

This issue will cover several topics that every excellent educator should be considering!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Welcome to @teachSDA

Leveraging technology to grow connections

The 2017-18 school year has begun for me here in the Southern Union and many of you have started as well.  Some of you have been a part of the teachSDA community for many years and some of you are new.  I thought it would helpful to remember why we started teachSDA.  

Chris Webb was a former student of mine and during his academy and college years he developed a love for education.  I was overjoyed and encouraged him at every opportunity.  He eventually graduated and began teaching in Taiwan.  He was an amazing teacher, I like to think I had a bit to do with that.  But he quickly realized what many of us veteran teachers learn early.  The classroom can be painfully isolating.  Educators become so busy with the day to day management that they lose perspective and connection with those around them.  The system also tends to isolate and silo teachers giving them very little opportunity to expand their professional network.  Add being on the other side of the world and the issues are magnified. 

So what could be done to solve the problems?  Chris and I continued to talk through emails, Twitter, Facebook and video chats and eventually came to the conclusion that technology could be a helpful tool to connect teachers from diverse backgrounds and locations.  So many of the day to day issues we deal with as teachers are universal.  So we could benefit from the creativity and wisdom of others.  The platform could also be used to advocate thoughtful and deliberate educational ideas in Adventist Education.  So the first Adventist Twitter personal learning network was created.  Over the course of that first year a website and newsletter was added; eventually a Facebook was added too.

We've continued to grow over the last five years and now are part of the Adventist Learning Community project.  Thanks for journey!  We hope you'll continue to join us on TwitterFacebook and www.teachSDA.org