Re-Viewing Your Educational Program
by Joanne den Boer, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
The week before the school bell rang, administrators welcomed back returning staff and introduced new staff. They were brought up to speed about newly-enrolled families, handbook updates, new resources, and changes to the facility. Curriculum coordinators met with colleagues to discuss some new initiatives. Teachers pulled out the bins of colourful learning materials; brought out rolls of bulletin board paper to create a welcoming environment; labelled student desks and cubbies. Last year’s recommendations from the Education Committee began to be implemented. Certainly, everyone was busily preparing for the rush of students on that first day of school.
What about curriculum? Teachers probably double check their year-at-a-glance before submitting it to the principal. Consideration will be given to the order of units or topics being taught and learned; perhaps a unit is moved from one month to a different month. New units might replace old units. The year-at-a-glance, however, does not indicate whether a unit of study has been updated, revised, or overhauled. Course outlines will show this.
Course outlines ought to include a Biblical thematic statement and essential questions that help give shape to the units of study within a subject. Course outlines also delineate the content, the provincial Ministry of Education prescribed learning outcomes, achievement indicators, and assessment strategies. It is important to show these four elements as being clearly linked to each other, to create an integral whole to the educational program. But most importantly, course outlines need to indicate a distinct Biblical framework, and this can be woven into the content, pedagogy, and assessment, not just the Biblical thematic statement in the preamble.
At your first Education Committee meeting, it may be worth asking some questions:
- How is the educational program meeting the needs of all of our students?
- How is the educational program helping our students to be responsive disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ in the 21st century?
- When is the last time the principal or curriculum coordinator examined the course outlines and met with teachers to discuss the updates and revisions made to the course outlines? It is fair to ask, “Is this the same course outline as last year (or previous years), with the only change being the date on the cover?”
- When is the last time the Education Committee received a report regarding the current Bible program? Language Arts program? Math? Second Language? Learning Assistance? Applied Skills?
- How do the principal and staff develop and revise curriculum in terms of a Biblical framework?
- How is the curriculum in the course outlines experienced by students in the classroom? Is the Christian distinction coming through clearly?
These are big questions. Perhaps your school has wrestled with questions like these when you had to add a new course to the program last year. Perhaps your school is still relatively young and the curriculum was shaped only a few years ago. Perhaps your school viewed its curriculum when it first came into existence, and that was twenty-five years ago without an intentional, re-view since then. Or your school has been updating the curricular programs but the process to document the changes is more random than organized.
The SCSBC Education Committee Members’ Handbook suggests that a school “should set up a program review schedule over a three-or-four year period (p.13).” Some schools have a process for internal reviews, with each subject area going through a review at least once in a five-year cycle. Sometimes it is beneficial for a school to receive an unbiased, external review of the educational program.
The SCSBC supports its member schools in examining current programs in any subject area, at any level, by offering an external program review. The process involves:
- SCSBC meeting with administrators from the school and provides sample questionnaires and guiding questions.
- SCSBC seconding Christian educators within our society, with endorsement from principals, to serve on a Program Review Team (PRT) with the Director(s) at SCSBC.
- A school-based team distributing questionnaires to students, parents, and staff. (Online versions can also be created.) The information is compiled for the PRT.
- An on-site visit with the school.
- The PRT presenting its findings (commendations and recommendations) in a written report to the administrators and Education Committee.
As a result of an external program review, SCSBC has observed several schools making significant changes to their programs. A Christian school exists because its supporting community believes that instruction should be distinctively Christian, therefore these schools have not only made changes to the curriculum, such as giving priority to building a solid Biblical framework, but equally important, made changes to how the material is used, taught, and learned. Through the process of an external review, schools have a keener awareness of aligning what is on paper to how it is implemented pedagogically.
An external program review is strength-focused. The PRT views the mission and vision statements, curriculum documents, and surveys presented by the school under review. The team inevitably is impressed with aspects of the school that showcase what the school is doing very well. During the on-site visit it is not unusual to see the PRT huddle and express their delight at what they have observed. Commendations are not only a joy to present, but also to receive. In similar fashion, the PRT may identify areas in the educational program that a school might wish to consider improving. When shared in the spirit of Christian love, this too can be a blessing to a school. Schools appreciate recommendations. These can be aids to strengthen the educational program for the next several years.
Schools that have endorsed a teacher secondment are also served well. It is one of the many valuable professional development opportunities available to our SCSBC schools. These teachers often go back to their own school with considerable introspection. We have heard them ask, “I wonder what commendations and recommendations our school would receive if we were to undergo an external program review.” One thing is sure: these teachers reflect deeply about their own teaching and student learning.
Hear what SCSBC administrators had to say about having an external program review at their school:
“One of the greatest benefits of the review is the educational stir it causes by having all staff discussing, questioning and simply engaging in issues regarding best practices in the program area.”
Dave Loewen – Principal, White Rock Christian Academy
“The program review has generated discussion surrounding assessment and reporting, given priority to resources needed for both students and teachers, expanded our library, and increased technology ability.”
Darryl DeBoer – Vice Principal, White Rock Christian Academy
“There’s nothing like looking at things through fresh eyes. I invariably feel humbled as I wonder how my own program would stand up to such a review! At the end of the process, I return to my classroom feeling invigorated, with a renewed resolve to address issues in my approach to curriculum.”
Andrea Wiebe – PRT Member / Vice Principal, Vancouver Christian School
“The intensive process initially promotes good reflection on the part of the teaching staff. The review team visit and subsequent report provides significant impetus for implementation of changes and refinement to our curricular programs. This review process is very beneficial for any school seeking to evaluate and improve their school programs and curriculum.”
Bill Helmus – Principal, Pacific Christian School
Does your school have a process by which to examine the current educational program, either internally or externally? Did you know that external program reviews are included in a school’s membership with SCSBC? Would you like to have one of your current programs re-viewed?