Nurturing Understanding of Christian Education
by Henry Contant, SCSBC Executive Director ◊
It’s exciting. A new school year has started and hundreds of new families have enrolled their children and teenagers in our Christian schools for the first time. This raises an important question. Will our new parents be as committed to Christian education in three to five years as the parents currently serving on our school board and its various committees?
Why is this important? If the past is any indication of the future, these new parents will be your board and committee members in a few years. It’s absolutely crucial that the understanding, passion, and conviction about Christian education held by your current school board and staff be embraced by those that are now joining your Christian school community.
Christian school leaders need to ask:
How intentional is our school in growing each new family’s vision for Christian education?
Will new parents and staff members have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for a biblical vision of Christian education a year from now? Five years from now? Ten years from now?
Which strategies for growing a vision for Christian education among parents are particularly effective?
Most principals, teachers and board members realize that not every parent enrolls their child for the so-called “right reasons.” Not everyone arrives fully embracing your school’s mission statement. During my years as principal, I had the joy of seeing our school grow from 400 to over 1200 students. Throughout that period of rapid growth I interviewed hundreds of new parents, asking each one the same question. “Why do you want to send your children to our Christian school?” I quickly discovered that God uses all kinds of reasons to bring students to our Christian schools.
One father told me that the high school their son previously attended had recently installed condom dispensers in the boys’ washrooms. This turned into a defining moment for him and his wife to consider looking for another school. In reality, these parents were running away from a school that endorses the values about sexuality that condom dispensers represent, more perhaps than being drawn to the mission statement of our Christian school.
There were many reasons parents left their previous schooling situation and enrolled in our Christian school. In one case it was because of a failed homeschooling experiment, a “fix my kid” approach. Their daughter was behind in her program of studies and they hoped our Christian school could get her caught up to, or preferably ahead of the class average. In another situation, it was because our school’s high Fraser Institute score left parents with the impression our school had a strong academic record, which seemed to appeal more than the strong, well-grounded biblical worldview that was shaping our school’s curriculum.
For other families, it was the hope that our teachers would care more, and that discipline issues would be less severe than at other schools. These parents were looking for a school with less drugs, less sex, less violence, and less bullying. Still other families were drawn to our Christian school because of our reputation of having a stronger music, fine arts, technical education and athletic programs.
If SCSBC did a quick survey of reasons why parents enrolled their children in your school, I suspect the reasons would include:
- the personal recommendation of an existing family in
- your school, (the most common reason given)
- the convenience of being the closest school to their home
- a pastor’s recommendation, with strong support for Christian education from a particular church
- the reputation of the special needs program offered
- the availability of a preschool curriculum
- the provision of busing or carpooling
- the affordability of tuition fees
The challenge for all principals, teachers, coaches, counselors, support staff and board members is to meet the parents God brings to our Christian schools where they are at, and move them towards a deeper understanding of Christian education. We all must play a significant role in sharing and developing our parents’ understanding of Christian education.
In their marketing materials, some Christian schools like to proclaim their success in meeting public school standards of excellence, high test scores, scholastic awards, and athletic championships. In the desire to measure up to the best schools in their communities, Christian schools unwittingly fall into the pit of competition. I believe the more a Christian school simply compares itself to a public school, the more it shows how similar it is, rather than how distinct it is.
How can schools grow a parent’s understanding of Christian education? Here are some suggestions that have been proven to be extremely effective:
1. Have different teachers explain how they teach a particular lesson, unit, or topic from a Christian perspective, so that parents understand in concrete terms how a curriculum infused with a Christian worldview is more than they ever envisioned Christian education to be. Imagine your teachers unpacking these kinds of questions: *
What if you planned a history unit around justice, mercy, and humility?
What if a math lesson helped students to think about giving?
What if students could learn love and self-control through writing?
What if Bible stories encouraged curiosity and engagement?
What if science inspired discussion of faith and values?
What if studying advertising helped students think about contentment?
What if design and technology were about serving communities?
What if physical education helped students address their fears?
What if teaching percentages made students aware of injustice?
What if review classes taught students to share each other’s burdens?
What if baking helped elementary students honour the elderly?
What if a library collection inspired serious debate about social issues?
What if geography looked at the spiritual dimension of people and places?
2. Design your new parent orientation sessions to be less focused on school policies, procedures and history and more on how the school teaches its curriculum from a biblical perspective.
3. Hold formal presentations of student learning for parents, encouraging students to explain what they’ve learned, and how they have been taught to think biblically about a particular topic.
4. Use concerts, performances, AGM’s, parent forums, coffee with the principal sessions, and parent orientation meetings as opportunities to explain your approach to Christian education.
5. Link up new families with long-time parents committed to Christian education in a more intentional mentoring relationship.
6. Ensure that you have PR materials explaining a Christian worldview written in languages other than English. (See different translations of the SCSBC publication “For the Love of Your Child” )
7. Present your annual school budget as an expression of your school’s implementation of its mission statement.
8. Tell stories of how God is impacting the lives of your students and alumni through blogs, podcasts, newsletters, DVDs, and your website.
Take up the challenge to increase your parents’ vision and understanding of Christian education this year. May your message inspire, challenge, and motivate a new generation of parents to be as committed to Christian education as its founders were. The future of your school depends on it!