Library access for the 21st century school

How is technology changing today’s school libraries? was the tagline that caught my attention today. In the first of a three-part series on this topic, THE Journal highlighted one school’s library designed around an iCommons concept.

The iCommons serves as a center for learning and academic life. It has a relaxed atmosphere and includes plenty of space for student collaboration and work. It includes smaller work rooms for students and areas with comfortable couches for interaction and discussion. “It is not a ‘sushing’ library” but, rather, a workspace.

The digital library collection includes access to various databases and online full-text books by using sites such as  Questia and Google Books. These sites allow students to access materials 24/7, create their own “virtual bookshelves”, and even mark or highlight information as needed. Since it is all digital, there is never the problem of a resource being checked out and unavailable for student use.

The article highlighted at least two important needs that must be addressed when considering this concept:

1. Necessary media and information literacy training to help students access and evaluate the resources and relevent information in their searches.

2. The importance of educating parents regarding the purpose and use of  a library organized around this concept.


McCrea, B. (2011, Oct. 5). iCommons: The library evolved.  Accessed October 7, 2011 through

The challenge of funding …

Every private school begins with a dream. The challenge for the visionaries is to realize the dream.

Marks (2006) highlights the fact that far too many potentially good private schools fail simply on account of a lack of funding. I have not studied private school finance, so his brief article provided a very cursory introduction to private school finance.  The “crib sheet” he provided highlighted categories of expenses that need to be considered in the set-up. These included:

  • determining school location and facility rental
  • necessary building renovations to serve the school population adequately
  • budgeting essential building services, such as landscaping or janitorial services, to support the facilities
  • insurance costs for running the school
  • learning supplies, including computer network, laptops, art supplies, etc.
  • library upkeep and subscriptions
  • budget line for faculty training and professional development support

In the end, the greatest budgetary expense relates to personnel. One aspect that successful new schools plan on to keep staffing costs low is to require as many employees as possible to have a regular role with students. There are no employees with limited direct contact with the students. The notion is that every adult plays a significant or contributory role to student learning, including those with administrative responsibilities. This is meant to minimize costs for solely non-instructional staff members.

Since the lion’s share of the operating budget is tuition- and donation-based, all new school planning needs to address establishing, developing and maintaining a constituency of families and alumni who remain interested in the school’s mission. New parents need to understand the call to Christian education and believe that a Christian high school is a viable education alternative for their children. Similarly, alumni need to be reminded of this call and their commitment as adults to support Christian education at their local school.

Nevertheless, on the question of funding and budget, when God whispers a dream we need the guts to respond …

He will provide.


Marks, A., (2006, Nov. 5). Building the Next Dalton. Retrieved July 7, 2011 through New York Magazine (online).

Meeting with the board – for the first time!

I had my first opportunity to meet with the MCS school board last night. They held a special meeting for me to present my ideas for a new Christian high school. I wanted to encourage an open discussion on the whisper that God had given me, so I developed a simple PowerPoint presentation to introduce some of my reflections and musings on what a Christian high school could look like for the 21st century. I was careful to emphasize the need for a paradigm shift as we consider hybird learning as part of the high school experience.

While carefully considering the mission of the school, I felt it was important to align my thinking and presentation to the CSI Standards for accreditation. Part of this included introducing “what works in schools” (Marzano, 2003) as part of the presentation, too. I shared a vision for curricular themes across the disciplines and necessary 21st century fluencies that we would need to foster in our students, the teaching and practice of which would need to be appropriately integrated throughout the curriculum. I attempted to paint a picture of what the students would be experiencing in the school and provided an overview of a daily timetable. Finally, I also wanted to present what we would expect from our teachers and how we would need to support them in this setting.

I recall that the board followed the presentation quite  closely and remained interested in the new ideas. A time for questions and discussion followed. Questions for clarification on how the school would run on so few specialists were addressed. Indeed, gaining a better understanding on how to balance on-campus project-based learning with a learning commons challenged us to consider a new way of experiencing high school. I was most encouraged that the board voted immediately to pursue further this exciting project. I continue to believe that God is speaking to me for this vision, and I am glad that His whisper may now be heard by others, too.

Foundation for 21st century schooling

Kelly, McCain and Jukes (2009) offer research and ideas on how to teach today’s “digital generation.” As others, they assert that today’s traditional, “cookie-cutter” high schools have become outdated. In its place, Kelly et al. suggest that we need to develop a vision that moves us away from the common high school practices in order to better address the learning demands of the 21st century.

They recommend that high schools accept the reality of the online digital world and those associated implications it would have on teaching and learning. At first glance, we might acknowledge that their recommendations are not necessarily novel. This should not, however, detract us from the need to consider them carefully, as these form the foundation upon which 21st century schooling should be based.

1. Schools need to shift instruction to focus on those higher-level thinking skills needed for the 21st century. This call for reform and action is not new. What is different is that additional skills beyond those often associated with the higher-order cognitive processing skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy (analyze, evaluate, create) are being considered more and more as “higher-order.” Organizations such as The Partnership for 21st Century Skills and The 21st Century Fluency Project offer a framework in which to consider these skills.

2. Schools need to embrace the new digital reality. Educators need to acknowledge that technological change is a given in today’s culture. We need to use technology to keep school and the schooling experience relevant to our society. As such, we need to connect with the world that the students experience. They are already using numerous digital tools in their after-school lives, but students need to be taught, and then empowered, to use their tools to apply the higher-level thinking skills mentioned above for learning’s sake. In this way, instruction in the classroom can become more relevant to students as it us linked to their world.

3. Schools need to establish greater connections between in-class experiences and the “real” world outside. The goal of such efforts is to develop greater relevancy of what students are learning at school. Contextualizing content with real-life experiences, field-trips, guest speakers, job shadowing, digital simulations, etc., can lead to more meaningful learning.

4. Schools need to broaden their evaluation policies to include assessment activities that provide a complete picture of student learning. Assessment practices cannot only follow established text-based and/or standardized tests. Alternative assessments, such as student portfolios, presentations, etc., need to be considered in which students are asked to demonstrate their knowledge and developing competency on 21st century skills, abilities and fluencies.


Kelly, F. S., McCain, T., & Jukes, I. (2009). Teaching the digital generation: No more cookie-cutter high schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

What is Blended Learning?

What exactly does Blended Learning mean?

The Innosight Institute suggests that “Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace” (p. 3).

Blended learning is also commonly referred to as hybrid learning.

Six models of blended learning approaches seem to be prevalent in K-12 education:

1 – Face-to-Face Driver. In this model, teachers deliver most instruction in a live classroom. They use online activities to supplement or reteach classroom learning as necessary. This often takes place at the back of the classroom or in a computer lab.

2 – Rotation. This model features students rotating between face-to-face class sessions and individual, self-paced online learning within the same subject area. The classroom teacher usually oversees the online work. A fixed schedule usually outlines when students are receiving class instruction and when they are working individually, whether at school or remotely.

3 – Flex. The flex model is based on curriculum that has been developed and provided online. It features an on-site teacher who provides instruction as needed in individual tutoring and small group sessions.

4 – Online Lab. This model is takes place in a school’s computer lab where students follow entire courses online. The courses part of the school’s general curriculum, yet are provided by online teachers and content-area specialists. The school provides a computer lab and necessary supervision. Paraprofessionals offer the necessary supervision and provide limited, if any, content expertise. Students in this model usually take other traditional courses and follow a typical school schedule.

5 – Self-Blend. In this model, students take online courses à la carte to supplement their school’s curriculum. This is different from the online lab model in that the learning is always remote, rather than being organized by the school. This model is currently the most common version of blended learning in schools.

6 – Online Driver. The online driver model expects students to take most of their courses online and independently. Other on-site requirements, such as extracurricular activities, may be required as part of the overall school experience.

Which model would seem to be most appropriate forms of instruction and learning as we plan for a new Christian high school?

My initial thoughts are that the flex, online lab and self-blend models would serve our students well.

The initial school population will be limited, as will the number of certified teachers. As a result, this limitation will impact overall course offerings. Nevertheless, in order to provide a wide choice of course electives and supplement those subject areas where instruction may be more difficult to offer, these models can provide some viable alternatives.

The flex model will allow our teachers to take advantage of standards-based curriculum that has been developed and tested in an online format, and then supplement the instruction as needed in individual tutoring and small group sessions. This could work nicely for a subject-area specialist who can work with students in multiple grade levels. For example, the time-table would be organized such that all students take “science” at the same time, but have their learning differentiated according to either grade level or subject level. The students would then progress individually based on their ability and interest. The science teacher would provide instructional assistance as necessary. In this format, the science teacher could be working with freshman and sophomore science students at the same time, and even work with one student taking a course in a specialized science, too.

The Online Lab model might be appropriate for those general courses that are needed for graduation, but cannot be offered in a small school setting, such as, for example, a class in world history or western civilization literature. When these classes are offered in the regular timetable, lab supervision would be provided by a paraprofessional, thus allowing the faculty to focus on their other classes, or even use the time for collaborative planning.

The Self-Blend model allows the school to offer a wide selection of electives that would otherwise never be offered. Students could choose from online options such as AP Environmental Science, music appreciation, macroeconomics, etc. The choice may only be limited by the electives through a course provider.


Horn, M. B., & Staker, H. (2011). The rise of K-12 blended learning. Innosight Institute.

Categorizing my thinking

Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University recently launched the Developing Effective Schools Center (DESC), a national research and development center on identifying programs, practices, processes and policies that make some high schools more effective at reaching certain students than others. The DESC notes that consensus has grown among practitioners and researchers around the essential components of a successful high school. These include quality instruction, a rigorous curriculum, a culture of learning, professional behavior, connections to external communities, systemic use of data, system performance accountability, and learner-centered leadership.

Marzano (2003) reviewed 35 years of research of ‘what works in schools.’ He organized his results into three general factors of  influence on student achievement. These are 1) school-level factors (viable curriculum, challenging goals and effective feedback, parent and community involvement, safe and orderly environment), 2) teacher-level factors (instructional strategies, classroom management, classroom curriculum design), and 3) student-level factors (home atmosphere, learned intelligence and background knowledge, motivation).

As I reviewed the two lists, I wondered if considering these components and categories would be helpful as I continue to organize my thoughts regarding a new Christian high school. It seemed that each component and category could be applied to a Christian education context with little difficulty. I then recalled my recent site visitation experience at Monroe Christian School which introduced me to the accreditation standards that are central Christian Schools International. These are Standards 1) Community, 2) Staff, 3) Students, and 4) Curriculum. I mapped my understanding of the components suggested by DESC and the Marzano categories of what works in schools to the four CSI Standards and decided to include those additional components that a private institution needs to consider. This led to following organizing framework:

1. School

  • centrality of vision and mission of the Christian school (including the philosophical foundation of education/school)
  • connections to external communities (including parent and community involvement)
  • responsibilities & relationships among all participants in the learning process (including the student-level factors of home atmosphere, motivation, and learned intelligence and background knowledge)
  • systemic use of data to guide decision-making and inform system performance
  • facilities

2. Teacher

  • teacher development and support
  • healthy, professional, and biblical teacher leadership
  • developing a culture of learning

3. Students

  • discipleship and development
  • student services & programs
  • enrollment (admissions & retention)
  • graduation requirement

4. Curriculum & Instruction

  • a guaranteed, viable & rigorous curriculum
  • quality instruction & classroom management
  • learning environment
  • educational technology

I am going to start categorize and/or tag my posts in this blog according to this framework. This should help me as I continue to reflect and act upon this “whisper” for a Christian High School.


Christian Schools International. (2006). Vision to action. Retrieved October 12, 2010 at

Marzano, R. J. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Peabody College of Education. (2010, Fall). Ideas in action. Peabody Reflector. 11.