The Vancouver Symposium on Christian Education

With much anticipation, I received notice today of my acceptance as a full participant to The Vancouver Symposium on Christian Education for the 21st Century! I have been quite excited about this conference, as I see it as a valuable opportunity for networking, resource gathering and sharing our vision for Monroe Christian School.

From their website: “This symposium will be the second of three annual events that will bring together innovative Christian Leaders for the purpose of dialogue and leadership for the K-12 Christian school movement. The three year goal of these meetings will be to give vision and direction to the global Christian School movement. This will culminate in a pedagogical manifesto for Christian Education in the 21st Century to be completed in the summer of 2013.”

I find that the manifesto drafting process will add a significant focus and value to our time together, as we deliberately attempt to influence education for this century.

Looking forward to Vancouver!

Mandates for online learning continue

As a follow-up to my post last summer, I came across this article on mandated online learning requirements. As online learning becomes more prevalent, a number of states and school districts are taking initiatives to require online learning experiences for their K-12 students:

  • Michigan was the first state to require students to complete at least 20 hours of online learning between grades 6 and 12 (2002).
  • Idaho recently passed a requirement for all high school students to complete two credits of online learning for graduation (Sept. 2011).
  • Florida now requires online learning credits as part of their revised graduation requirements (2011).
  • Alabama and New Mexico require an online “experience” as part of graduation.

Students are encouraged to complete the requirement on their own time (in the evenings or during summer) or as part of their high school schedule. To ensure equity of access for all students, schools are making their computer labs available during lunch or after-class hours or instituting a laptop check-out program (similar to a library book) so that all students have access to the technology.

As I suggested back in July, it is evident that “more kids will learn in cyberia” and that, once again, we are proceeding down the right path as we consider online learning for a Christian high school environment. This serves as a reminder, too, that we will need to address equity and access issues as part of our plan.


Davis, M. R. (2011, Oct. 19) States, districts move to require virtual classesEducation Week: Digital Directions. Accessed Oct. 20, 2011 through Education Week.

Thinking of classsrooms

A blog post on caught my attention today. The author, an educational architect and futurist, noted that far too many discussions on educational reform assume the maintenance of a “failed system” (Nair, 2011, ¶3), which he suggests is the average American classroom. He argues that this “relic, left over from the Industrial Revolution” (¶4) needs to be reconfigured, both physically and pedagogically,  to better suit the instructional demands of teaching and learning in the 21st century. He suggests that the following universal design principles need to be considered to help foster engaging learning opportunities that focus on 21st century skills:

  • personalized
  • safe and secure
  • inquiry-based
  • student-directed
  • collaborative
  • interdisciplinary
  • rigorous and hands-on
  • embodying a culture of excellence and high expectations
  • environmentally conscious
  • offering strong connections to the local community and business
  • globally networked, and
  • setting the stage for lifelong learning.

As I think about my research, I admit that there is nothing new in this list. It does serve, however, as a good reminder. I think that the ideas can help drive successful organization and instruction as we consider a new high school. I still believe that we can consider how, where and with whom students learn best; that teachers would want to work collaboratively on integrated projects; and that the community can serve to resource and support students’ learning opportunities.

I acknowledge that direct instruction is still an important and research-supported instructional strategy. We need to acknowledge its effectiveness and include space for direct instruction to take place. However, the idea of a learning commons continues to rise as an important consideration as a learning space, too, and one in which the design principles above can be implemented easily for student learning.


Nair, P. (2010). The classroom is obsolete: It’s time for something new. Accessed August 2, 2011 through Education Week.


Online learning is one step closer to being mandated

The New York Post reported today that the New York Board of Regents has approved a revision to instructional regulations regarding seat-time for high school credit. They eased the face-to-face time requirements for classroom attendance for course credit. As a result, New York schools are now encouraged to offer more online courses as well as blended learning opportunities in its schools. I find this announcement particularly interesting as online and blended learning is now being officially encouraged, if not almost mandated, at the state level. Clearly, “more kids will learn in cyberia” and it suggests, once again,  that we are proceeding down the right path as we consider online learning for a Christian high school environment.


Campanile, C. (2011, Jul. 14). More kids will learn in cyberia. Accessed July 14 through New York Post (online edition)

The shift in thinking patterns of digital kids

In addition to the four implications discussed in my post on a foundation for 21st century schooling, I wanted to highlight a fifth, significant implication for the classroom that Kelly, McCain and Jukes (2009) associate with the reality of the online digital world and its relationship to schooling. Simply put, there is emerging evidence that today’s kids are thinking differently than their teachers. As a result, schools need to address the shift in thinking patterns of digital kids. This is, indeed, a novel observation that I had not considered before.

Kelly et al. discuss the theory of neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to modify the organization of its neural pathways, thereby effectively rewiring itself in response to new demands placed upon it by the external environment. Neuroscientists suggest that such brain plasticity underlies the brain’s ability to learn, unlearn and relearn.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize how it processes information based on new input. If the brain encounters a new kind of input for sustained periods of time on a daily basis for an extended period of time, it will reorganize neural pathways to handle the new input more effectively. This is what happens when a child learns to read. With sustained exposure to textual input on a daily basis, the child’s brain reorganizes how the brain processes this new input so the brain can make sense of it.

In the same way, kids growing up in a digital world are being exposed to new kinds of input from digital experiences for sustained periods of time on a daily basis. Consequently, their brains are reorganized to handle the digital environment more effectively. This is creating a huge problem in our schools. Kids are quite literally thinking differently than those who teach them. (p. 23)

As a result of growing up in an increasingly digital world, it appears that the neuroplasticity of the brain has impacted student learning preferences. Kelly et al. suggest that the digital generation prefers:

  • receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources
  • parallel processing of content and multitasking
  • active, engaged learning
  • processing pictures, sounds and video before text
  • random access to hyperlinked multimedia information
  • networking simultaneously with many others (p. 23-24)

These learning preferences are more often than not in direct contrast to teachers who have learned, and therefore tend to teach, differently. They prefer slow and controlled release of information from limited sources, favor passive learning models such as lectures, choose to provide new information linearly, logically and sequentially, and ask students to work independently before they interact in groups.

Kelly et al. highlight the following implications for quality teaching and learning to reach the digital generation:

  1. Classroom instruction must shift from a predominantly lecture format to one that focuses more on discovery learning. Students should be provided with hands-on learning activities that allow them to master the digital tools for learning.
  2. Teachers must make a shift from the text-based instructional tools to include pictures, video and sound as appropriate media to convey information.
  3. Teachers must provide students with more access to hyperlinked information that can be navigated randomly. This ‘random access’ approach to navigating information in the World Wide Web is a mode of learning that students are already used to. Guided opportunities to develop these skills further are essential.
  4. Teachers must allow students to network and collaborate with each other and with experts from around the world on an ad hoc basis. (p. 24-25)

Without a doubt, these implications will impact teacher preparation substantially. Today’s students are developing skills from using new technologies that should be incorporated into the classroom. It is imperative for schools to provide the necessary professional development and appropriate collaborative planning time to help them succeed. Unfortunately, it appears that far too many of today’s teachers focus, instead, on of the skills that the students do not have because of the technologies.


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

Wesson, K. (2010). Neuroplasticity: Experience and your brain. Retrieved from on Feb. 1, 2011.

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.

The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning

The Innosight Institute released a whitepaper yesterday exploring the future of K-12 online learning. They contend that K-12 online learning is increasingly becoming a blended learning phenomenon, rather than a distance learning one.

The Innosight Institute is a nonprofit think tank devoted to promoting Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation. This theory postulates that large-scale reform to transform a complicated and unproductive sector comes through a set progression; first the reform serves those who have no alternative, then others observe how the reform is preferable, and slowly adapt until it is a norm.

The Innosight Institute suggests that online learning fits the pattern of a disruptive innovation, especially as we consider school reform efforts. For example, K-12 online learning was first referred to as “distance learning” and primarily served home-schooled students and students whose circumstances did not allow an alternative for learning. This usually included students wishing to take advanced courses that their school could not offer in-house, or students who attended school in small, rural sites that could not employ highly qualified teachers in certain subject areas.

Over time, though, online learning has been altering the education experience. The Innosight Institute notes that online learning is expanding “in classic disruptive fashion” (p. 2) as educators are increasingly introducing blended-learning environments into their core programming for mainstream students in their schools.

Online learning is sweeping across America. In the year 2000, roughly 45,000 K–12 students took an online course. In 2009, more than 3 million K–12 students did. What was originally a distance learning phenomenon no longer is. Most of the growth is occurring in blended-learning environments, in which students learn online in an adult-supervised environment at least part of the time. As this happens, online learning has the potential to transform America’s education system by serving as the backbone of a system that offers more personalized learning approaches for all students. (Horn & Staker, 2011, p. 1)

Indeed, it appears that online learning may be an area where massive growth can be expected. They remark that “Online learning has the potential to be a disruptive force that will transform the factory-like, monolithic structure that has dominated America’s schools into a new model that is student-centric, highly personalized for each learner, and more productive, as it delivers dramatically better results at the same or lower cost” (p. 2)

The potential for improved quality of learning should be noted. Blended-learning programs allow students to work and learn at their own pace. These programs offer frequent and timely feedback to students. Most programs collect student achievement data in real-time so that teachers can use the information to help personalize learning for their students. When implemented properly, blended-learning programs have the potential to offer a very high, quality learning experience.

When blended learning experiences are offered as part of the curriculum, students are still, fortunately, allowed to take advantage of the things that a traditional school does well, such as creating a strong, supportive culture that promotes rigor and high expectations for all students, and providing healthy, supportive relationships and mentorship opportunities.


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.

Lessons from different high school models

Different public school initiatives and charter schools in the US have worked at reinventing the high school experience by just ‘starting over.’ Whether it is for the purpose of assisting our students to “develop the broad knowledge of the world that would help them succeed in the 21st-century global environment” (Jackson, 2008, p. 58), or simply to “reclaim our students” (Forbes & Richelieu Saunders, 2008, p. 42), unique models of high schools are being considered for learning in the 21st century.

There are some common lessons being learned from these models:

1. Learning needs to be relevant for students. This is not a new idea, but one that appears to be stressed more in the current dialogue on high school reform. High school students learn best when they see their education as relevant to their lives and the world around them. Work-based learning components, internships, partnerships with industry and commerce, and school-based enterprises also help provide real-world connections.

2. The need for a strongly developed curriculum. Such a curriculum needs to be purposeful, yet not sacrifice academic rigor for relevancy. Traditional courses need to integrate knowledge and skills about the world and how the world works. The in-depth study of disciplines such as math, science, English and social studies, is applied to authentic problems and applications. The study of a foreign, global language helps expose students to other cultures. Overall, international content and perspectives should be included in engaging coursework that is often project-based.

3. Project-based learning. The curriculum briefly described above should lead to engaging project-based learning for students. This requires a shift from teacher-directed, whole class lessons to personalized, student-directed projects. In this approach, students study necessary content as well as essential skills to research and problem solve. Students are encouraged to develop their strengths and reflect on their weaknesses so as to improve themselves. Projects then culminate in presentations where students share their findings, demonstrate their content understanding, and talk about the learning strategies and processes they followed in front of teachers, their peers, parents, and even panels of community members and other guests.

4. Learning in community. As part of this process, group work is essential to help students collaborate with others and communicate with each other about how they learn and how they overcome challenges they are facing as they learn. Group work should include problem-solving and support for each other’s learning.

5. Technology. In all models, learning and instruction capitalize the use of various technologies to such an extent that technology is a seamless part of the teaching and learning process. Such use of appropriate technology helps underscore the fact that we live in an interconnected and interdependent world. Related to this, teachers are proactive in guiding and encouraging students towards a positive digital citizenship and a professional and ethical use of technology for learning’s sake.

6. Adequate time for teacher preparation. The positive impact of qualified, prepared and motivated teachers cannot be understated. These various models are consistent in their need for a core group of teachers who share a vision for the model of high school and are committed to personalizing the learning experience for their students. As a result, a common feature of the models is sufficient time for teachers to collaborate together to develop curriculum and plan for instruction. Teachers need to be ready with advising, appropriate counseling, and additional instruction as necessary. For these reasons, the provision for adequate, site-based professional development to better serve the students is important, too.


Forbes, J. D., & Richelieu Saunders, C. (2008, May). How we reinvented the high school experience. Educational Leadership 65(8); 42-46.

Hoachlander, G. (2008, May). Bringing industry to the classroom. Educational Leadership 65(8); 22-27.

Jackson, A. (2008, May). High schools in the global age. Educational Leadership 65(8); 58-62.

Quint, J. (2008, May). Lessons from leading models. Educational Leadership 65(8); 64-68.

Being small is not enough

A high school that is small in size is not enough to ensure student learning and post-high-school success. Ancess (2008) suggests that the four following characteristics are essential in an effective small school:

1. Caring Relationships – appear essential for student achievement. This includes relationships between students and teachers, as well as relationships among teachers. Students need unwavering teacher access, support and appropriately, teacher-imposed pressure for the learning process. Teachers and students need to get to know each other and have ongoing conversations that encourage learning. These conversations can be both formal, focused on learning, and informal, where the topics may be centered on a student’s life, problems, successes, or aspirations. As the bond between teacher and student develop, teachers can leverage the relationship to further encourage and persuade student growth. This can help students transcend their own perceived limitations.

Caring relationships among teachers, who need to work together in support of their students’ learning, should also develop as teachers share planning times, collaborate, and problem solve together. Teachers feel a sense of collective responsibility for their students’ learning. These caring relationships are characterized by interdependence, respect, and trust.

2. Unified School Community – The school needs to be a community where learning and relationships are valued. There should be shared educational beliefs, goals, rituals, commitments and norms. Professional development for teachers includes a focus on these further. The community works together to support students academically, socially, emotionally and spiritually. All adults are mentors and advisors in this process.

3. Strong Safety Net – Multiple systems can be set in place to safeguard student development. Through an advisory program, every student is assigned to an adult who takes responsibility for the student. This includes close communication with parents, access to community- and church-based support organizations, and a four-year sequence of activities that help prepare students for necessary post-high school decisions. Grade-level teams meet to share information and monitor student progress. Professional development opportunities help teachers strengthen this safety net by offering necessary guidance strategies in their work.

4. Intellectually Transformative Experiences – As students encounter success in school and produce high-quality, intellectually focused work, they gain a greater appreciation for their ability and future. They develop an interest in learning, which fosters, in turn, greater motivation for using their minds. Using their minds means “getting [students] to analyze, reason, mount a logical argument and defend it, solve problems, conduct research, negotiate conflicting perspectives, imagine possibilities, question their own and others’ assumptions, and use the power of their ideas to persuade others to change their opinions” (Ancess, 2008, p. 51). Teachers need to provide school tasks that are worthy of their engagement.


Ancess, J. (2008, May). Small alone is not enough. Educational Leadership 65(8); 48-53.