A Look Back and a Look Ahead 2018

Erik EllefsenThe CACE Roundtable

At the beginning of 2017, I took a look through the most popular CACE blogs from 2016 and developed four themes to keep an eye on in the year ahead in what appears to now be an annual attempt to take A Look Back and a Look Ahead. In 2017, the four most read blogs included:

1. What Lessons can a Christian School Learn from J.C. Penney?

Our friend and colleague in innovative approaches to Christian education, Mark Beadle, shares the story of J.C. Penney and uses their travails in innovation, leadership, and change to provide insight for Christian school leaders, boards, and educators. He concludes his blog exhorting:

Board agendas, leadership team meetings and planning retreats must move from reactionary solutions to improving current practices, while also developing ideas for an “envisioned future” which can meet the expectations of parents and the needs of students in our 21st century context.

2. The Importance of Being Attentive

Dan Beerens’ blogs are always some of the most popular, and he challenges us to consider attentiveness in our schools, classrooms, and working with students. His challenge is even more prescient as we read an increasing body of research on our disconnected and distracted lives. He asks,

We long to see our students have hearts that are tuned to, and turned toward, God. In our world of loud, conflicting, insistent, constantly streaming voices it takes purposeful intent and a good measure of self-discipline, on a personal level, to attend to what is needful and that which results in a flourishing life that bears good fruits. Author David Dark suggests to believers: “We might say all are called, in some way, to keep the faith by way of intense attentiveness.” If we desire that our students flourish, how might we understand the importance of attentiveness through the lenses of desiring harmony with nature, God, neighbor, and self?

3. What if We Called it Practice

In this blog, Tim Van Soelen argues for a different way of thinking about homework and encourages teachers to assign “practice opportunities” targeted at developing skills that will be showcased somewhere beyond a simple multiple choice assessment. He states:

I do not think this blog is simply a quibbling over semantics, a simple substitution of the word practice for homework. It is not that simple. What if, as teachers, we stop thinking about homework as we have traditionally known it, and started thinking about how our students have opportunities (in and out of the classroom) to deliberately practice skills that will be used in a performance, how might that change our own “practice?”

4. The CACE Effect: Lessons from Deer Creek  

Since CACE was founded we have had the opportunity to support the redevelopment and growth of a number of Christian schools throughout the US, and in this blog Steve Blom sums up the impact CACE has had in the development of Deer Creek Christian School. He states:

At the end of the day, the mission to provide a Christ-centered education to any family who desired this for their child remained the same at Deer Creek. We simply needed someone to help us consider the essentials and the encouragement to make the difficult decisions to adapt to a new historical and cultural context. Three years since our relationship with CACE began:

  • Enrollment is up 21%
  • Hired a Head of School to lead us in our mission
  • Extracurriculars are back
  • Established two years of Mission-driven budgets
  • Moved to Relationship-based fundraising: Increased 200%
  • Established Strategic Plan
  • Clear and focused Marketing
  • Revitalized Board Governance

I do believe that 2017 may be one of the more memorable years in Christian school history because of, but not limited to the following:

  1. Global Christian School Leadership Summit: The fact that seven Christian organizations were able to agree to get together in one place is a minor miracle and should be applauded as we look for ways to grow the impact of Christian schools in North America and the world.
  2. Urban Education Summit: This was truly one of the most remarkable professional events I’ve been invited to in my decade of work in Christian schools. This event accomplished everything that I hoped larger conferences could be by bringing together high capacity educators from a diverse background who have hope for the growth and impact of Christian schools. One of the organizers of this event, Dan Olson, worked with CACE in 2016 to cultivate a series of blogs entitled Christian Education and the City, and I’m excited for 2018 and the launching of the Spreading Hope Network.
  3. Innovation Retreat: This was a gathering of 45 innovative Christian school educators from eight countries and four continents who came together for 3 days to incubate innovation together throughout the Christian school community.
  4. CESA Symposium’s Keynote Speeches by John Couch and Andy Crouch: Even though they weren’t on the stage at the same time (as many of wished could have been the case) the juxtaposition of John Couch’s forthcoming book Rewiring Education versus Andy Crouch’s popular book The Tech-Wise Family provided school leaders with the clear hopes and challenges for our profession, schools, and students moving into 2018.
  5. Private School Growth and Education Policy Changes: I do believe that we are moving into a period of continued recalibration or even realignment within the education profession. This is why I have started the Digical Education podcast to explore the changes with experts in education policy and private school analysis. In particular, I’d encourage you to listen to conversations with Ashley Berner of Johns Hopkins University and Charles Evans of Better Schools on these issues.

As we move into 2018, CACE is committed to developing and promoting Christian thinkers, educators, and leaders whose work can help us develop, innovate, and grow Christian schools. So, some of the themes for 2018 include:

Theme 1: Teaching for Transformation

This summer CACE announced a partnership to bring TfT to the United States in 2018. Tim Van Soelen made the announcement and described TfT in the following way:

Used by over 70 schools across Canada, the U.S., Africa, and Central America, TfT’s tagline is “See the Story, Live the Story.” Identifying and developing a Storyline is one of three Core Practices that schools adopt as they begin their journey in TfT. The second core practice is to identify biblical Throughlines that weave through the Bible and through the curriculum as schools engage in the process of the formation of a peculiar people, those who “desire the kingdom of God and thus undertake their life’s expression of that desire” (James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom). The third core practice is what TfT refers to as a FLEX activity, a formative learning experience where students are given the opportunity to do real work that addresses a real need for real people. Monsma describes this as “meaningful work that creates a sense of purpose in their lives and draws them more powerfully to God’s story.”

Theme 2: Engagement Matters, Educator Shortage, and Collective Leadership

If you haven’t felt this change in business research you will see it throughout the next year as businesses seek ways to improve workplace conditions and organizational culture. Schools have always lagged in their organizational development in regards to engagement, but I think you will see schools grapple with this issue more significantly. The educator shortage is real and the desire to attract and retain high quality educators and leaders will be a school’s most significant strategic advantage moving into 2018 and the future.

I’ve written on why Engagement Matters in regards to Management and Leadership while in 2017 extending my focus to our profession as I did in this brief conversation with Jon Eckert on his research regarding Collective Leadership.

Theme 3: Realignment, Recalibration, and the Education Policy Landscape

I don’t fully know how to explain what is happening, but I do believe that the educational landscape is in the midst of dramatic change to what we’ve viewed as the traditional structures within the education profession and Christian school marketplace. Look for blogs and podcast conversations delving into these issues with education experts, and email me if you have any thoughts, topics, or questions you’d like to explore with CACE in 2018.

Happy 2018!


  • Erik Ellefsen

    Erik Ellefsen is a CACE Senior Fellow and the Director of Networks and Improvement at the Baylor University’s Center for School Leadership. He also serves as Senior Fellow for Cardus, hosts Digital Education (a podcast providing engaging conversations with some of the most innovative education leaders), and is a leading collaborator and author of the Mindshift and Future Ready projects.