Over the past few months, I proposed that each Christian school leader must answer the following questions about their institution in order to navigate a way through the current turbulence in education policy:
- Why does your school exist? (Part I)
- What makes your school distinct? (Part II)
- How does your school measure student learning, institutional success, and organizational health? (Part III)
- Who are you connected to and aligned with as part of a local and national professional network?
To me, this last question has great significance as in the next two years we will see the continued acceleration of technology solutions for learning, growth in the Charter school competition, bipartisan laws passed to increase government accountability measures, the further breakdown of the teacher unions, the continued investment of billionaire philanthropists’ focus on skills for career preparation, and an economy that won’t support private school tuition increases except for within the top economic demographics. Likewise, there are very few people who are even addressing the issue that the nature and purpose of “public schooling” is changing in front of us.
I do not list these as political positions (maybe another time), more so as a policy realist I see that the ground on which we have built Christians schools is convulsing.
As a Christian school leader you not only build your own personal network for your ability to lead, but you also build your school’s network. There are many types of networks, but there are three I would like to highlight here.
The Fellowship Network:
Christian school leaders do fellowship well. We are kindred spirits within this work that is both profession and ministry and need the times together to recuperate in both professional and spiritual fellowship. I don’t believe I need to say much here other than this should be encouraged and it is necessary, but too often I find that our networks end here.
The Professional Network:
In a recent presentation I heard Ray Pennings of Cardus state, “Christian schools are more similar than dissimilar to public, Catholic, and independent schools than we expected.” My encouragement here is for Christian schools to move out of their self-defined ghettos and into the wider professional world to learn from it, develop relationships within it, and have an impact on it. We consistently want our students to have an impact on their communities and this world, but we rarely show them how by being engaged within our own professional community.
Accreditation is important and has a significant impact on which schools we are connected to professionally, so choose boldly and wisely on your affiliations and accrediting body. However, I don’t believe we can stop there as we are part of the larger educational enterprise within our communities and it is important for us to enter into professional conversations on the understanding of quality schools and policymaking as it happens rather than consistently reacting to what comes from the legislative and professional bodies. This has begun to change in my perspective as I have seen significant growth in Christian school involvement in CAPE, NAIS, ISM, and NACAC, but every Christian school leader should take stock of where they and their school sit within the professional community in an attempt to maximize their school’s growth, quality, and impact.
The Intellectual Network:
In short, we don’t really have one of significance or impact. There are a few small centers, Christian colleges, and journals that are produced, but their impact is either waning or not significant in bringing together the larger intellectual capacity of Christians in education or Christian school research and scholarship.
The Cardus Education Survey is the one area of scholarship where we see a coalescing of thought, research, and action that I hope will enliven the growth and development of a more significant Christian school intellectual network. Likewise, I hope CACE will have success in becoming a resource for the development of intellectual thinking, research, and writing around Christian school philosophy, practice, and policy. I don’t want to be too harsh on this point, but we are laggards in creating a vibrant intellectual community that impacts our professional work.
I hope you will build your network because we all know leadership is a lonely job and leadership of Christian schools is isolating. Find ways to jump into this beloved profession with us and our educator colleagues around the globe as I believe it is the only way you will be able to lead your school through the current storm and the new reality in education that comes after the storm.
Erik Ellefsen has served in education for 21 years as a teacher, coach, consultant, Grievance Chairman for the American Federation of Teachers, Dean of Academics at Boston Trinity Academy, and as Principal at Chicago Christian High School. He currently serves as an Academic and College Counselor at Valley Christian High School (San Jose, CA), a Senior Fellow for CACE, a Senior Fellow for Cardus, podcaster for Digical Education, and as Vice President of CCEI. Erik regularly organizes Christian school leadership seminars and speaks on issues pertaining to academic program, student leadership, and organizational development. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.