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Schools benefit from reflective practices, exploring educational marketplace changes

Written on October 21st, 2009

TRENTON, Ont. - Schools should apply reflective practices when thinking of the work they do at the committee and board level and explore what it means to be part of a changing Ontario educational marketplace.

These were the two messages Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) director of curriculum publications Hugo Marcus says he hopes delegates take away from his session at the Oct. 14 and 15 advancement conference.

When it comes to reflective practices, Marcus suggests several tools that are helpful for school members and groups to think about issues in new ways.

As a starting point, Marcus handed delegates a sheet of paper with three columns asking for five adjectives to describe the current state of your school, describe how “outsiders” would describe the current school and describe your desired state of the school. The last piece is to brainstorm how the school gets to this vision.

Marcus recommends school boards read Jim Collins’ book, How the Mighty Fall, as a reflective practice tool. The book analyzes why companies fail and gives leaders hope to learn how to avoid decline and reverse their course if they are falling.

The book describes five stages of decline: hubris born of success, undisciplined pursuit of more, denial of risk and peril, grasping for salvation and capitulation to irrelevance or death.

Another tool Marcus presented to delegates is a document prepared by Julius de Jager entitled “How Well is Your School Responding to the Current Educational Marketplace in Ontario? The document is a tool for self-analysis at the board and committee level.

As a starting point, the document describes five categories of schools: sinking school, struggling school, coasting school, progressing school and flourishing school. A rubric describes how these categories work in the areas of visionary leadership, effective school management, effective monetary management, quality programming and appealing facilities.

Marcus says when he went through the rubric with a school they were surprised at some of the discussions that surfaced.

“It created a platform for dialogue at the board level,” he says.

“This can be used yearly as an ongoing continuum of school improvement and that’s really what we should be striving for,” says Marcus.

Marcus also discussed the changing nature of parents and that the reasons they come to Christian schools are varied. They may be exploring Christian education because of something that happened in the public system such as safety issues, not feeling empowered and bullying.

Parent’s reasons for exploring a different school are valid, and Marcus notes, “God works through those types of reasons too to bring people to our school.”

“They might come for the wrong reasons; our task is that they stay for the right reasons.”

Marcus referred to an e-mail written by Guelph Community Christian School principal Bob Moore that points to reasons why OACS schools are facing declining enrolment.

One of the reasons Moore cites is administrators are not bragging about their schools.

“People want to see value for their dollars,” Moore states. “In the old system, the value was assumed because the program and teachers were Christian. Now the value is not assumed, and must be expressed.”

Marcus says the marketplace has changed so teachers and parents are partners as school recruiters.

For teachers, when a new family is touring the school it is important they acknowledge the family and welcome them. This is an area that should be further worked on, notes Marcus.

When parents decide to send their child to a Christian school that’s one thing, but when they lean over the fence and recommend the school to a neighbour they are putting their own reputation on the line, says Marcus.

“Once you get that comfortable, then you’ve crossed a threshold of sorts,” he says, adding it is no different for him to tell someone about Christian education than it is to talk about his life with Christ.

“It’s the same kind of missionary zeal that is at work.”