How can we prepare and plan for a brighter future for Christian education? As the old saying goes, commonly attributed to the colorful and pithy Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” There are many aspects of Christian schools that need care and diligent attention in order to promote flourishing, not merely for the student, but for the entire school community. This takes intentional planning and preparation. In this latest issue of Research in Brief, I’m delighted to share with our readers five new research articles that provide insights about how we can be preparing for a brighter future today.
First, we must stay informed on innovative and sustainable practices in which schools are currently engaged. Many of you may already have read Future Ready: Innovative Missions and Models in Christian Education, which I coauthored alongside Lynn Swaner, Jon Eckert, and Erik Ellefsen. It has been a great encouragement for both Lynn and me to share this work at ACSI MAX events and hear from school leaders how they have been interacting with the findings and incorporating new ideas into their strategic plans. In this issue, Lynn and I bring you a shortened version of our research findings with new insights from the eleven schools we studied.
One of the innovative models we study in Future Ready is hybrid schooling, sometimes called microschooling or “pandemic pods,” as popularized during the COVID-19 pandemic. The second article in this issue comes from the nation’s leading expert on hybrid schools, Dr. Eric Wearne, Associate Professor at Kennesaw State University and Director of the National Hybrid Schools Project. His article draws together the findings from two NHSP reports coauthored with Dr. John Thompson. Many of these hybrid schools indicate some Protestant affiliation, and the vast majority of teachers report sharing beliefs and values about the school’s mission.
Second, while we scan the horizon for innovations and new models, we must continue to invest in our traditional programs. The third article in this issue, written by Dr. Stacey Bose, Dean of the School of Education at Cairn University, focuses on the perceived value of accreditation in international schools. In this mixed methods study, she surveyed and interviewed parents, teachers, and leaders in five ACSI-accredited national Christian schools in Latin America. She finds that stakeholders held positive perceptions towards the accreditation process and felt the process had a significant impact on the school. Her work helps us reflect more thoughtfully about the role accreditation can play in school improvement.
Third, we must learn about the generation we are trying to reach. In the fourth article, in which Dr. Lynn Swaner, ACSI’s Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer and Cardus Senior Fellow, interviews Dr. David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group, we learn more about the latest research Barna conducted in partnership with ACSI. The “Open Generation,” today’s 13- to 17-year-olds, are open to everything and anything. This reality presents both a challenge and a critical opportunity for Christian schools—a challenge because of the many cultural forces competing to occupy this generation’s openness, but also an opportunity for Christian schools to write the truths of what God has done for his people on tabula rasa.
Finally, we must equip ourselves with strategies for building relationships with this generation. If the “Open Generation” is a blank slate, how can teachers build rapport with them? The final research article, by Dr. Lindsey Fain, Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Covenant College, investigates which practices teachers perceive to be the most effective at developing rapport with their students. Her mixed methods study finds that flexibility, humor, creativity, empathy, and respect are among the qualities perceived to be most effective.
I’m also pleased to bring back two sections that have become fixed features in Research in Brief—“The Latest in Education Research” and “Insights from Flourishing Schools Research,” which for this issue brings an update on our Flourishing Faith Initiative.
Of course, as we prepare and plan for the future, we also trust in God’s providence in our lives. Thus, we pray and labor—ora et labora—at the same time. As we read in Proverbs 16:9 (English Standard Version), “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” It is my prayer for you that these articles would prove helpful in stimulating new ideas and conversations, as we both pray and work toward a brighter future for Christian education.
About the Author
Dr. Matthew H. Lee, ACSI’s Director of Research, serves as managing editor of Research in Brief. Dr. Lee is coauthor of Future Ready (Purposeful Design Publications, 2022), co-editor of Religious Liberty and Education (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), and author of numerous peer-reviewed research articles, book chapters, technical reports, and op-eds on civics education, education leadership, and Christian education. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @hmatthewlee.