Joe's Blog

Leading. Learning. Raising bravehearts and trying to be one. Christian schools and the people in them.

Three Questions a Teacher Asks Every Day for Great Biblical Worldview

Three questions a teacher should ask every day. If he or she wants to create and sustain a powerful biblical worldview in all subjects, for all grades.

  1. How will the students know I love God today?
  2. How will the students know I love the subject–the truths I give them–today?
  3. How will each student know that I love him or her?

Love God’s way. Doing what is best for the other. Unconditional. Sacrificial.
A love based on commitment and not feeling. For God, for students, and for subject.
A love that is growing in passion and knowledge for Him, for students, and for the truths I give them.

These questions are foundational to teaching all subjects deeply and with a biblical worldview that happens because of who a teacher is and is becoming. Without love, we are empty and a noisy gong.

But, with love! Nothing can stop it. As the three loves come together in the classroom where God, teacher, students, and truth meet.

 

The Principal Connection: Designed Just for Christian School Leaders

I am excited to introduce The Principal Connection. A new publication and service designed specifically for Christian school leaders of education, faculty, students, and parents. Anyone who is responsible to make school flourish, to put vision into practice every day with joy and results.

Why The Principal Connection? Here are five reasons you or someone you know needs The Principal Connection.

  1. The principal is the most important factor in student achievement and school success. The principal empowers faculty, encourages students, partners with parents, and makes learning and mission happen every day.
  2. Principals are extraordinarily busy. More and more is added to the principal’s role, with increasing expectations. The Principal Connection delivers what is needed in a way that fits the busy life of the principal and makes life work, with the goal of joy and sustainability.
  3. There is little direct support for the principal. There are options to support the traditional financial, board, and vision roles of the “head of school” (although many heads also have the principal roles). And, there are good resources for teachers. But little is available for the one who puts it all together in daily life and lives with the responsibility to achieve success, face-to-face every morning and night.
  4. Time or money is often scarce for principals to invest in ideas and growth that supports them and their unique roles. The Principal Connection fits the leader’s busy life with a four-page advisory letter delivered every month. Biblical, researched, and practiced. And, includes free personal consulting and support via email and phone. To round things out, we throw in the Yes! Memo twice a week to your inbox along with other free books and resources. And, we are always looking for new ways to serve the principal.
  5. A Christian school leader who wants to begin with biblical truth has even fewer resources. While there is some helpful research and practices from companies, they rarely start with God or consider the truth of God’s Word.  The Principal Connection is designed specifically for Christian school principals and takes seriously the truths of God’s Word while bringing the best of a wide range of research and practices. Just for the Christian school principal and others who lead education, faculty, students, and parents.

Our guiding principles? Use truth. Make it practical for the busy Christian school principal. Make it affordable. Give good news for real life.

Two goals. One, make the daily life of the principal easier and sustainable over years. Two, help the principal succeed by anyone’s standards, leading faculty, students, and parents in thriving schools where students learn and mission is achieved.

I look forward to editing The Principal Connection. As a leader of Christian schools for 32 years, I have experienced the real, day-to-day life of the principal for 23 of those years, as well as head of school for 14 years and other leadership roles. God’s blessing of success as principal of a National Blue Ribbon Middle School and High School along with studies and presentations in Bible, Christian school education, and leadership will help me guide the “connections.” By God’s grace.

We want every Christian school principal and leader to have the joy and success we have had, professionally and personally. To be able to live an abundant daily life and enjoy God’s call leading Christian schools for years.

The Principal Connection begins with the 2016/2017 school year. More information will be available in the next few weeks. If you want details of what we offer with The Principal Connection and how it might help you, watch here or drop us a note at info@theprincipalconnection.org and we will make sure you don’t miss a thing!

Summer Reading for Christian Schools

3lovesdiagram

Building Biblical Worldview: The Three Loves is now available in paperback–click here.

Great group discounts are available, and take about two weeks to get at the normal shipping speed in the U.S. A school leadership conference just handed out 100 copies. A school just ordered 55 for summer reading. Write joe@rootedschools.org for quantity discounts and orders.

Building Biblical Worldview: The Three Loves is the perfect book for teachers to explore in the summer that gets to the heart of Christian school education. And, gets them ready for next fall.

The Three Loves is being used in schools from California to the Carolinas and Florida. And, in places like Panama, Indonesia, and Guatemala, including keynotes at the ACSI Latin America Teacher Convention this summer.

The basic idea is that a love for God, a love for students, and a love for subject results in great teaching with a biblical worldview. Naturally. No cost. Biblical. The foundation that makes a school’s own curriculum thrive.

More at Building Biblical Worldview.com.

 

5 Traits of Schools with Great Faculty Growth

Schools where great faculty growth happens consistently tend to share five common traits. These five traits help teachers grow beyond traditional “professional development” as the traits are imbedded in the soil of the school and produce fruit in the lives of faculty, year after year.

  1. Faculty Respected. Teachers are treated as adults and professionals, with much value placed on building trust and giving them choice.
  2. Growth Pursued. The culture is discontent with how things are, the conversation is about growing, and differentiation is used for maximum teacher growth.
  3. Community Active. Real, natural collaboration happens as the community supports each other and uses each person’s gifts and abilities for the others.
  4. Mission Commitment. Teachers know they are called to be a part of something big and gladly engage in growing that is focused on student learning and mission achievement.
  5. Intentional Leadership. Educational leaders discipline themselves to keep student and faculty learning as “job one” while leveraging their personal impact using qualified faculty leaders and mentors.

These five traits show up again and again in professional growth literature. And, in real life where faculty growth reaches its potential and bears fruit.

Go here for a graphic chart that summarizes these and how they are applied to “people” and “plans”for 10 specific actions. (These 10 actions are from an upcoming book, 10 Keys to Powerful Faculty Growth.)

The chart can be used now to help think about teacher growth in 2016/2017.

What else should be on it?

Tell someone “Good job” today

We had two Golden Retrievers. The first was named MacKenzie and she was the perfect dog.golden-retriever-164221_640

The second we named Aeowyn, from Lord of the Rings. She was crazy. If we told Aeowyn, “Good dog,” she would go wild, out of control. So we didn’t say it often.

 

People are starved for positive words, for affirmation that isn’t a thumbs up on social media. For someone to look at them and say, “Good job.”

Or, maybe a more fitting phrase for your situation: “Well done.” “Thank you for being here.” “You are appreciated.” “You make a difference.”

 

What keeps us from telling someone “Good job” today?

Perhaps we are so afraid that a compliment will be taken wrongly in our litigious society; everything seems to look like it is sexual harassment or favoritism, so we don’t say anything.

Perhaps we are afraid that a “Good job” comment will make the person think that we love everything he or she is doing, and somehow we are saying “You have no need to improve.”

Perhaps we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don’t even think about how two words can change a life today.

Perhaps we are afraid that others will be hurt because we don’t tell everyone “Good job” at the same time.

Perhaps we don’t say it often enough, so when we do say “Good job” the overreaction is like my dog, Aeowyn.”

 

It is free. It is easy. It is big. It changes lives.

Let’s get over our issues and tell people, “Good job.” Expand it to specifics if you like, as in The One Minute Manager. Do whatever we need to get over what holds us back.

People need to hear it. We don’t live in a kind world. Or, a world that tells people something good and means it, with no agenda.

Wouldn’t you like for someone to say to you today, “Good job”?

 

 

Learning from the Big World

If you want to understand teaching, children learning, parent relationships, institutions, focus, passion, love…well, most any of the things that make up what great teaching and learning is and what impedes, read the first chapter of The Beautiful Tree.

I am late to the party in reading this “Personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves.”

But, the truths in the book are just as fresh today as when it was written in 2009.

Especially what learning and teaching really looks like.

Here are a few excerpts from “A Discovery in India,” the beginning of author James Tooley’s journey looking at learning in the poorest places.

Passion and Lovebeautiful tree cover

Sajid-Sir, one school leader: “He clearly had a passion for teaching and inspiring others. Teaching he told me, kept him fresh, and it was his hobby as well as his livelihood; to him, he said, teaching was like acting. His aim was to instill a love for the subject he taught, mathematics. Mathematical allusions peppered many of his conversations.”

Passion. Inspiring. Fresh. Love! For subject. Comes from who he is, round the clock.

Focus and Quality Control

Sajid’s focus on new teachers, mostly untrained, using his Bachelor of Education method: “A lesson must have five parts, he said: an introduction, where the topic to be explored is fit into the context of students’ existing knowledge; announcement of topic; presentation; recapitulation; and evaluation (usually through homework). Before he allowed a new teacher to teaching in his school, he or she had to observe Sajid teaching. Then Sajid watched their first few lessons, made detailed notes, and challenged them on particular points.”

The beauty of a simple approach to lesson planning and student engagement. Combined with watching and doing by the teacher, with honest feedback on improvements. And, not letting anyone teach without assurance they are doing it well by first hand observation of the leader.

Engagement and Planning

A young teacher teaching about the derivation of salt and water from hydrochloric acid: “She was very clear, lively, animated, and engaged her class throughout. There was nothing labored about her approach; the whole lesson moved forward smoothly. She taught without notes and seemed completely on top of her subject. At the end, she summarized the lesson, expertly managing the class so that all seemed to have understood, and set a three-part homework assignment.”

The author says of her, “I had never liked chemistry in school: if she had taught me, I think I would have loved the subject.”

Students First

And, while the school managers were businessmen, they were doing well because they cared about children first. “They seemed dedicated to the children in their charge, going out of their way to help improve the education being offered.”

Their business was for children. Not children for the business.

Parents and Learning

I read a few complaints about the book being repetitive, but that is because Tooley finds the same thing in the poorest areas in other countries and tells those similar stories.

In the midst of his research and stories among the poorest in the world, you hear and see real learning, real love, real teaching, a real focus on students and doing the best for them and their families. You also see parents who are love their children and are committed to their learning.

I love the words repeated in the first chapter: “passion,” “love,” “knowledge,” “learning,” and “parents.”

Real learning is found here, stripped of funds and institutional concerns, yet making a difference in the lives of children.

Maybe there is something for us to learn…

 

 

Thanks to those supporting The Three Loves

book proof

The proofs a few days ago

Thanks to those who have been following Building Biblical Worldview: The Three Loves. About a week ago, the proofs for the paperback got here. We made a few changes and have now shipped our first batch of 100 books to a conference of Christian school leaders!

God is good. The way He is using the idea of The Three Loves has surprised us, from the creation of the idea to things popping up around the world, it is Him. It is a joy to watch what He is doing and be able to be a part of. We are blessed.

Love, God’s way, works. In student lives. It was His idea. And, His example in Jesus of a love that is committed to others before self, sacrificing, and life changing. So, The Three Loves just takes His ideas and shares them.

Again, thanks for those who have been following this project. If you want to share the idea with your group, please drop me a note for some steep group discounts of the paperback to use with teachers and leaders. You can also go to BuildingBiblicalWorldview.com.

We believe that love, God’s way, makes for great teaching and learning, and changed lives. Loving God, students, and subject is powerful. We would love to help however we can.

Thanks again.

Joe

 

The Three Loves in Public Schools

I am so excited for Wesley Jones, a Christian educator in Panama. Wesley has been sharing “The Three Loves” with Christian schools.

Now, Wesley is taking the model to an international schools conference. He is presenting the idea of “The Three Loves” in a session called “The Three Loves That Make a Difference in Teaching” on April 16.

He will share how loving God, loving students, and loving your subject makes “a positive, lasting impact of eternal significance” for a broad audience.

We know the power of “The Three Loves” when they come together in a Christian school teacher’s life and work, creating biblical worldview naturally and impacting student lives. As the teacher loves like God, does what is best for students, and increases in passion and knowledge, he or she becomes a teacher who changes lives. Students learn deeply about subject and God.seminar Panama

I look forward to how “The Three Loves” will go with a mixed group.

As Wesley and I have communicated, we believe that “The Three Loves” for God, students, and subject will serve Christian teachers well anywhere, Christian or public schools.

“The Three Loves” idea is about the teacher, and how great teaching happens because of who they are. It is not a program or curriculum.

So, it should provide a foundation for impact in student lives anywhere, anytime.

Love is powerful. God’s way.

In public schools, “The Three Loves” teacher may not be able to teach biblical worldview directly and freely by using God’s Word, The Book. But, the teacher herself becomes “the book” to be read by students, and to take advantage of the opportunities that will happen because the teacher loves God, students, and subject. And, the teacher can direct students to truth, a reality of life and subject with God.

By a biblical, unconditional, committed, sacrificing love.

Love like this, that shows itself in passion and deepening knowledge, changes lives.

I think Wesley is on to something.

Not only in Christian schools where “The Three Loves” create great and deep biblical worldview, but in public schools, “The Three Loves” will touch and change lives toward Him though the believing teacher.

(Building Biblical Worldview: The Three Loves is now available in paperback and ebook from Amazon and other places. Quantity discounts are available for school leaders and teachers, write joe@rootedschools.org).

 

Top Ten Reasons March is a Great Month in School

april

I know. Many of us look at March as the center of all that could be wrong. Holidays are over and the end is far away. People complain because if they don’t complain now, it will be too late soon. Kids are tired of school. But worse, we are too and are hanging on for spring break or end of the year.

Here are ten reasons March is a wonderful time of year in school.

Number 10. It isn’t April yet. T.S. Eliot wrote in “The Waste Land”

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”

So many interpretations. Many think Eliot was talking about hope not fulfilled. The struggle of shaking the past and moving to desire, the hopes and joys of the future that aren’t quite there.

It seems almost obscene to apply this verse to school, but so goes the school year as goes the struggle in the poem. April might be worse, if you let it. March is the month to start planting seeds about life and joy, and not let those around us get stuck on what might have been and what wasn’t, but what is and what will be. And, be glad it isn’t April yet?

Number 9. Seems so trivial after Eliot, but “March Madness.” Have fun. We had “March Mustache Madness” and had senior boys win prizes for the best mustache. Play the ball games at lunch on a big screen. Embrace the world and add to it.

March Madness helps sidetrack mad students, whether they are mad upset or mad a-little-crazy.

Number 8. Learning time. What month of the year holds more promise for learning? By now students should be in routines and able to grab and understand ideas much faster than the start of the year.

Distractions are few, hunker down and learn big time. Remind students of how much they have learned so far and how brilliantly they are learning now. March is about the best possible month for learning, if we use it and don’t start saying poor me.

Number 7. Delight in the doldrums. Sometimes March is a time of doldrums. Doldrums were trade winds that just quit, and sailing ships were stuck. Maybe for weeks. While it got old, sailors could catch up on work, rest, and play.

Instead of it being a sour, sad, and sluggish time stuck in the middle of no where in the school year, delight in it. Rest between holidays and before the crazy last weeks. Rejoice in God’s goodness that there is a quiet time. Reflect on the good things of the year with students and teachers. Reinvent focus to remember the year and plan the end. It is only as sad and sour as we let it be. Don’t let hearts get stuck, give them a joy in the moment and excitement about what is coming.

Number 6. Consider calling. March can be dangerous, if we want the status quo. Weariness and the weight of burdens leftover from the start to now can cause people to ask if the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. Certainly it is still brown here.

But, there needs to be a season, a time, to rethink call. Is this the place God wants me? March is not enamored with the beginning and holidays, nor the end celebrations. It is a good time to soberly reflect on personal commitments. There is nothing wrong with everyone thinking about their future, because we come out of it with fresh conviction that this is where God has called us. We need March to reflect on why we are here.

Number 5. Relationship building. March is ripe for school leaders and teachers to spend some of that energy that was used for fall and spring events, sports, and holidays, and shift it to people. There is usually a pause in the programs, so people can get more attention.

Walk around and say hello. Instead of hiding in offices or workrooms, spread good cheer. Seriously. March is great for creating sweet, short “I care about you” discussions. And, walking around will help those inclined to making March a time of morose, not able to. Presence in public areas and surprises in private ones builds good things and stops moronic ones.

Number 4. Next year now. March is perfect time to think about the next school year. Give everyone hope by exploring ideas for the future. Help seniors enjoy the process of finalizing college stuff.

March is the last month to really focus on plans for next year so they can happen. There is time to get people on board, to figure out money, and to start making decisions. Share the hopes for next year to build excitement. Get ready. Before the craziness of spring hits. And, use seniors for ideas for next year so they have a part. March is great for planning. Spring is crazy. Summer is coming.

Number 3. Finger in the dike plans. Remember the little boy who saved a city by putting his finger in a hole in the dike? If he pulled it out, the water flows and breaks the edges more, bringing more water and forces, ripping off more pieces. Soon the wall collapses and the city drowns.

Use March to look at the holes that might be creeping in and patch them. It is way too early to start slipping on routines and discipline. March is the perfect month to fix holes. And, to learn to stick fingers in holes as the weather warms. So we keep the structures and routines steady until the brutal end of the year. So learning happens to the end and we aren’t drowned. March is time to get ready to have a great spring.

Number 2. Smell the flowers. They are poking up in many places. Look for them. Look for surprises. Get out of your classrooms and offices and see what God is doing beyond your walls. Pull a Robin Williams “carpe diem,” stand on the desk and “Seize the days, boys. Make your life extraordinary.” Keep fresh, freshness is here and coming. Feel it. Enjoy the warm breezes and the smells.

March is a time to look high and stand in the wind. To feel rain drops. To be released from the confines of winter. To think again about being extraordinary. But, it takes adults who will make themselves get up and look around and enjoy God’s gifts. And to help students know the gifts they have that need opened. Gift enjoying is contagious.

Number 1. Celebrate new life. March is the transition from death to life. From cruelness and no hope, to celebration and hope. March can be hard, because as spring reminds us of the death and resurrection of Jesus, death is first. March can still be about death, and cruel. A reminder of what was done to Jesus.

But, March is the transition to life. As flowers grow and leaves bud, life wins. March is a life month, often the moment of the year where life overcomes and hope becomes real. March is a great month to turn our thoughts to eternal life through Jesus, and how He conquered death so it no longer has a hold on His children. March reminds us of new life in Him.

What we do with March is about attitude.

As are most things.

 

The Key to Great Events

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As we enter spring, most of us produce several important events that mean the world to parents and students. Graduations, assemblies, honors nights, concerts, plays, celebrations, services. The list goes on.

Each event is hugely important to someone, especially parents and students. We want it to be good for them. We want to avoid the anger and sadness and restoration needed if it isn’t done right. We want events to reflect excellence and bring glory to God.

What can we do to make events great, to have moms and dads and staff say “That was wonderful”?

What is the key to putting on great events and programs?

One word.

Beauty.

At the end of the night, an event should be beautiful. God brought order from disorder in creation, and it was good.  Most labor in our world is to bring order and to build, to make something beneficial and beautiful out of things and people.  Everything from events and trips to organizations and families.  In our different occupational fields, each full of thorns and thistles and sweat and pain, making beauty out of the broken pieces is our job. If feet can be beautiful when they bring “good news of good things” (Romans 10:15) so can your event!

I said that most work is “to make something beneficial and beautiful.”  They aren’t the same.  Beneficial is helpful and brings value to people.  But, even though it gets the job done, it is mundane.  It is not memorable and creates little feeling. Applause does not break out.

Why should we stop with beneficial when an event can be beautiful?  Why stop with just getting the job done when our offices, our gardens, our schools, and our families can be beautiful and touch lives.

Beauty is “The quality that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations, a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”  We know beautiful.  It moves us, it changes us, it encourages us.

But, we often don’t know why we are moved.  Beauty is subtle.  Trying too hard to be beautiful by simply adding flash is gaudy. A lady who overuses makeup is not beautiful, even though she is trying. A movie that uses every theatrical device possible becomes a display of the devices and distracts from the beauty of the story. Beauty in an event is not achieved by using all the techniques you can squeeze in, it is achieved by very purposeful planning and work, and often requires the hard work of cutting rather than adding.allison hunt flower

Beauty is done behind the scenes, with great work and effort.  It does not happen by chance and is not as easy as it may look by those attending. Inordinate amounts of time on the smallest points help create beauty.  What makes a flower beautiful?  The distant view of color and lines attracts.  But, a flower stands the test of an up-close view, the six inch look at detail, ordered and balanced and endlessly deep.

Beauty is not skin deep, beauty is soul deep.

And, it takes work.  There are no easy roads to beauty.  But, there are ideas that will help. Here are some ways to make a program or an event (or a business, organization, or family) beautiful:

  1. Know your goal. Is it to get through the event with no problems or to touch everyone involved? Clarify what a successful event does to people, not just what it looks like. Then aim for it.
  2. Plan, plan again, plan more. Even if there are chunks of informal time, plan so they happen the way they should, setting the right tone and situation where it feels and is in formal. Plan with a group. The larger the event, the more times to meet. Don’t trust yourself or an online discussion. Face to face. A group of us met several times for past graduations and every time found something to fix or add.
  3. Time it carefully. Give every part and transition a time frame. Test it, make sure it is right. We just had an event where a slide show went 30 minutes that was supposed to be 12; this mistake ruined the end of a great event. Make sure. Don’t assume.
  4. Control. Add up times of the parts, and keep it all under 90 minutes except for very special reasons (most people are happy under 90; we had a rule that no public event is over 90 minutes without administrative approval). Have a way to control or change if someone or something goes long.
  5. Balance. Not symmetrical, a picture has balance when one large item is on one side and three small on the other. Use a mix in your event, avoid symmetry or equal parts.  Look for balance.
  6. Discord. Every part doesn’t have to be sweet. Planned tension draws attendees in and lets them feel relief and joy more deeply.
  7. Begin well. You have heard this. Start on time, grab them, show them that they are about to experience something special that is worth their time.  Warm up with a prelude, sounds, images. Surprise them on the way in, in the halls, even in the parking lot.
  8. End well. Have the closure nailed. As a Recreation major in college, one of the things I learned is to “quit while they want more.”  Don’t give away everything you have.  End.  Especially with a celebration or a statement or a conclusion.  Notice how scenes in plays often end with a “picture moment.”  Give those.
  9. Practice. There is no excuse for not practicing until it is right. Practice the informal times, make sure they work. Practice transitions.  Use experienced people in key places when you can. Make sure every part works and it all works together.
  10. Value added. Give something extra. Flowers.  A card in their seat.  A song, always a song when coming in.  A booklet about the participants. A slide show. Surprise them. Beautiful food dishes are garnished, so are events. Give them something to carry out.
  11. Pray. God says trust. Anticipate every problem you can think of, and make plans for them.  But, pray.  “The mind of man makes his plans, but God directs his steps.”  We work. He is in control.
  12. Sit. Literally or figuratively, go sit in your audience’s seat. Walk in the way they will walk in.  Think how it will feel and what will make it great to them.  Think of individuals and pretend you are someone you know.  What will make this a beautiful event for him or her?

I am not an expert on beauty.  But, I have begun to understand that an event can be beautiful if it is done in a way that doesn’t show itself off, but is a gentle gift to those attending.  It takes them to places they haven’t been and they won’t forget. Beauty happens when the effort to be beautiful isn’t noticed, and that takes more planning and work than just getting it done.  Why settle for beneficial when your event can be beautiful?

How else can we create beauty?

 

 

 

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Joe Neff, Founder of Rooted Schools. Head of School, Principal of National Blue Ribbon Middle School and High School, Writer, Speaker, Guide, Encourager.
Hoping to: Help Christian schools reach their vision and the people in them to thrive and live well. Grow equipped and courageous children. Start with truth from God’s Word, as much as possible. Figure out how to live a steady life in an unsteady land. Love well, bless as blessed, and go big–there are a lot of people out there who need loved and blessed.