The remarkable correlation between articulation and growth in Christian Schools.
It might seem too simple to be true. So obvious that it is ludicrous, and many people probably won’t want to read to the end as they will determine that this is an issue for other Christian School leaders and not their own - and if your school is flourishing both in quantity and quality then you probably have this sorted so only read on if you what the nice feeling of someone patting you on the back.
And…before I get started, please understand this is a post that will hopefully help some people articulate a better picture of the amazing things that are happening in their school. Sometimes it is not what we do that is the issue, it is how we ‘sell’ it that is. Please read this post with that in the back of your mind.
In Christian Education, there is a close correlation between the ability of the Christian School leader to articulate a compelling vision for their school and their ability to grow. For the school to grow, not just in numbers, but in maturity. So with Christian Schools in many places around the world struggling to fill their rolls with many people struggling to ‘afford’ Christian Education it is important that we are careful to let people know the real value of Christian Education.
The tragedy is that too many Christian School leaders simply do not articulate the true value of Christian Education.
We live in a time where there are fewer people wanting to ‘invest’ money into their children getting a Christian Education. Not because it will not be good for them, rather because of the big difference Christian Education makes is not well articulated for them. Is their investment worth it just so that a school will pray or read the Scriptures. Many people do not have the money for that and will instead opt to pray more and read the Scriptures to ‘save’ their money and send their children to the school down the road.
So is there a way to increase the 'value proposition’ for parents? The answer is somewhat found in Simon Sinek’s explanation of the difference between trying to sell ‘how’ versus ‘why’. School leaders who can clearly articulate the bigger vision of ‘why’ Christian Education, rather than defaulting to ‘how’ we do Christian Education, can be the simple difference between a school that is struggling and a school that is flourishing.
Understandably many parents are thinking deeply about where they spend their money and the concept, or in some cases luxury, of sending their children to a Christian School is something that comes down to a perceived return on investment. And depending on the message that we send out about Christian Education it will either be a luxury that cannot be afforded or something that is priceless and will be invested in at the expense of all else, sometimes.
THE TALE OF TWO PARENTS, TWO GUIDES AND ONE SCHOOL
Consider this. Some parents are looking to send their child to a Christian School so they make their way to the school. While being introduced to the school they are told that the school has a strong academic program, prides itself on praying for its students daily. The sports teams all pray before they play. In this school, the Scriptures are read daily and each student has a chance to do devotions to their peers. Students are required to memorise scripture for homework and they only sing Christian songs at assembly.
The parents are impressed by all the Christian things that are done and leave the school considering their options…but it really is going to be a push financially. The parents leave the school worried about the cost to enrol their daughter.
On the other side of town, another set of Christian parents are considering the schooling options for their children to drive to the same Christian School as the first couple. However, a different person shows them around the school.
During their visit to the new guide shares the school's vision to transform the lives of young people. To equip young people to fulfil the Great Commission. She explains that the school does their best to educate its students not only academically, but that they will know that completeness comes through learning to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and loving their neighbours as themselves.
Making mention that recently they have found as a school that they are needing to focus more on the ‘as yourself’ aspect because many of their young teenagers do not understand that they have value and purpose. That Scripture, worship and prayer were important tools in helping them achieve all that they desire their graduates to become.
Lastly that unlike the ‘local’ school this school was teaching that there is absolute truth, that the Scriptures are authentic and relevant, that students are designed to love and belong/contribute to society, that fulfilment does not come from having the most money, but through serving God and others in whatever field that God calls them into.
While having to travel across town to attend this school would be a hassle, the second set of parents leave the school worried about the cost of NOT enrolling their children in a Christian School.
Articulation really is one of the biggest threats to Christian Education at the moment. And I have seen it explained this way by many people, from parents to new teachers looking for a job in a Christian School, to grandparents wanting to invest in their grandchildren’s future and to school leaders who have been in Christian Education for decades.
I have asked the question ‘why Christian Education?’ In many Christian Education forums and the difference is usually black and white. One set of answers has a low-value proposition and the other high. One group of people discuss the things we do in Christian Education. The others explain why we do Christian Education. Transforming lives, equipping for the Great Commission, holistic educational content for the head, hands and heart, teaching students to Love the Lord with their heart, soul and mind and to love their neighbour as themselves, teaching through context that helps students understand that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God who desires a relationship with them.
But there is more to this issue…
HOW ABOUT PARENTS AS ADVERTISING AGENTS
Our parents are hands down the most effective marketing strategy that we have for spreading the hope that Christian Education can bring to the next generation. If we struggle to develop and use a vocabulary that articulates the real value of Christian Education, then we cannot expect our parents to do it on their own.
The same scenario happens regularly in our Churches and other community spaces. A parent is considering sending their child to a Christian School and often before they approach the school they will as a parent of a student at your school. The parent's response about either the things you do or the vision you have for your students will determine the ‘new’ parents likelihood of taking their enquiry further.
QUESTION: How do you ‘train’ your parents to talk about the vision that you have for your students as the real value of what Christian Education is?
ANSWER: You continually reinforce its message through your newsletters, community meetings, interviews, Facebook entries and in ‘carpark conversations’.
SCHOOL GROWTH IS ABOUT MORE THAN NUMBERS
When a Christian School moves its focus from the way they do things to why they do things, God can do great things. Not only can He increase quantity, but He can also improve quality. However, some Christain Schools value ‘what’ they do too much to consider returning their focus to ‘why’ they do them. Therefore questioning whether those things achieve their intended purpose are not questions that are even asked. Take scripture memorisation as an example. The first set of parents met someone who valued that the school had a homework programme that made students memorise Scripture. No doubt the school had a robust programme and the way it worked would be well instituted. However, the second guide was excited that the school wanted students to see the Scriptures as authentic and relevant. The first guide would value the system, while the second would happily review and adjust the system if they found a way to better achieve the ultimate purpose for Scripture memorisation.
QUESTION: Are there systems within your school that are more important than the purpose that they serve?
ANSWER: Yes, if you have systems that are not able to be freely questioned by those implementing them…No, if your school is driving by purpose rather than system driven. (Don’t just go removing the system! A bad system can still help achieve a purpose, it just may not be the best way anymore.)
So, where to start
Start with your mission, vision, purpose statements. How are they going? What common vocabulary do you, your staff and your community have that articulate the value that this vision has for the graduates of your school? Is there anything missing in your purpose? THEN…when you are really brave, take a look at how your vision is manifest in each classroom, talked about by your staff and experienced by your students.
At the end of the day, talking about the hope you have for your students will only go so far if your school is not intentional about making that a reality…of course, with God’s help, all things are possible.
Is the difference between your school growing and not growing (quantity and quality) a result of the vocabulary that you are using?
Value the power of what a quality Christian Education can do, not the things we do in Christian Education.
All the best for the conversations.