I recently attended a regional meeting of schools that are members of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), and picked up a brochure that described the 5 Essential Elements of and Effective Christian School. I post them here not just to encourage you to evaluate your faith-based school against these benchmarks, but to demonstrate that all 5 elements must be present and work together to form a system. If your school can say you’re working on 3 of them, but have already achieved the other 2, and that your school will focus on working on each of the three every year over the next three years, that’s not a system in action; that’s a process.
We’re good at processes. Why? Because teachers make lesson plans every day for every class; because business leaders create strategic plans to grow their businesses; because marketing professionals create marketing plans so that the organization they’re marketing receives strategic exposure to audiences which have the most need for their products or services. We plan our days, plan our weeks, plan meetings, plan vacations, plan, plan, plan.
We’re not so good at systems thinking. Why? Because “focus” means emphasizing one thing at a time. Planning may consider all things involved, but arranges them in a way that shows progression toward a defined goal. Systems thinking, on the other hand, is different. That’s why this week’s picture is different that the typical category title. It’s multi-tasking in action. And it’s not just making sure you’re doing 1 or 2 or even three things at a time…systems thinking requires doing 5 things simultaneously.
And since the mind can focus on doing only one thing at a time, it takes some training and explaining to be able to be aware of 5 things simultaneously.
Notice that I said the mind can “focus” on one thing at a time; yet, it does many things simultaneously, to the point that we don’t have to think about it. We don’t have to consciously remind our hearts to keep beating; we don’t have to consciously remind ourselves to inhale and exhale; we don’t have to consciously remind our stomach and intestines to digest our food; and sometimes, we don’t even have to look where that coffee cup is while we’re looking at the computer. Our hand instinctively knows where to reach for it so that we don’t lose “focus” from the computer screen.
When typically think of “focus,” we think of “blocking out” all those other things which distract us from the matters at hand, but that doesn’t mean we completely ignore them until we’re cognitively ready to tackle them as dictated by the plan. Plans change. The goal should not.
So what are those 5 Essential Elements of an Effective Christian School? “ACSI believes that Christian schools exist to support parents in fulfilling their biblical responsibility to educate children” (From the brochure, “Building on Basics: Essential Elements of an Effective Christian School, publication date unknown).
Truth – Scripture is the revealed Word of God and is taught as truth, which is then integrated into the learning experience.
Intellectual Development – The Christian mind should be the best mind, enlightened by the mind of Christ and one that integrates God’s principles with academic pursuits
Christian Educators – The Christian school must have a governing body, administration, faculty and staff who are committed followers of Christ, teaching and leading from a biblically integrated perspective
Potential in Christ – Every learning experience aims to enable students to reach their full potential in Christ
Operational Integrity – The school’s day-to-day operational practices are a consistent model of integrity, efficiency and accountability.
In the work that I’ve been called to do with faith-based and private schools, it’s that last element that I pay particular attention to, since it speaks to managing and monitoring school finances with integrity and disclosure. We are but stewards of the gifts that are entrusted to us, and responsible stewardship means ensuring that systems are put in place to demonstrate integrity, efficiency and accountability. When I worked in school administration, it was part of my due diligence to see that the companies I worked with adhered to these standards, and I’m proud to say I work for one of those companies – FACTS. At this point in time, SchoolAdvancement is not “a company;” it is merely a Web site with resources for faith-based and private schools.
As for other companies that serve faith-based and private schools in matters of payment processing, I’ll leave that up to your due diligence, and pray that you are also guided to make the right decision for your school.
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2015