December 7, 2022
By: John Grant, Director of Curriculum Alignment and Worldview at Evangelical Christian School
Evangelical Christian School’s (ECS) mission is “to provide the Christian family with a Christ-centered, biblically directed curriculum that challenges the students to know the Lord Jesus Christ and to develop the vision and practice of excellence in academics, character, leadership, and service to others.” As our head of school says so well, we will be flawed in executing our mission, but we will be relentless in pursuing it. Our mission is to pursue excellence, and by excellence, we mean that we are seeking conformity to the image of Christ. Being conformed to the image of Christ means seeing the world as Christ does and behaving in the world as Christ did. Excellent education is discipleship, an intentional process that engages our students’ heads, hearts, and hands.
Discipleship, the heartbeat of our head of school, has become the heartbeat of the entire school. Our daily structure shows the centrality of discipleship. All students are placed into a grade-specific, gender-specific discipleship group (“D-Group”) with a faculty or staff member. These groups, which never have more than 12 people, meet every morning for the “First Five” minutes of the school day. During the First Five, D-Group leaders check in with their discipleship groups and pray. Though we can accomplish other administrative tasks during this time, we focus on developing and strengthening relationships between students and their leaders. In addition to the First Five, we are with our D-Groups at Chapel on Mondays or Tuesdays and for an extended time of relationship-building and prayer on Fridays. The intentionality with which we pursue discipleship is evidence of its centrality in the ECS community.
Although the First Five looks different in our lower school, we begin each day with discipleship. Over the intercom, we say good morning to the students and read the week’s catechism question. After the intercom goes off, the catechism question and answer resound down the hallways. What a sound! The lower school is working through a two-year plan to collectively recite the New City Catechism, meaning students will recite the entire catechism multiple times as lower school students.
Discipleship was the heartbeat of the school before I came on staff. My role as director of curriculum alignment and worldview includes overseeing and leading our worldview program across all school functions. Before leading such work, I needed to learn about the school, its community, and its culture. To know and understand ECS well demanded that I ask five clarifying questions, which noted Bible scholar N.T. Wright initially posed: 1) Who are we?, 2) Where are we?, 3) What is wrong?, 4) What is the solution?, and 5) What time is it? I observed, interviewed, and surveyed our faculty and students to answer these questions. The results were well worth the work!
Although I observed events such as Chapel and lunch, most of my observation time was spent in the classroom. I spent the first semester observing all middle and upper school teachers and writing detailed, narrative-styled notes. Each teacher met with me after the observation, and the meeting had two parts. First, we discussed the observation notes; then I interviewed the teacher about their perspective on the school, community, and critical terms, such as the meaning of worldview and the purpose of education. While time-consuming, getting to know the perspectives of the faculty was invaluable. The observations and interviews broadened my view of the school considerably. But I understood the picture of ECS would only be complete with the students’ perspective.
Concurrent with teacher observations and meetings, I gathered data from our student body through a self-created Worldview Assessment Google Form. This form asked students about their experience at ECS and their beliefs about church, faith, and education. Then, during the second semester, I interviewed all the high school students about Chapel, worldview, learning, doubt, and faith. With such a volume of data available, which included faculty and student perspectives, we could answer N.T. Wright’s five assessment questions.
Let’s focus on two of the assessment questions: “What is wrong?” and “What is the solution?“
Before answering what is wrong, I should be clear that the problem identified through the interviews and surveys was explicitly related to the purview of my role, which is worldview and curriculum alignment. So then, what did we find wrong?
We learned that while we knew the words of our mission, we did not share the same definitions of important missional words, such as education and worldview. The varied answers raised the following questions: How successful could we be at hitting a bullseye if we are not aiming at the same targets? If proper educational planning begins with the end in mind, and we have different visions of the end of education, how closely can we align our curriculum, both vertically and horizontally?
With such questions looming, what was the solution? We needed to define education and worldview. Once we identified and shared a common definition of education, we could work backward through worldview to our classrooms. Our ongoing worldview professional development is the working solution to the problem.
Providentially, as I was learning about the school, the ECS faculty and staff were reading and discussing James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love. Smith’s book argues for a particular purpose of education based upon a particular and historical understanding of the human person. Smith emphasizes the importance of seeing human beings not primarily as “thinking things,” a product of the Enlightenment, but as “lovers” who are following their heart (kardia) toward realizing their vision of the “good life.” The problem, from a Christian perspective, is that we love the wrong things. We love those things incapable of satisfying the human purpose, which is unity with God through Christ. Therefore, we must shift our understanding of education to reforming the human soul, not merely informing the human mind. Christian education is about forming the soul toward the love of God.
Throughout year-long professional development activities around Smith’s book, we also defined worldview. Worldview is shorthand for the complex web or grid of thoughts, beliefs, symbols, and habits that help us find our place in the world. Worldviews, which form consciously and unconsciously, are rooted in ideas demonstrated through our habits. As Smith puts it, your worldview is shown by your loves.
By the end of year one, we had a clearer understanding of the culture of ECS, an idea of the road we must walk, and new, shared definitions. Our summer reading was selected to equip our minds with the right worldview ideas. Instead of having one campus read, nine different books were selected for the faculty. Each text was intentionally chosen to reinforce our clarified definitions of education and worldview. The books were selected for the lower school, as our most important campus, and then for each department in the middle and upper school. When the faculty returned in the fall, discussions of these books were tailored to meet the needs of each department. The entire school continues to walk through our worldview professional development plan.
For the foreseeable future, we will seek more intentional curricular alignment by cementing a shared understanding of education and a clearer picture of our goal. The newly updated portrait of a graduate defines the goal while also providing the curricular alignment structure we will be studying together in the next few years. We will move slowly through each of the virtues in our portrait, defining them and working out how they will more intentionally align our curriculum so that we collectively fulfill our mission and disciple our students toward conformity with Christ.
John Grant is the director of curriculum alignment and worldview at Evangelical Christian School. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Crichton College,
an MA in Biblical Studies from Reformed Theological Seminary, and an EdD in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from the University of Memphis. John has served in a variety of independent schools as teacher, coach, and administrator. Additionally, John is an adjunct faculty member in the educational studies department at the University of Tennessee at Martin.
Evangelical Christian School in Cordova, Tennessee, serves more than 900 students in grades PK-12. The mission of Evangelical Christian School is to provide the Christian family a Christ-centered, biblically directed education that challenges students to know the Lord Jesus Christ and to develop the vision and practice of excellence in academics, character, leadership, and service to others.