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The Christian School and Family Connection

Bernard Bull The Lutheran Educator Leave a Comment

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Lutheran schools have a five-hundred-year history of contributing to the faith formation of young people. Yet from our beginning, we always understood that Lutheran schooling is not and never will be adequate to provide a full and rich Christian education, and that is at the heart of a distinct philosophy of Lutheran education.

For Lutheran educators, we realize that the foundation of all Christian education does not start in the school. It starts in the home. Parents have the first and primary responsibility to nurture the faith of their children. School is simply a support and supplement to that foundation. It is also the place where students develop additional knowledge and skill related to life and work in a contemporary world.

While public schools provide such services, advocates of Christian education point out that Christian schools equip students with knowledge and skill for life and work while also helping them make sense of how their faith informs those many areas of life. Faith is not a compartmentalized thing. It is something that informs how we think and act on the job, as citizens, with our neighbors, and more.

Yet, all of this starts in the family. Christian schools certainly have an influence for many students. Of course, while we understand the theological truth that faith formation starts in the family, we also realize that this is not a reality for some of the students that God brings to our schools. Nonetheless, I contend that living out a distinctly Lutheran philosophy of education requires us to start from this foundational truth.

This means that we are not just talking about a fifty-fifty partnership between school and family. Schools truly are a support for that primary source of faith formation. What are the implications of such a perspective on what we do and how we do it in Lutheran schools? I offer five possibilities below, but I welcome other suggestions in the comment area.

Acknowledge and Communicate Our Position

One starting point is to simply but clearly and frequently communicate this idea that our philosophy of education starts with a high view of the role of the family. We state this to prospective and current families. We remind them of where we stand in newsletters, on parent nights, and in other interactions. Because this is so fundamental to who we are and what we do—and it is distinct from what some might see in other types of schools—we will likely need to repeat and reinforce this.

Family Assignments

This can be a challenge given the variety of family contexts our students have, but family assignments are learning activities that invite students to bring ideas home and discuss them with their parents or guardians. I know from personal experience that this can be a powerful opportunity for students and their families. While having dinner at the dining room table may not be the norm for many of our families, a family assignment might be a simple way to recognize the important role of the family and possibly be a gentle encouragement for more faith conversations in the household. I’m personally leery of grading such assignments, opting instead to give more informal “assignments” that invite students to discuss at home and potentially bring their “findings” back to share in class.

Keep Families Informed

Another simple but important step is to keep parents informed about what students are learning and when they are learning it. Some schools share curriculum maps across the curriculum, which allow parents to see what their children are learning in a given week or month at a glance. This doesn’t require anything, but it gives parents the tools to stay informed and promote conversations with their children about what they are doing at school.

Parent Feedback

I once learned about a school that gathers parent feedback on a weekly basis. It was a simple three-question survey, but it was a great way to get parent input, gain insights into what they are seeing from home, and so much more. This is so much better than letting concerns fester over time, failing to address important challenges or problems, or missing out on truly important insights. In the digital age, it can be as easy as a digital survey that, depending upon how you break things up, could be skimmed and reviewed in less than an hour a week. If we are truly serious about nurturing that robust connection with family, isn’t an hour a week well worth the effort?

Prayer

This is so basic that we sometimes overlook it, but we can also commit to praying frequently and specifically for each family in our school. We pray for the children, for their parents, for their siblings, and for specific things going on in their lives that come to our attention. Since we are there to support the primary work of the parents, it would seem that prayer is a great place to begin.

There are plenty of other ways that we can recognize the central and important role of family as a core place of faith formation, but I offer these five as helpful starting points. Please consider sharing some of your own ideas in the comment area below.

 

 

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About the Author

Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is Assistant Vice President of Academics and Associate Professor of Education at Concordia University Wisconsin. He has 20+ years of experience in Lutheran education ranging from middle school to graduate school and parish education. He is also the editor of the forthcoming CPH book, Pedagogy of Faith. Bernard’s work focuses upon futures in education, educational innovation, and the intersection of education & digital culture. You can read his latest posts here.

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