7 Keys to Building a Healthy Christian School
I'm passionate about investing in people to become everything they're meant to be. That's why I believe so deeply in education. Apart from a person's family of origin, perhaps nothing impacts a person's future as much as their education. Christian schools are particularly close to my heart at Clarity because we exist to fill the world with great organisations that build the Church. Where are the leaders of those organisations, right now? Some of them attend your Christian school. So, with the future of your city, country and the world in mind, here are seven keys to building a healthy Christian school.
1. A healthy board.
It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but a healthy board is so important for a Christian school. If your school is part of a larger organisations such as a church, do you have appropriate representation on the school board? Is the board led by a humble and capable chair with the wisdom to appoint the right board members and the courage to hold you accountable? Get this wrong at your peril. Christian schools will only ever be as healthy as their board. Boards aren't there as an annoying necessity. Boards exist to govern and provide strategic direction. So, if I want to know if a Christian school is healthy, one of the first things I'll ask about is your board.
2. A healthy executive team.
Healthy school start at the top with the board and continue to the executive team. Excellent principals don't make healthy Christian schools. Principals with the wisdom and consistency to build a healthy executive team will in turn build a healthy Christian school. Is your school's executive team diverse? Are the people on the team humble, hungry and people smart? Do they share the school's vision and values? Is your executive team healthy enough to be able to have robust discussions? Do you communicate effectively as a team? Are you able to hold one another accountable for your behaviour as team members and leaders of your school? If you hesitate to answer any of those questions, then this is where to start. Healthy Christian schools are led by healthy executive teams.
3. Vision that flows out of the larger organisation (if there is one) and lines up with the great commission.
Purpose. What's the purpose of your Christian school? No, it's probably not "to teach young people about God." Your school is unique. It is! There is a unique history as to why and how it was founded. There is a unique purpose your school exists for. Even if you don't know it is, it's been there or is there informally. And every Christian school needs a clear vision for the future. What problem are you trying to solve as a school? How are you the solution? Why is it so important?
If you can't define your school's vision, then do whatever you need to do in order to fix this. Then, cast vision again and again and again. Wondering why students are tardy? Why your parent community aren't engaged? Why your staff turnover is high? There could be many reasons. But, I'd suggest they'd ALL involve a lack of vision. Harsh, but true. Articulate your vision, communicate until people literally say, "Stop it, we get that the school's vision is to 'x'" and then tell me how it's affected your school. (Hint: it will be a different place.)
4. Values that define your school.
Okay, I hate to repeat myself. But your school is unique. If your values are, "Love, joy, peace, patience kindness ..." then you've stolen the Holy Spirit's values. Give them back and find your own. There are things unique to your school that already exist. Unfortunately, if they're not articulated then those things compete with every other value—good and bad—out there. People will come and go who epitomise your values (every now and then) and more often people will come ... and go who are the opposite of your values.
Can you think of someone who fits that description? You know how you celebrated when they finally left? Or how you pray they just would leave tomorrow? Well, articulating, living out and communicating your core values as a school is going to help you avoid hires like that, make way more hires who epitomise your values and help people who don't fit them to decide to get off the boat. Healthy Christian schools know the values that define them as a school and they live them out and communicate them to staff, students and the community.
5. I'm sorry, but curriculum just isn't most important.
Wow, I'm bold. I wonder how many people just closed the page when they read that sentence. If you're still reading, thank you! Teachers are incredible. Curriculum is vitally important. For some teachers, curriculum is their thing. It's the skill they're strongest at and why they end up on the executive team and, even, principal. But, when it comes to a healthy Christian school, if you're thinking, "If only we could improve our curriculum, I think we'd finally be healthy" then I'm sorry but I disagree.
Curriculum needs to well and truly come second. Second to what? To your people! No matter how great your curriculum is, if you can't attract and retain amazing staff to teach it, then what's the point? The other people who are more important than curriculum are your students and their families. They simply have to come first. Curriculum is vital, but it's just not most important. Healthy Christian schools have this the right way around. Their people don't serve their curriculum. Their curriculum serves their people.
6. Long-term strategic anchors, not short-term tactical micro-management.
"I know what I'll do to make my school healthy ... I'll just keep an eye on everything." Lol. Sorry, but that's never worked for anyone. The great thing about micromanagement is the leader gets really tired and the person being micromanaged gets super frustrated and often leaves. Wait ... that's not good at all. If you are struggling to get everyone on your team at your Christian school rowing in the same direction, the answer isn't micromanagement. Without going into too much depth on this, you need to manage your people based on your unique core values. Micromanage behaviour yes. Go big on those core values and your vision. Celebrate them, pull people up in private when they violate them. Make mention of people in public when they live out your vision and values and, in appropriate settings such as executive team meetings, create an atmosphere where people can candidly hold one another accountable to the vision and values.
For everything else—all tasks in your schools—empower people by articulating and communicating three strategic anchors for your school rather than telling them how to do everything. Make the strategies long-term and treat people like they're smart, because they probably are. Then, you'll find the wrong people will get frustrated and leave and the right people will flourish and do things differently than you expect and better than you expect. Healthy Christian schools are led by leaders who don't micromanage. Instead, they set clear vision, values and long-term strategic anchors so everyone understands the bigger picture and inflexible 'how' of your school and feels free to go and implement those things the best way they know how.
7. People, people, people.
I just wanted to finish here because I think it's such an important key for Christian schools. What is God all about? People! People are super, extraordinarily important to Him and so they should be to us, too. Prioritising people doesn't mean being nice to everyone. It can mean having that crucial conversation with one of your team because all the other team members have started resenting you for letting them get away with anything they want to. Your vision? It's not to get the highest marks in your city (well, it probably isn't). Your vision will be people-related. And everything else you do as a leader should—to put it simply—prioritise people first and let everything else flow from there. If there's one thing you can do as a leader of a Christian school to start moving in the right direction, it's to ask yourself, "How well do we prioritise our people? Our employees? Our students? Our parents? Our community?"
Your greatest asset as a Christian school is not a building. Your people are your greatest asset.
After all, a healthy Christian school raises young people who reflect the heart of God and look like Jesus. And God's heart is all about people. And Jesus' life on earth was marked by His love for people. So, make sure your school is, too.