What to Expect at GCSLS 2019
by Lynn Swaner and Erik Ellefsen

Between the two of us, we’ve spent hundreds of hours at educational conferences throughout our careers. We’ve also had the humbling experience of having to coordinate a few ourselves. When thinking about conferences in Christian education, we would define most of them as “operational.” By that, we mean that the conference speakers and content focus on what we already do in Christian education—but with the goal of doing it perhaps a bit better, and/or in a way that is more informed by research. Most often these conferences result in our tweaking or adjusting our existing practices, or adopting a new program that someone else is doing elsewhere.

As educational practitioners and researchers, we’ve found tremendous value in these kinds of conferences—not the least of which is learning from colleagues and expanding our professional networks. However, we’d contend that simply gaining further operational know-how is not a good reason to attend GCSLS 2019. 

How GCSLS 2019 is Different

As we’ve discussed in a previous blog post, the changes faced by education writ large, and by Christian education specifically, are enormous. These include:

  • societal changes (increasingly secular culture and value sets),

  • market changes (proliferation of schooling options and decline of middle class families choosing private schools),

  • changes in learners’ needs (diversification of student populations, learning approaches, and target skills for 21st century life and work),

  • generational changes (toward more integrated views of life and career, and a valuing of collaborative leadership), and

  • changes in educational delivery models (mediated by technology, including online/hybrid approaches, personalized learning, and soon-to-proliferate virtual and augmented reality).

When taken together, these translate into both challenges and opportunities that transcend much of current operational know-how in Christian education. And in turn, those challenges and opportunities are so significant that our current need is for transformational—and not just operational—dialogue.

As Andy Wolfe, GCSLS presenter and the Deputy Chief Education Officer of the Church of England Foundation for Educational Leadership, explains in a podcast interview:

 
If you’re leading a school, the pressure is on—in terms of budget, in terms of accountability, in terms of staffing and retention and recruitment, and all the things that you’re demanded to be doing. And when there is pressure on about the what of education, then we’re much more attracted to the why of education.

Therefore, GCSLS 2019 is designed to encourage, facilitate, and even provoke transformational dialogue around the why.

This is evident by looking at the GCSLS schedule; for example, on Friday morning, futurist Rex Miller will lead the 1000+ GCSLS participants through a “MindShift” session, which is a process for organizations and industries to solve their most intractable problems. MindShift’s unique methodology assembles diverse stakeholders to create a safe environment to actively explore and dismantle collective assumptions, which frees us to ask big questions and opens a door to experiment and create new possibilities (for more on MindShift, check out a podcast interview with and a blog post by Rex Miller).

Moving Beyond GCSLS

As much as we might (or might not!) enjoy transformational dialogue around the why of Christian education, our ultimate goal is—of course—transformation of the what. In other words, this transformational dialogue should result in new operational know-how. This is why the desired outcome of GCSLS 2019 is innovation, by which we simply mean developing adaptive solutions to current challenges and opportunities. Through sustained dialogue and sharing of innovation on an online community platform, as well as a to-be-developed set of guiding principles and corresponding white papers, GCSLS 2019 participants will be able to continue building out the future of Christian education through collaboration.

This represents a final way that GCSLS promises to differ from other conferences we’ve attended or planned. Though certainly we’ve gleaned many “take-aways” for our personal practice from conferences over the years, most conferences we’ve attended are “one and done.” GCSLS truly has the potential to be an ongoing catalyst for innovation in Christian education for years to come.


About the Authors

Lynn-Swaner-pic-1200sq.jpg

Dr. Lynn Swaner is the Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer at ACSI, where she develops strategies and leads initiatives to address compelling questions and challenges facing Christian education. Prior to joining ACSI she served as a Christian school administrator and a graduate professor of education. A published scholar and conference speaker, she is the lead editor of the book PIVOT: New Directions for Christian Education, co-author of Bring It to Life: Christian Education and the Transformative Power of Service-Learning, editor of the ACSI blog, and podcaster for ACSI’s Moving Forward podcast. She received her EdD from Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City.

Erik-Ellefsen.png

Erik Ellefsen has served in education for 21 years as a teacher, coach, consultant, Grievance Chairman for the American Federation of Teachers, Dean of Academics at Boston Trinity Academy, and as Principal at Chicago Christian High School. He currently serves as an Academic and College Counselor at Valley Christian High School (San Jose, CA), a Senior Fellow for CACE, a Senior Fellow for Cardus, podcaster for Digical Education, and as Vice President of CCEI. Erik regularly organizes Christian school leadership seminars and speaks on issues pertaining to academic program, student leadership, and organizational development.

GCSLS
Christian School Global Summit Addresses Key Issues for Faith-Based Education Movement

Worldwide gathering in San Antonio Jan. 30-Feb. 1 to tackle ‘challenges and opportunities’ facing private Christian school movement 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.—Global leaders in the private Christian school community are convening next month to look for ways to reshape their movement and continue offering distinctive, faith-based education in an increasingly pluralistic and post-religious world.

Around 1,000 administrators, teachers and others from groups representing more than 25,000 Christian schools serving some six million students in 100-plus countries will meet in San Antonio, Jan. 30-Feb. 1 for the second biennial Global Christian School Leadership Summit (GCSLS, www.gcsls.org), taking place at the Grand Hyatt.

The foremost gathering of Christian education leaders worldwide, GCSLS’s 2019 theme will be “Innovate,” seeking what organizers call “adaptive solutions to the current challenges and opportunities facing Christian education.”

Participants will tackle a wide range of issues, from foundational values and classroom practices, to how to integrate best practices in technology and diversity. They will also address legal and cultural developments that affect them, and share vision and innovative approaches for the future.

Lynn-Swaner-pic.jpg
 

“We are coming together at a crucial time for everyone committed to, and concerned about, Christian schooling,” said Lynn Swaner, GCSLS chairperson and chief strategy and innovation officer for the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI, www.acsi.org), headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Lead co-sponsor of the summit, ACSI partnered with Barna Research for the trend-tracking 2017 report, Multiple Choice: How Parents Sort Education Options in a Changing Market. The report found that younger parents are more likely than any previous generation to have attended Christian school—and more likely to say their own educational experience affects what school they choose for their children. However, Millennial parents also have more educational options, are burdened with more college debt, and are less likely to identify as “Christian” than previous generations.

“While there are challenges that need to be addressed, this is even more a time of great opportunity for private Christian education, because an increasingly changing world needs citizens who have been well prepared, through a well-rounded education that is grounded in God’s unchanging truth and character,”Swaner said.

Summit presenters will include leading thinkers and practitioners in the Christian-school world, such as Jonathan Eckert, Professor of Education at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., who previously served at the U.S. Department of Education under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Also speaking will be Rev. Nigel Genders, Chief Education Officer for the Church of England, whose more than 4,500 schools educate one million children across the United Kingdom (UK).

As well as taking a hard look at problems, presentations will also examine successes. A session entitled “Using Innovation to Catalyze the Growth of Christian Education” will feature Andrew Neumann, CEO of Open Sky Education, a growing U.S. network of private Christian schools, public charter schools, Christian wraparound care programming, and character formation programming. And in “Breakthrough: Christian Education Around the World,” leaders of the Christian school movement from China, Indonesia, India and the Middle East will share how Christian schooling is thriving all around the world, in both open and closed political environments and despite persecution and growing marginalization of religion.

GCSLS is co-sponsored by eight Christian school associations: Association of Christian Schools International, Christian Schools International, Council on Educational Standards and Accountability, National Christian School Association, Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, Association of Christian Teachers and Schools, International Christian Accrediting Association, and Christian Schools Australia.

Registration for GCSLS 2019 is available at https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/texas/grand-hyatt-san-antonio/satgh?corp_id=g-acsi.

 # # #

The biennial Global Christian Schools Leadership Summit (GCSLS) www.gcsls.org) to be held in San Antonio, Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2019, is the foremost gathering of Christian education leaders worldwide. GCSLS is co-sponsored by eight Christian school associations: Association of Christian Schools International (www.acsi.org), Christian Schools International (www.csionline.org/), Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (www.cesaschools.org). National Christian School Association (www.nationalchristian.org), Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools (www.sbacs.org), Association of Christian Teachers and Schools (www.actsschools.org), International Christian Accrediting Association ( www.icaa.oruef.org) and Christian Schools Australia (www.csa.edu.au).

PHOTO CUTLINE: Lynn Swaner, chairperson of the second biennial Global Christian School Leadership Summit, to be held in San Antonio, Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2019.

This article first appeared on InChrist Communications website on Dec. 18, 2018.

GCSLS
Innovation: Moving Beyond Debate to Constructive Action

by Lynn Swaner and Erik Ellefsen

2019-GCSLS-lightbulb-banner-695x265.jpg

What is Innovation?

When you think of the word “innovation,” what images or ideas come to mind? This is not a rhetorical question! Invoking the word “innovation” in education is a bit like challenging someone to a Rorschach test. When you look at the ink blot formed by the letters of that word, what do you see—and what do you feel?

Some think of innovation in terms of frenetic activity fueled by technology, commercialism, and globalization, accompanied by feelings of apprehension and wariness (and perhaps weariness!) Others may envision our seemingly boundless human potential for creativity, problem-solving, and continuous improvement, along with a sense of confident hope and even expectant exhilaration. Still others will skeptically concur with the author of Ecclesiastes 1:9 (ESV) that, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

Thinking Constructively: Moving Beyond Debate

When we discuss the need for innovation in Christian education, we often encounter a mix of these responses. And unfortunately, we’ve found that they typically “cancel” each other out—meaning that conversations about innovation rarely progress beyond debate about whether innovation is bad, good, or indifferent. This is problematic, because regardless of where we may locate our individual thoughts and feelings about innovation, there is no denying that schools in general—and Christian schools specifically—face a number of complex challenges and opportunities that demand a response.

These are presented in detail in the article What is the Future of Christian Education?, and include:

  • societal changes (increasingly secular culture and value sets),
  • market changes (proliferation of schooling options and decline of middle class families choosing private schools),
  • changes in learners’ needs (diversification of student populations, learning approaches, and target skills for 21st century life and work),
  • generational changes (toward more integrated views of life and career, and a valuing of collaborative leadership), and
  • changes in educational delivery models (mediated by technology, including online/hybrid approaches, personalized learning, and soon-to-proliferate virtual and augmented reality).

Therefore, we need to think more constructively about innovation if Christian education is to adapt and thrive into the future. To this end, we propose that innovation simply means developing adaptive solutions to current challenges and opportunities. We innovate when we look at the current state of education, because doing the same things the same way is inadequate in meeting the needs, demands, and opportunities of the world in which we live.

To be clear, that response is far from direction-less. In her keynote address for the Kuyers Center, “Redeeming the Buzzwords: A Distinctively Christian Approach to Innovation in Education,” our friend Dr. Beth Green (Cardus Education) not only talks about innovation as a “posture”—composed of both a mindset and specific practices, and shaped by cultural norms—but also asks the all-important question, “what is innovation for?”

We propose that the goal of innovation in Christian schools is a dynamic and excellent education for students, which is aligned with the way they are created—in God’s image, uniquely fashioned, and called to good works (Ephesians 2:10), and that prepares them for God’s restorative work in their generation.

How Do We Catalyze Innovation?

In our work in Christian education, this is a question that we continually confront. We are always asking how we can spur ourselves toward transformative change, as opposed to fiddling with technical solutions that don’t address the adaptive challenges listed above. In keeping with Beth Green’s helpful language, first we must inspire a “posture” of innovation. Such a posture is open-minded yet purposeful, curious yet thoughtful, challenging yet grace-filled, and ambitious yet humble. It involves asking tough and often uncomfortable questions—and considering out-of-the-box adaptive solutions that may come from all corners of the education profession as well as other fields.

Of course, catalytic innovation rarely happens in isolation. Although we’ve found many schools and educators that are engaged in innovation as we’ve defined it, it’s rare that they do so on their own. Instead, they usually, out of intrigue or discontent, have met others who are like-minded along their journeys and engaged in dialogue that sparked generative ideas. And so we need to provide strategic spaces for that posture of innovation to develop, through collision with the ideas and expertise of others. In short, we need to bring people together around the question of innovation in Christian education.

An Opportunity and an Invitation

Along these lines, we have been enormously blessed to be involved with planning the 2019 Global Christian School Leadership Summit (GCSLS), to be held in San Antonio in late January (Lynn serves as the GCSLS Chairperson and Erik is the Catalyzing Innovation strand leader). The first GCSLS, which was innovative in bringing together eight Christian school associations for the first time, occurred in 2017 and drew over 700 educational leaders from around the world. The 2019 iteration of GCSLS is focused on innovation as an opportunity to respond to current challenges and opportunities, in a way that results in an excellent education commensurate with how our students are created and aligned with God’s plans for them, as well as the growth of Christian schools worldwide.

Future blog posts in the fall will explore the summit’s strands (teaching, learning, and spiritual formation; missional use of technology; engaging the culture for good; diversity and inclusion; and next generation leadership; along with catalyzing innovation), target outcomes for the event, innovative ways the summit will convene and engage participants to achieve those outcomes, and a focus on  emerging and next generation leaders. In the meantime, we invite you to visit the summit website to learn more and to register.

As our friend and GCSLS presenter, futurist Rex Miller, explains in his book Humanizing the Education Machine, “There are no silver bullets… Complex problems are never solved but can only be navigated or reframed” (18, emphasis in original). Consider joining fellow leaders as we work together to navigate and reframe our work in Christian education through innovation.


About the Authors

Lynn-Swaner-pic.jpg

Dr. Lynn Swaner is the Director of Thought Leadership at ACSI, where she leads initiatives to address compelling questions and challenges facing Christian education. Prior to joining ACSI she served as a Christian school administrator and a graduate professor of education. A published scholar and conference speaker, she is the lead editor of the book PIVOT: New Directions for Christian Education, co-author of Bring It to Life: Christian Education and the Transformative Power of Service-Learning (forthcoming 2018), and editor of the ACSI blog. She received her EdD from Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York City. She can be reached via email at lynn_swaner@acsi.org.

Erik-Ellefsen.png

Erik Ellefsen has served in education for 21 years as a teacher, coach, consultant, Grievance Chairman for the American Federation of Teachers, Dean of Academics at Boston Trinity Academy, and as Principal at Chicago Christian High School. He currently serves as an Academic and College Counselor at Valley Christian High School (San Jose, CA), a Senior Fellow for CACE, a Senior Fellow for Cardus, podcaster for Digical Education, and as Vice President of CCEI. Erik regularly organizes Christian school leadership seminars and speaks on issues pertaining to academic program, student leadership, and organizational development. He can be reached via email at eellefsen@vcs.net.