As I have written about National Lutheran Schools Accreditation (NLSA) Section 5, “Teaching and Learning,” I have tried to demonstrate that the process of accreditation is a rigorous one, with a focus on excellence for our schools. Schools undergoing the process of NLSA must examine their practices and provide evidence showing that they are focused on best practices in teaching that lead to learning for all students.
The fifth required indicator of this section is, “Teachers use a wide variety of instructional strategies that engage students and ensure mastery of learning expectations.” While this statement isn’t long, it is full of meaning. The first part, “using a wide variety of instructional strategies,” indicates that teachers should be informed about best practices in teaching, be willing to try new strategies, and make new plans when the strategies they are using are not leading to the desired levels of success.
Student engagement has become an educational buzzword. Edglossary.org defines student engagement as, “the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.” Generally, the term is used to indicate the involvement, attention, and investment students make in their own education. Certainly, teachers play a large role in engaging students in the classroom, and providing content that leads to high levels of student engagement.
Research has shown that four things most frequently lead to high levels of student engagement by meeting important student needs: success (the need for mastery), curiosity (the need for understanding), originality (the need for self-expression), and relationships (the need for involvement with others). Teachers seek to help their students meet these needs, and NLSA visiting teams seek evidence that teachers are doing so. NLSA recognizes and places such high importance on relationships that there is an entire section of the accreditation process dedicated to it.
Mastery of learning expectations is the final piece to this required indicator for which evidence is needed. How are teachers working toward all students mastering the standards set for the class? Teachers in our Lutheran schools strive not to only teach the content, but to teach the student. An accreditation visiting team looks for evidence that teachers are assessing students in a variety of ways throughout the learning process, seeking feedback about student progress, student needs, and the effectiveness of their own teaching methods. While each student is an individual that will attain mastery at a different pace, the goal should be that teachers strive to support all students as they progress toward ultimate mastery.
It is exciting to serve on a National Lutheran Schools Accreditation visiting team, and there is always a great deal of learning on behalf of the team members. As students are observed, the visiting team sees new ways their colleagues are working toward this indicator-using a wide variety of instructional strategies, engaging students, and ensuring mastery of learning expectations. This can seem like a huge and overwhelming task at times, but with the Lord’s help, the teachers and students in our Lutheran schools are making it happen!