Our National Lutheran Schools Accreditation (NLSA) process promotes excellence in schools in a variety of areas. As I have written in the first few articles of this series, Section 5 of NLSA is about teaching and learning. In this installment, I’ll focus on the fourth required indicator that schools must demonstrate, which states, “The school’s Christ-centered, written curriculum provides challenging learning experiences and ensures that students have sufficient opportunities to develop life skills, critical thinking skills and applied learning.”
The NLSA process puts first things first: a Lutheran school’s curriculum should be Christ-centered. Our faith is at the heart of what we do. All subject areas can and should point students to Christ. Our teachers are trained to help students see God’s love for them in the many and varied things they study. Whether it is the beauty that God created in the Fibonacci Sequence, the history contained in Scripture, or the way we discuss a novel using the lens of our faith, God is a part of every subject.
Schools must also have a written curriculum. That doesn’t mean simply printed textbooks and online resources, but also an alignment of the resources used to a set of standards. The schools within The Lutheran Schools Partnership (TLSP) use the Indiana Academic Standards as a starting point for their own standards, and add faith statements and other items identified as necessary by their school. All of this can be organized in Atlas, an online tool for curriculum mapping used by our schools. Support in the use of Atlas and collaborative efforts for standards alignment are provided by request for schools by TLSP through quarterly group meetings and individual school support.
A school’s curriculum must include questions, reflections, and activities that create opportunities for students to experience multiple levels of understanding. In recent years, The Lutheran Schools Partnership has provided professional development centered on the Depth of Knowledge (DOK) Framework to support educators in their efforts to increase the focus in their classrooms on higher level thinking, pushing past questions about recall of facts and into a deeper understanding, problem solving, and creation of new ideas.
Our accrediting body, National Lutheran Schools Accreditation, recognizes that students in our Lutheran schools need these higher order thinking skills today, as much as ever. Facts and data can be found in an instant, just by asking Siri, Alexa, or doing a Google search. However, helping students know how to check the “facts” they find on the internet, question the sources, and interpret data and information is critical. The jobs of tomorrow will require these skills of our students.
The NLSA process requires that schools show evidence that they are striving to help students develop these critical thinking skills. The school’s written curriculum is reviewed. Each NLSA visit also involves multiple observations in each classroom. The NLSA team is trained to look for higher order thinking opportunities in classrooms. The Lutheran Schools Partnership also offers visits and observations between NLSA cycles, and curriculum support to help our schools in these efforts.
Creating a curriculum and atmosphere that support challenging learning experiences is its own challenging learning experience for educators! In an ever-changing world, our schools strive to maintain a foundation on Christ, who never changes. They focus their efforts on students using the talents and gifts given them by God to prepare for their future as Christian leaders. May our prayers ever be with our teachers and school leaders as they face these challenging goals!