Biographical Note: Beth Green is Program Director of Cardus Education. She previously directed the National Centre for Christian Education at Liverpool Hope University in the United Kingdom where she also ran the Professional Doctorate in Education (EdD). Dr Green has a DPhil from the University of Oxford which was funded by a prestigious Economic and Research Council Scholarship; she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts and also a graduate of Cambridge and London Universities. Dr. Green took the Hans Prize in Education for her MA thesis in Education Management. Dr. Green has an international reputation for her expertise in religious school ethos; leadership and management; teaching and learning and social theory in education. She regularly publishes her empirical research in international journals including the British Journal of Sociology and Education and the Cambridge Journal of Education. Her consultancy regularly takes her to Europe and Australia where she advises on effective approaches to measurement, professional development, and pedagogy in the religious school sector. Dr. Green is a former high school history teacher who has worked in both government and non-government schools in the UK.
‘Do as I say as not as I do’ is the familiar adage of weary parents, teachers and leaders. The problem is that the growing body of research into teaching, learning and moral formation shows us that telling people what to do is the least effective way for them to learn. Research at Cardus Education into graduate outcomes and the mission of schools repeatedly demonstrates that practices orientated towards a clearly defined moral vision shapes the character of students. In other words, the kind of school you attend makes a measureable difference to your moral beliefs and behaviors as an adult.
Character, ‘that ability to dig down and find the strength even when things are going against you’ grows out of a mindset that follows you through life (Dweck, 2016, p42). One of the issues facing Christian schools in North America is that they can no longer count on the fact that the character shaping habits traditionally associated with moral and religious formation are happening at home.
This trend is still catching us out, but it isn’t necessarily that people care less about finding the strength to live well. So what if the answer is a combination of rediscovering old habits, developing some new ones and creating the opportunities to practice character formation in a new location – within teaching and learning?
Cardus education has been working with schools who belong to the Prairie Centre for Christian Education in Alberta to help them to identify character forming perspectives and practices in their own learning communities. The survey data we collect for them supports annual reviews and peer learning for leaders. It has informed some intentional choices about how to do teaching and learning and build community life differently. For example, one school has appointed a storyteller to bridge the gaps between how the mission of the school is perceived by students, parents and the wider community. Another school discovered that students were not reading the bible at home and so reorganized the curriculum to encourage parents and students to read it together, regularly. Another school has created liturgies of devotion and prayer in the daily order of the day because students did not have the opportunity to participate in these practices at home.
Our next step is to refine our survey tool so that it collects and provides feedback to individual students about their own character formation in the context of the faith. We believe that recovering for students the experience of being responsible for shaping their own character is vital. It certainly moves us beyond wearily telling them to do the things that our culture is no longer doing.
Note: Cardus Education is pleased to be working in partnership with the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning at Calvin College on this initiative and you can contact either Dr. Beth Green or Dr. David Smith for more information.