What is School?
According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, school is “an organization that provides instruction.” When it is used as a verb, school means “the process of teaching or learning, especially at a school.” In the context of grades K4-8, what then do we mean when we say we are “a school” or that we are “having school today?” On Friday, what does it mean to have “no school?”
According to Merriam Webster’s first definition, school exists to provide instruction. Is it enough for a school to simply provide instruction? The second definition describes it better; school is a function of instruction and learning. Until learning takes place, the school has not effectively accomplished its purpose. It is possible for instruction to occur without learning. This is a common experience because, often, the focus is on the instruction itself or on the delivery of the message rather than its reception. The purpose of instruction should be student learning. In their book, A Scent of Water: Bringing Life Back to the Christian School Movement, Edward Earwood & Phil Suiter (2012) describe school as a “learning community.” When school is focused on student learning, this goal drives the discipline, values, curriculum choices, assessments, and instructional practices of its teachers.
Discipline - Classrooms are managed and student behavior is corrected in such a way to minimize distractions and facilitate the orderly assimilation of knowledge.
Values - Students are taught to value knowledge, language, communication, logic, and thinking and understand the worth of those around them.
Curriculum - Curriculum chosen is of the highest standard, reputable, and able to be used by the teacher to propel students forward to the next level of learning. Suiter (2015) in his book, Marks of a Healthy Christian School describes the curriculum as “guaranteed” (teaches the necessary content at each grade level) and “viable” (enough time is allowed for the material to be learned).
Assessments - Assessments are used to effectively discern whether learning has indeed taken place and to evaluate new or better methods of instruction for learning.
Instructional practices - Teachers are educated in current research on student learning and pedagogy and willing to adjust their practices so that all learn. Teachers may not have arrived at the level of experts, but they are trained and experienced.
Another important aspect of school is that the learning is for all. What is learning? In the Seven Laws of Teaching, J.M. Gregory (1995) explains that learning is more than just accumulation of knowledge; learning is a process which culminates in the assimilation of use of knowledge. Every child can learn. Some may learn more easily than others, and they learn in a variety of ways, but all can learn. Learning is not relegated to the child alone. All teachers and staff are continually learning as well, modeling for their students curiosity and personal development. In this way, school not only becomes a place of learning; it is an impetus for a life of learning.
There are other important aspects of a school such as a safe environment that could be discussed, but teaching to learn and learning for all are uniquely necessary to education. At Newton Bible Christian School, our teachers are striving to see that all students in their classrooms are learning, and we are constantly evaluating ourselves and our practices to see that we are relevant and effective. Though our school is motivated by learning, we are driven by so much more. Next week: What is Christian school?
Earwood, E. & Suiter, P. (2012) A scent of water: Bringing life to the Christian school movement
. Greenville, SC: Ambassador International.
Gregory, J. M. (1995). The seven laws of teaching
. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/school
Suiter, P. (2015). Marks of a Healthy Christian School
. East Ridge, TN: American Association of Christian Schools.