At the heart of true Adventist education is the creation of a safe, supportive, collaborative culture where learners will choose to accept Christ as their Savior and demonstrate their commitment to Christ through service. The objective of Adventist education is for learners to grow in their knowledge and understanding of God’s creation and creatively apply their spiritual, physical, intellectual and social-emotional learning every day.
This results in the balanced development of the whole person—spiritually, physically, intellectually. The Adventist school partners with parents and local churches in this education.
Some might ask, “What is a safe, supportive, collaborative culture?” A safe culture is the creation of an environment with procedures, routines and policies where learners, parents, teachers and the community feel the school is safe and maximizes learning.
Safe is where students feel that they can ask questions, seek answers and collaboratively discuss without feeling minimized, bullied or scared. They feel supported. There is a relationship of trust and respect among everyone (parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders). An attitude of collaboration is encouraged as everyone works together. The school environment is safe, orderly and supports learning.
A New Challenge
Adventist schools today face a challenge that is not a lack of students. This past year we were blessed and experienced a growth in our student population in Mid-America. Many schools have community students enrolling in our schools. We have many churches who have applied to open a school in their area. The challenge we face is too few teachers.
Many teachers are retiring and we do not have large numbers of graduating teachers in our colleges and universities. The challenge we face today is attracting young people to the ministry of teaching in Adventist schools and then retaining them in the profession. Teachers, as well as students, need a safe, supportive, collaborative work environment.
It is time to recognize that there are many stakeholders who play key roles in developing schools where students and teachers will thrive. Here are a few of those stakeholder groups: the constituency (church community), parents, pastors, school boards, students and teachers/principals.
In the next few paragraphs, I’d like to review the various roles each group plays in the health of the school.
Role of Constituents
The constituency is members of the church(es) who support the school. The primary functions of a constituency are to establish and adopt a school constitution, provide adequate financing for school operations, approve financial plans for major capital improvements, and encourage the development and maintenance of a strong Home and School Association.
More importantly, it is giving the students and teachers the sense that the school is important, supported and a vital part of the church program.
Role of Parents
Parents are also vital to the success of the school. They have chosen to place their child in an environment where they expect him or her to meet Jesus daily and grow academically, socially and physically. Consistent parental support is crucial in this. When parents and teachers talk to each other respectfully—even when they disagree—and listen and collaborate together, the child benefits.
The child also observes this positive relationship, which models the important skill of communication. In addition, teachers feel supported and know that they are working with the parents to positively impact the learner.
Role of Pastors
The pastor plays another key role in the success of the school. I had the privilege when I was an elementary school principal of working with two pastors who were foundational to the school’s success. These pastors recognized that the school was an important ministry. We worked as a team supporting each other’s programs and planning together for the success of both the school and church.
As a principal/teacher, I attended church events regularly, participating where I could. The pastors attended school events and promoted the school. The pastors connected with the students through providing regular worships, offering encouragement, and sometimes even playing with them on the playground. The positive collaboration between the pastor and teacher lends itself to the creation of that safe, supportive, collaborative environment.
Role of the Board
School boards exist to inspire the creation of a safe, supportive, collaborative environment through many avenues. They ensure that the school operates in harmony with the policies and plans of the Union Education Code and local conference Office of Education. They develop policies of local concern, create strategic plans, prepare a balanced school budget for constituency approval and then operate according to the budget.
The board supports the Home and School Association and prepares a school handbook, along with many other duties. School boards that are effective know their role and function and work collaboratively with the teachers, parents and constituency to ensure that the school environment is safe, supportive and collaborative.
Role of Teachers and Principals
Teachers and principals are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the school. They create a classroom/school environment in which students are free to question and seek answers, where learning is encouraged, and most importantly where students meet Jesus throughout the day in every class or subject. Teachers and principals encourage collaboration with and among students; they work together with parents to provide a quality Adventist education; and they work closely with the school board to ensure the philosophy and mission of the school is clearly communicated. They also work with the pastor(s) to create a church and school collaborative program where each supports one another. They are active members of the church and positively promote the school whenever they can.
Role of Students
Finally, the students are the reason for the school. All the other stakeholders work together to create a school where students can grow spiritually, academically and physically. In appreciation of this, students need to be willing to apply themselves and truly become learners. They need to develop attitudes that value cooperation and be willing to openly collaborate in their work. In doing so they not only learn the skills needed for success today, but can develop that personal relationship with Jesus that will lead them to eternity.
Fulfilling the Mission of Adventist Education
It is when all the stakeholders faithfully fulfill their role that the school can truly have a safe, supportive, collaborative culture and then fulfill the mission of Adventist education “to enable learners to develop a life of faith in God, and to use their knowledge, skills and understandings to serve God and humanity.” (https://adventisteducation.org/abt.html)