Christian Educators: The Most Valuable Asset in the "Business"

Business models, technology, competition or lack thereof, government-mandated curriculum, high-stakes testing...educators have seen it all. And while these aspects of education have value, they sometimes overlook the most important element—an element Christian educators are uniquely equipped to provide.

My entire professional career has revolved around public education. While working as a teacher, counselor, principal, superintendent, and even an educational consultant, I have experienced many educational reforms promising to fix what some thought was a broken system. Some reforms focused on bringing business models into the classroom, some explored alternate presentation styles, and others focused on technology. Some thought that we should take all competition out of schools, while others believed that competition was the answer.

Several years ago, the federal government decided a nationwide, government-mandated curriculum was the solution to the continuing drop in student achievement. Currently, we rely on high-stakes test results to determine if our schools are successful. Some districts value testing so highly that teachers are at risk of losing their jobs if their students do not reach the designated targets.

At times, certain aspects of these reforms have delivered positive progress. Sure, educators can learn from business models. And, there is always room for innovation in any field. At times, competition can be motivating. Of course, curriculum and resources are essential to success. But, while all of these aspects of education indeed have value, they sometimes overlook what I feel is the most important element: the student-teacher relationship. 

My many years of experience in education tell me that the key to success in the “business” of education is a supportive and engaged relationship between educator and student. Without this, the aforementioned reforms don’t have as much power. In other words, there is no replacement for the personal element. 

“Quality educators understand that any substantial learning requires positive, caring, and inspirational relationships with pupils." -
Dr. Bill Ziegler

I’ve seen the power of the student-educator relationship many times throughout my career. But, none more obvious than the time my school district needed to improve our reading scores... 

I was serving as the superintendent for a district that was experiencing less-than-strong reading scores. As we evaluated the way our elementary teachers taught reading, we found that many teachers had no real training in that discipline and we lacked consistency in teaching methods across grade levels. We researched some of the reform models out there and settled on one that had promising data.

With the help of consultants and many hours of work by all, we slowly transformed our teaching of reading throughout the elementary grades, and, as we had hoped, our overall reading scores showed amazing improvement. I was thrilled to graph the improvement, celebrate with the staff, and report our successful progress with our board and our community.

Then, as I studied and dissected the results further, I discovered an intriguing pattern. A few classes showed greater improvement than others even though each classroom was made up of similarly diverse ability levels. Interestingly, the teachers whose classes consisted of the most improved students were the same teachers that had the reputation of developing positive relationships with their students. They were the teachers that parents requested the most...the teachers who invested the time and energy to get to know their students...the teachers who cared about their students’ success...the teachers who had a steady stream of middle and high school students coming back to the elementary building to visit them.

While this reading reform model worked for those who appropriately delivered the content, the teachers who were able to develop positive relationships with the students recorded far superior results. Witnessing this profound, measurable, positive influence of the student-teacher relationship on student achievement deeply impacted my educational philosophy. 

The importance of the student-educator relationship is also supported by Yale University Professor of Child Psychiatry, Dr. James Comer when he says, “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” 

Public school administrator, motivational speaker, and author Dr. Bill Ziegler agrees, “Quality educators understand that any substantial learning requires positive, caring, and inspirational relationships with pupils. This type of learning isn’t fabricated. It’s nurtured over time through building trust, demonstrating respect, showing genuine interest in their student’s lives, and relentlessly committing to bring out the best in their students.” 

In other words, quality, relationship-focused educators are the most valuable asset in the “business” of education.

Dr. Zielger goes one step further when he says, “In my experience, Christian educators especially value the importance of building caring relationships in order to show the love of Jesus to their students.” 

Christian teachers filled with God’s love and empowered by the Holy Spirit are uniquely equipped to build caring relationships with their students. We believe that each child we serve is created in the image of God. Understanding this truth helps us show our students God’s love (even when they don’t deserve it), deepening our relationship with them and positively impacting their learning. 

As the industry of education progresses, reforms will continue to evolve, often ushering in positive progress. But, one fact will remain: nothing is more important than the personal element in education. And quality, relationship-focused Christian educators will continue to be the most valuable asset in the “business” of education.

Finn Laursen is currently serving as an Educational Consultant for CEAI. Before serving for 14 years as CEAI’s Executive Director, Finn was a public-school educator in Ohio for 32 years. He served as a teacher, middle school & high school counselor, middle school & high school assistant principal, high school principal, and superintendent.


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