Cultivating a Thriving Christian School Series:
Addressing major components for institutional health in Christian schools
Jessica Robb and Ron Gordon
Stakeholder engagement is critical for any private or homeschool organization. I have often reached out to parents, board members, teachers, and pastors to help come up with solutions to problems, share testimonies, or encourage each other.
A school I recently led had a beautiful facility with two floors but no elevator. One student, a severe hemophiliac, was unable to go up and down the stairs. Our teachers rallied around this student and drove him around the building from the first floor to the second floor and vice versa. This was a great short-term solution but not the best in the long run. I realized that not having an elevator is a huge problem for any students or parents that have mobility deficits. I began talking with students, parents, board members, and teachers, and we collectively arrived upon a walk-a-thon fundraising event for the elevator. It was amazing to see the school community come together to achieve a common goal.
Effectively engaging all stakeholders in the mission of a Christian school can be a challenging effort; however, developing a successful, biblically enriched educational system depends on strong engagement at every level. Teachers, administrators, staff, board members, pastors, church members (if a church leads the school), parents, grandparents, volunteers, donors, and local community members each play an integral part in making the school run the way God intends. When you think about it, this sounds like a dream team, or as God calls it, “the body of Christ.”
Most Christian schools struggle in effectively connecting one or more of these stakeholder groups. For a school to have success both academically and spiritually, stakeholders must be involved and feel a part of the school culture and family. A trusting and inviting environment is foundational in establishing active engagement. School leadership must engage different stakeholder groups in unique ways to include them in the continued growth and development of the school. Often, stakeholders have a minimal understanding or may even have a skewed perspective of the inner workings of a school. To clarify these misconceptions and project a more authentic and transparent image of the school, the following actions will significantly improve the engagement of your various stakeholders.
Step One: Gather Information From Stakeholders The first step in engaging stakeholders is to ask each of them a few key questions. Cater these surveys according to the stakeholder group. For example, the questions you ask board members will likely be different from those you ask parents. Understand that these surveys will put school leadership in a vulnerable position. This is precisely where God wants you, humble. It’s here where we can learn and grow. A few questions to consider include:
What is the best way to communicate information to you regarding our school?
What information do you want to see from our school?
How would you like to be involved in our school?
What are the current opportunities you see with our school?
What strengths do you see in our school?
How well do you think our school is integrating biblical worldview concepts?
Step Two: Complete a Stakeholder Interest Analysis The next step involves creating a stakeholder interest analysis from the data collected. You need to know how to stay in contact with those stakeholders and how much time and effort are required to keep those stakeholders engaged and involved. This analysis will help the school gain an understanding of the roles and contributions that each group of stakeholders plays in cultivating the Christian school atmosphere. The chart below can help in determining the level of impact and influence stakeholder groups can have on the school. Please note this example only evaluates two of the numerous stakeholder groups.
Sample Stakeholder Interest Analysis Chart
Step Three: Prepare a Prescribed Plan to Engage Stakeholders After carefully analyzing the influence and impact stakeholders can potentially have on the school, create a plan to engage these stakeholders. This matrix should be created by key school leaders and will include activities, events, meetings, and various communication methods to employ involving stakeholders. Assigning ownership of these efforts is critical for effective deployment.
Sample Stakeholder Engagement Plan
Step Four: Create an Engaged Stakeholder Culture Gathering data is usually a strength of school leaders and staff. We are trained to review and analyze data consistently. But do we really implement the plans, tweaking and adjusting as we go along, and see them to completion? This is probably the most challenging job of school leaders. It requires intentionality and passionate relationship building. Understanding how stakeholders can be involved and then truly placing them in areas where their gifts and talents can be used will grow your Christian school. Establishing and strengthening the culture of the school where stakeholders are truly engaged must become a daily priority.
Through our work in strengthening Christian schools across the country, a common challenge we find is the need to increase stakeholder engagement. Collaborative leadership, intentional planning, a bias for action, and clear accountability are the keys to success as you engage your broader school community. Your Christian school will be blessed when the body of Christ is unified in their efforts around the same goal—giving students a sound biblical worldview education.
Jessica Robb is the Christian Education Senior Advisor at Renewanation. She spent many years in public education before answering the call to start a Christian school. This school exploded in growth over a few short years as it discipled almost 1,000 students on multiple campuses. Having seen the effects of secularized education, Jessica has a passion to see Christian schools become centers of biblical worldview training and excellence. She has a master’s degree in educational leadership. Jessica and her husband, Chuck, live in Roanoke, VA, and are blessed with three children, Micah, Judah, and Gabe.
Ron Gordon is Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Renewanation and brings strong education and executive experience to the cause. Ron holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering and an MBA from Virginia Tech. Ron’s wife, Tonya, is a trained and passionate educator. They have twin boys, Caleb and Jacob, and a daughter, Gracie.