Faith education for school staff: Is it a waste of time?

Over the last twenty five years the missional eye of the Anglican Church slowly shifted its gaze to the work of its Schools. And with this new focus came new hopes and expectations.

One of the trends reflecting this focus is an emphasis on educating staff about Christianity and Anglicanism. The underlying belief is that if schools are going to have a lasting spiritual impact on students they require staff who can create a nurturing Christian environment. Professional development has been one of the planks for achieving this.

But does all this “PD” make any difference? Does it influence school staff to feel more connected to the church, to the Christian faith, and to reflect this in their own practice?

Research conducted in the Anglican Church of Southern Queensland provides some initial evidence that socialising people about the Church does make them feel more connected to it.

Anglicans Schools Survey 2009 – 2010

In 2009 strategic work done by the Anglican Schools Commission (ASC) in Southern Queensland and led by Associate Professor Gavin Nicholson highlighted the perceived importance of individuals identifying with the Anglican Church to the work of Anglican Schools. It was perceived that for those working in schools; heads, leaders and teachers, their identification with the Church might lead to greater congruence with the Church’s mission.

It was proposed that a survey be conducted with staff in Anglican Schools to get a sense of their level of identification. During the strategic planning workshop, the schools articulated a desire for the ASC to support their work in building identification with the Church.

The overall aim of the survey was to gain an understanding of the nature and extent of the commonalities and differences in identity across the diverse range of Anglican Schools. Through the survey it was hoped that the strength of identification people within the Anglican school network have with their school and the Anglican Church might be determined. The survey also attempted to measure an initial baseline of these aspects of identity so that it would be possible to track the ASC’s progress in fostering Anglican culture and ethos, and building collegiality among the schools.

The Vision statement for Anglican Schools in the Diocese of Brisbane (2009), emphasises that schools share the mission of the church through faith, vocation and service. The statement outlines practical guidelines to enact the vision, for example, provision for participation in core Anglican worship; faith formation for staff, school council members and families; inclusion of the values and mission of the Anglican Church in staff induction programs; and staff who model the Christian life and ethos of the school.

Nine of the 20 schools in the Diocese of Brisbane participated, although participation at each school varied widely from 25 to 60 staff. A total of 338 participants from the 9 schools completed the survey. This included 301 staff, 9 Principals, 23 council members and 5 Chairs. Just under 60% of respondents were females and the majority worked in a full-time capacity. The majority also identified as either Anglican or other Christian.

Photo of happy business people applauding at conference, focus on smiling blonde

Survey Constructs

Analysis was undertaken to identify the factors contributing to reported strength of Church identification so that the ASC might develop initiatives to strengthen identification with the Anglican Church.

The key constructs used in developing the survey were as follows:

Strength of school identification is a measure of how much participants identify with their school (e.g., When someone criticises our school it feels like a personal insult)

Strength of church identification is a measure of how much participants identify with the Anglican Church (e.g., I am very interested in what others think about the Anglican Church)

Strength of school socialisation is a measure of how much participants are socialised within their school (e.g., I know the structure of my school)

Strength of church socialisation is a measure of how much participants are socialised within Anglican Church (e.g., I understand the Anglican Church’s mission & vision)

Perceived school prestige is a measure of how prestigious participants see their school (e.g., Our school is considered one of the best schools)

Perceived Church prestige is a measure of how prestigious participants see the Anglican Church (e.g., People in my community think highly of the Anglican Church)

Interschool competition is a measure of the perceived level of competition between Anglican schools (e.g., each Anglican School tries to stress its importance over the other schools; there is rivalry between Anglican schools)

 

For participating schools, the survey provided an opportunity to see where the school sits in relation to other schools in the network, in relation to strength of identification with school and church, strength of socialisation within school and church, perceived prestige of school and church, and inter‐school competition. All participating schools received a report outlining their comparative position.

Summary of Key Findings

 

1. School similarities & differences

In both years (2009 and 2010) that the survey was conducted there were statistically significant differences between the schools with regard to strength of school identification, perceived school prestige and perceived interschool competition. However, there were no statistically significant differences between the schools in strength of Church identification, strength of Church socialisation and perceived Church prestige.

It is also noticeable that average strength of school identification, strength of school socialisation, and perceived school prestige are higher than for Church identification, Church socialisation, and Church prestige.

2. Systemic relationships

In examining the factors that contribute to perceived Church identification, the results clearly show that the greatest explanatory power is due to Church Socialisation, even after controlling for personal attributes (Anglican and Atheist classifications were significant) and School attributes (School identification and Perceived Inter-school Competition).

In the 2010 research the β value* from the regressions indicate that if Church Socialisation (i.e. understanding of the Church’s Mission, Structures, Culture, etc.) rises one point (on the five-point scale), Church Identification rises 0.6 points. This result was stronger than in 2009 and also suggests the model developed in 2009 was stable.

This finding suggests that initiatives addressing Church socialisation appear to have a positive impact on Church identification. This finding was confirmed with an alternative statistical technique, structural equation modelling.

SEM Tech

What does all this mean?

While Associate Professor Nicholson acknowledges the general limitations with this research (e.g. it is attitudinal, based on those who responded and generally correlational in nature) it does provide hope that the work done in Anglican Schools to socialise staff about the Christian faith and the Anglican Church is having a positive impact. Clearly more research could better unravel and explain this positive association and its limitations but in the meantime those working in Anglican Schools might take some encouragement from the results.

Acknowledgments:

The majority of this article is drawn from reports written by Dr Gavin Nicholson. Thanks  is also given to Queensland University of Technology

* The beta value is a measure of how strongly each predictor variable influences the dependent variable. In this instance when church socialisation rises by 1.0, church identification rises by 0.6. The full modelling can be seen below.

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