When the founders of Lorien Wood set about creating our school, they put in place seven distinctives to describe and guide our educational model. One of the most appealing to prospective and current families - and yet at the same time perhaps most misunderstood - is our distinctive “Nurturing the Uniqueness of Each Child.” Sounds great! But what does it mean? We want to raise and nurture our children in a way that glorifies our Lord Jesus; so what is the biblical rationale for this distinctive? And what should this distinctive look like in practice each day at Lorien Wood?
From His word, we understand that God, in His infinite wisdom and for His glory, created man to bear His own image. God designed each of us to reflect certain attributes of our Creator. Even after the Fall, though this image was seriously distorted by our new sin nature, every human being retains value and dignity. As Christians, the uniqueness of each person (and hence, each child) is further seen in the various gifts of the Spirit, “apportion[ed] to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11). These divinely appointed giftings allow for the body of Christ to be “not made up of one part, but of many…in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Cor 12:14) The uniqueness of each child in our midst - in addition to each faculty member and parent - allows our community to more completely represent the body of Christ.
Beyond our unique giftings, we are also called to “bear one another’s burdens.” Scripture tells us that strength is found in weakness. Contrary to the message of the culture, God tells us the weak among us are indispensable (1 Cor 12:22). Every man, woman and child are in constant state of change; at any given point we are each along a different continuum of growth. Just as in our physical lives, we at one time crave and need “spiritual” milk (1 Cor 3:2, 9:7; Heb 5:12-13, 1 Pet 2:2), and yet are called to grow into so much more. We grow – and learn – at our own unique paces. Therefore, in terms of both our individual giftings and shortcomings, each one of us is both unique and of great value – to be respected, loved and served by other members of the community (and vice-versa!).
We have various structures in place to encourage relationships of mutual respect, appreciation and service across grades and ages: our mixed-age classes, interactions with students across forms at lunch and recess, time with “reading buddies,” and all-school chapel and unit presentations. The intimacy provided by our close-knit community helps ensure that each child and his or her contributions are truly valued, and therefore missed when absent. We want students to feel valued as they are, and still we pursue ways to help our young students continue to grow in all the ways God has gifted them. We seek to patiently love and encourage our students – not to idly rest at their current level, but to truly progress in every facet of their educations, while recognizing and giving thanks for all they see in themselves and in others.
Having outlined the biblical rationale for this distinctive, and established a scriptural pattern of teaching, learning and growing in community, we can articulate how this distinctive manifests in practice:
At Lorien Wood, we are dedicated to helping children grow with grace in all the ways God has gifted them. We delight in the range of gifts God has blessed us with: creativity, verbal expressiveness, mathematical aptitude, empathy, athleticism, musicianship, imagination, inquisitiveness, to name a few. Through small, mixed-age classes, we cultivate a climate where each child is encouraged and supported to progress at an appropriate pace. The school environment encourages students to recognize and affirm one another’s strengths, and come alongside their peers in areas that may require more perseverance. Ultimately, we challenge our students to view their gifts with humility, praising God for the unique way He has made each person.
It is no accident that this distinctive speaks to “each” child, as opposed to “every.” The reality of limited resources – in terms of time, specialized instructional skills, money – means that some children with special educational needs, who may need prolonged, focused, one-on-one attention, are beyond our ability to serve. Certain behavior issues may be beyond our capacity to adequately address, as well.
We strive to maintain a balance between individual and community, encouraging our students’ progress, as we joyfully recognize and foster their unique abilities and giftings. At the same time, we guard against allowing one child to dominate attention and thus sacrifice our ability to meet the needs of all others. This means that not every need can be immediately and directly addressed. But we can create, by God’s grace, an educational environment where each student can thrive.
While we gratefully acknowledge and encourage the unique giftings of our students, our concern for godly character means we also guard against fostering pride. Without a biblical worldview, this distinctive could fall flat in celebration of self. Instead, we foster in our students a desire to laud the achievements of their peers, to engage respectfully with each other and to offer help when needed. We seek not a hyper-individualism, but the growth of a vibrant Lorien Wood community in which each child (and family and faculty member) can thrive. Aren’t we grateful to be a part of it!
When the founders of Lorien Wood thought about parental involvement and first crafted our distinctive, they believed that the most important thing about PI is that it is a visible investment by parents which ascribes value to the education experience. Sadly, many schools today do not want parents involved in the life of the school. We hear stories of parents pitted against faculty, of administrators failing to support their teachers, of angst, frustration, and a lack of harmony within the learning community. At Lorien Wood, we believe that parents are primarily, that is first and foremost, responsible for the education of their children. A key component in partnering with Lorien Wood to educate our children is our parental involvement.
First, PI is a visible investment. Our long-form definition states that we, parents, model lifelong learning by reading and exploring God’s world alongside our children. Modeling alongside means that we are present, visible, and active participants in the learning process. We are not only engaged physically — chaperoning field trips, working in the office, doing drop off and pick up duty, shepherding lunch and recess—but intellectually, relationally, and spiritually, as well.
Our intellectual participation, for some of us, includes assisting in the classroom by helping with Seminar, supporting math and reading assessments, or preparing a special presentation of a personal interest or experience. For others, it is serving on a committee, such as admissions, curriculum development, or the Board of Trustees. For all of us, it includes interacting with fellow parents and faculty at Town Meetings, parent desserts, and conferences, and engaging with our children at home by reciting vocabulary words, practicing math facts, fostering dinner-time discussions, and reading to our children at night. Perhaps, like me, you have even found yourself digging into the books your child is reading in class for your own personal enrichment, filling in the gaps of your own education while allowing you to engage more deeply with your child.
Our visible involvement is relational as we interact with students, made in the image of our Creator, and as we help them work through challenges with their peers, teaching them how to forgive and be forgiven. They watch as we care for one another with words of encouragement. They witness us covering for another parent who cannot make their PI duty. They see us encounter and resolve our own relational challenges that happen naturally through the course of serving within a community.
Our visible engagement is spiritual as we pray with our children for their teachers and friends, for the Head of School and the Board of Trustees, and for the families in the community. It is spiritual as we attend Openings, and School Blessings, and Lessons & Carols. It is spiritual as we help our children see how all that they are learning is under the dominion of the sovereign Lord; that all truth is God’s truth.
Second, PI is an investment. It is costly in terms of time, talents, and emotional energy. We are required to make real sacrifices — to say “no” to otherwise good activities — in order to be present and part of the school community. We invest days, weeks, and months assimilating into the community, so that we can know and be known, and so that we can find places to give of our gifts, talents, and interests. Investing in the lives of others takes real emotional energy.
It communicates to our children, and to our teachers, that we value education, we value their learning, we value them as creatures made by God.
Finally, our involvement as parents ascribes value to the education experience of our children. It communicates that we, parents, recognize that we are still on a journey of learning ourselves, being shaped, molded, and sanctified. It communicates to our children, and to our teachers, that we value education, we value their learning, we value them as creatures made by God. It shows a mutual respect for one another, and a humble reliance on others; educating is a task that we cannot accomplish alone, but take on within the community of learners. Graduates and parents of graduates often relate that Lorien Wood students are confident, well-spoken, and able to engage with adults — teachers, other parents — in a way that their peers are not. This is a product of years of engagement, encouragement, admonishment, and even correction, not just by their own parents, but by other adults as well.
What’s most important about parental involvement at Lorien Wood? Your visible investment has real value, which is otherwise lost if you are not present, modeling lifelong learning. Its value extends past your own child’s benefit to benefit the children, the parents, and the teachers of the whole Lorien Wood community. Yes, it’s harder, more time consuming, and can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Sometimes it requires more of you than you are able to give. However, as most things go in God’s economy, it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). In giving of ourselves, we are, each of us, an integral part of this learning community, of each student’s education, even of our own ongoing education; and we are richly blessed.