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Why Parents in Christian Education?
Dr. Dean Nicholas, CHCA Head of School

When I was a kid, a parent’s role in school could be summed up by saying parents signed the report card you brought home each quarter, and maybe Mom would send in pink and red cupcakes for the Valentine’s Day party. Fast forward just one generation, and the role might look vastly different. A couple of years ago, an alumna shared a story from her Honors Calculus II class in college. In the large lecture hall, she observed one of her classmates bring her mom. This classmate had no special needs and yet Mom showed up for every lecture, nudging her daughter when a note should be taken and whispering to her when a question should be answered. Of all the roles in education, the role of the parent probably has the broadest spectrum, with varying perspectives on degree of involvement. While my wife and I both have teacher and administrative roles in education, we are the parents of three boys and have had to navigate the parent role as well. As a school, we often talk about the partnership between school and parent. I’d like to explore this relationship.

As we contemplate this topic of Why Parents in the context of education, we first need to revisit the earlier post of Why Christian Education and remember the overall purpose.  As I stated previously, "our work in Christian education is to create engaged people who understand the world and their place in it; and it does that in order for them to find their unique purpose. I deeply believe that each student has a divine calling and their distinct assemblage of gifts, talents, personality traits, prepare them for a holy vocation in the world. We were created to do work in the world that creates shalom­—a wholeness that both restores the brokenness of the world marred by sin and gives our lives meaning, purpose, and fulfillment."

If you are a parent and read the statement “each student has a divine calling,” substituting your child’s name for “each student,” you will realize that a parent’s role must be more than signing a quarterly report card and sending in cupcakes. And if you consider the concept that God has created each child with distinct gifts, talents, and traits and we are called to develop that child into an engaged person, prepared for their individual calling, you realize that a parent’s role is not to come do school for their child (or behind the scenes at home). If the purpose of Christian education is to develop well-rounded, critical-thinking, ethical, engaged people who understand the world and their place in it, the role of the parent is to foster this as well.

Parents should introduce and cultivate these disciplines with the Christian school offering secondary support.

The spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading, service, study of Scripture, worship, and meaningful fellowship are examples of habits initiated and driven by the family. Additionally, parents take the lead with character development, such as humility, perseverance, respect, responsibility, work ethic, grit, morality, as well as the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control). While parents and the family build the foundation for these traits and habits throughout a child’s growth and maturation, the school acts by supporting, reinforcing, and building on this pivotal groundwork.

The school should use its expertise to deliver age-appropriate development opportunties for their students that parents can rely on.

Provide an opportunity for the child to master academic concepts, build critical-thinking skills, refine communication skills, and understand how to collaborate and interact with others as they grow to be Christ’s ambassadors in the world. The school creates a course of study from the earliest preschool years to senior year to build in age-appropriate ways the knowledge and skills in students to live engaged lives of significance beyond these walls. It is the parents’ role to support and encourage the school in this work.

For example, if the teacher has assigned 30 minutes of reading each night, math problems to reinforce concepts, or a special history project, the parent can support the teacher’s efforts by maintaining a positive, encouraging attitude; providing a productive time and space for this work; and using discernment as to when and to what degree the parent offers advice, aid, or critique. Meet the Teacher Nights and parent-teacher conferences are great opportunities for parents to glean insight from the teacher on expectations of the student and productive roles for the parent.  Sometimes, the level of involvement needed is specified by the teacher and thus is easy to determine. Sometimes, that level takes more discernment on the part of the parent. Before getting involved in a specific situation, a parent should ask, “does my specific involvement here advance the goal of developing my child as an independent, engaged individual who understands the world and is honing his or her distinct gifts to be used for an ultimate purpose?” 

Growth in any area of life takes a degree of difficulty, challenge, stretching, and even failure. All of us as adults look back on our lives and readily acknowledge how struggles and failures were the monumental turning points that helped us become who we are today. But as a parent, too often my love and compassion for my children cause me to want to save them from hard things and struggle. This urge is actually counterproductive to my calling as a parent. We expect coaches to use practice time to push players, stretch them, and build their endurance and tenacity so that they are prepared to thrive in the game ahead. As educators, we also need to create a healthy level of struggle for students as well so that when they face new challenges, unforeseen obstacles and problems in real life that are “not like the ones on the test,” they can apply what they’ve learned to transfer knowledge and skills to new situations.  How as parents can we best support our students when school gets hard or when the workload gets heavy? And difficulty in school does not just mean the amount of work. The rigor and challenge of critical thinking is the hardest work of all.

On a final note, the Christian school community may offer parents an additional opportunity – that is an opportunity to exercise some of those same disciplines that they are instilling in their children. Often this community provides parent prayer groups, parent Bible studies, parent fellowship events, and parent service opportunities. Participation serves multiple purposes. One, these habits foster spiritual growth in the parents just as they would in any individual which not only draws us closer to Christ but gives us a better framework and lens from which to parent. Two, routine active engagement in these disciplines gives credibility to the parents as they seek to encourage their children to develop these disciplines themselves. Finally, and this cannot be emphasized enough, no one has the potential amount of access and influence on children as their parents. The research is clear on this. Scripture calls us to guard what we hear, what we see, and what is in our hearts. As parents, our children are often our captive audience, and we have a unique opportunity to daily ensure that our children are hearing words and seeing actions that demonstrate the Fruits of the Spirit in us.  As a person who has had the great honor of teaching Bible, theology, and faith development to young adults for over a quarter of a century, I cannot overstate the correlation between a young person’s attitude toward faith and their perception of authentic faith in their parents. We have been given an incredible position and opportunity to shape our children’s openness to the work of God in their lives. Faith development in young people is not necessarily a straight line or an easy processes. They will likely have periods of doubt and distance, their paths may take detours and hit dead ends. It’s not a fixed procedure like a simple math equation. But seeing an authentic, even if imperfect faith life in parents creates an openness that carries forward beyond their time in our Christian academy. Your example matters!  (Find CHCA parent involvement opportunities at

So why parents? We desire to foster the best possible partnership between parents and the school because both are essential in the development of young people. As we often find in life, the answer sounds easy, but the execution is challenging.  Both parents and educators desire students who are flourishing. Let us continue to work arduously within our specific callings to advance this holy effort.


About the Author

Dean Nicholas is the Head of School at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, but is not new to CHCA. 

"I was a classroom teacher where I taught Christian Studies for 11 years. Then I moved into administration where I served as a principal (13 years) and Assistant Head of School for a year.

I didn’t plan to be in a PreK-12 independent Christian school. My training was to be a Hebrew Bible scholar. I went to Wheaton College (BA, MA) and then Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion (MPhil, PhD) with the intention of being a professor. But I’ve found in life that things rarely go as planned. And I believe whole heartedly that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Nothing has affected my thoughts on education like being the father of three boys who all learn very differently. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching all three of them in class and watched each of them navigate the world of school in their own unique ways.

When I’m not doing school work, I love reading, experimenting in the kitchen, gardening, fishing, teaching Sunday School, and traveling the world."

For more of my perspectives on Christian Education, visit:  An Educational JourneyThoughts from a Head of School

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