It could be said of Adventist Education, that it exists to ensure students leave our campuses with a curiosity that engages the world around them, as well as inspired to live a life of service and devotion for now and eternity. Christian schools offer a unique learning space that aims to achieve this goal by fostering faith and learning in a holistic, positive and supportive environment.
While we often assume that the faith activities in which we engage our students will have a positive impact on school climate, the evidence in this area tends to be largely anecdotal. Recently however, as part of a funded research project, we had the chance to dig into this area a little deeper within one Adventist K-12 school in Australia. The aim of the project was to discover if a significant relationship exists between school climate and that of faith engagement, as self-reported by students.
As part of the project, information was collected from 368 students from years 5 through 12 using surveys that covered both their perception of school climate and their attitudes towards the faith engagement activities within the school. One of the things that immediately jumped out when analyzing the data was the strength of the relationships between these two sets of variables. Those students who reported more positive attitudes towards the school’s efforts to engage them in faith activities and towards Christian practice in general were also more likely to view the school climate in a positive light.
One of the analyses available within this type of research is known as structural equation modelling (SEM). This technique is useful for building models that help to illustrate the relationship between the different variables and ‘what impacts what’. This approach helped to confirm that student faith engagement has a significant impact on key school climate variables such as ‘student-teacher relationships’, ‘opportunities for engagement’ and perceptions of ‘order, safety and discipline’. It also however indicates that school climate, in turn, has a significant impact on all the faith engagement variables. For example, students who perceived the school climate in a more positive light were also more likely to report positive attitudes towards the schools attempts to engage them in faith activities. This would indicate that efforts by the school to improve school climate (for example, improving student-teacher relationships) will have a corresponding positive impact on the willingness of students to buy into the faith journey that Adventist schools are so keen to engage our students in.
Like many Adventist schools within Australia, the school at the centre of this research has a significant proportion of students not of the Adventist faith, and many of no faith at all. As a research team we wrestled with the considerably less positive attitudes towards faith engagement of students not of a faith-background. Two of the questions that consumed a fair amount of discussion were:
- In what ways do these more negative attitudes towards faith engagement impact the attitudes of other students?
- How does an Adventist school with a diversity of faith backgrounds, differentiate the faith engagement opportunities so as to meet the needs of students from a non-faith background and to provide opportunities for them to engage in positive and meaningful ways?
We look forward to the opportunity to expand the research into other schools and to build on these initial findings.