Improvement Requires Everyone
by Matt Thomas
Last night, I watched my beloved San Francisco 49ers beat the Los Angeles Rams, which never gets old by the way. Historically, winning is something the 49ers are familiar with. But, like any organization, being successful doesn’t just happen. Among other things, it requires hard work, honesty, and the desire to be better by helping everyone get better.
These qualities are written across the tenure of coaching legend Bill Walsh. The first year Walsh coached this storied franchise was 1979 and his new team was the worst in the NFL (a record of 2-14 his first year). But, over the next three years, the work that was done by everyone in the organization would result in the first of 3 Super Bowl wins. It’s an incredible story!
The process that took place for these unimaginable outcomes to be realized is actually even more amazing. When leaders set out to change an organization or to lead it through a process of improvement, they often set goals, plans, and a timeline that they want to measure against in order to be successful. Walsh did not believe this would be the most effective plan. In fact, his plan, what he called the “Standard of Performance,” was a process that involved everyone in the organization intensely focusing on evidenced improvement leading to one specific goal…a championship. What made this process unique were two points Walsh repeatedly emphasized.
1.Success was not defined by what he wanted the team to accomplish but rather who he wanted them to become…champions.
Instilling a process that reminds a team of who they are becoming rather than what needs to be done is difficult to replicate. For Walsh, it required clear and measurable goals, deep trust throughout the entire organization, laser focus on solving real problems, and eliminating anything that prevented improvement.
2.Becoming a champion would require improvement by everyone.
Walsh knew that taking over a team with a 14% winning percentage would not be an easy task. Stories are told of how Walsh assessed everything and everyone within the organization in hopes of finding areas, even deceptively small areas, to improve. This, he believed, was the underlying reason for his team’s success.
For schools and educational leaders, this “standard of performance” can be replicated but it requires administrators and teachers to work together to build deep trust, to honestly assess real problems that impact student outcomes, and to strive to eliminate obstacles that prevent improvement from taking place.
At Baylor’s Center for School Leadership, our work is grounded in this practice. My colleague and friend Jon Eckert rightly says,
“If recent years have taught us anything, we cannot improve schools as isolated individuals. The myth of the solitary genius or heroic leader acting alone has been exposed as a dangerous fallacy because no one can possibly measure up against the idealized versions of these idealized heroes in our own minds. The range of challenges in schools means that a school “leader” will be unable to meet all of the demands, even if she tries to distribute tasks. However, the complexity that arises from myriad challenges makes education infinitely interesting for broad-based networked school leadership that requires the collective expertise of a diverse range of leaders, including students, within a school. From improvement science to deliberate practice to educators’ intuition based on their shared experiences, we know that we need others to improve."
If this sounds like the work you want your school to be doing, join us in Dallas, Texas on June 13-14, 2022 for the Academy for Transformational Leadership.
At this once a year event, you will join teams from around the country for a two-day launch of what we hope will be a year of school-wide improvement. By the end of our time, each school will create and present a plan for addressing one problem of practice and be invited to launch a year of progress with three to eight other schools using improvement science approaches to solve similar problems.
Read all 17 principles of Walsh's Standard of Performance
The Best Teachers
by Jon Eckert, Ed.D.
We know them when we see them.
Almost everyone I know has had a transformational teacher. These are teachers that change the trajectory of students’ lives. They are not just good teachers who do an adequate job of communicating a subject or subjects. Great teachers help us see the world differently. We see ourselves and others differently. They inspire hope, passion, and perseverance.
How do they do it? Although it feels like magic, it is not. Great teachers at all levels connect with students in three ways.
We all want to be known by others. Great teachers help us to feel known. This starts with basic things like knowing our names within the first day or week. I have not met a great teacher yet who does not know his/her students’ names within the first week. More importantly, great teachers help their students know themselves. In great classrooms, students know their strengths, where they have already grown, and where they can continue to grow because of honest assessment and feedback.
The relationship between the teacher and the student is a sacred one. This is the role that Jesus took with his disciples. There is a bond between teacher and students that is powerful because it is predicated on trust and understanding. Trust develops through appropriate self-disclosure and vulnerability as we learn from and with each other.
In the classrooms of great teachers, a community develops. Students care for and teach each other. Students learn to care for the community in which their schools and homes are located. They learn to care for God’s creation and become good stewards of his resources. This happens through service learning like visiting retirement homes or serving at homeless shelters. Schools work best when they connect with community resources. When learning is in the service of others, there is always a purpose.
As Tim Keller writes, “Every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling can matter forever.” Great Christian teachers know this is a daily pursuit. Those “simple” endeavors include giving timely feedback, ensuring materials are ready each day, and making sure each child feels safe to take risks. Students of these teachers internalize the calling implicit in the work that is before them. The product of great teachers are students who flourish and reflect their Creator’s glory.
By Jeff Horner, Ed.D.
Lady Boxington: “Whatever does it mean?” - My Fair Lady, 1964
In the classic musical film, My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn portrays Eliza Doolittle, a cockney flower seller taught to speak with proper, upper-class English diction. Fortunately for the sake of the comedy of the film, her first attempt to enter polite society fails miserably as she perfectly enunciated words are merely highly polished cockney-style gossip. After using a number of idiomatic expressions among a very posh set of people, one bewildered aristocratic woman wonders aloud, “Whatever does it mean?”
It is my fear that—despite our best efforts at understanding the intersection of the plethora of academic data available to administrators, teachers, students, and parents—many of us still stand in the shoes of Lady Boxington, wondering, “Whatever does it mean?” If you are like me, you can become very busy working through the logistical side of standardized testing. There are parents to notify, reports to compile, proctors to schedule, rooms to set up, tests to secure, and myriad details flailing for our attention. However, when I take a minute to step back and consider all that we are doing in the field of testing, I sometimes wonder: whatever does it mean? In the grand scheme of things, is the 97th percentile that much more significant than the 96th percentile for a student? Is placing into the 5th stanine significantly less profound than the 6th stanine? Did our top-level student who was sick on PSAT test day really have an opportunity to showcase her best abilities? Is an “A” in AP English Language really worth the extra points in the GPA that we award? How do these many different metrics really help us know if our students are learning? Do our scores show that they are demonstrably kinder because of these scores? Are they better citizens? Have they demonstrated a greater level of industriousness just because they have moved their scores up 5-10 points? How are their hearts affected by the way that we choose to talk about their test scores?
Independent schools have mission statements that indicate the commitments they bind themselves to yearly, monthly, daily. The mission statements provide indications of the emphases of their communities. Few schools that I am aware of emphasize the collection and review of data as part of their mission statements. Still, nonetheless, we follow the cycles of test administration, data collection, and data reporting. How are our data review and reporting processes aligned to the values embraced in our communities through our mission statements? To what extent do our practices converge with our mission and to what extent do they diverge from our purpose?
We already collect this data, but how can we ask questions to solve the larger questions we have about our students’ learning? Data can point to some answers, but it can also be merely a starting place for our inquiries.
If you are like me, interested in the “why” of academic data and want to explore how it can be used in deeper, more meaningful ways than simply receiving and reporting, please consider becoming part of the inaugural Academic Data Virtual Learning Network at Baylor’s Center for School Leadership. We are seeking to build a network of educators who want to apply their school’s academic data in transformative ways. We believe that work done together will be more meaningful and bring better insights to the conversation than work done in isolation.
Please come, join our network at its beginning as we consider our use of data and how we can harness it to our educational mission.
Dependent leaders are never lonely.
By Matt Thomas, Ed.D.
For most of my 28+ year career, I’ve heard that “leadership is lonely.” It’s been said to me by school leaders, Fortune 500 executives, and pastors with multiple staff members. So, I’ve always believed it.
And, because I accepted this as normative, I spent far too many lonely days as a leader. Eventually, I became dissatisfied with this norm, especially in institutions that were led by Christians.
I remember hearing the refrain from mentors whose loneliness aligned more with feelings of insecurity than biblical wisdom.
“No one else knows what it’s like.”
“You can’t fully trust those who work for you.”
“You never know who wants your job.”
“I’m the only one capable.” and maybe the most often stated,
“The buck stops here.”
Maybe you don’t overtly verbalize these things but, you might unknowingly say them through your actions. I did. I took great pride in bearing the weight of the institution on my shoulders. I found it noble to put my health at risk driving my body and mind into the ground. I believed that it was “authentic leadership” to hoard and lord power before it was taken by someone else.
Harvard Professor Ronald Heifetz calls this pattern of leadership the “ethic of responsibility.” This ethic describes the actions of a leader who takes responsibility for holding the organization together but they have no expectation of being held. Additionally, when this ethic is embodied, a leader is likely to believe the myth that they are the lone wolf, which Heifetz also notes is, “heroic suicide.”
Heroic suicide? Is this what we’re unintentionally committing when we lead as though we’re the lynchpin of the organization?
Yes, leadership assumes followership. But, no one wants to follow a leader who leads through isolation (Proverbs 18:1). The sobering reality is that the leadership culture of the 20th century was guided by rugged individualism, sometimes at the cost of the individual and more often at the cost of those within the organization. “The strong man and the genius in the room, as Simon Sinek says, became the focus of the modern-day business school’s curriculum while teamwork, ethics, and leadership qualities seemed to fall to the wayside.” Fall by the wayside sounds like a description of too many lonely Christian leaders that operated with a lone wolf mentality.
Is there a better way? Of course, there is. But it’s not overcorrecting to the opposite end of the spectrum. Leadership by consensus isn’t ideal either. In an article in Fortune magazine, Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, said that in his years of research, “No major decision we’ve studied was ever taken at a point of unanimous agreement.”
At Baylor’s Center for School Leadership, we believe the better way is evidenced when leaders model mutual dependence. Mutual dependence seeks to elevate, empower, and build up others within the organization. In schools, mutual dependence means not only identifying leaders who will one day hold power but sharing that power with them today. Mutual dependence leads with vulnerability that increases trust rather than demanding trust be earned before dependence is modeled. Mutual dependence leads with a balanced expectation of needing others and being needed by others. Mutual dependence leads with a functional understanding that we don’t grow things, we let things grow.
So, here are three actions we recently witnessed school leaders doing to model mutual dependence.
Nurture to elevate.
Recently, our team worked with a school leader that believed leaders don’t own anything, especially people. This school emphasized viewing each person as a gift that was to be nurtured not owned. It was deeply refreshing to observe administration viewing their role as stewards taking great care to elevate each person for the benefit of all, especially students.
Share power to increase influence.
Another school we worked with modeled rare humility. This humility was expressed in humble confidence that neither projected nor protected personal power. This head of school believed that leading with this specific kind of humility exponentially multiplied her influence when power was shared with other leaders. You can imagine how much her team appreciated her.
Build smart teams to improve student outcomes.
A weakness common in leadership is recruiting, training, and leading teams. This becomes even more complicated when a leader believes the institution’s success relies mainly on their expertise. Individuals can start companies, but it takes a team to build them. This is what we observed firsthand while working with a school at a recent improvement community launch. It became obvious that this school had comprised a smart team in the way responded to a challenge and how they worked to solve that problem. Applying the team’s expertise resulted in the creation of a plan of action that was owned by all. Ironically, the Head of School silently sat and observed this smart team do the work they were capable of doing.
Each of these schools demonstrates what William Taylor asserts in his book, Simply Brilliant,
"The allies you enlist matter more than the power you exert. Organizations that make the most dramatic progress are the ones that invite ordinary people to make extraordinary contributions and whose leaders are as humble as they are hungry."
Friend, when you express confidence in mutual dependence on other team members rather than your reputation or positional power, it frees you to fully focus on the good work you are called to do with the people God has mercifully entrusted to your care.
I believe this is the better way.
Seized by Joy
by Jon Eckert, Ed.D.
As a boy, I always wondered what it would be like to be one of the wise men. There is adventure in this story—meeting an evil king who wants to kill Jesus, meeting the savior of the world as a child, and then sneaking home a different way.
However, if we distill the story to its essence, the wise men saw a star, they followed it, they "rejoiced exceedingly with great joy," then they fell down and worshipped. This is really our journey as Christians. We follow Christ because of his love for us, we rejoice exceedingly in His goodness, we experience joy, and we fall down and worship. Joy is more than happiness. It is the transcendent effervescence of our souls. Joy is our sense of the Trinity echoing throughout creation.
"Joy tends to involve some transcendence of self. It's when the skin barrier between you and some other person or entity fades away and you feel fused together. Joy is present when mother and baby are gazing adoringly into each other's eyes... We are seized by joy." 1 Can you imagine the joy the wise men would have seen between Mary and Jesus as a young boy?
In my time at Baylor, joy has seized me in many moments. Sometimes, I get a sunrise glimpse of Pat Neff still alight while walking under the spreading branches of the live oaks bordering Fountain Mall. Sometimes it is in God's fingerprints all over campus—the scriptures in the sidewalks, the prayers before basketball games, but mostly, through His people. I am seized by joy when I forget myself and am drawn into a deep conversation with a colleague, school leader, or student. We might be discussing an existential question, naming what we see God doing in our lives or on campus, or sharing a meal in our home. These are glimpses of eternity.
We experience joy because of the overflow of the goodness of the relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Christ came to Earth out of God's abundant love for us to bring us forgiveness, mercy, love, and joy! As we pursue academic excellence, grounded in His truth, we continue in a rich Christian tradition of scholarship. As Augustine wrote, "All truth is God's truth." When our relationships are grounded in our pursuit of God's Truth, embrace His grace, and abide in His love, we are seized by joy as our souls recognize the overflow of God's love made manifest in relationships.
As children and adults this advent season, if we can unleash our imaginations about what Christ has done for us, our souls will be seized by joy and that joy will effervesce to others. We serve an incarnate Savior whom we serve by pursuing Truth through our work at Baylor and know that we will spend eternity with the wise men and our risen King!
1 Brooks, D. (2019). The second mountain: The quest for a moral life. Random House. Pp. xxiv.
by Dr. Mark Beadle , Guest Contributor
Schools are often attacked and maligned for not doing the right thing. During this 2020 pandemic, the public has often seen things schools could have done better. Certainly, we have all adjusted and schools have been schooled like many of our institutions and businesses-churches, libraries, hotels, airlines, …
But there is a group of schools that have done many things right. I wanted to write about these Christian schools and will start with a quote and a story:
“We prayed all along, but since March we have chosen to open a new school in every way. We have started over!” Southside Christian School is in Simpsonville, South Carolina and has grown by 100 students this year. Their Sup ’t, Dr. Sam Barfell, calls it a surge. They have 1160 students, 45 of which are enrolled in virtual classes that are offered as live video versions of a face to face class. They have waiting lists at most grade levels. They invested $630,000 to achieve these results but that seems to have already paid off! They are doing things right!
On April 15, 2020, Bill McGee of Legacy Christian Academy wrote: “DON’T WASTE THIS PANDEMIC.” He modeled a mindset that allowed Godly change and growth. No school could afford to stay the same or just plan to return to normal. ACSI, CSI and other leaders offered resources to help with this change so that a school did not have to do this alone. Some schools embraced the crisis as an opportunity. The Wall Street Journal reports that some private schools grew and some lost enrollment.
What were three right things that schools did?
Communicate- successful schools developed internal and external communications to let parents know what plans were being made and how safety was going to be ensured. They overcommunicated. They attracted new students with a new message. They re-assured current parents.
Bill McGee (noted above) said- “The three things Legacy Christian Academy did right in response to the pandemic were 1) communicate, 2) communicate, and 3) communicate. We greatly increased the frequency and transparency of our communications with our parents, faculty, and staff. We expanded our communication strategies to include video messages and live town hall meetings, during which parents could submit questions on-demand and receive immediate answers. We also invested many hours in developing brochures, charts, decision trees, web pages, and other graphics that have helped our families understand and navigate expectations and protocols.”
This was undoubtably hard and required time and effort but Andy Stanley says: "People crave certainty, but as a leader, certainty is beyond your control. The next best thing is clarity."
Planned to change- Change is always hard and most of us did not have any choice this time around. But by pulling together parents, faculty, and school leaders, schools could plan the change that they wanted. It has been interesting to see the huge variety of options (p.5) that has resulted. If a school listens to their “customer” they certainly have a better chance of succeeding than “just” diligently working to get things back to the way they were. Successful schools were open to change and worked the plan to get there.
“We have been on a roller coaster all summer regarding plans to start school in the fall. Each time the plans have changed, our staff has not flinched. They reorganize, re-evaluate their programs, and move ahead without complaint. Our prayer life together has improved and provided much solace.” --San Francisco Bay Area School Leader
Added online options- Schools had to have a solution when a face to face option did not work for a family or the school. Many schools trained their teachers in delivering online content. “Getting Smart” suggested it was time to think about partnering with an online provider and many schools did. Sevenstar (an online partner for face to face schools) experienced record enrollments from Christian schools and even more partnerships with leading schools.
Here is a quote from a school with 309 new online enrollments: “We have honored our families in these uncertain times by offering a solid Biblically integrated program of online courses. Our students are learning right where they are and getting the benefit of a high-quality education.”
The bottom line- The biggest thing private schools did right was re-open! The public schools are still figuring it out and people are noticing a difference. After deciding to re-open, they communicated, planned and added online options.
Dr. R. Mark Beadle is CEO Emeritus of Sevenstar. He loves seeing Christian schools change so they succeed, and students are helped.
Connecting through Conversation
by Matt Thomas, Ed.D.
Author and poet David Whyte tells the story of a man who married when he was young. In the early years of his marriage, the man regularly seemed frustrated, out of sorts, and even irritated at his new spouse. When asked about his sour attitude, the young man answered, “The woman I have pledged to spend the rest of my life with wants to talk about the same thing every day, every night, and every weekend.” The topic? The quality of their relationship.
Finally, the young man gathered the courage to ask his new wife, “Why must we continue to have the same conversation over and over, day after day? Could we not just have one conversation and then be done for the year?”
Apparently not. Because at age 42, the couple was still having the same conversation. Only this time, after all these years, the man now realized, “the ongoing conversation the couple had been having was not actually about the relationship, it was the relationship.”
The lesson, Whyte says, is simple: the conversation is the relationship, and if the conversation stops, the relationship dies.
This story could not be more appropriate for Christian leaders. Too often, leaders find themselves being annoyed by that which is central to their calling. Rather than pursuing those we are to serve, we pursue solitude; but where solitary leadership exists, isolation is bred.
Solomon addresses the fallout that occurs when solitary leadership is an accepted norm.
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. Proverbs 18:1.
It can be an easy move to hide behind a desk and work on projects from mission control or to create distance by refraining from taking relationships deeper. It’s easy to succumb to the growing complexities related to school and classroom leadership and look for ways to separate yourself from the organisms within the organization. But, compassionate leadership compels us to step out, to seek others, to converse.
Compassionate leaders find ways to foster the conversation. Here are three tips that may increase the relational standing and well-being of those within your school or classroom.
1. Assess how compassionate you really are.
Being able to demonstrate compassion begins with an assessment of yourself. Here are a few questions to ask yourself,
Depending on your answer, there may need to be several adjustments made internally before compassion will ever be a description of your leadership. It’s important to take the pulse of relationships by honestly asking yourself these questions, but a more productive outcome may result when you check in with others to learn how compassionate you’ve been.
I’ve always admired C.S. Lewis’s ability to see himself as he is. In Surprised by Joy, he transparently shares an observation to which we can relate. He characterized his inward man as “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, and a harem of hatreds.” Lewis knew that he was not always operating from a disposition of love and holiness, just as we might not always operate from a base camp of compassion.
2. Cancel the culture of “niceness.”
Being nice is nice, but being nice often replaces genuine interactions with a surface level conversation. Leaders fail to show people that the relationship matters when they keep the conversation at a superficial level. Effective conversations call leaders to praise what is worthy of praise and to confront what needs to be confronted. Whether it be an attitude, a performance, or a behavior, genuine interactions strengthen the relationship so these areas can be addressed appropriately and healthily.
How can leaders do this well? Try answering the following questions.
The most valuable currency a leader has is the relationship they share with each individual in the school. Therefore, invest wisely.
3. Always converse with compassion.
More than one person has told me that when I discuss a matter for which I care deeply, I can come across with great “passion.” My wife gave me the same helpful feedback early in our marriage. She said, “I know you’re not upset, your just passionate.” She’s right!
Because we are human, we naturally talk emotionally first and rationally second. Leaders can become so focused on a plan to share, a lesson to give, or communicating a point that strong emotions are displayed without our awareness. And, because my intent is always to be compelling, I may forget that the recipient of my emotive outburst does not share that same understanding. Whether intentional or not, everything we say leaves an emotional wake. I’ve personally seen this in my conversations with my colleagues and at other times with my children. What I’ve learned and am oft reminded of is there is never an excuse to convey such emotion and in turn, justify it as passion. Rather as Christ-followers, we must converse with compassion because we believe that our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time.
Here are some practices that have served me well,
May we strive to be leaders who others naturally endear themselves to because of the honest, open, and meaningful conversations we refuse to let die.
Don’t stop the conversation.
Trust: Essential for Great Schools
by Jon Eckert, Ed.D.
According to a Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll, 71% of Americans “have trust and confidence in the men and women who are teaching children in the public schools.” I would assume that number is even higher for parents whose children are enrolled in private schools, and I would certainly assume that for homeschoolers.
Grateful for Trust
I am thankful as a teacher, that there remains a public trust in this country for those who work with our children. After all, Thomas Jefferson viewed education as essential to our democracy – we need to be able to trust those responsible for developing that citizenry.
As a professor, I am grateful for the trust the public places in the teachers whom I have prepared.
However, I am most grateful as a parent that my three children have teachers that I trust.
When Trust is Lacking
When trust is eroded, we begin to see the way systems, organizations, and nations decay. Many of the challenges we face in education are due in large part to a lack of trust. Whether or not they are warranted, many of the policies in place in schools are there due to a lack of trust. When principals do not trust teachers to do what is best for students, they micromanage. When parents do not trust their children’s teachers, they hover. When students do not trust their teachers, they do not learn. Everything is predicated on trust; without it, very little positive will come from schools.
When Trust is Present
When trust in a school is present, powerful learning can happen. Great teachers, who have earned our trust, flourish when they are in a safe environment in which they can take risks and push their students to do the same. When teachers create these trusting environments, our children flourish.
Ultimately, we and our children must place our trust in the Lord as Proverbs 3: 5-6 suggests, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; think about Him in all your ways, and He will guide you on the right paths.” Our trust in the Lord will hopefully allow us to wisely entrust our children with their teachers each day.
Bushaw, W.J. & Lopez, S.J. (2012). The 44th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the public’s attitudes toward the public schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 94 (1), 8-25.
Leaders forget themselves…
By Matt Thomas
Executive Director, Baylor's Center for Christian Education
You’ve likely heard the adage, “know thyself.” You can find this phrase promoted in everything from self-help books to serious philosophy classes on university campuses across the country. While this phrase and philosophical concept dates back to at least the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and maybe even earlier, the phrase has serious problems when held under the scrutiny of Scripture and professional leadership literature.
It may seem obvious that knowing thyself doesn’t align with what the Bible says about what our minds should be consumed with knowing, but the reality is that too often, we functionally live with a disconnect between precept and practice when our theological, theoretical, and daily choices evidence that knowing ourselves may be what the Christian life is all about. To be fair, the Bible encourages us to be familiar with our weaknesses and areas that are prone to wander. However, when Paul the Apostle addresses these areas within his own life, he is quick to shift his mind away from his weaknesses to the power of the gospel and the identity he finds in Christ.
And even in the world of leadership, there is evidence that this adage doesn’t align with leading well. Leadership research tells us that impact is diminished when one leads without an accurate knowledge of those they are leading. Considering this and insights from Scripture, we know that one of the most effective ways to lead well is to lead with compassion. But leading with compassion is impossible if leaders are consumed with only knowing their own strengths and skills and are concerned mainly about their own well-being and development – know thyself. (Measure your compassionate leadership HERE or learn why compassionate leadership is scarce HERE.)
In their book, The Way of the Shepherd, Kevin Leman and Bill Pentak share an inspirational parable as told by the most respected CEO in America. In this parable, the fictional CEO shares how he learned the secret of leading others well when he was an MBA student who was being mentored by his professor through the ancient practices of shepherding. In the first chapter, the mentor stresses one critical lesson that all others stand upon: know the condition of your flock. He sets up this lesson by reminding the young student that managers cannot manage what they do not know. As the mentor continued, he encouraged the student to get to know not only the work the people are responsible for but the people responsible for the work. Like this student, what seemed like a natural inclination for a leader remains a mystery for many.
Christian leadership possesses a quality that distinctively emphasizes the heart and actions of the leader. What we are learning at the Center for Christian Education is that leading with compassion requires actions that position the leader to engage and serve others, not the reverse. The following strategic practices will help you lead with compassion.
First, pray for opportunities to show compassion to those you are leading.
It’s not always easy to think of creative ways to show compassion to those we are leading. Most leaders are focused on an issue, trying to find solutions to real critical problems, or even thinking about the next COVID protocol that needs to be implemented. With all this on your mind, it is only natural to isolate ourselves away from thinking about common ways to lead with compassion, but this may be more dangerous than we realize. Finding ways to compassionately lead begins with an internal disposition toward prayer by the leader. To help with this, one practice that a friend shared with me was pausing to pray that an opportunity would present itself to lead with compassion each time they sent an email to a staff member. Imagine how many opportunities you would be praying for on a typical day.
Second, show compassion to those you lead by increasing your awareness of their well-being.
Everyone wants to be noticed, except for maybe Eeyore. Being known, being valued, being loved, and respected is a universal longing of all humans…your team is no different. And one of the most important things you can do as a leader of people who want to be known, valued, loved, and respected is to increase your awareness of how they are actually doing. How are they feeling? How are they dealing with the added pressures of this challenging season? How are their families doing?
Unfortunately, I think most leaders understand how their staff is doing collectively but have no idea how to break that down to the individual level.
Third, show compassion to those you lead by giving time for individuals to speak to you.
One of the most pronounced ways a leader “forgets himself” is by listening to those around him. This can be a difficult shift for some leaders because moving from the desire to be understood to being understanding requires “self-forgetfulness,” as Tim Keller would say. But this shift is so critical that some psychologists believe that being understood is even better than being loved. In his book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge tells the story of the Natal tribe in South Africa whose common greeting between two tribesmen always begins with, “Sawubona.” The literal translation is, “I see you.” The reply is, “Ngikhona” which simply means, “I am here.” Senge tells the reader that the order of the greeting is of utmost importance because acknowledging the presence of another brings them into existence.
Although acknowledging another person does not bring them into existence, there is biblical precedent for respecting the Imago Dei in others when we acknowledge their need and presence. Leader, how different would your organizational culture be if each person knew that you saw them?
Fourth, show compassion to those you lead by actively listening and responding appropriately.
For compassionate leadership to characterize your leadership, you must have a genuine affection for the people you are leading and the best way to model this is to increase your desire to know about who he is or where she wants to go or what obstacle seems insurmountable to them. A powerful way to show compassion, in this case, is to be willing to occasionally set aside your issues and schedule and simply be with the other person. Why? Because being with the other person ensures that you will not only hear every word spoken but that you will not miss their message altogether. This is the only response that shows true compassion.
Here’s the rub: the biggest obstacle to leading with compassion is you. As I wrote this, I recalled times when Iwas the obstacle preventing me from leading with compassion. That reality taught me that what I think of myself influences the way I regard others. Sadly, this truth is the polar opposite of what a Christian leader’s behavior should look like. Biblically aligned leadership resembles a servant embracing all people and committing to regard them highly, based on what we can do for them, not what they can do for us.
So, whether you’re leading a school, a board room, a classroom, or even a lunchroom…effort made to compassionately know those whom God has entrusted to your care will never be a waste.
Here’s the pivotal question I’m wrestling with as I think through this idea, just how compassionate is Christian school leadership today? I hope to explore this topic across the semester through the CCE’s newsletter and blog. I trust it will serve you and your leadership well.
Lord, I pray for each school to be filled with educational leaders who compassionately lead everyone you have placed within their care.
Two weeks away...
This July we will work with teachers from all over the country to redesign the way we engage and assess students. Already, over 250 teachers have signed up to participate. We are so excited to do this work over the course of July!
The Academies will be divided by Lower, Middle, and Upper School cohorts addressing student engagement, assessment, and feedback. Join with teachers from your grade level and discipline on Zoom and use our tools to improve content delivery, student content creation, and performance tasks with rubrics for feedback.
You will enter August ready to launch an amazing year for students whether that year is on campus, distanced, or a hybrid. You will have access to all of the tools your cohort creates in addition to what Baylor will provide.
Lower School VLA
July 8, 15, 22, 29
10:00 am CST
Middle School VLA
July 8, 15, 22, 29
11:30 am CST
Upper School VLA
July 8, 15, 22, 29
1:00 pm CST
The Baylor Center for School Leadership
We work with great Christian leaders in schools all over the United States. Here are great things they are doing right now.