3.4 Inspiring Excellence
The fourth descriptor in the Growing Deep Framework for leading the team is inspiring excellence. This descriptor involves holding high standards and inspiring and encouraging excellence. This includes agreeing to clear performance goals, providing autonomy to deliver outcomes, acknowledging positive achievements and taking decisive, yet pastoral action. Ensures that under performance is addressed and excellence is upheld in the best interests of students and the community.
Educationally, we want to inspire excellence in all we do. In our teaching, in our practice, in students learning, we want to inspire excellence. Sir John Jones talks of the need for schools to develop learning environments that encourage the relentless pursuit of excellence. Excellence does not mean perfection though. Seeking, pursuing, inspiring excellence comes down to these three things for John Jones; passion, warmth and righteous indignation. By passion he means, what got you into teaching in the first place? By warmth, he means the emotional connection with the student that is needed for learning to be effective. By righteous indignation, he means that outraged sense of justice over something that needs to be changed. Where these three qualities intersect Jones says you have that relentless pursuit of excellence. To inspire that in students and colleagues is to breathe life and a passion to learn into them. That’s literally what the Latin word inspiro means “to breathe into”.
Theologically, excellence is more about becoming than being. From a Christian standpoint, we might naturally view excellence as related to human effort and achievement. Theologically, it could be seen to run counter to the issues of sin, our weakness and our total dependence on God’s grace. But as Christians, excellence does not have to be about competition, selfish ambition, or personal achievement. Excellence in life and learning is about doing the best with what God has given us. This thinking presents God as the primary referent of excellence. Developing excellence then is often grounded in a life of attentiveness. Attentiveness to what God is giving us, and how we can best use those gifts for the service of others. Striving for excellence for the Christian is deeply communal, shaped by love, and focused on strengthening others. It is also a product of faithfulness and love. As Paul writes in first Corinthians twelve, verses thirty-one where he segways into his famous chapter on love; I will show you a still more excellent way... Excellence is more a direction to travel than a destination achieved.
Show us Gracious God, how to inspire excellence in the students we serve. Give us passion, warmth and righteous indignation. Breathe into us your life giving Spirit. Rekindle in us the passion for teaching and learning which brought us to this vocation. Make us attentive to what you are doing in our lives and in the lives of our students. Help us to be faithful and loving in the calling you have given us. Amen.
 Sir John Jones a noted British educator was a keynote speaker at the 2017 ACLE in Adelaide.
 K.R. Armstrong, Resurrecting Excellence; Should Christian ministry strive for excellence? https://www.faithandleadership.com/programs/spe/articles/200505/20050427f.html
As a chaplain, the most common question I get asked when I enter a classroom is; "If God made the the universe, who made God?" I've been asked this question by Pre-Prep students in our ELS all the way through to Year 12s. As my principal would say the faces that ask this question always have that "crunchy eyebrow" look, i.e. it comes from a thinking mind. The question, which is certainly to be commended, also highlights to me the genuine desire of a young mind trying to connect what they know of God, faith and the Bible with the logical scientific world they are immersed in.
In our technology driven scientific society, science is sometimes portrayed as being in conflict with Christian and religious thought. New Atheists like Richard Dawkins play on this apparent divide. That's why the book "God and Science; In the Classroom and Pulpit" is a good read. In it, Australian authors Graham Buxton, Chris Mulherin and Mark Worthing encourage teachers and pastors to engage in genuine conversation and dialogue between science and faith especially for Christian schools and churches. Chapters include:
Why Science matters to the Christian.
The marriage of heaven and hell? Faith and the Natural Sciences and Rumours of Divorce
Science and the Pulpit; Proclaiming the ancient faith in a an age of science and technology
Introductory thoughts on science and the history of science
Integrating science and faith for pastors and teachers today
God science and the classroom
Science and theology; a brief history
Assumptions of science and the Christian tradition
Science; the language of God?
"God and Science; In the Classroom and Pulpit" is published by Wipf and Stock and Mosaic Press. I would recommend the revised edition. It is available at; www.amazon.com/God-Science-Classroom-Pulpit-Revised/dp/1532659520.
3.3 Growing Capacity
The third descriptor for leading the team is growing capacity. This involves growing the knowledge, skill and leadership capacity of others. It includes providing space for thoughtful reﬂection and support, as well as presenting effective learning opportunities that stretch the capacity of others. At its deepest, it involves creating an environment where team members are encouraged to take responsibility for their own self-care and self-development. It includes fostering both their wellbeing and enthusiasm as they serve students in Lutheran education.
Growing capacity is at the heart of a Christian educator. We want to grow professionally in our capacity as teachers and staff, but we also want to grow holistically as people of God who care for our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. For a Christian, our whole lives are about growing in Christ. Growing our capacities through prayer, through reflecting on the Bible, through a lived awareness of the presence of Jesus who effects our relationships with family, students, as well as our teaching and staff colleagues.
We want to grow in our knowledge and skills, in our enthusiasm for teaching and learning. We want to grow in our care and concern of others as well as each person’s wellbeing as we serve students and their families. We all know from our students that one of the best ways of growing in our learning is through making mistakes. Being comfortable with that, taking the risk of stuffing up and learning from it, that’s quite a process for anyone to learn. Whether it is from a failed interview for a job promotion to blundering through a public presentation, to students not fully completing an assessment task, these are all struggles that can be viewed catastrophically or as an opportunity to grow. Having the capacity for this perspective comes from a growth mindset.
Martin Luther had a similar mindset when it came to theology. Luther said a person learns theology not through the wisdom of philosophers or through reading multitudes of books on God. Rather a person learns theology through lived experience in the school of hard knocks, through mistakes and failures and through journeying specifically through the pain and suffering of life. Luther famously said while commenting on Psalm 119 that a person learns theology through engaging in prayer, meditation and testing.
Luther shows us two things here. One, theology is no ivory tower experience for academics but is for real people involved in the daily grind of life who learn from their mistakes. Two, Luther’s thinking is quite modern as it reflects some of the principles behind a growth mindset. When people come to life with a fixed mindset learning is a chore, growing from your mistakes is avoided. Rather proving yourself and hungering for approval becomes pivotal.
In a growth mindset people have a passion for learning; they are not discouraged by failure but see their responses to failure as a key to learning and developing character. Luther realised that this is also the case in our spiritual formation. God makes himself known to us and grows us as people of character and depth as we learn to deal with disappointment, failure, even suffering, pain and death. All the things our society encourages us to avoid are used by God to grow us as his people. If you are being tested, what will be your mindset? Will you persevere and let God grow your capacity through it?
Luther reminds us that we do theology as we communicate with God in prayer. We do theology as we become still and reflect on who God is from encountering his Word. And we especially do theology when we are stretched and encounter the challenges and disappointments of life. When we experience testing and trials, Christ the crucified who suffered on the cross dwells amongst us, as we are directed to the wisdom of his weakness.
Luther’s concern here is that people can grow in their awareness of God and how he is present for us in Jesus throughout all the joys and sorrows of life. This is “doing theology”. No ivory tower academic experience but practically wrestling with questions in real life situations like where is God in my suffering? How am I growing and learning as I experience this life situation?
Gracious God, you know our limits and our capacities. You know the hard lessons we need to learn and how far we can be stretched before we succumb to the pressure. Grow us in our capacity to teach the children entrusted to us but also grow us in awareness of our own wellbeing. Help us to support and inspire one another as we grow in the grace and knowledge of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Luther uses the latin term ‘tentatio’, which can also means trial or temptation.
As indicated on previous posts, making a temporary labyrinth is easy. Whether on a carpet, wood, or lino floor, a temporary tape labyrinth is easy to install with the right tool. I regularly make these labyrinths at camps, in our early learning centre and in classrooms. In this video I am using a packing tape dispenser I have modified on a long handle to make a simple six circuit spiral labyrinth in a kindergarten setting. With this tool I can make it in a couple of minutes and not break my back. Even the youngest of kids can walk it and the best part after they have each had a go at practicing stillness is that I invite them to help me rip up the tape off the floor, which they love.
3.2 Nurturing Faith
The second descriptor for leading the team is nurturing faith. This descriptor involves providing opportunities for the spiritual formation of others appropriate to their spiritual journey. It includes demonstrating a commitment to one’s personal faith journey, leading the school community in faith, reaching out to the wider community to build faith and deepen their understanding of Lutheran beliefs and values. It also includes creating an environment where Christian spiritual reﬂection and formation are valued and strongly encouraged.
The Apostle Peter is his letter to the early Christians in Asia Minor who were experiencing persecution penned the following words which also impact how we nurture faith in our school communities; Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
How do we encourage the nurturing of faith or spiritual growth in our early learning centres, schools and colleges? You might think I am not a pastor, a chaplain, a Christian studies teacher, I am not a regular churchgoer, I not a person of great faith, that’s not really my thing. But we are all part of the Christian community present in our school, so we all have a part to play in being formed in faith and influencing others to grow spiritually. Whether we are strong in our Christian identity or not we all impact and influence other people, either positively or negatively. The spiritual values and beliefs we model have an impact on others.
Reflecting on your own spiritual journey, how comfortable are you in talking about your faith, your spirituality to others? Many people find it hard to talk about their faith for a variety of reasons. They don’t have the language, the background or the confidence. The advantage of teaching in a Lutheran School is that we are all on a spiritual journey through life, growing in our knowledge of the Bible, God, and the teachings of the Church together. We are not doing this alone, we are part of a community which welcomes the growth and grace that comes from questioning together; where are we and where is God in this?
Check out this list of seven “ush” words below. Seven reasons why people find it hard to talk about their faith.
1) Blush (it’s too personal or private)
2) Hush (I wouldn’t really know what to say)
3) Rush (I would struggle to find the time)
4) Push (I don’t have a right to force my faith on anybody else)
5) Gush (I wouldn’t feel able to speak intelligently about my faith)
6) Mush (my own faith feels confused or unclear)
7) Crush (I’m worried or scared how people might respond)
Gracious God, help me to take time out to reflect on my own faith journey. Encourage me to engage in those spiritual practices like prayer and worship which will grow me closer to you. Give me the grace to live out my faith in my school community and when the opportunity arises to share my faith. Teach me, Lord, that you are with me in a very real way in all the ordinariness of life, of work and of family. Bless me with your presence, Jesus, as you bless others through me. Amen.
 Modern day Turkey
 1 Peter 3:15
 From the resource “Faith Pictures” which is produced by the Church Army UK, Getting started, Session 1, Leader’s Notes, http://www.faithpictures.org
Jesus said this about the eyes in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:22-23; Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have! (The Message). Or as it might be remembered from a more traditional translation; The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (NRSV)
A person’s eyes are said to be a window into their soul. That’s why that exercise of standing in front of a person and staring directly into their eyes for an extended period can be very disconcerting but also deeply personal and highly bonding. Writers on spirituality talk of soft eyes as compared to hard eyes. Soft eyes help us look at the world in a different way to the usual; they help us see things in a more soulful way. Seeing with soft eyes is a receptive mode. It is receiving and being open to what you are receiving. Seeing with hard eyes is the judgmental, analytical, harsh way of viewing the world. Soft eyes help us step into the world aware but compassionate, welcoming mystery and grace that we might otherwise miss with hard eyes alone.
Rod Windle and Suzanne Warren state in a training manual written on conflict resolution for schools in the US which uses this technique; Soft eyes happen when we relax the muscles around our eyes and let ourselves see with our peripheral vision as well as with our central, focused vision. We see the individual in front of us, but we also see the people to either side, the clock above his head, the lights on the ceiling and the pattern on the floor. We take in everything and are distracted by nothing. Seeing in this way sends an entirely different set of signals to the brain from seeing with hard eyes. As our eyes see more, somehow our brains become more open to the diversity of possibilities that always surround us. Soft eyes also tend to have a calming effect on the people around us, and often on ourselves as well.
Physiologically, we normally use what’s known as our foveal vision. A tiny area of the retina which helps us see details in a focused, analytical way. Things like threading a needle, reading a newspaper or looking at a screen. Foveal vision is about actively retrieving information through our eyes. It’s great for detail but too much of it, and we end up with eye strain, tension around the eyes and in other parts of the body. When we use our soft eyes, we use our much neglected peripheral vision. The aim is to see the detail still but to maintain our wider field of vision so that we are in the moment, more fully are aware of what’s around us. Soft eyes can be particularly useful in a sport where players can receive a pass focusing on the ball while sensing where everyone else is positioned on the field, in their periphery.
Parker Palmer in “The Courage to Teach” writes; Soft eyes, it seems to me is an evocative image for what happens when we gaze on sacred reality. Now our eyes are open and receptive, able to take in the greatness of the world and the grace of great things. Eyes wide with wonder we no longer need to resist or run when taken by surprise. Now we can open ourselves to the great mystery.
Our eyes are a window to the soul, to God, to other people and how we view the world. As our sight is transformed through the grace of God, may we gaze on people, on the world with soft eyes as the light of Christ shines through us.
Do you uses Ashes in your school worship during Lent? If you do, why? And if you don't, what's stopping you?
Over the last three years I have included what's called the "Imposition of Ashes" into our normal chapel cycle during the first week of Lent. Our Secondary Chapel conveniently falls on a Wednesday and our Primary and Kindy chapel on a Friday. In our Y6-12 Chapel, I ash about 5 staff who then go to various stations around our worship space with myself where students can voluntarily go to receive the ashes and traditional words; "Remember you are dust and to dust you will return". What's been pleasing is the increasing number of teenage students who feel comfortable to stand up in front of their peers to receive this visible mark of Lent on their foreheads. In our Primary Chapel I invite all classroom teachers who want to, to come forward and be ashed. These teachers then go back to their classes and walk along the lines to ash their students who are standing to signify their willingness to participate in this ritual. Most of these younger students eagerly do this.
This year in our Junior Chapel I ashed a three year old from our Kindy and even a baby that a mother was holding. Why would we want to remind a baby and mother that they are going to die and return to dust and ash one day? Sweet innocent babies dying, is that what Lent and Ash Wednesday is about?
Lent and Ash Wednesday are certainly about dying and rising. The way of the cross is the pattern Jesus established for his disciples. Dying to sin and death. Rising to forgiveness and new life. Giving students the opportunity to participate in those black smudged marks in the shape of a cross on their foreheads is a worthwhile activity. A ritual activity worth doing in an invitational way.
God bless your Lenten journey in your school as you highlight this special time.
3. Leading the Team
Working in a Lutheran School or Early Learning Centre means one needs to be engaged in leading the team. All of us have the opportunity to lead and work together collaboratively in a team to enhance student learning and wellbeing. We are all being formed to engage, influence and lead others. The four descriptors for leading the team in the Growing Deep framework are creating purpose and clarity, nurturing faith, growing capacity, and inspiring excellence.
3.1 Creating Purpose and Clarity
This first descriptor for leading the team involves creating a very clear sense of purpose and clarity for the school, team, or area of responsibility where God and students are at the centre. It involves establishing a compelling vision and describing how each person’s role plays a valuable part in achieving that greater purpose. It includes clearly and intentionally prioritising responsibilities and articulating how the broader Lutheran education vision and purpose are translated into practical day to day actions, tasks, decisions and behaviours.
One image used for being purposeful and having clarity is that of a group of ships who are all sailing in the same direction. When an organisation is not sailing together in the same direction, it takes much longer and more effort for the flotilla to turn around and face the right direction, to follow the lead boat. Some schools and colleges are larger and have a longer history of tradition, culture and systems. Other schools have a younger history and are smaller and more easily redirected to their purpose. Having the same purpose and clarity is key for all staff in a school, key in terms of their own roles, in terms of how their role helps the overall purpose of the school, and in terms of Lutheran education in general as a system of schools.
It’s not surprising then that one of the images the early Christians used for the church was a boat. From the Old Testament story of Noah and his family and animals safe from the flood in the ark, to Jesus calming the storm from a boat on Lake Galilee in the Gospels, the boat has been an important image of the Christian Church. The Church is a community on a journey through the storms of life, weathered at times but safe within the shelter of God’s ship, Jesus Christ himself. Architecturally, some churches are even built in the shape of a boat to epitomise this symbology.
One particular story from the gospels which portrays this imagery is in Mark 4:35-41. In this passage Jesus says to his disciples; let’s cross to the other side of Lake Galilee. He calls his disciples to hop into the boat and travel with him. Jesus had no tinny with an outboard motor; he was asking them to row to the other side of the lake. To row together effectively takes a coordinated effort and teamwork. Something any organisation needs to do to create clarity of purpose.
To use that analogy in our situation in Lutheran education, what does our boat, our particular school look like? Are we rowing in the same direction as the other boats in our LEA flotilla? And for that matter have we all hopped into the boat Jesus is leading?
Jesus calls us to step into the boat. Our job is to travel with him to the other side of the lake. We row to the other side by working together and following where he leads us. Where God is at the centre of our work as Lutheran Schools, we are on track rowing in the right direction. Are we working together for this common purpose and vision? Is God and the students entrusted to us at the centre of all we do? Is this vision of God, relationships and learning informing all the small, mundane everyday decisions we make as educators?
Lord Jesus, give us clarity and purpose as we work together and encourage one another in our school environment. Help us to see that we are all in this journey of life and learning together. Where there is uncertainty give us your direction, where there is disagreement give us your guidance. Lead us together to safer waters as we engage in the Christian community in this school. In your name we pray. Amen.
 Neville Grieger, Seeking Authenticity, 2012, pp.18-19.
One of the gems I have learnt through my involvement in Child, Youth and Family Ministry is the development of spiritual milestones in the development of young people. In congregational settings Lutherans in Australia have typically celebrated baptisms for young children and confirmation for young teenagers. During my ministry in the parish I made the most of introducing and enhancing a consistent First Communion practice to ten year olds. Since the mid 1980s the Lutheran Church of Australia approved congregations introducing communion before confirmation as another option to the traditional practice. This was a another significant spiritual milestone especially for those families who were regularly worshiping in the life of a congregation. When I moved into school ministry I continued this ministry to families at these sacramental times, adapting and tweaking them to spark off faith formation in school families in an invitational way, attempting to link them with the local congregation.
Another spiritual milestone I have worked with and easily introduced to church-school settings is the presentation of Bibles to school families. Many Lutheran schools and some congregations gift Bibles to Preps and other year groups in Primary and Junior Schools. Instead of doing this in the school setting at a weekday chapel, why not invite the cohort to your local congregation for Sunday worship. Celebrate the treasure of receiving God's Word intergenerationally. Use the service as an opportunity to not only gift Bibles to families but also to equip parents to read God's Word with their children. Many parents who have not grown up in a church culture often feel unable to read the Bible with their children. Equip parents with confidence that they can be part of their child's faith formation and bless them, their children, and their teachers. I have found that children are often the best evangelists. who end up teaching their parents the scriptures!
Then after the service think of what follow up you could develop whether that is in the classroom with teachers or volunteers from church. An easy idea is to recruit congregational members to read bible stories in the classroom. Retired members of the church who have a heart for children love to do this. Another good milestone time for introducing the Bible to children is around Year 4. At this age children generally have some confidence in their reading skills so it is an opportune time to present them with a full text of the Bible which is kid-friendly. One that I have used is the NIrV Adventure Bible which is available through Koorong. Once again it is important to not only gift the Bible but bless the child, equip the parent/parents, and develop follow up strategies to continue the Bible reading habits ideally that reinforces what happens at school with what happens in the home and what happens in the church.
About this site
"Meditations & Musings" is my humble attempt to share what I have found useful in ministry in an Australian Lutheran School setting. It contains chapels, devotions and other resources I have written, used and adapted in my K-12 school context. If you would like to also share your ideas, resources or start a conversation about mission and ministry in your church- school location, feel free to contact me.
Links I Like: