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
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.
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
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.
2.4 Networking and Strategic Relationships
The fourth descriptor for engaging the community is networking and strategic relationships. This descriptor involves identifying, building and nurturing mutually beneﬁcial relationships with key individuals or groups within, across and beyond the education sector. It also includes relationships where service to others is the focus. It includes developing and honouring relationships and networks that are of tactical and strategic importance in the development and growth of Lutheran education.
Some people love networking and doing the conference small talk. Others would prefer to stay curled up at home with a good book by themselves. When we ponder this descriptor of networking and strategic relationships we may well think of the networking and relationship building that occurs at conferences and times of professional development. These times and connections are important for our personal growth as educators and for the corporate growth of the Lutheran schools we serve. But significant to our Lutheran culture is that we also build genuine trusted relationships with others not only to grow professionally but also because of the partnership we have in the gospel. The apostle and missionary Paul wrote at the beginning of his letter to the Christian community at Philippi in northern Greece; Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Philippians 1:2-5
The sort of relationship we wish to build with people, organizations and professionals, inside and outside of our school walls is described here as a partnership. Paul uses the Greek word; koinonia which means fellowship, communion, joining together, as well as mutually dependent partnership. The sense is always of a shared relationship, a two-sided relationship. Paul also begins his letter thanking God for the early Christian community in Philippi, assuring them of his prayers for them and the joy he receives from the spiritual bond he has with them because of the gospel of Jesus. There is a spiritual bond we have with other Lutheran Schools and with other Christian schools and Christians because we have something in common, the gospel of Jesus Christ. This partnership in the gospel means we build relationships where the focus is not just on what we can get but also on service to others. We often learn best when we work together with others and from others. The Philippians meant so much to Paul because they had been partners with him in the work of God.
In our school contexts we have several crucial partnerships. We have a partnership with students and their families as learners. We have a partnership with each other as colleagues and educators. We have a partnership with God in continuing to care for his creation the environment. And we have a partnership with Christ in the gospel through the agency of the church.
As well as all the educational partners we have to improve student learning we also benefit from the partnerships we have within the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA). Two agencies of the LCA who in particular use this biblical language of partnership are Mission International and Australian Lutheran World Service. Mission International focus on the overseas mission of the LCA to particularly partner churches in South East Asia. While Australian Lutheran World Service is the overseas aid and development organization of the LCA. Both of these agencies of the Lutheran Church provide numerous opportunities for schools and colleges to develop their own partnerships with people, communities and churches overseas. As Christians who are concerned with the gospel and the needs of others, we are engaged in promoting and sustaining partnerships on the local, national and global level. As partners of the gospel we have a common task to educate students entrusted to us so that they also learn of their role and participate in the mission of God in the church and in the world.
Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Carmelite mystic and reformer, wrote the following prayer, concerning the partnership we have with Christ in the world. Let’s pray:
Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours, yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Amen.
2.3 Building Support
The third descriptor for engaging the community is building support. This involves skilfully communicating and negotiating with others (directly or indirectly) in order to build support and develop ownership and shared acceptance for ideas, actions and decisions. It includes preparing thoroughly, understanding the audience and adjusting communication style and approach to appropriately engage with others and their perspectives. It may include working over an extended period of time to build long-term support for strategically important decisions and initiatives.
In the quintessential Australian film of 1997, “The Castle”, Darryl Kerrigan is in his shed with his son Steve at the start of the movie. Steve shows his Dad his invention of a motorcycle helmet with a built in break light. While this is happening younger son Dale Kerrigan says this about his brother… “Steve is an ideas man. That’s why Dad calls him the Ideas Man. He has lots of ideas.” We have all experienced an ‘ideas man’ or person. Someone who is always ready to offer the greatest of ideas but puts them forward and leaves them in the ether for someone else to action.
This descriptor is about moving beyond the ‘ideas man’ to engaging collaboratively with the members of our school community by building support for our ideas by developing a wider ownership for them, and a willingness to changing our ideas when needed. It is an acquired skill that involves reasoning, negotiating, collaborating, changing, adapting and tweaking. All of us have ideas of how to improve learning for students, how to improve wellbeing for students and staff, how to improve the way in which our school operates, the trick is to build support for these ideas amongst our colleagues so that they are owned by staff, students and families alike. Human nature makes it is too easy for us to be overly critical of someone else’s ideas and shoot them down or on the other hand we can think that we do not have ideas of value and worth to share with others. Creating the space where people are willing and able to share their ideas and thoughts, and are free to collaborate to build on them and extend them is what a learning organisation is all about. St Paul puts it this way in Galatians 6:5-6; Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.
In a Christian learning organisation, we encourage everyone to do their creative best with their God given gifts but we also acknowledge that we share in a “generous common life” which spills over into the lives of others. We are part of a grace filled community which means we are free to share our talents, ideas and abilities with others because we have been shown the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We belong to a God who is generously overwhelming in the good gifts he gives us. As people formed by the Holy Spirit we can break out of the self-sufficient mode of thinking and operating as we engage in the blessings of being in community. Looking beyond the scarcity mindset, the perceived lack of resources, money and people to a culture of abundance and generosity of God’s good providence is vital to our healthy functioning in Christ. Sharing in the generous common life we have is a constant message we need to hear if we want to change the culture in our school communities to be one of freedom where staff and students alike are equipped to support one another’s ideas, plans and actions.
Lord God, you have placed me into the community of this school. You have given us great colleagues and staff who have tremendous gifts, creative abilities and ideas. Help me to act out of your abundance rather than my scarcity. Help me to join in the generous common life we share. Help me to encourage and build support for ideas that engage children and young people in learning and in growing in your grace. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
 The Message translation
2.2 Listening and Understanding
The second descriptor for engaging the community in LEA's 'Growing Deep' leadership and formation framework is listening and understanding. This descriptor involves the ability to be fully present and engaged in eﬀective dialogue with others in a way that communicates a deep respect and empathy for their circumstances, background, culture and intentions. At its deepest level it involves insightfully reading the unspoken thoughts or feelings of others and underlying assumptions, intentions or reasons for their behaviour.
Deep listening and understanding is a precious skill for all people in life as well as in education. Being fully present for others in a way that opens up the mind to truly listen to another human being as well as develop empathy and understanding for them is a great gift. Indeed, it could be called a spiritual gift where one person connects to another person, soul to soul in what could be called a holy moment.
In our school context, a deeper listening and understanding of a student is especially important when it comes to behavioural issues. Building a strong positive relationship with students, especially when they struggle is at the heart of teaching. A Stanford University study encouraged middle school teachers to take on an “empathetic mindset” when disciplining students. The study found that the number of students who were suspended across the academic year halved, from 9.6% to 4.8%. When teachers were given the opportunity to communicate their empathetic tendencies, student-teacher relationships improved. Focusing on relationships helped humanize students. In a world where we are tempted to treat students as clients, commodities or outcomes deep personal relationships where listening and understanding are present is crucial and beneficial for everyone.
Listening and understanding another human being involves the stuff that glues relationships together; empathy and graciousness. Being present for another person without judgement or agenda, showing an openness to receive what they are saying. Having patience and self-control to respond with understanding and insight are stabilizing qualities that connect us together in any relationship. In the New Testament book of James chapter one verse nineteen we hear these words; My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. How do we “be quick to listen and slow to speak?”
A helpful place to start working on our own listening and understanding is to look at the quality of our listening. Poor listeners are often unable to separate their own needs and interests from those of others. Everything they hear comes with an automatic bias: How does this affect me? What can I say next to get things my way? Poor listeners are more likely to interrupt: either they have already jumped to conclusions about what you are saying, or it is just of no interest to them. They attend to the surface of the words rather than listening for what is “between the lines.” When they speak, they are typically in one of two modes. Either they are “downloading”—regurgitating information and pre-formed opinions—or they are in debate mode, waiting for the first sign that they think that you don’t like them so they can jump in to set you straight.
In contrast, good listening, involves open-minded, genuinely interested attention to others, allowing yourself the time and space to fully absorb what they say. It seeks not just the surface meaning but where the speaker is “coming from”—what purpose, interest, or need is motivating their speech. Good listening encourages others to feel heard and to speak more openly and honestly. It involves listening, from a deep, receptive, and caring place in oneself, which leads to deeper and often subtler levels of meaning and intention in the other person. Deep Listening is an ongoing practice of suspending self-oriented, reactive thinking and opening one’s awareness to the unknown and unexpected. Deep listening also has a spiritual dimension in Christian community. We take the time to listen to others and are not quick to judge them because God displays these characteristics to us. When we practice these traits in our school communities and are encouraged by those who practice deep listening to us we are being formed in the image of God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the most famous Lutheran of the 20th century wrote in his spiritual classic on Christian community, “Life Together” the following about listening. He described ‘listening as a ministry’ and that ‘listening can be a greater service than speaking.’ Also that ‘the person who can no longer listen to his brother or sister will soon be no longer listening to God either; they will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life.’
Lord Jesus, as you listened to your heavenly Father and understood his will for your life, give us the capacity to deeply listen to the students entrusted to us. Deepen our ability to be patient and empathetic to them and their parents. Give us your Holy Spirit when we fail to listen and speak clearly and sensitively to one another. Bless us with discernment as we communicate with one another with insight. Thank you for the gift of relationship in which we can learn to truly listen to one another for understanding. Amen.
 Bonhoeffer, D., Life Together, SCM Press, London: 1954, pp.75-76
2. Engaging the Community
Working in a Lutheran School or Early Learning Centre means one needs to be engaged in community. The community of the school which has all sorts and levels of relationship as well as a community of faith founded on Christ. Growing deeper into the school community takes time, effort and intentionality. We grow in listening and understanding how our values are aligned to the direction of our learning organisation, building support and ownership for our ideas and partnering with others. The four descriptors for engaging community in the Growing Deeper framework are modelling integrity, listening and understanding, building support and networking and strategic relationships.
2.1 Modelling Integrity
Involves being genuine, authentic, open and honest in dealings with others while remaining steadfastly professional in one’s behaviour, action, advocacy and decision-making. It involves being true to one’s self and acting with integrity. It includes treating all people in an equally transparent, fair and equitable manner as well as advocating diplomatically and assertively for what we know is right even when under stress or pressure.
When we think about integrity and what it is, three things come to mind. Integrity is about alignment, wholeness, and comes from a humble self-assurance.
1. Integrity is about alignment. Alignment of my values with my actions. Alignment of myself with my school, its values, it mission, and strategic direction. Alignment of myself with others. Being aware of others, advocating for them when I need to be an ‘upstander’ rather than a bystander.
2. Integrity is about wholeness, the complete package being consistent. Etymologically, the word integrity evolved from the Latin adjective ‘integer’, meaning whole or complete. In this context, integrity is the inner sense of "wholeness" which is derived from qualities such as honesty, authenticity and consistency of character.
3. Integrity comes from a humble self-assurance. That sense of humility that we are not better than anyone else. That our stuff stinks just as much as anyone else’s stuff. But a humility that is sure of itself and what we value most and hold to be true.
As educators in a Christian community we are called to be people of integrity. But each of us grapples and struggles with living lives of honesty where our actions align with our values. Sometimes we cannot draw the lines so neatly and squarely. Despite the most well intended alignment of ourselves with our values, with the values of our school, and with others, people are hurt and wounded, boundaries are crossed, our consciences and principles are called into question. That’s where teaching and living in community, the power of doing it together, can influence and shape character in people, as leaders promote and model integrity by learning Christ together.
Integrity is the task of both talking and walking in the way of Jesus as he gifts us with his presence. It's the life spoken of in 1 Peter 3:10-12; Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer. That definition of integrity calls us to walk in the path of Christ, to steer clear of telling untruths and half-truths that can lead to hypocrisy, and to seek peace within ourselves with others and with God as by his Spirit he makes us whole, humble, faithful people.
Was Martin Luther a stubborn German or was he a man of integrity? Luther’s reported words from the Diet of Worms (Religious Council in a city in Germany) were; I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. These are words spoken from someone of integrity. Luther cannot speak against his conscience and what he knew scripture was saying. Some people may have viewed it as bloody mindedness but under pressure he courageously gave voice to his values.
Lord Jesus, help me to align my actions with my values. When I am under pressure help me to act and speak with integrity, honesty and courage. Help me to model these values to my students, my colleagues, my family. Give me a humble self-assurance in all I do today as you walk beside me. Amen.
1.4 Living Positively
Have you been in the presence of someone who exudes positivity and optimism? How has that made you feel, think, and act? Having a colleague or a leader of that disposition and energy can really lift the effectiveness of a team. Being optimistic and positive even in the face of setbacks can inspire others. But where does that attitude and way of operating come from? If we are to exhibit optimism constantly does it mean we are to live in a “positivity bubble”?
Towards the end of a term, a semester or a school year, living positively can be a real challenge. Stress from the amount of work we have to do can get us down, assessment and report writing, pastoral and behaviour issues can increase at these pressure times. Our patience is strained, working relationships tested, our capacity to be enthusiastic and positive is stretched. The main goal can be to get to the end of the term.
As people who are growing spiritually and leading others we are called to endure the tough times, to seek support and help when we need to, but to also grow in our resilience and ability to cope and push through the struggles. This is how God grows us in character and strengths us in perseverance. Paul writes to the Romans Christians; We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5)
Endurance, resilience, strength of character comes from a sense of hope. Hope that there will be an end to the problems and trials we experience. Hope that there is someone bigger than us who is concerned and cares for us. Hope in the promises of God. From the perspective of faith, hope is a key to living positively. Hope that comes from faith in God’s love grounds us and enables us to live life positively.
It is interesting to note that academics have researched hope and have developed a field of study called ‘hope therapy’. Hope therapy is used with people who are suffering from depression. Hope is seen by these researchers as something you are not born with but must be developed like a set of muscles. Hope is the feeling you have when you have a goal, are excited about achieving that goal, and then you figure out how to achieve your goal. One researcher, Maholmes, writes that there is no more important predictor of success in a young person’s life than hope. Hope is described as the ability to envision a more positive future, even when all evidence points to the contrary. Hope begets resilience because it is the magical force that enables children to adapt and heal emotionally from their adverse childhood experiences. Kids who are able to adapt and overcome these experiences tend to have a higher sense of self-efficacy, which feeds their sense of competency and control over their environment and destiny. Anthony Scioli explains that hope is a part of a person’s character or personality. He describes four kinds of hope: attachment, mastery, survival, and spiritual. Each type of hope, just like each muscle, has a special purpose.
When we acknowledge our emotions and energy levels, our personal wellbeing, wherever we are in our life journey with whatever life has thrown at us, we can grow in our capacity to have a positive perspective on life when we draw strength and hope from the promises of God.
Listen to this poem on hope by Emily Dickinson.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
Gracious God, when we are under pressure, give us your hope. Give us a positive outlook that you are guiding us through whatever we face at the moment. Let us draw strength and hope from you and your promises as we inspire and encourage those we serve. Amen.
1.3 Learning and Adapting
God has created us as human beings with a sense of inquisitiveness, wondering, questioning, and creativity. Deep within the human psyche is a desire to grow, learn, and in the process change. Yet equally powerful for some is the desire to hang on, retain and resist any semblance of change. Each of us as human beings are creatures of habit. We change when we have to, but for many we want to hang onto what we have and resist efforts to make us change. It takes intention and purpose to strike the balance between hanging onto what is really important yet at the same time being open to change in our thinking, learning and understanding. As Christian educators, we of all people recognise that change is necessary for us to grow as people and be the community God intends us to be.
Paul writes to the Christian community in Rome; Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Don't copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think (Romans 12:2 NLT). Our worldview has changed forever with God’s entry into the cosmos. Jesus coming back to life from the dead means we are a new creation. The old has gone; our lives are no longer the same. Dying and rising, repentance, changing old habits are all patterns of a new way of living, thinking, doing and being. As God changes us we are opened and transformed by the new life Christ brings us. This cannot but effect all the teaching and learning we do. As the world constantly changes around us we are transformed by God.
As a Jewish boy, Jesus grew in wisdom and understanding. He engaged in learning and change in his thinking and understanding. When he began his public ministry he called twelve adult learners to follow and listen. To those who called him Rabbi, Jesus changed their old ways of thinking about God, the Scriptures and the world. The disciples adapted to a new way of being with the help of the Holy Spirit. They were transformed as Jesus changed their old way of being. How open are you to the process of transformation and renewing of your mind? Can God change the way you think and act? It takes faith and courage to be open to this sort of change by God. But it is necessary if we are to be people who are willing to learn and adapt throughout our lives and influence the people around us to likewise change and learn.
Holy Spirit, teach me to change my old patterns of thinking to what is needed for me to learn and adapt to the students, the families, the colleagues and the culture I work in. Make me a willing student ready to learn and adapt from every person and situation I experience. Give me a willing spirit and create in me a new heart Jesus. Amen.
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.
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