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
The late Pastor Rick Zweck wrote this poem/prayer which is pictured below. He wrote it for people to reflect on as they walk the labyrinth. I have continued this tradition at Pacific Lutheran College and prayed it with students and staff as they walk the labyrinth he helped establish at the college. Rick's prayer touches upon so many parts of the Christian life in particular, I always find poignant his words;
You have created rivals - you will find companions.
You envisaged enemies - you will find brothers and sisters...
Set out! You were born for the road - the pilgrim's road...
Go! God already walks with you!
Recently I organised this prayer to be put on a plaque and installed at the entrance stone to our outside labyrinth at Pacific. It is a fitting reminder to all who stumble across our labyrinth why we encourage it use; because those pilgrims who seek God often discover that God already walks with them on the journey of life.
What cultural forces are at play in your Church-School relationship? I have developed the following audit tool from Educationalist Ron Ritchhart of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. From his research in schools where cultures of thinking was evident, Ritchhart has formulated eight cultural forces which effect learning. For more information on Ritchhart click on http://www.ronritchhart.com. These cultural forces include time, opportunity, routines and structures, language, modelling, interactions and relationships, physical environments, and expectations. I believe these categories of culture can likewise speak into the realm of church-school relationships (thank you to Sue Zweck for the original idea!). You might find this audit tool useful to question what cultural forces are at play in your Church-School relationship and also to critically think where your partnership is spending its time and energy. This audit tool would be a great springboard for discussion between your principal and pastor, school and church councils, or mission and ministry teams.
Click on the "Papers" tab at the top of this page to download the audit tool.
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
I’ve come across again, the meditation resource which was developed by the Townsville Catholic Parish in the 2000s called “Coming Home”. There is a great guide which was written by Ernie Christie and published by John Garratt Publishing in 2008. Most of this material is online now http://www.cominghome.org.au. Amongst it there are ten helpful tips for the teachers to guide children in mediation;
 For Christians who meditate the mantra is an expression of faith in Christ who lives is us. The mantra helps deal with distractions and can lead to a point of simplicity. The mantra recommended by the 4th century monk John Cassian and John Main and the World Community for Christian Meditation is the Aramaic word ‘Maranatha’. Aramaic is the language Jesus spoke and the word maranatha is used in 1 Corinthians 16:22 and Revelation 22:20. Maranatha means “Come Lord Jesus” or “The Lord comes”.
At an Australian Labyrinth Network Gathering I was blessed to join a group of people to learn how to paint a seven circuit Petite Chartres labyrinth. Labyrinth creator Lisa Gidlow Moriarty from Stillwater Minnesota was our teacher. It took an evening and a day to pencil the design on the canvas, put down the paint tape along the pencil marks, and then carefully paint the fields, centre and outside lunations. It was an inspiring creative time to join others in community to paint this beautiful canvas labyrinth.
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.
Are gender issues a reality in your school? I recently went to a PD on this issue and have since read the book "Transgender" by Vaughan Roberts. This learning has helped to inform my thinking as a Christian in this complex area of gender and human sexuality. In our social media dominated world being mindful of our culture's worldview, a biblical response to these complex issues as well as the situation some families are in, is important. A standout quote in Roberts from Sam Allberry is this one;
Our culture says: Your psychology is your sexual identity - let your body be conformed to it.
The Bible says: Your body is your sexual identity - let your mind be conformed to it.
If you are struggling to get your head around the 70+ categories Facebook has for choosing your gender or what exactly the acronyms LGBTQI, SOGI, MTF and FTM means I can thoroughly recommend this book by Roberts.
A staff devotion I wrote for the thread of purpose we were exploring as a college:
As a young adult in the late 1980s I read a novel that was popular at the time by Douglas Adams called “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”. In the story the main character, Arthur Dent roams the universe in a Vogon spacecraft in his dressing gown and towel, after earth has been demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. The story was originally written for a BBC radio show and overtime it has been adapted to stage shows, novels, comics, a television series and a feature film. Anyone who has experienced “The Hitcher’s Guide to the Galaxy” story knows the famous scene in which the computer “Deep Thought” calculates the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. Indeed this scene from Douglas Adams has achieved cult status with people readily acknowledging that the answer to the meaning of the universe is the number 42.
Ever since Adams wrote 42 as the answer to the ultimate question of the universe, people have wondered and theorized why he chose that particular number. If you search online there are copious theories about the significance of the number 42 and Adam’s intention in using it. Some English newspapers have suggested that Adams was paying tribute to the writer Lewis Carol, who was a mathematician. Lewis Carol made use of the number 42 in Alice in Wonderland and other writings. The number 42 is special in mathematics as it is a meandric, polygonal, pronic, abundant, Catalan number and importantly, the perfect score for the International Mathematical Olympiad. Another suggestion as to why Adams used 42 is because it is the number of lines used in the first modern book, Gutenberg’s Bible which had 42 lines of text per page. A third suggestion is that it is an obscure reference to the traditional number of rulers of Tibet. Adam’s close friend and voiceover in one of the movies, Stephen Fry, swore to secrecy that he would go to his grave never disclosing his friend’s reason for choosing the number. But one newspaper report is that Douglas Adams is reported to have said when he was writing the story he wanted to choose a simple number and at the time as he looked out into his garden, the number 42 came to mind.
For me, that goes to show who much we as humanity complicate things. When confronted with deep questions such as the meaning of life and what our purpose is, we can theorize, come up with great conspiracies, unduly wind ourselves up in intellectual knots, when really the truth is much simpler than we desire. When I was pondering these questions last night, I came across this Bible verse from Philippians two verse four. It’s in a section where we are told of the attitude of Jesus in coming to earth and taking on human form. In four words at the start of verse four we are told that “in humility (Jesus) valued others”. That nails the ultimate question of the universe for me. It’s that simple and that basic; in humility value others, in humility we are to value others above ourselves.
As we journey through life, with maturity we learn that we are not the centre of universe, that our mortal lives on earth are short, everything we experience is a gift from God, and meaning is made through having humility like Jesus as we value others and in turn serve them. What is our purpose and the meaning of life, the universe and everything? Some would say its a number 42, I would say its a person who in humility values us so we can value others.
Today I had the wonderful experience of introducing the labyrinth to 4 year old children at my college's early learning centre. In consultation with their teacher we asked the kids to walk the labyrinth in pairs holding hands. The children were getting used to working this way in their kindy routines so it was a perfect way to have them walk their first labyrinth. I prayed with them then guided them into the spiral labyrinth's entrance. It was fascinating to observe how they walked it. Some of them walked along the line rather than in the middle of the path. Some got lost along the way to the centre. In the centre I asked each of the children to take three deep breaths before they started to walk back out. Some children rushed back out of the labyrinth. Some swapped turns of who led the way and who followed. Some walked side by side rather than in front and behind. All of the children walked the labyrinth quietly in appreciative silence. It was beautiful to watch their minds and bodies encounter the labyrinth for the first time and for them to do so companied with another child, hand in hand.
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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