How to Turn a Difficult Meeting into a Positive Experience

Angry anger conflict parent meeting

As school leaders, we have all been there. We receive an email something like this:

“Dear Dr. Mosbacker, I would like to request a meeting this Tuesday. This meeting is regarding a series of concerning events that have happened with “name.” I am now asking for your involvement because I believe “name’s” actions have created harm by ….. I will be sending details to you prior to this meeting for you to review … I would like to meet before sending a letter to the school board….”

Receiving emails of this sort is never pleasant. The prospect of meeting with a disgruntled and sometimes angry parent is stressful.

The good news is that such meetings can be a positive experience—if handled well. Over the years I have found the following practices to result in positive outcomes more often than not.

Pre-meeting Planning

You set the stage of a successful meeting beginning with your response to an email like the one above and pre-planning how the meeting will be conducted.

  • Pray for wisdom. It sometimes takes the wisdom of Solomon to “cut the baby in half” in making good decisions and formulating wise responses.

  • Do not respond immediately. Take time (several hours to a day but not longer than 24 hours) to respond carefully and non-emotionally to the email.

  • Do not judge the message by the messenger. Sometimes the parent who is upset is unkind–sometimes just plain mean–in how the message is delivered in the heat of the moment. Nevertheless, notwithstanding inappropriate comments and accusations, there may be important truth in what is being said. Read past the emotion and try to discern where the truth lies.

  • Have someone neutral read your response before you send it. I often ask my assistant for her candid reaction to my draft. She offers helpful suggestions for rewording the response to ensure that it is warm and friendly.

  • While being sensitive to the request, reinforce the Matthew 18 principle by encouraging the parent to address the concern directly with the person of concern if he or she has not already done so. Be careful. There is a fine balance to encouraging a biblical protocol and coming across as “putting the parent off” or trying to avoid the situation. You can strongly encourage following Matthew 18 but you may not be able to enforce it without doing more harm than good. Here is an example email in response to a concern and request for a meeting:

“Good evening …. Thank you for the information you provided about …. We certainly want to ensure that ….

I am happy to meet with you but I believe the best first step is for you to meet with … and …. It is important that they hear directly from you regarding … Additionally, they will be able to provide you detailed information on … Once they hear from you and have time to assess the situation they will be in a good position to provide me the important details, background information, and their recommendations so that I might be most helpful in addressing your concerns.

I am copying them on this email so that they will have the information you provided and to expect you to contact them to schedule a meeting. Will that work for you?

Thank you again for sharing your concerns. We are always looking for ways to improve our service to students and parents.

I look forward to following up with you after you have met with …..”

  • Set the meeting date a few days from receipt of the request. Time has a way of cooling hot emotions. It will give you time to conduct background research in preparing for the meeting. This is a courtesy to the parents because you will be better prepared to assist and they will be less emotional.

  • Determine who should join you in the meeting. Depending on the nature of the issue, history with the parent, the volatility of the situation, etc., it may be unwise to meet with the parent alone.

  • Prior to the meeting, brief your staff on how to conduct themselves during the meeting. For example, if the meeting concerns a staff member and I decide to include that staff member in the meeting, I usually advise him or her that saying “less is more.” It is best to listen and learn rather than to explain and defend. They are to be “quick to hear and slow to speak” and during the meeting to “turn the other cheek” as often as necessary. Explaining and defending can come later if warranted.

During the Meeting

There are many things in the setup and conducting of a meeting that contribute to a good outcome: how seating is arranged and where people are seated, how the meeting is started, how it is facilitated, and how it is closed. Here are good practices that increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.

  • To the extent your office and furniture will allow, arrange chairs in a circle to encourage openness and dialogue. Depending on the circumstances and issue at hand, you may need to stay at your desk while others face you and each other in a semi-circle. There is a balance to encouraging an open friendly atmosphere and maintaining respectful professional space.

  • If both parents are in attendance, seat them together. Likewise, seat staff together This way all involved have a “support person” next to him or her. Seating an upset parent next to a defensive employee is uncomfortable for both.

  • Opening the meeting:

    • It goes without saying that you open the meeting with prayer. Not perfunctory prayer but earnest prayer asking for God’s wisdom and grace.
    • Thank the parent for taking the time to share his or her concerns. State what you understand to be the concerns.
    • Emphasize the the purpose of the meeting is to allow the parents to share those concerns and for the staff to listen and learn so that a wise and helpful response can be given.
    • Open the floor to the parents.
  • Facilitating the meeting:

    • Speak sparingly and listen carefully. As Stephen Covey has said, “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Repeat back to the parent what you believe is being communicated. For example, “Mrs. Smith, you are saying that…, is my understanding accurate?” Or, “Mrs. Smith, you are feeling that…, is that right?” This has several advantages: you cannot repeat back unless you have been listening so it keeps you focused, it demonstrates genuine empathy and respect and it helps clarify important information. Repeating back does not mean agreement, it means understanding or a desire to clarify. Do the same with comments from your staff.
    • Be careful with this but appropriate, well-timed humor will help diffuse a tense situation and make everyone feel a bit more at ease. Humor is a natural and effective way to reduce tension, demonstrate humility, and foster empathy–provided it is used appropriately and in the right context. Misused or inappropriate humor can do more harm than good. Well timed and thoughtful humor, on the other hand, can relax a tense situation and put it into perspective. Again, be careful. Humor can be very effective but it can backfire if it is poorly timed or inappropriate. “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” Pro 15:23
    • Allow your staff to speak but intervene for clarity and redirection as necessary. If you sense that an employee is overreacting, not listening, or becoming defensive, intervene. You can say something like, “Mr. Jones, I believe it will be helpful to let Mrs. Smith continue…” or “Mr. Jones, if I understand you correctly, you are saying that…” Although this may feel unpleasant to the employee during the meeting, you are doing him or her a favor by avoiding making a tense situation worse.
    • Take good notes. Parents appreciate the fact that you care enough to note what is being said. It also provides useful information and documentation for later actions and meetings.
  • Closing the meeting:

    • Thank the parents again for coming in and mean it.
    • Summarize what you understand to have been communicated. If corrected, note the correction.
    • Don’t render any decisions at this point. Assure the parents that you will take time to pray about what has been shared, to discuss the situation with the appropriate staff, and to consider the next best course of action.
    • Tell the parents that you will follow-up with them once you have completed your review.
    • Do as you say. Pray, consider, consult, decide, and follow-up. Do so deliberately but not fast; follow-up in a timely thoughtful manner.
    • Communicate with those who may need to be aware of the situation while being careful to protect appropriate confidences. Does the board need a “heads-up”, another staff member, a pastor? Your spouse is not one of those. Do not share confidential information with anyone other than those with a “professional need to know.”
    • Make whatever tough decisions are needed. If you have to correct the parents and disappoint them, do so but in a kind, emphatic and respectful manner. If a policy needs changed, change it. If an employee needs corrected or worse, do what is right and in the right way.
    • Follow-up with the parents as promised. Come full-circle and come to closure.

Re-read the above email. Below is the email I received after a meeting with these parents and the appropriate staff:

“Dr. Mosbacker, the careful way in which you conducted the meeting was very encouraging to both of us, and was a very significant step toward bringing reconciliation and healing in our family.”

That is not always the response but more often than not, it is. The meeting was hard; the outcome was positive.

Do you have suggestions for “Turning a Difficult Meeting into a Positive Experience?” If so, share them with our readers by commenting below.

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Regaining Control of My Life: How I Make My Smartphone My Servant

Slave smartphone phone technology multitasking productivity

Are you the Master or the slave of your smartphone? Before you dismiss this question too quickly take a few moments to watch this short video: I Forgot My Phone.

It is not the purpose of this article to make you feel guilty. The purpose is to help you become the master of your phone rather than its slave.

Like overcoming any addiction or enslavement, the first step is to admit that you have a problem. You have to admit that you are shackled to that beeping, buzzing, blinking omnipresent electronic device.

Do you have a problem? Let’s find out. Take an inventory of your “relationship” with your smartphone. * You might be a slave to your smartphone if:
* You check your phone in one or more of these situations:

  • During church services
  • During your child’s program
  • In a meeting
  • In your car
  • You permit your smartphone to interrupt time with your spouse and/or children
  • When you are in a conversation with others
  • When you are with your friends
  • During a meeting you’re leading or attending
  • Before you go to bed
  • Before you get out of bed
  • During your meals
  • When you are on the Loo (if so, please don’t lend your phone to others!)
  • All of the above
  • You feel stressed if you don’t have your phone with you
  • You have notifications constantly beeping and blinking at you and you cannot resist their siren call.
  • You experience phantom vibrations
  • You are constantly checking email, Twitter, Facebook, and other applications

If several of the above describe your relationship with your smartphone (or other mobile device) you may be more its slave than its master. Your phone is terrible task master. It constantly tells you what to do.

Your phone (and other devices) also keep you in what has been described as a state of “continuous partial attention,” a state of perpetual distraction. Such behavior is destructive to your peace of mind, to your relationships, and to your productivity (multitasking is a myth).

The sad truth is that too many of us have become willing slaves of the device that is intended make us more productive but which may be making us less so. Our phone has become a curse rather than a blessing.

Simple Tips for Breaking the Chains
The good news is that with a little discipline and a few tweaks in the settings of your smartphone, you can regain control of your focus, your peace of mind, your productivity, and your attentiveness to others. Remember, people are always more important than a thing or a task.

The first place to begin is to consider the ways in which your phone entices you with its siren call:
* Notifications on the home screen
* Beeps, dings, rings, buzzes, vibrations
* Badge icons with numeric notifications
* Always being with you
* Left on during the night
* Receiving calls and text messages while working or talking to someone

Create New Habits
Here is how you can bring your phone back into submission:
* Turn the phone off at night.
* Turn your phone off during meals and meetings.
* Keep your phone on vibrate mode most of the time, especially when you are with others.
* Don’t look at your phone until you are up, showered, dressed, and have had breakfast. Try it, you will not miss anything.
* When with others, put your phone on silent and put it deep into your pocket or purse.
* Only check your email at predetermined times each day. I have an “appointment” on my calendar to check my email twice a day. Although I’m not 100% consistent, the rest of the time I have my email application closed.

Tweak Those Settings
* Turn off most notifications for emails, social media, et cetera. The image below is for the email notifications on my iPhone but there are similar settings for Android and Windows phones. You can change the notification settings for all of the applications on your phone.

Image

  • Don’t have notifications show up on the home screen
  • Turn off the badge icon notifications
  • Move the email application icon off of the home screen. You can check email anytime you choose but if that icon is front and center on your phone you will be drawn to it like a moth to a flame. The same goes for your social media application icons.
  • If your phone has this feature, turn on the “do not disturb” option for certain times during the day. I have mine set at a specified time in the early evening until I leave for work.

Below is a screenshot of my phone’s home screen. The icons on my home screen are those I use most often or that I need easy access to. Also notice the small crescent moon icon on the top right of the menu bar. That is the “do not disturb” icon. I am writing this post on a Sunday afternoon. I keep my phone on DND on Sundays so that the day is reserved for worship, rest, reading, and writing. The only exception I make is if I am monitoring weather for a potential delayed start or closing of school due to inclement weather. In this situation I maintain constant contact with my Executive Team.

IMG_4760

The smartphone is a wonderful invention. It can save lives and make us more productive. It can also become our master. As Christians, we have only one Master. Although I’m taking this verse slightly out of context, I believe the principle applies—we are to bringing every thought (and device) under the Lordship of Christ in our lives. And, in doing so, we are to set an example of self-control and moderation in all things for our students, staff, and parents.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. 2 Cor. 10:5

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There are Three Powerful Reasons for Getting Off of Your Duff

Walking Meeting Health

There are Three Powerful Reasons for Getting Off of Your Duff

  1. Your physical health–sitting is more dangerous than you know—read on!

  2. Your mental productivity

  3. Your leadership and impact on those around you

I got a big surprise the other day! I am disciplined when it comes to my eating and exercise. In fact, I fast jog at a 13.5 degree incline for 50 minutes, 6 days a week most of the time. I thought I was covering my bases for good health.

I was wrong!

Research shows that even if you workout daily but sit the majority of the day you are at the same risk as if you were smoking:

“If you think that you’re doing your body good when you fit in an hour-long workout before or after a long day at your desk, think again. Even two hours of exercise a day will not compensate for spending twenty-two hours sitting on your derriere or lying in bed.

No matter how much you sweat it out during a daily hardcore workout (or, God forbid, save it all for the weekend), if you’re routinely sitting for hours at a time, you may as well be smoking.”*

I don’t know about you but I find myself sitting at my desk a lot—meetings, phone calls, email, writing, etc. That is risky behavior!

Given the research on the negative effects of sitting (and there is a lot of research on this topic), I decided to make a simple change. Here is what I do:

  • I work for 50 minutes and then go for a walk through the school for approximately 10 minutes. I do this daily every hour unless a meeting goes longer than an hour.

  • I talk on the phone standing up.

  • I try to have as many walking meetings as possible. Here is a link on the benefits of a walking meeting.

There is a Bonus!

Health was my motivation for taking the walking breaks. After a week of following this routine, I discovered two additional benefits.

  • I found myself less tired and more mentally alert. This increased my productivity. The amount of time I “lost” by walking around was more than made up by my alertness and ability to focus and think.

  • But there is more! Although not a new concept, I rediscovered the power of “Managing by Walking Around.” I have been far more visible to students and staff, I interact throughout the day with everyone on the campus, and I notice things to praise and things to be addressed.

Yes, There is an App. for That!

To help hold myself accountable I began searching for an inexpensive computer application that would reside in my menu bar out of the way, that would remind me to take breaks, that I could customize for how much time to work and how much time to take for a break, and that could be reset when needed. I found it.

I am using the app. “Healthier.” This is a Mac application but I am sure there is a comparable application for a Windows PC.

For a well written, non-technical guide to good health, check out A Short Guide to a Long Life.

So, get off your duff! It will be good for you and for your leadership!

  • Excerpt From: David B. Agus. “A Short Guide to a Long Life.” Simon & Schuster. iBooks.

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Thoughts at Thirty: A Journey From Vanity to Obscurity

Thoughts at Thirty: A Journey From Vanity to Obscurity

Guest Post by Rachel Blackmon Bryars

Invisible obsure prideThis is the last month I will spend as a 30-year-old. It is also the month after a pregnancy-related incident sent me to the hospital for four days, where doctors said things like, “This could have been fatal.” Both of these events have me thinking a lot about time these days. Specifically, what was I doing with my time when I was 20, and what am I doing with my time now? How have my heart and habits changed over the years, and has it been for the better? Melodrama aside, if I had died last month would God be pleased with how I spent my time?

Life is a structure we build, piece by piece, that takes the shape of what we love and what we spend our time doing. Our heart attitudes and mental habits are the raw materials we use during construction. Our worldview is the shade that colors the whole thing.

Ten years ago, I was spending my time building a structure that looked like a monument— a monument to me. Since my heart attitudes and mental habits were mostly self-centered, my monument was flimsy, built of cardboard. I loved the Lord, but my worldview centered on a quest for personal grandeur and fulfilled dreams instead of the pursuit of a faithful response to a loving God. You could say my cardboard monument was coated in deceptive glitter.

At 20 years old, I was a college student who poured my time into activities that brought me a sense of accomplishment: Earning good grades and awards, playing varsity soccer, heading up the school newspaper, interning for the local TV station, and auditioning for modeling jobs and roles in movies and commercials in Miami. The activities themselves may have been fine pursuits, but I placed too much emphasis on how puffed up they made me feel. I invested very little time in service. Some friends of mine spent a lot of time helping others, but their efforts seemed a bit boring. I went on mission trips and completed service projects for school, but mostly, I pursued activities that fueled my inflated sense of achievement.

When I graduated, I sent out audition tapes to TV news stations and even a reality TV show (hey, I may be 30, but technically, I am a millennial who relates all too well to some telling stereotypes of our generation). Out of my options, I chose the job I felt had the most promise and prestige because it was in a larger-than-entry-level media market. I was the lowest person on the totem pole as the weekend morning reporter, but I aspired to quickly move up, move to a larger station, and work my way into reporting for a national news network. I was certain my life was destined for super-grand things since I was such a special snowflake.

Pride Goes Before The Fall

As the Virginia leaves turned to crimson and soon after I celebrated my 22nd birthday, I found myself hunched down in the empty hallway of a local high school where I was reporting a story. I pulled out something I had stuffed in my purse that morning and intentionally not yet examined. Through the dim morning light that trickled in through the windows, I stared down at a pregnancy test. It was positive and I wore no ring.

In the months that followed, it was as if God held a flame to my cardboard monument— a purifying mercy that felt agonizing. I left my job and moved to Washington, D.C. to start a family. For the first time in my life, I spent the majority of my time in service to others— a husband and baby. It was a huge shock to my system and I alternated between outbursts of anger and depression. The structure of my time may have changed, but my heart attitudes, mental habits, and worldview were still largely the same. I kept looking over at the ashes of my monument, wishing I could rebuild it. I often let my mind jump on a negative train of thought that always led to despair: “This can’t be my life, this just can’t be my life.”

As my daughter grew into a toddler and another baby arrived, the lonely, monotonous days seemed to stretch into infinity with no end in sight. I felt the world was passing me by. I adored my kids, but felt sidelined into oblivion as a stay-at-home mother in a city where the first question is often, “Where do you work?” I decided I would look for a full-time job and start re-building my resume.

If Anyone Wishes to Come After Me, He Must Deny Himself

I began interviewing for work I thought would make me feel important. Still, something quiet and powerful whispered into my heart: “Come follow me. Take up your cross, don’t just tolerate it. Deny yourself. Join me in the unlovely place— washing dirty feet and meeting needs. No one else sees you, but I see you.” I felt a little ashamed that my “cross” was so lightweight compared to true suffering, but I still felt the acute pain that comes with parting with what we love. It hurt to spend my time in obscurity because I worshipped achievement. Perhaps God was urging me to let go of everything I wanted to be: talented, important, accomplished, and special and truly follow Him wherever it took me— even if that meant I went no further than the laundry room.

I wondered at God’s strange work. I had friends who longed to be stay-at-home mothers but felt called (or had) to work outside the home, and here I was, longing to work outside the home feeling called to cheerfully continue being a stay-at-home mother.[1] It seemed God was less concerned with how we spent our time as much as with how our hearts and minds were sanctified as we went about our work. It was clear my heart needed the humbling that came from working hard at something that brought no accolades and no attention. It seemed God wanted me to be at peace with my invisible position at home to transform my heart from its hard, self-centered posture into something more malleable and more content with loving and serving my family.

Be Transformed By the Renewing of Your Mind

The journey toward joy begins with a transformed heart and mind. Some essential new habits helped in the process. I began to replace my negative thoughts with thoughts of gratitude, such as, “I’m thankful my desire for a fulfilling career is a first world problem in the first degree.” Instead of focusing on the laboriousness of at-home work, I started paying attention to the little joys and pleasures, such as the ability to stop at a playground on a whim mid-day, or my alone time during naps. I began to suffocate envious thoughts that threatened to sap my soul and focused on taking sincere delight in other people’s accomplishments. I meditated on the truth that I am a speck in the scheme of time and eternity by reflecting on 1 Peter 1:24—“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers, and the flowers fall.” I also began to look for the humor that heals. Only a sprightly humorist could create toddlers, so on disaster days, I forced myself to laugh about the moments of insanity. Lastly, I refused to miss a week of Grace DC Presbyterian Church’s (PCA) mother’s study group in downtown D.C., where I gleaned strength from the wisest group of women I have ever known. Their companionship and godly examples sustained me more than they knew.

As my heart attitudes and mental habits started to change, so did my worldview. Loving and serving God by loving and serving others was transformed from a dull distraction into the main event. I’ll never forget standing in my kitchen one night after a long day. The kids were well fed and had been cozily tucked into bed. The house was clean and the laundry was done. I was exhausted, but a surprising thought sprang to my mind: “I enjoy this.” Thanks be to God.

Forgetting What Lies Behind and Reaching Forward

As we have added more children to our family, I have found more and more joy in the letting go—in losing my life to gain it. In the past eight years, I’ve pictured God asking me, “Rachel, if you never did much in your life besides be a faithful wife and mother, would you be okay if you knew that was what I had asked of you?” At first, the honest answer was no. Slowly, the answer has become yes. I still struggle. Some days I want the glittery cardboard back. Mostly, I want to be more like the men and women of our faith who have learned the secret to joy reflected in this excerpt from Bernadette Farrell’s hymn, “All That Is Hidden” (1957):

        If you would speak of me,

        live all your life in me.

        my ways are not the ways that you would choose;

        my thoughts are far beyond yours,

        as heaven from earth:

        If you believe in me my voice will be heard.

        If you would rise with me,

        rise through your destiny:

        do not refuse the death which brings you life,

        for as the grain in the earth

        must die for rebirth,

        So I have planted your life deep within mine.

        All that is hidden will be made clear.

        All that is dark now will be revealed.

I marvel at how much can change in ten years and how much God can change a heart. These days, I still spend the vast majority of my time working in the home and began homeschooling my oldest daughter for the first time this year. These vocations would have felt completely undesirable to me ten years ago. Now, this work is the source of my greatest joy, even when it gets rough. I feel like I am building something lovely and solid with my time because my heart posture has changed. In God’s loving mercy, there have even been cool opportunities for outside work now and then that involve a different goal than personal grandeur.

I wonder what the next ten years will bring. I wonder what else will change. I pray this will remain— that God will lead me to follow his blueprint, not my own. Even in the humbling, there is no other path to peace.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a writer and a mother of four (soon-to-be-five) children under the age of eight. She enjoys humor that pokes fun at millennials. Follow her on Twitter @RachelBryars.


[1] This is by no means meant to be a case for all mothers to stay at home. My personal sanctification has required much humbling, which has required being a stay-at-home mother. We are all on different journeys with different callings.

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What I Learned My First Year of Teaching

What I Learned My First Year of Teaching

Guest Article by Kari Mosbacker (missmosbacker.wordpress.com)

New TeacherWell, here we are. Nearly one year since my last blog post.

It’s amazing what you can learn in a year. A year can make you, break you, and change your life. My life has been irreparably changed. I waded into a most familiar, unfamiliar world. Let me explain.

I’ve been encapsulated in the educational sphere my whole life. I grew up with a father who is not only an educator, but a seasoned pro who travels the world consulting and is set to be a keynote speaker on Christian education in China this year. I’ve been behind the scenes for years. I’ve witnessed the triumphs, tragedies, and the occasional and unavoidable politics. I had a pretty good sense of what I was getting myself into.

No amount of insight, knowledge, or preparation could have prepared me for my first year of teaching. I was given a chance. There were people who took a chance on me, and it was something I vowed never to take for granted. It was the hardest year of my life, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I learned more in that year than all of my years combined. I survived it and so can you! Here is a short synopsis of what I learned:

Work Hard
Give it all you have. Everyday. You will mess up (goodness knows I made some mistakes). Learn from them, try to pick yourself back up, and work harder. Preparing lessons, making tests, grading, writing project rubrics, studying your material takes hours upon hours to prepare. Stick with it. Put in effort on the front end and it will pay dividends later.

Be a team player
The most important thing you can do as a teacher is remain teachable. You don’t know it all, so don’t act like you do. To be a good teacher, you have to be a good student. Some days you will want to vent to a colleague (or 7). Choose them carefully. Create bonds, but don’t become known as “The Complainer”. To do this ministry, you have to partake in a gospel-centered community as Christ intended.

Continue your education
Being in a classroom everyday has made me miss college very much. I enjoyed writing papers (most of the time). I enjoyed creating something by hand. I loved creating a thesis from something as simple as a coed’s scrapbook. It was like dreaming on paper. Keep stretching your knowledge of your subject matter. Staying stationary is a recipe for boredom. It’s hard to find the time for this, but do whatever you can. Read a book, watch a TED talk, take a class, get a degree.

Get sleep
Set a “bedtime”. Turn off your email. Sleep until eleven on a Saturday morning if you have to.

Rely on Jesus
This is the most important advice that I can give. You will be tested on this spiritual battlefield. Any weakness you have will be thrown in your face. The enemy will whisper, “You aren’t good enough.” Your only hope of survival is looking at his death. He made your atonement possible. You may fail, but He didn’t. Remind yourself of the gospel everyday. Love others in the best way you can. Anticipate their needs. Know when to seek help from others, whether from a professional counselor, your peers, an accountability partner, your spouse, family, or friends. You can’t do it alone. No one can.

As I embark on my second year, by no means do I have it all figured out. I will make mistakes this year. I will have to ask for forgiveness. I will have to beg the Lord to use me despite my shortcomings and failures, but I will give it my all. Why? Because “Jesus paid it all, so all to Him I owe.”

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What about Christian Schools and the Common Core?

What about Christian Schools and the Common Core?

Guest post by G. Boyd Chitwood, Ed.D.

common core One could take a Luddite/Troglodyte position and oppose the common core simply because it’s the government (federal or state) coming to help or because it’s trying to bring school systems which are sub-standard on average up to a reasonable standard above which many Christian and independent schools work all the time. We could use fightin’ words and obscurantist/elitist vernacular.

But let’s not, and not even say we did. Also, let’s focus. For a start, set aside the macro arguments of bringing public school systems up and consider that one another time. Also, for now, set aside the question of what part the common core might play in the practical future for Christian and independent schools (because no school will remain untouched by the core). Consider only the question of what part common core standards may or should have in the ideal future of Christian and independent schools.

Some burrow in on one area or another of the standards; for example, whether they forsake too much classic literature in favor of technically challenging but questionably valuable white paper writing. If we dig into the real challenges of understanding, contextualizing, communicating about, and creating arguments using truly difficult technical writing, we can’t so easily brush off the common core as a dumbing down of the curriculum. We can disagree from now ‘til Sunday with some choices made, but it’s not so simple just to call it simplified. Look, for example, at a 7th grade, criterion-referenced, end-of-course exam in the common core arsenal which calls the student to answer text-based questions from topically connected selections in history, persuasive argument and technical background. Challenging well the student’s analytical abilities, the test then turns to a synthetic challenge of weaving together multiple threads from the varied selections into a coherent whole as a position or argument or accessible portrait of an idea. That sort of assessment and expectation doesn’t lay so very far below the highest ideals in Christian and independent school curricula. Of course, a tough test question does not a consistently rigorous curriculum make. But let’s not dismiss it out of hand as “below us.”

Rhetorically, this curricular excursion might seem so far to set the stage for support of the common core standards as somehow useful for Christian and independent school education. I would say we should not remain ignorant of them, even as we should commit to know the best of action and fundamental research across the educational landscape while also including a savvy reconnaissance of what will affect that landscape, for our schools and all others.

BUT….yes, there it is….But, I would offer a challenge to the “standards” part more than the “common core” part. This is admittedly a glancing coverage of a deep and wide educational subject, but I offer a thought as perhaps a start at a more thorough consideration. There’s an instructive philosophical history to study on the pragmatism of Dewey and its effect on educational ideology. Perhaps even more light shines on the subject from review of the realist turn in fear of Sputnik advances. From this turn issued standards-based curricula and high stakes testing. So many are so used to dishing out so much invective against high stakes testing that little attention is paid to what standards themselves do.

Perhaps that sounds silly. Aren’t standards just another way of saying that we have high expectations for our students’ learning, and even more fundamentally, aren’t standards just a definition of goal-directed behavior in our teaching? This is not a monolithic subject but, fairly broadly, I would say “no”.

Standards are where so much of today’s curricular creation starts. Lessons are built from or around or correlated with standards. And the standards being used are relatively low-level, highly analytic sub-sub categories of broader strands describing student behaviors and abilities. Standards which birth instructional lessons and units are analytically derived component parts taken as necessarily constitutive of the ‘whole’ of strands behaviors. The synthetically perceived “educated student” is seen as an almost necessary byproduct of the student trained in skill after skill and content nugget after content nugget.

Even more, when we start with standards we work our way back through a series of lessons which almost always make a constant velocity assumption about students and their learning. Program my pacing to cover my standards through the given instructional time on task. I’m jumping quickly here, but consider whether the learning done by real children isn’t more a problem or opportunity in acceleration, to speak from the descriptions of physics. We gain traction with student learning early-on and then build momentum. As engaged learners, students – well taught and lead – seek out much of the learning for themselves as we guide them in activities which call for greater learning to reach personally affirmed goals of understanding and communicating, of doing and creating.

Don’t we in the Christian and independent school seek to start with the student, directing our attention to the lofty goals of higher learning, and equipping the student along the way to continue pursuing that higher ground. All so much vacuity and vain imaginings?

Look with a colder eye on the process of connecting standards with classroom activities. I find the process missing students rather than connecting with them when executed by all but the most masterful of teachers. And those teachers can connect all the more completely and effectively if they have a synthetically understood picture of a student well-trained, relationally engage the student they have today in class, and pursue rich and real teaching and learning with the student along that growth path.

Does any of it ring true to you? Does it speak to what we treasure in the Christian and independent school above most all else? Does it touch upon the fundamentals of teaching as such rather than just in a particular school setting? Teachers and students as the heart and soul of every day and every action. Teachers and standards left in great measure to the textbook researchers, the curriculum committees and the test creators. Standards most certainly have their role, but is it as daily guide to the teacher?

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11 Simple Concepts to Become a Better Leader

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The following article is posted with permission from Dave Kerpen. Mr. Kerpen is the New York Times bestselling author of two books, Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business.

As you read this article, replace “customer or client” with parent and/or student. Substitute business for school. In doing so you will discover how relevant this principles are to leading a Christian School.

11 Simple Concepts to Become a Better Leader
Being likeable will help you in your job, business, relationships, and life. I interviewed dozens of successful business leaders for my last book, to determine what made them so likeable and their companies so successful. All of the concepts are simple, and yet, perhaps in the name of revenues or the bottom line, we often lose sight of the simple things – things that not only make us human, but can actually help us become more successful. Below are the eleven most important principles to integrate to become a better leader:

1. Listening

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. – Ernest Hemingway

Listening is the foundation of any good relationship. Great leaders listen to what their customers and prospects want and need, and they listen to the challenges those customers face. They listen to colleagues and are open to new ideas. They listen to shareholders, investors, and competitors.

2. Storytelling

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. -Robert McAfee Brown

After listening, leaders need to tell great stories in order to sell their products, but more important, in order to sell their ideas. Storytelling is what captivates people and drives them to take action. Whether you’re telling a story to one prospect over lunch, a boardroom full of people, or thousands of people through an online video – storytelling wins customers.

3. Authenticity

I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier. -Oprah Winfrey

Great leaders are who they say they are, and they have integrity beyond compare. Vulnerability and humility are hallmarks of the authentic leader and create a positive, attractive energy. Customers, employees, and media all want to help an authentic person to succeed. There used to be a divide between one’s public self and private self, but the social internet has blurred that line. Tomorrow’s leaders are transparent about who they are online, merging their personal and professional lives together.

4. Transparency

As a small businessperson, you have no greater leverage than the truth. -John Whittier

There is nowhere to hide anymore, and businesspeople who attempt to keep secrets will eventually be exposed. Openness and honesty lead to happier staff and customers and colleagues. More important, transparency makes it a lot easier to sleep at night – unworried about what you said to whom, a happier leader is a more productive one.

5. Team Playing

Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds. -SEAL Team Saying

No matter how small your organization, you interact with others every day. Letting others shine, encouraging innovative ideas, practicing humility, and following other rules for working in teams will help you become a more likeable leader. You’ll need a culture of success within your organization, one that includes out-of-the-box thinking.

6. Responsiveness

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. -Charles Swindoll

The best leaders are responsive to their customers, staff, investors, and prospects. Every stakeholder today is a potential viral sparkplug, for better or for worse, and the winning leader is one who recognizes this and insists upon a culture of responsiveness. Whether the communication is email, voice mail, a note or a tweet, responding shows you care and gives your customers and colleagues a say, allowing them to make a positive impact on the organization.

7. Adaptability

When you’re finished changing, you’re finished. -Ben Franklin

There has never been a faster-changing marketplace than the one we live in today. Leaders must be flexible in managing changing opportunities and challenges and nimble enough to pivot at the right moment. Stubbornness is no longer desirable to most organizations. Instead, humility and the willingness to adapt mark a great leader.

8. Passion

The only way to do great work is to love the work you do. -Steve Jobs

Those who love what they do don’t have to work a day in their lives. People who are able to bring passion to their business have a remarkable advantage, as that passion is contagious to customers and colleagues alike. Finding and increasing your passion will absolutely affect your bottom line.

9. Surprise and Delight

A true leader always keeps an element of surprise up his sleeve, which others cannot grasp but which keeps his public excited and breathless. -Charles de Gaulle

Most people like surprises in their day-to-day lives. Likeable leaders under promise and over deliver, assuring that customers and staff are surprised in a positive way. We all like to be delighted — surprise and delight create incredible word-of-mouth marketing opportunities.

10. Simplicity

Less isn’t more; just enough is more. -Milton Glaser

The world is more complex than ever before, and yet what customers often respond to best is simplicity — in design, form, and function. Taking complex projects, challenges, and ideas and distilling them to their simplest components allows customers, staff, and other stakeholders to better understand and buy into your vision. We humans all crave simplicity, and so today’s leader must be focused and deliver simplicity.

11. Gratefulness

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. -Gilbert Chesterton

Likeable leaders are ever grateful for the people who contribute to their opportunities and success. Being appreciative and saying thank you to mentors, customers, colleagues, and other stakeholders keeps leaders humble, appreciated, and well received. It also makes you feel great! Donor’s Choose studied the value of a hand-written thank-you note, and actually found donors were 38% more likely to give a 2nd time if they got a hand-written note!

The Golden Rule: Above all else, treat others as you’d like to be treated.

By showing others the same courtesy you expect from them, you will gain more respect from coworkers, customers, and business partners. Holding others in high regard demonstrates your company’s likeability and motivates others to work with you. This seems so simple, as do so many of these principles — and yet many people, too concerned with making money or getting by, fail to adopt these key concepts.

Which of these principles are most important to you — what makes you likeable?

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