As a Christian school principal what is the most valuable thing for me to do in my day? I believe that principals have one of the toughest jobs going, balancing many needs, wearing many hats, and if really effective, doing the tough things of leadership as opposed to avoiding conflict and just reacting to daily fires. Given the fact that there are limited hours in the day, what is the most effective way for principals to allocate their time? This was a question I pondered each day of my eleven years as a building principal and over my 28 years in education.
I will admit that I have changed my mind on the answer to this question over the course of my career. One certainly could argue that the answer might be dealing with students, keeping parents or boards happy, raising money, or doing teacher observations. Yet, I believe that if I had to sum it up I would say it this way: The best use of time and the greatest joy of a Christian school principal is . . .
Encouraging the encouragers to nurture faith in students.
In a Christian school it is all about nurturing faith – it is why a Christian school exists. If the education delivered in a Christian school is not challenging students to see God in all things then it may as well close its doors and give up on its mission.
How is faith nurtured in students? A principal must encourage his/her teachers to pay close attention to, and assist them in, three areas:
Curriculum – how am I helping my students see God through the study of this subject? How do we see brokenness and redemption in this discipline? What is God’s intention for this aspect of his created order? How might we be a part of his plan to restore it?
Classroom – how am I modeling faith and how do my pedagogical practices encourage faith in students?
Community – is my classroom modeling Christ’s law of loving God and loving neighbors? How am I contributing to the professional community in my school? How is our school impacting our community?
The job of the principal is to be the chief carrier of the mission and vision of the school, and if he/she focuses on the three areas listed above they will be on the path to greater distinctiveness in meeting the mission and vision of their Christian school.
Now to unpack the first part of that statement “encouraging the encouragers.” The primary task of the principal is to encourage the teachers who are encouraging the students in faith encouraging learning. Teaching is a complex endeavor, one that leads to much second-guessing on the part of conscientious and sensitive teachers – likely those on your staff who are doing the best jobs already with kids. The more complex the work, the more room there is for discouragement by the teacher and the more need there is for encouragement by the principal. The effects of encouragement have been well documented in business literature by authors such as DePree and Welch. Goleman in his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, reminds us through his citation of multiple studies that the leaders who are most effective are those who are warm, encouraging, and genuinely care for their followers. Management consultant Kevin Cashman suggests a ratio of 5 “praises” to 1 “criticism ” in our interactions with those we supervise. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, his words of grace allowed others to be liberated to try again and created the ultimate environments of grace in which people could flourish. It is the Christian school principal’s special joy to be an agent of encouragement to those who encourage and nurture faith in students.