As we near the end of this remarkable school year, hopefully also nearing the end of this COVID-enforced quarantine, we all have the opportunity (if we’ll take it) to reflect on what has happened to us, and what God has done through us.
Much has been said already about virtual learning, about how, by God’s grace, our school was able to convert its delivery model of education from in-class instruction to an online platform over the few days of an extended spring break. On multiple occasions over the past several weeks, people have marveled at how that occurred. They have asked me how we pulled it off. They have also commented on how they and their children have felt cared for and loved by the teachers, administrators, staff, and families in our school, despite being physically apart. People have asked how we have been able to reproduce that “Grace experience” outward, beyond the four walls of our school building.
As the weeks pressed onward, it became obvious that what was happening at our school wasn’t the norm. Something special was happening here; kids were being educated, and we were all loving each other and, by extension, the community around us, all in a way unique to our community. So, as we near the end of the school year, and we reflect back on it, how did that happen?
There’s an old saying by the novelist James Lane Allen- “Adversity does not build character; it reveals it.” While it’s clearly biblical that trials actually build godly character, difficult times do shine the light on who one is. This is true for individuals and for organizations. The simple answer in our case is that, when faced with a global pandemic that came to our neighborhood, we all went to who we already were.
For years, we’ve been talking about Grace being a place that “teaches Jesus.” We talk about what that means all the time, every day at school. We talk about the implications in how we live and in how we work; we tell stories of “teaching Jesus” lived out in the lives of our teachers, our parents, and in our students. And, “teaching Jesus” is so much more than some sort of Sunday school platitude. It has deep and profound meaning that reveals itself in times of crisis.
Teaching Jesus means we are a “redemptive community.” So, when we say we love, we mean it. We don’t just love people who are easy to love, who tell us how wonderful we are, but also people who are completely stressed out by being trapped at home, and whose anxiety causes them to lash out, saying things they don’t really mean, even things that are hurtful. Love causes us to forgive and always ultimately think the best of each other, to reach out and take care when we want to run away or avoid. Loving like this, over time, means families and kids feel safe, and when kids feel safe, they feel free to learn, to question, to challenge, to risk. Love like this creates comfort and consistency, even in the midst of chaos.
So, whether it’s the elementary school teacher dressed like a unicorn visiting her students, or the high school teachers traveling around town in a pickup like a circus troupe because they miss their kids, or the teacher who came to my house to bring my senior baking fanatic a cookbook, or middle school teachers brainstorming on how to bring the fun of middle school into kids’ living rooms, redemptive community means loving like Jesus loves. Love that is real and sometimes difficult, but felt deeply.
Teaching Jesus is also “educational sanctification.” This means, among other things, becoming constantly better than we once were in educating kids. It means admitting we didn’t do some things well in the past accordance to what God has revealed to us now, even if we were doing what the world calls “successful.” Educational sanctification means constantly growing and giving our kids an education steeped in God’s Word and His truth.
And, all year, we’ve been working on things like how to better integrate technology into our teaching practices. We’ve been working on ensuring we are teaching more deeply, rather than simply “getting through the material;” we’ve been discovering how to be creative in assessing student work, rather than relying only on pen-and-paper tests. Most of all, it means developing a growth mindset, one in which teachers are constantly growing and challenging themselves to learn and innovate and become better, rather than a fixed mindset, just resting on what has worked in the past. All of which meant, when COVID-19 hit and we were driven to virtual learning, Grace teachers and administrators, completely unaware of what was coming, were already well on their way to practicing the skills and mindset that would be necessary to shift to virtual learning, and do so quickly. All because educational sanctification, becoming better than we once were, required it.
Finally, teaching Jesus is about “life as worship,” which means everything we do, from the brick-and-mortar classroom to the virtual classroom, is our act of worship of the Lord, who is worthy of all our praise. How you raise your kids, how you shepherd and allowed us to partner with you through this, and took what we were able to bring and helped hold your kids accountable to it, was your act of worship to the Lord. And, our God is worthy of our firstfruits, our very best.
This is why none of us could see COVID-19 and the resulting quarantine coming and just call the school year “good,” folding up our tents and putting an end to the semester, or simply phoning it in with worksheets and a pass/fail system and no real accountability for learning. Because that’s not what is best for kids, and that’s not what honors God, given what He’s given our school community. And, God is worthy of our best, and giving our kids our best is the greatest way we know to proclaim He is God and we are His. That’s why we still graded, and that’s why it still mattered- so your kids would be ready to roll in the fall, as much as possible as if this pandemic had never happened. We as educators, and you as parents, owed our best to our kids and to our God. And, that’s what we all gave. Because life is worship.
None of this just happened. We didn’t all suddenly and spontaneously become these things as a community after spring break. It’s who we’ve been all along, and what we’ve been talking about and thinking about and living for years. Whether your kids tell you about it or not, it’s what happens every day in the classrooms and hallways at Grace. It just became more evident because it was played out in your breakfast room, rather than at school.
So, when the coronavirus hit and we were in quarantine and scattered to the four winds, our teachers and administrators already knew what to do. “Leading” them meant getting rid of roadblocks, getting out of their way, and cheering them on. Because in everything we did in school, just like everything you did at home, we were just “teaching Jesus,” fostering redemptive community, pressing forward with educational sanctification, and living life as worship. Like we had all along. All this just revealed who we are.