As head of school, I often find myself standing at the entrance of our building greeting our students as they arrive. Most of the time, I find myself giving high fives, hugs, and smiles as we chat about the upcoming day. I also am able to catch up with the classes as the students make their way to the lunch room. Sitting down with them, I get to hear stories about their life, catch up on the latest and greatest, or even take part in a create-your-own-adventure story. These interactions with my students are by far the favorite part of my job. I soak it up and relish the opportunity to just be present and let them know that an adult, who isn’t mom or dad, cares about them.
Often, we are taught that the most important thing we can do as leaders in education is to ensure that we are creating a rigorous academic program – led by expert teachers with classrooms full of curriculum aligned to standards, coursework aligned to match or exceed that of our state standards. We are told that we have to prove ourselves worthy in a system that is governed today by a machine that was created to churn out identical thinkers – kids who will be the square peg in the square hole. The paradigm of education today is conformity not uniqueness and individuality. There is no longer any room for going outside of the standards and teaching the common-sense concepts that kids need to know. Instead, there is only the perpetuated mediocracy of the curriculum moving our world forward into the bleakness of uniformity.
I see it on the shoulders of our students. The burden that our kids are carrying – one after another walks in with a down trodden look ready to begin yet another day of academic study. I see it in the lack of interpersonal skills as kids struggle to build appropriate friendships while learning that there is give and take in all that we do together. I see it in the disrespect towards parents and authority figures. I asked myself recently a question that challenged my personal philosophies: Have we missed it?
The answer was simple yet so complex. We have missed it in the fact that we have modeled our academic institutions after a system that is already failing. Look at our Christian schools and compare it to the public school across the street – we have days created to mimic the traditional. From academic subjects to schedules, gradebooks to report cards – we are of the same system. What currently sets us apart? Is it the fact that we add chapel to our day? Intermix a prayer over our lunch? Maybe add a bible class into the mix? Even in doing that – we find ourselves monitoring the progress of those items with the same tools that our public-school counterpart thrives in: lesson plans, lectures, assessments and grades.
We have students that are begging for something different. Something more. We have students that want deeper relationships with those around them, teachers to care for more than just grades and academic progress. We have students that want to know their creator and experience His love and goodness in ways that they could never imagine. We have students who want to hear that it is completely ok to lay the daily burden down at the feet of Christ – being set free to focus on the destiny that the Cross empowers them to achieve.
Please know that I am in no way saying that academic development is not important – but it is less important than the spiritual formation which provides the foundation for EVERYTHING else. Here at HCA, we want to develop students who first love God and others authentically.
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40
We want our kids to excel not because of self-driven desires for wealth and status, but because of a desire to love those around us – living courageously and taking every opportunity to impact a life for the Kingdom. And yes – we do want our students to think deeply, applying themselves to the work that God brings us to. As our student’s spiritual foundation is set like concrete, the necessary framework of academic success can be built! And that my friends, is the way education should be.