2020 - The Year of Teaching in the Wilderness [AWSA Author Series]

by Demetri Beekman, Director of Equity and Educator Development School District of Waukesha 

The landscape of education in the United States, specifically dating back to March of 2020, has been the most challenging and unpredictable facing both a health and cultural pandemic simultaneously. COVID-19 and social justice issues continue to sweep through our nation causing more barriers for educators to eliminate the opportunity gap. There has been a frantic cry for help for years by educators to receive additional support even before our world was turned upside down with schools transitioning to virtual instruction with little or no warning at all.

Today, many students are arriving with severe trepidation and schools are not prepared to handle or have the necessary resources to ensure students get what they need to counteract the circumstances they are facing. The need for educators and school leaders across the world to receive a sense of hope, encouragement, inspiration, and faith is now. To support educators, a daily devotional was written to motivate and remind those working with children they are not alone during this process.

Teaching in the Wilderness is a book that incorporates biblical principles that can be applied by leaders in their daily practice to achieve their long-term and short-term goals. Throughout the book, there are several points, but I would like to focus on 5 areas that can instantly impact anyone who applies these key principles.

1. Lead with the Heart (SEL) – Social Emotional Learning is vital for school leaders and you must be in a good position yourself to lead others. As author Ken Blanchard eludes to in his book, Lead Like Jesus, “leadership is a spiritual matter of the heart.” All of your actions and the words you speak comes from your heart. You must guard your heart from becoming hardened, bitter, resentful, vindictive, and keep it fleshly and pure. Guard your heart so you can display acts of joy, kindness, forgiveness and love. Remember, you have to give out what you expect to return. Be the example for those you lead. Whatever is in your heart, will come out of your mouth and be seen in your actions. Is your heart made of flesh or is it covered with stone that needs to be chiseled away? Proverbs 4:23

2. Encourager (Building Capacity) - A good leader has many qualities and knows how to motivate their team. But one of the most important characteristics is to add value to others. Being available and helping others become better by pulling out their gifts and talents is a sign of true leadership. Personal growth and development should be at the forefront of your calling. Who did you add value to today? Who did you motivate to become uncomfortable to push them to their next level? 1 Peter 4:10

3. Influencer (Perception Data from Students/Teachers) - Life and death are in the power of the tongue so how you speak to others is very important. Are the words you speak positive, inspiring, building up or tearing down? Are they encouraging or belittling, supportive or disrespectful? As leaders, you are a chosen group of special servants to mold and shape future leaders by helping them recognize their gifts and talents. Words do matter, so how will you use the power of your words to motivate those around you? Ephesians 4:29

4. Empathic Leader (School Culture) - The qualities of being an empathic leader are extremely important because it plays a huge role in many areas when dealing with people, but especially with children, parents, and teachers. Empathy helps you create bonds, gives insight, guides you understanding, helps you become a better listener, and communicator. By incorporating empathy into your daily practice, you can finetune your skills to become a more active listener, activate your discerning spirit, and assist versus trying to control and fix a certain situation. Hebrews 6:10

5. Collaboration (PLC) – There is no isolation in education as George Couros mentioned, “Education is a team sport.” Who are your teachers collaborating with during the year to stay ahead of the game? Are you scheduling common planning time for teachers to ensure complete alignment with school goals? Education should not be done in isolation so connect with colleagues and peers to lighten the load. You have the ability to connect with your peers to share best practices, systems and structures that have made a positive difference because collaboration will increase productivity of the group. Ecclesiastes 4:9

Lastly, there is only one individual who can walk with you through death’s dark valley and bring you safely to the other side; the God of life, your shepherd. God will put you in situations He knows you can handle even if it seems out of control in your eyes. The school you are leading was chosen for you by God. He is the author and finisher for those who diligently seek Him. Who are you seeking when things get rough or in times of need? Seek God because He has the answers. You are not alone.