Healthy Communication

Linguist Deborah Tannen once wrote that male-female communication is like cross-cultural communication. She explained that boys and girls grow up in their same-sex groups communicating in ways that are fitting for their respective groups. However, when they venture out of these same-sex groups and attempt to communicate with someone of the opposite sex, they quickly find out that they are, essentially, speaking different languages. And, unless the two sides can meet in the middle when it comes to communication expectations, marriages will continue to be at risk.

One could argue that schools are in the same predicament. While all the individuals in the school are working together toward the common goal of educating students, these individuals belong to different groups, each with its own means of communicating. While crossover between students, teachers, and administrators takes place regularly, members of these groups find themselves, often out of necessity, spending a majority of their time communicating within their own groups: students with other students, teachers with other teachers, administrators with other administrators.

As with the same-sex groups of children, these groups within the school have their own ways of communicating that are particular to their own groups. Problems often arise, however, when individuals leave their groups of like individuals to communicate with one of the other groups. Due to differing communication styles, often arising out of differing needs and concerns, students feel misunderstood by teachers and administrators, teachers by administrators and students, and administrators by students and teachers.

In the same way that a marriage will continue to struggle unless both sides can meet in the middle, the school community will struggle to be unified unless all involved will accept that the way their group communicates is not the only, or necessarily the best, way to communicate. Instead, all involved, especially in Christian circles, need to extend grace across boundaries and be empathetic to the concerns of others.

As Christian teachers and administrators, those to whom students look for models of empathy and grace, we need to heed the words of the apostle Paul and “(speak) the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15a, emphasis added). Too often, we are more than willing to “(speak) the truth,” as we see it, but we forget about that all-important phrase “in love” because we are too caught up in our own interests, or we fail to acknowledge that our perspective of “the truth,” in any given situation, is likely not complete. Only when we choose to communicate in a loving manner, in spite of our disagreements and differing perspectives, will we “grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15b).

One individual who modeled thoughtful communication well and worked to foster these traits in Christian schools during his time with the Christian Educators Journal, was former CEJ editor, Gary VanArragon. During his six years as editor (fall of 2010 through the spring of 2016), Gary facilitated thoughtful conversations in ways that would, if we would allow them, help those of us in Christian education learn how to better communicate with and understand our students as well as our fellow teachers and administrators. Focusing on topics as varied as creating healthy workplaces and considering the implementation of project-based learning, to opening our arms to our bullied and LGBTQ students, Gary truly served as a “steward of words” (McEntyre 9).

In response to Gary’s contributions to the CEJ and in honor of his recent retirement, we felt that an issue focused on promoting healthy communication in Christian education would be a fitting place to honor Gary. As you read, enjoy the selections of Gary’s work that have been included as well as Bill Boerman-Cornell’s tribute to Gary.

The best way for me and Bill to honor Gary will be to publish issues of the Christian Educators Journal that continue to add to the conversations that he and others before him have begun concerning the mission of Christian education. We humbly accept this responsibility.

McEntyre, Marilyn. Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. Eerdmans, 2009. Print.

Tannen, Deborah. “Sex, Lies, and Conversation: Why Is It So Hard for Men and Women to Talk to Each Other?” The Washington Post, 24 June 1990: C3, Accessed 3 Oct. 2016.