The adventure of grafting Teaching for Transformation (TfT) into our school culture, while intimidating, is at the heart of the work we are called to do as leaders in Christian schools. That work is summarized well in one of the commands from Micah 6:8: “Act justly.” By choosing to implement TfT, we are inviting, nurturing, and empowering our entire school community to create a more just world. We are inviting parents to see biblical justice as essential to an excellent education. We are nurturing students who not only think about justice seeking but also are empowered to be justice seekers. We are equipping teachers to create more just classrooms, curricula, and learning experiences, for justice is at the heart of the gospel. It is not optional. And so as school leaders, we must also heed the command and act justly.
What Is Justice?
We are inclined to narrowly define justice around concepts of material poverty or lack of social freedoms. In The Justice Calling, Hoang and Johnson point out, “God calls his holy people to seek justice on behalf of those living farthest from his vision of shalom so that all in the community might flourish” (27). Justice defined broadly is about creating space for all God’s creation to thrive. Any work Christians do to steward the world toward shalom and into order brings justice and righteousness. Most specifically, creating space for all humans, each made in the image of God, to flourish is the work of acting justly.
Last year I was vacationing in California near a state park along the ocean, and every morning my walk led me to the end of the park where I turned around at an ivy covered wall and headed back. The last morning among the ivy on the wall, I saw a gleam. I pulled the ivy back and in the wall was a bronze sculpture of a hand doing half a high-five. Someone thought this park that ended in a big block wall needed this little sculpture so that there was something more than a wall when you turned around. This art was a simple act of justice because it allowed people’s lives, for however brief a moment, to be more like God intended. We all, including our students, have a call to bring justice to the world.
How Do We as School Leaders Act Justly?
Effective school leaders create an environment where the people around them thrive and flourish. By seeing our role as creating a more just school where people are encouraged to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, we are nurturing meaningful, life-giving work for teachers and students to do. We are allowing them to climb into an epic story and have the adventure God created for them. Here are five key principles for creating a more just, righteous, and flourishing environment in your Christian school and, by extension, the community around your school.
Set Time for Regular Reflection. Regular times of reflection on our work as leaders will create flourishing. In Reaching Out Henri Nouwen says, “When we live with a solitude of heart, we can listen with attention to the words and worlds of others” (38). In this desire for flourishing, TfT incorporates specific practices that encourage students and teachers to reflect on their role in God’s story. These same practices are vital for our leadership. We need to slow down and ask questions of ourselves: What have I learned? Does what I am doing as a leader create space for flourishing? Is there a new path that I need to explore in my leadership so that I act justly?
Second, leaders need to spend time in solitude and silence, much as Jesus modeled in retreating to the mountains.
Crouch, Andy. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017.
Hoang, Bethany Hanke, and Kristen Deede Johnson. The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016.
Nouwen, Henri J. M. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: Doubleday, 1986.
Spencer, John, and A. J. Juliani. Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student. San Diego: Dave Burgess Consulting, 2016.
Jim Peterson has worked in Christian schools as a science and math teacher and as a technology coordinator. He currently serves as head of school at South Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.