Life quickly becomes the curriculum in our classrooms. Week after week Christina, your second-grade student, misses school; her headaches turn out to be a brain tumor. One of your colleagues arrives home after school to find her sixty-year-old husband dead on the floor from a heart attack. When you ask José why he has been absent so much, he hesitatingly admits it’s because his mother is afraid that the ICE agents seen in the area are looking for undocumented residents. Middle-schooler David is withdrawn and distant; after conversations with the school counselor, you learn he’s pretty sure he’s gay—and he’s afraid. Fear, anxiety, and sadness are everyday visitors in our classrooms, along with the frisson of joy and laughter.
With our constant access to news, we are more aware than ever of school shootings, kidnappings, destructive storms, the plight of refugees, and other global horrors. Some of our students walk a gauntlet of potential violence on their way to school every day and fear going outside after dark. For some children, darkness comes early. For others, with “helicopter” parents, darkness may be an unexpected intrusion on a sheltered and privileged life.
Leading through the Darkness
In schools that are communities of grace, we learn to walk in the dark together. We shouldn’t be surprised when the darkness comes. When Jesus told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), he was speaking from personal experience. How do we create a culture in which we learn to walk in the dark together? As followers of Jesus we are pilgrims learning to live and love well: to speak the truth in love, to reach out to those on the margins, and, eventually, to die well.
But we adults can only lead well in these circumstances if we are practicing spiritual disciplines.
Barton, Ruth Haley. Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008.
Brooks, David. The Road to Character. New York: Random House, 2015.
Nouwen, Henri. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: Doubleday, 1975.
Rohr, Richard. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.
Pilgrim, teacher, learner, husband, father, grandfather, mentor, coach, friend, Bruce Hekman (PhD) has taught, led schools, developed curriculum and the people who use them. He is happily the husband of Ruth, with whom he has learned to walk in the dark.