Picture yourself as teaching in a country in turmoil. Due to environmental factors such as war, civil unrest, natural disaster or major economic crises, the basic questions in life bedevil even the youngest student. How does a teacher strive for excellence when the world around is falling apart?
Praying for Adventist schools where countries are in turmoil, I reflect on teaching and leading a school during hyperinflation and civil unrest in the Congo. When change is no one’s choice, consider these 8 ways to strive for excellence:
- Give God a chance. We cannot help students respond with resilience when we are not replenishing our reserves. Acknowledge God, who is ready to direct our paths. Believing God’s promises to care for us even in the shadow of death comforts, calms, and restores. Sharing God’s plans and promises can rekindle hope and purpose amidst the unknowns.
- Continue to make vision-driven decisions. This is not a time for divided loyalties or lengthy debate over policies and procedures. With the school’s purpose clearly in mind, consider available information about the turmoil or trauma. Then, keeping our team involved, prayerfully decide on the best next steps. Teachers who treat each student as an individual with great potential, not settling for less in tough circumstances, will best help students thrive through challenging circumstances.
- Make time for personal renewal. When stressful situations disrupt, seek new times and ways to continue daily life and health routines. While we cannot control events, we can control their effect on our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Reduce stress by taking a five-minute nap, breathing deeply for a minute, contracting and expanding body muscles, and other simple personal renewal activities.
- Communicate and continue. Under tenuous conditions, re-establish school security and emergency networks daily. Increase communication with staff, students, parents, and stakeholders. Continue the school routine for the stability of the community and the students as long as possible.
- Prioritize and document. Plan for smaller units of study and teach core units first, prepared for disruptions to the academic calendar. We documented progress each week with short narrative reports that would be easier for other teachers to follow, if we were evacuated, closed school, or families had to relocate.
- Support each other. Hold short staff meetings daily to pray and share information impacting the school situation. Make team decisions, supporting flexible solutions, adapting creatively. Talk about and teach resilience.
- Re-establish classroom climate often. Fear of life-threatening situations or the unknown inhibits and exhausts. We reordered the schedule to begin with a combined music, art, worship, and writing class each morning. Students arrived at school with questions that parents were too busy trying to survive to answer. This first hour provided students with time to debrief, express themselves through drawing or writing in ways teachers could better understand what they were grappling with, and prayerfully adjust learning activities to help students thrive. We also implemented a buddy system, where student partners shared what they were thinking a lot about.
- Make positive memories. As disasters often disrupt weekly cycles and special occasions, facilitate simple celebrations in the moment. Model a growth mindset and an attitude of gratitude. Play a favorite game or celebrate a birthday in a new way. Sharing personal experiences that help students recognize God’s leading in the past can reassure them of His continued presence even through the unknown present and future.
When civil unrest erupted after months of tense unrest, most students and their families were evacuated. While this disrupted the school year, students and staff alike had learned to live the Serenity Prayer, accepting what we could not change, asking God for courage to change the things we could, and wisdom to know the difference.