Never Waste a Crisis
by Ed Noot, SCSBC Executive Director ◊
Never Waste a Good Crisis was the title of a 2009 report written by Andrew Wolstenholme on the British construction industry’s performance. The title of that report has become an oft quoted leadership mantra; and rightly so, for a crisis provides unique leadership opportunities that ought to be seized.
Perhaps the quote has never been more appropriate than in 2020 – when the world finds itself gripped in multiple crises, particularly the covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
A crisis has a way of exposing vulnerabilities and myths. Our pre-pandemic way of living included inexpensive and readily available travel, worldwide economic, social, and cultural interconnectedness. The Novel Coronavirus has exposed our collective vulnerability! Few could have imagined the extensive impact a virus such as covid-19 would have on our lifestyle and economy. Statements that refer to God’s sovereignty, such as in the Canadian national anthem (God keep our land, glorious and free) or on US currency (In God We Trust), ring hollow as our leaders put their trust in science to find a way through the pandemic. Trust in science and God are not mutually exclusive, of course, but a crisis has a way of exposing myths in our culture.
The BLM movement has exposed our limited societal commitment to moral imperatives articulated in our foundational documents. The famous (or perhaps infamous) line in the US Declaration of Independence states, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms contains parallel language, stating, Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
The BLM movement has exposed the reality that our lofty foundational principles do not always match the lived experience of those who call our lands home, causing us to ask if our principles are mythical hopeless ideals or foundational principles that we embrace and actualize.
As leaders in Christian education, let us not waste the crisis that we are experiencing in 2020. Astute leaders will use these crises to evaluate our vulnerabilities and to expose our own myths.
The pandemic arrived suddenly causing a very rapid worldwide shift to online learning. Online learning is not a new concept and many educators have dabbled with it in the past; however few have fully embraced it. The pandemic resulted in a sudden shift towards online learning that many schools were ill-equipped to handle. This shift exposed a vulnerability in our technological understanding and infrastructure. It also exposed the myth of our pedagogical prowess and flexibility. Many schools like to frame their commitment to 21st century learning – but the pandemic causes us to pause and ask, have we embraced 21st century learning or merely dabbled with it while operating almost entirely out of a very traditional pedagogy and school structure?
During this pandemic, we have also seen the Black Lives Matter movement continue to spread worldwide. I trust that this movement has the attention of Christian school leaders. The movement seeks to expose racism that is embedded in society and our institutions, including Christian schools.
BLM has already exposed the vulnerability that some students in Christian schools face in light of implicit and explicit racism. May we have the courage to respond with grace, compassion, and an unrelenting effort to dignify all who bear the sacred image of God.
Courageous Christian school leaders will also ask what organizational myths BLM exposes. Many of our schools include mission, vision, or admissions statements indicating that all are welcome, and all are cared for. Do we have the courage to ask our students, parents, and staff if this statement rings true with their lived experience at our school? And if the response exposes these statements as organizational myths, will we have the fortitude to initiate change?
Many Christian schools also indicate that they equip students for lives of service, empowering them to engage culture with the transforming power of Jesus. BLM will cause bold leaders to pause and ask if this statement is myth or reality at their Christian school.
How is service and cultural engagement shaped by the ugly truth that BLM has exposed? How are Christian schools serving the vulnerable and engaging with a view to a society that values all humans, because all bear the sacred image of God (Gen. 1: 26-28). How do our Christian schools reflect the radical inclusivity of Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11? How do we comport ourselves as Paul teaches in Colossians 3:12 -14?
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Since we embrace a vision of radical compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience bound together in love, we are compelled to ensure that these values are reflected in our school community. We are further compelled to find authentic ways to share this radical vision with our neighbours, fellow citizens, community organizations, and policy makers, thereby being a transforming influence on those around us.
Since the pandemic has restricted travel, and likely will for some time in the future, perhaps now is the perfect time for Christian schools to redirect energy and funds earmarked for international service projects towards local needs, so that increasingly our schools are engaged in parts of our local communities, serving those in need, and advocating for justice for those who are marginalized and oppressed.
Never waste a good crisis – now more than ever this leadership mantra offers us a chance to address vulnerabilities and myths that have been exposed by our current circumstances. James Gimbel, President of Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Edmonton, Alberta provides us with a useful framework for processing change during a crisis. He suggests that we:
Reflect on what is most important
Release what is unnecessary
Retain what is most needful
Retool for what is essential in our mission
(James Gimbel – Paradigm Shift 2020, p. 19 in Beyond the Pandemic, In Trust, Summer 2020, found at www.intrust.org)
Faithful Christian school leaders dare not turn a blind eye to what has been exposed. We must commit to authentic engagement, ensuring that our schools limit organizational vulnerability and operate in harmony with our core mission and the radical biblical imperative to love neighbour as self.