Building Culture

Posted by Matthew Schonewille, Category: Editorials,

I have wondered about many things in my years at Edifide and I hope to raise a number of these “wonderings” in subsequent editorials. The one thing that I have wondered the most about over my tenure is the intentionality of the Christian community to tell the truth (in love). As Christian educators, we would need to think about the balance of professionalism, boundaries and respect as we move into this space. Over the years, I have been the confidante of many conversations, and have listened to a multitude of concerns in Christian schools. Many of these concerns come out of hurt or pain or misunderstanding. My posture in listening to people is that I considered myself privileged to have been trusted with the information/sharing/concerns and issues. I listen with an ear to bring people together, to bring reconciliation or restoration of relationships wherever possible. It is through this listening that I think I have learned a couple of things. I have come to realize that in many cases, people don’t always have a confidential, trusted space or person where issues can be shared without fear or reprisal. Helping people sort out what is most important and what their message might be as well as naming the things that they hold near and dear certainly has been a big part of the role that Edifide plays. What I wonder about is how we might (even when it is difficult) learn to share our concerns, hurts, disappointments with one another in ways that reflect critique much like: “I like”; “I wonder”; “I suggest”.

To learn how to give critique or name issues in love and respect would go a long way to alleviate concerns about our colleagues or the decisions that are made. To be a professional and follow good process, even when we are sometimes consumed by those very concerns, would be the target. September 14, 2015 Building Culture – Speaking the Truth in Love (cont’d…) Now don’t get me wrong…..I totally understand the difficulty. Sometimes it is fear that the person you need to talk with has the power to make your life harder or bring on unwanted reprisals –perceived or not. Sometimes it is the anger that paralyses an individual and you aren’t really ready to deal with your anger yet. Sometimes the issues go back months or even years. Sometimes it is shame that makes you retreat, ignore or minimize the situation. Sometimes the conversation seems too risky that you don’t dare to right a wrong or stand up for yourself. And unfortunately, sometimes you identify so greatly with the issue that you don’t really want to resolve it. We would rather talk about it (and perhaps identify blame), but in the end you don’t really want to move forward to deal with it. In all cases, the realization also include that those difficulties or places are actually where a person is at ….and that place needs to be honoured, acknowledged and respected. The help that is provided is often encouragement and good process to deal with the issue and in the end, the other person. So what happens if you call the Edifide office and need some support, advice or advocacy?

If a member calls our office, we inform them the conversation is confidential, that it will not be shared with any member of their school community or anyone else. The member will be encouraged to share their concerns without judgment and that our office will not take any steps without their knowledge or permission, in other words, the member will be in charge of what the next steps. One other thing that is also communicated is that we reserve the right to tell the truth to the member. If a person calls and has a concern, our office will tell them if their concern is legitimate. We do that as respectfully as possible, of course, but we too want to live in the space of “telling the truth in love”. Our goal is to help our member sort out their own issues but give them guidance in how they might do this respectfully, honourably and professionally. In difficult circumstances, we may coach teachers to write letters, have a script or encourage them to go to the other person or organization to share their concerns. Our approach is to help the member describe the situation or the “What is happening?” as clearly and truthfully as possible from their perspective. In most cases, issues are resolved. Voices are heard and perspectives change. The process to reconciliation, restoration or mediation is given voice and things open up. I might say even that light is shone on a difficult situation…in other words, either party (or both) becomes enlightened.

However, not all issues are resolved the way that the member may have wished. Each situation is different and for a wide variety of reasons, things do not work out the way that the member desired and that too is hard. There are also times when our office is asked to be the voice of the teacher or member. We always strive to work with the processes established within each school community and will only move to the next step after each step is exhausted in the “Dispute Resolution” schedule of a member’s contract. As educators, we all know school culture is extremely important for learning and how we perform successfully in the work environment and the classroom. One of the things that I have wondered about is how to get the school culture right for our staff, administration and boards. If we want thriving, flourishing Christian schools, we need to address how we will confront issues amongst ourselves. Having open, honest, and respectful conversations, dialogues and discussions would seem to me to be integral to a thriving and flourishing school culture. Fairness issues, justice pieces, concerns, hurts, indignities, difficulties and conflict are parts of every community……Christian communities as well. To ignore or dismiss any of these normal parts of “living together”, will eventually break community rather than build it up. I know that it takes courage, I know that it is risky, I know that it is hard but learning together how to speak the truth in love is the mark of a true authentic community. Our schools strive to be living communities reflecting Christ…..learning how to speak up, speak out and speak for truth seems to me to be essential. As a Christian school movement, we are on a journey…..a journey of transformation, a journey of bringing Christ into all our relationships, our learning, and service to our wider community. I wonder if “Speaking the Truth in Love” in workplaces and our Christian schools might also be a definitive marker or a contribution to the idea of “building culture’ …one that seeks the common good.