As I consider how concepts like attraction and accessibility apply to Christian schools, I cannot help but think of my favorite NBA basketball team, the San Antonio Spurs. My mind recalls the 2013-14 NBA Finals when they triumphed by dismantling the Lebron James-led Miami Heat. Although I was impressed with the Spurs’ defense, superior ball movement, and teamwork, it was and is their culture that blows me away. What can we learn from the culture of the San Antonio Spurs?
Culture isn’t always easily explained, but it is always understood and generally acknowledged simply by walking in the door of an institution. With the Spurs, the first thing we see is their culture of inclusion. Back in 2013, that team was arguably the most diverse team in the league. There were players representing cities, suburbs, and rural parts of the United States. There were players from Italy, France, the Virgin Islands, Argentina, Brazil, and Australia. With this level of diversity (not despite this diversity), no one’s culture had to “take a back seat,” and each player felt comfortable expressing their respective cultures as evident by all of the flags present during the trophy celebration.
As Christian schools, we should strive for both diversity and inclusion. Unfortunately, all too often we just work for assimilation, which can lead to suppression of culture. This struggle is nothing new for the people of God as evidenced in the book of Galatians. Paul addresses the Judaizers who were trying to elevate Jewish culture above the others by forcing new converts to follow the Law of Moses. Christ’s work on the cross was a unifying work that should bring us together.
It is important to understand two things about this “bringing together.” First, this unifying work is not meant to downplay cultural differences; on the contrary, our unity makes celebrating them possible. Secondly, inclusion does not mean honoring one culture over another. All cultures are to be respected, celebrated, and appreciated. No one person is being asked, whether verbally or nonverbally, to leave their culture behind. One way this inclusion can be evidenced is through a deeper level of intentionality when it comes to curriculum and student experience. For more specifics on this, I encourage you to read last week’s CACE blog by Cindy de León.
In order to assess your culture, take a walk throughout the various hallways in your school, putting yourself in the shoes of a prospective parent. What is the culture your school is portraying through its nonverbal cues? Reread your application form and examine your application process. What do these documents and procedures tell an applicant about what is important to your school community?
Inclusion can be messy and difficult at times because it forces us to step out of our comfort zone as well as address some of our own biases. So here’s the second thing we can learn from the Spurs culture: commonality. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has often been quoted as saying that he coaches a group of guys who have “gotten over themselves.” A certain level of humility develops when players share a common bond. The common bond for them is to win basketball games and championships. This goal permeates the entire organization as everything from the front office to the court reflects the culture. In a Christian School setting, a common cause can be fostered when people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives have a voice at all levels of the organization. Does your school board, leadership team, faculty, and staff reflect your desired goal in representation and influence?
As disciples of Christ, our commonality is our redemption through the cross and a desire to reflect the heart of Jesus. Like the Spurs, this thread should permeate our schools and circles, helping us to embrace and appreciate the beautiful things that make us unique. This approach is easier said than done as it forces us, at times, to “get over ourselves” in terms of our preferences, biases, opinions, and even subconscious prejudices. So what do these qualities of culture have to do with attraction and accessibility? Like the Spurs, inclusion and commonality need to be at the core of who we are as a school, not just something advertised for the sake of marketing or something we talk about now while diversity is trendy. We need to genuinely believe that being an inclusive organization reflects God’s intention and provides the best education for our students. As we express the desire to attract potential employees from different backgrounds or become accessible to families who are currently underrepresented in our schools, our motivation needs to be clear. My prayer is that your school will proactively cultivate a culture of inclusion grounded in the unifying work of Christ so that all of your families and employees can thrive.
This article is part of a series on diversity in the Christian school.