For 14 years, I attended Christian schools. This Kingdom education laid a foundation for my identity in Jesus Christ. After a school mission trip to Martha Brae, Jamaica, where I helped lead Vacation Bible School and construct a cement wall for the church, I created the life goal of Making A Difference Everyday (MADE). On my first trip abroad, I experienced what it meant to be an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Since then, I have yearned to learn about cultures and perspectives different from my own.
Teaching in South Korea as a Fulbright English Teacher in 2015 nurtured this desire for cross-cultural engagement and helped me recognize how central this value is to K-12 education. Since 2016, I have served at my alma mater Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy, now in my third year as Director of Diversity.
One of the greatest blessings of being a Christian educator, especially in the diversity field, is that I am not alone. Since I began this role, Jenny Brady from Prestonwood Christian Academy and other colleagues like Joel Hazard and David Robinson from the Christian Educators Diversity Alliance have been an amazing support system. They have helped me to understand and celebrate Biblical diversity.
One thing I’ve learned is that this diversity work often demands hard conversations. It means forming relationships outside our normal circles and often being uncomfortable. It necessitates the capacity to listen well, to feel and express compassion, to speak with authenticity, to confess and forgive, to imagine ways forward. In other words, diversity work depends on social and emotional skills.
Social and emotional skills are not always a deliberate part of our curricula. Currently, our education system focuses on children’s cognitive development and ensuring the memorization of content. As educators, we have to find creative ways to grow each student emotionally and socially, improving their overall well-being.
Studies show that social and emotional learning (SEL) is critically important to success in school and in life. 87% of educators believe that social and emotional learning will help students become good citizens. This learning transfers to soft skills that can be used in the workplace.
At Eagle’s Landing, I am privileged to work with the Diversity Council, a group of high school students who meet on a monthly basis to discuss, learn, share different perspectives, and build cultural competency. During the past school year, Council members took the ACT Tessera, an online assessment that measures five social and emotional learning skills: grit, resilience, curiosity, leadership, and teamwork.
Among the 20 students who took the assessment, the highest skill was teamwork. They clearly have the ability to interact and work with an increasingly diverse student population. The next top skills were curiosity, leadership, and grit, with their lowest score being resilience.
Their low score in resilience coincides with research stating that 30% percent of college freshmen drop out of college after their first year. A key struggle is their inability to balance work life, school, and their personal lives. Young adults are often afraid to fail, so it is more difficult for them to handle setbacks or failures. With this spring’s transition to online learning and a new normal, I imagine that my students’ resilience increased exponentially since taking the test in February.
After receiving the results, the Council and I talked about resilience, grit, and communication amidst conflict. Discussing emotional and social skills with our students prepares them to be effective leaders in the real world. The top soft skills companies look for are creativity, collaboration, adaptability, and time management. Helping students develop and understand social and emotional learning gives them better opportunities in their future careers to bring glory to God and to engage in diversity work.
As educators, we are called to guide students toward a closer relationship with Jesus Christ while teaching them skill sets that support them academically, spiritually, and emotionally. During this time of diversity discussions and activism, social and emotional skills are needed more than ever—in our students and in ourselves. May God empower you to teach with empathy, integrity, and humility.
This article is part of a series on diversity in the Christian school.
A wonderful, short, and free resilience assessment is available through the Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2015/01/assessment-how-resilient-are-you
I use it in numerous professional development sessions. Hope it’s helpful!
Thomas in Atlanta