Leading By Example

ApplesA British tapestry weaver friend of mine recently wrote an article about the future of the profession, the relatively small number of current weavers, and whether tapestry weaving might be a dying art. Her conclusions, based upon several current trends and projects, were fairly positive, but along the way she asked a very important question: “What do I do to encourage others, especially the younger-than-I-am generations, to take up tapestry?”

As Baby Boomers retire, there is much discussion now about transition and succession planning, and good work is being done ensuring that schools do not suffer during a change in leadership or faculty. But before the changes occur, new leaders and faculty need to be identified. Nervous search committees say, “Where is the next generation of Heads of School hiding?” Heads of School see long-time teachers retiring and, concerned about continuity and stability, ask, “How will I ever replace that kind of professional skill, wisdom, and commitment?” Whence are the excellent new chaplains, teachers, rectors, administrators, heads, receptionists, board chairs, and admissions directors coming?

A hint from the science of botany: apples come from an apple tree. If we want excellence in the next wave of hiring for our Episcopal schools and preschools so that we can continue to hold high expectations in the pursuit of our missions, we need to be nurturing a talented crop of future professionals, leaders, and pastors within our institutions.

As teachers, what do we do to encourage the children we teach to take up the art and profession of teaching or chaplaincy? Do we model enthusiasm, skill, and pride in our work? Do children hear us saying we can’t wait for the weekend when they will be out of our hair, or declaring how much we love teaching and why? Do we provide ways for students to lead in chapel or in service projects? Do we explicitly tell students who seem to have an aptitude for clear explanation or patient support for the efforts of others that they might make excellent teachers? Do we provide opportunities for children even as young as preschoolers to have the experience of teaching?

As administrators, are we providing opportunities for intern teachers or seminary students to be mentored in our schools? Are we suggesting to our faculty members with a heart for service and pastoral care that they might pursue chaplaincy, and to those who seem able to lead others that headship might be in their future? And do those aspiring heads hear administrators say that the rewards in our work far outweigh the challenges, or do they hear litanies of complaint about the workload and the annoying phone calls? Are we identifying helpful and intelligent parents and making certain that they are effectively used on committees which will prepare them for board work?

Do we all point out and celebrate the great moments in school life, holding up all kinds of association with our schools as a compelling vocation, a bright future, and a satisfying life?

“What do I do to encourage others, especially the younger-than-I-am generation, to take up tapestry?” Or teaching, or headship, or pastoring, or serving others in the life of an Episcopal school? Albert Einstein famously said, “Example isn’t another way to teach, it is the only way to teach.” He didn’t mean that we could choose to teach by example if we wished, but that our example—good, bad, or indifferent—is always teaching those around us, whether we like it or not. We are called to remember those inspiring examples that set us upon our paths in the first place, and to honor their memory by serving as equally good examples to the next group coming along behind us. We are called to examine and attend to the examples we are setting by our attitudes, behavior, and effort. We are called to hold up our professions and our enterprises as worthy and life-giving, and to shine a light on the good and rewarding moments. In all these ways, we call others to join with us in the vocation and passion of nurturing and educating the generations of students we are privileged to have passing through our doors and through our lives.

Serena E. Beeks, D.Min.Serena E. Beeks, D.Min., is Executive Director of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles’ Commission on Schools and a member of the NAES Governing Board. She is the past head of Saint Mark’s Episcopal School in Upland, California.