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I spent a good deal of the last week of 2020 reflecting back over the year. Maybe some of you did the same. I was in a place where I could watch the sunrise over the ocean each of the last days of the year, and I reflected on the fact that God is still in charge of each sunrise and sunset. Each day is a new start, filled with God’s mercy, future grace, and new opportunities.

2020 was still 365 days, just like every year before it. In a recent sermon, my pastor made the statement that it was amazing how time could fly by and seem like forever in the same 9-month period. As school leaders, how many times in December did we make the comment, “I cannot believe that we are already done the first half of the school year?” This year, I’m not so sure we made that same comment, and yet, we are done with more than half of the (challenging) 2020-2021 school year. As I’ve thought about my pastor’s comment, I realize that for me, one of the reasons that these months have seemed longer than usual is because my rhythm has been interrupted, disturbed, thrown way off course.

There is a rhythm to school leadership. I keep an annual accountability calendar to be sure that I am doing what needs to be done in a particular month, to look ahead a month or two or six, to check my planning and preparation. (Very type A, Enneagram type 1.) Lately, it is difficult to plan for the current day’s afternoon. I openly admit that I like to know where we are going and all the details to get there, sometimes acting too much like a bull in a china shop.

I looked up the definition of rhythm, and here is what it said: a strong, regular, repeated pattern. Yes, mine has been definitely interrupted this year. Perhaps that is not a bad thing but rather a wonderful way for God to allow us to check our patterns, our rhythms to see if they are valuable, necessary, and maybe a bit insular.

Not that it is anything new, but I believe we have learned much more acutely the value of collaboration, collective leadership, teamwork and connection. Those theories are now true realities. If we become too much of a creature of habit, we can close ourselves off to the needs of our community, our teams and our culture. In order to protect ourselves from becoming captive to our rhythms, it has helped me to be mindful of a few things.

First, surround yourself with a team that is honest, courageous and bold. Trusted relationships around the leadership team table will induce self-reflection and self-actualization. Balancing planning for the future with the realities of the day to day is something that a good team can do together. Second, hold on to plans loosely. By now, flexibility has become our middle name. Recognize that it takes discernment to know when to stand firm and when to let go or make a shift when it comes to events, plans or traditions. Finally, realize that broken rhythms impact each person in a unique way. This is where building and growing empathy comes in. For instance, a change in a preschool concert may seem like something small to many people, but for some, it is a serious cause of sorrow.

I think of the disciples out fishing one day. They kept throwing their net out, catching nothing. Jesus told them to throw the net off the other side of the boat. Those men must have thought, “And what will that do? It’s just a difference of 10-20 feet.” Well, it made a big difference. That change in rhythm filled the disciples’ nets, but it also showed them the power of Christ and the benefit of obedience. Breaking our personal rhythms can have the same impact. May we be open to that and to God’s leading.

Author Jenn Thompson

Jennifer Thompson has served in Christian education for almost twenty-five years in various roles from basketball coach to science teacher, elementary principal to head of school at schools in both Florida and California. A native of Vermont, Jenn has an undergraduate degree in Sociology from Wheaton College and a master’s in science in Educational Leadership from Florida International University. She completed the Fellows program at the Van Lunen Center for Executive Management in Christian Schools at Calvin University and currently serves on the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) board. Jenn is the chief executive officer of Christian Schools International.

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