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See Your Problems as Challenges

In our first post of this new school year, I shared one aspect of how Christian educators can have a great school year. This centered on involving the Holy Spirit in the day-to-day decision-making and management in the classroom and school. Let me offer another. This strategy will work whenever you are facing a problem. When you are facing a problem, it is crucial to deal with it when it arises.

Dealing with issues as soon as possible helps reduce stress and opens the door to enjoying a new school year.

First, begin by seeing your “problem” as a challenge. In my first week as the new Victory Christian School (VCS) administrator, in one of the church’s administrative team meetings, I was asked, “How are things going?” I responded, “As best as can be expected, except for the problem of filling our teacher vacancies.”

I remember the words of Mark Turner, who helped our Pastor, Billy Joe Daugherty, start VCS. He responded, “Dr. Demuth, teacher placement may be a problem in the school you came from, but here in this school, we don’t have problems; we only have challenges. We don’t use the word ‘problem’ around here; we use ‘challenge.’ Got it?” “Yes, Sir.”

Second, a problem is a matter of doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty and “a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation” (Merriam-Webster). When “problem” is used, it’s generally viewed as unfavorable. When something is wrong, complicated, or bad, “it’s a problem.” Such as the exploded ostrich egg in the science room, the hallway sprinkler head being hit with a book bag, and a thousand crickets out of their storage box in the science room. Challenges come in all shapes and sizes and can surface at the most inconvenient times.

Third, when I saw teacher replacement as a “problem,” it fostered a mindset that limited my belief and faith. And I found myself giving power to the problem and making excuses, and my effectiveness in dealing with the issue was limited.

Conversely, addressing teacher replacement as a “challenge,” I sensed a call or summons to engage in a solution (Merriam-Webster). Seeing the situation as a “challenge” became an opportunity for success and growth. It served as a call to battle that required special effort, prayer, and the release of my faith. It was not easy, but when I began to approach an obstacle, such as teacher placement, as a “challenge” rather than a “problem,” I retained the power to act upon it and to influence and determine the outcome. For David, Goliath was not a problem; he was a challenge.

Furthermore, pretending that a challenge will go away if ignored doesn’t make it disappear. For example, I had a staff member who did not follow school policy (arriving to work on time); he also taught upper-level science and math, which would be a challenging position to fill. Other staff knew about it, yet I avoided dealing with it. When this happens, feelings build for whatever reason and erode the objectivity of those involved.

I didn’t want to even think about this challenge. As a result, I would find myself moving the challenge to tomorrow’s to-do list. And when tomorrow came, I’d do it again – and again. Before I knew it, the challenge became a Goliath, getting more vicious daily. Each day, it increased and became overwhelming to deal with.

When this type of staff issue happens, you must deal with your anxiety about the situation. Be understanding and merciful, but don’t compromise standards of expectation. Instead of saying, “Shape up, or you will have to ship out,” ask, “What can I do to help you become successful?” When you take the time to listen and be understanding, you are more likely to get to the root cause and get the situation resolved

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