GAINING MOMENTUM DESPITE THE BARRIERS: A Principal’s Perspective
For those of us who have had the privilege of serving in a school either currently or in the past, we know one thing is for certain—gaining MOMENTUM in our work is sometimes a challenge. Whether it is a tumultuous season of legislative mandates, changes in standards and assessments, or just societal factors that sometimes create stumbling blocks, gaining momentum to reach our goals is difficult. Sometimes the barriers that hinder our momentum seem so monumental that we lose sight of who we are and what we are trying to accomplish, whether that be in our classroom, school, or community.
I have the immense privilege of serving as the principal of Woodlawn Elementary School, and it’s my dream job. I have a special connection to Woodlawn because it’s the school in which I previously interned, taught, and served as an assistant principal. I tell people all the time that I have a big crush on my school and the staff, students, and families who make up “The Woodlawn Way.” During my tenure of administration at Woodlawn, I have seen great barriers that have tried to inhibit our growth and success as a school (e.g., the Marjorie Stoneman tragedy, the COVID pandemic, virtual learning, working through life post-pandemic). We have had our share of challenges in gaining momentum to achieve our school goals. I’m sure many of you reading this blog can relate to this reality.
However, this past school year we embraced our struggles, put a name to the barriers that stood in our way, and refocused our vision. We have truly pressed on toward our school goals, both socially and academically. For the first time since the pandemic, it feels like we have started to gain MOMENTUM. While it’s easy to feel when there is a shift in momentum, it’s not always to pinpoint WHY or HOW.
Just recently I was listening to Craig Groeschel’s leadership podcast, and he described momentum as being inspired by vision, activated by faith, supported by systems, and sustained by grit. After reflecting on his definition, I think I finally understand why and how we are experiencing momentum in a post-pandemic education world. Perhaps these four factors can also frame your thinking as you seek to gain momentum in your classroom, school, and workplace.
1. Inspired by Vision
Our Woodlawn vision is solid. At Woodlawn Elementary, we know who we want our students to be and what we stand for. Our BIG ROCKS are teacher empowerment, student leadership, and high expectations for all students. Our language, actions, and decisions are filtered through these three beliefs; as a result, we are hyper-focused.
Despite having a powerful school vision, as Christian educators we must realize that our vision goes deeper than this. The mission of Christian educators goes far beyond a school improvement plan; rather, it is centered on a call far greater than something that can be measured by a metric. Our GOAL is Heaven. In Philippians 3:14 Paul states, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Experiencing success in our classrooms and schools is an earthly victory. Right now at Woodlawn we are starting to experience earthly success, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it feels great to us as a school team. However, I pray that we never lose sight of the ultimate VISION—being Gospel-centered educators who let our words, actions, and motives point people to the saving power of the cross and Jesus.
2. Activated by Faith
As a leader, I truly believe The Woodlawn Way has experienced momentum because of the FAITH of our people in the mission of our work and the belief that we can make a difference for students. It’s so easy to get discouraged in our line of work. For some reason, it appears educators have become the enemy in so many situations. If you watch school board meetings or look on social media outlets, you realize society is quick to place blame on classroom teachers, school systems, and leadership instead of coming to the table as partners with solutions ready to do the hard work ahead. I wish I could say The Woodlawn Way doesn't experience such realities, but I’m afraid none of us are exempt.
In my role as a leader, when the voices of opposition and dissension are loud, I cling tightly to my FAITH and the words found in Philippians 1:6. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” I hold true to His Word and His promises and know that the work we are doing in education is His work for His children. I cling tightly to His promise that He will equip us to continue the great work that He has called us to do. It is this FAITH that activates and sustains momentum when doubt and the enemy sneak in.
3. Supported by Systems
Momentum is supported by systems. At Woodlawn Elementary School, we are a systems kind of school. We have an action team or a plan for almost everything. At first this can seem daunting or overwhelming, but I am so grateful for the systems we’ve come to know and love as The Woodlawn Way. Systems ensure that all our bases are covered. I’m sure as you read this, you have your own systems, whether those exist in your classroom, in your school building, or even in your home.
One system I know Christian educators must continue to kindle is our time with Him. This includes spending time praying over our day, our students, and our situations. It also means spending time in His Word to be clothed in His wisdom and truth. It is critical that we protect our spirits and guard our hearts. When I feel the pressure of the world and the work we have in education feels overwhelming, I remind myself that I can’t let my BEST support system waiver, and that’s my relationship with Him. To face the world we are serving, we must put on the full armor of God daily (Ephesians 6:10-18). Doing so will provide all the momentum we need to accomplish great things for our students.
4. Sustained by Grit
The last part of Craig Groechel’s definition is GRIT. Sometimes in education we experience small wins and victories, but they can be short-lived. It’s when we develop grit that we ensure our momentum is strong. As a leader at Woodlawn, I have learned quickly that our most magical secret to our success has been and will always be the people. Our school is a family, and we endure the hard stuff together. It’s easy to have grit when you are linked hand-in-hand with others who are like-minded and reaching for the same goals.
As a body of believers, it’s important to remember that endurance in the faith is critical. Hebrews 10:36 reminds us, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” I pray for those reading this blog who are in a challenging season that you will dig deep to find the endurance needed to live out the call God has placed on your lives. Remember, nothing we do in education can be done in silos. Being in communion with fellow believers is crucial. We must lean on one another, support each other, and pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are serving in the trenches of education.
Gaining momentum is tough. Even in seasons when the momentum is strong, the winds are brewing to try to knock us off the path leading to success and victory. You may be in a season of success, a time where you’re seeing great gain and reward in your role, classroom, or school. On the other hand, you may be in a valley where it seems like it’s one battle after another with no end in sight. Regardless of where you are, I pray these words meet you right there and encourage you to continue to fight the good fight.
I know that Craig Groechel’s words were just what I needed to hear. I believe he is spot on when defining momentum as being something inspired by vision, activated by faith, supported by systems, and sustained by grit. Just like Queen Esther, I truly believe that for such a time as this, God has called each of us to be His light in our classrooms, schools, and communities. There have been times in my past when I’ve wondered if throwing in the towel was the answer. However, if not us, then who? Our world is hurting, and so many are trying to fill a void with things of this world rather than with the hope and promises of Jesus Christ. It’s my prayer that the Gospel movement will gain such a MOMENTUM that no force can stop it. Will you join me, victorious educators, in praying and believing for it, too?
Groechel, Craig. “The 4 Factors that Fuel Momentum.” Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast. Podcast audio, August 3, 2023.