SouthLake Christian Academy – Update November 2021

This time of year makes me glad to live in North Carolina. I hope you’ve had some time to enjoy the beautiful weather and fall colors. This month I have several significant updates. I hope you’ll take time to read this update fully.

There will be no school on Friday November 19.

We are preparing for an accreditation site visit in February and we have some last-minute work to do completing required CEUs in advance of that visit. On the Friday before Thanksgiving, we typically see a large number of absences, so this is a good day to complete the needed in-service training with minimal disruptions. For your information, we are dually accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International, and Cognia, the pre-college division of the Association of Southern Colleges and Schools. We fully expect a smooth reaccreditation process, largely thanks to Suzy Deneen and Rebekah Leonard who are spearheading our efforts.

Congratulations

In October, our Lower School Head Mark Apgar successfully defended his dissertation, completing his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Gardner-Webb University. His dissertation is titled “Teacher Evaluation in the Christian School Setting.” Mark completed this monumental task as a full-time working professional, with a large family, during a global pandemic. When you see him, be sure to congratulate Dr. Apgar!

School Board

This month we welcomed two new members to our School Board, Dr. Amy Alexanian and Mr. Greg Long. Both have served extensively as SLCA volunteers (a prerequisite for Board membership) and both bring valuable professional expertise and leadership abilities to our Board. You can read member bios and find the Board Policy Manual on our website. Board meeting minutes will also be posted to the website once approved by the Board. The School Board serves three primary functions – to protect the mission of the school, to provide financial oversight, and to supervise the Head of School. Should a parent wish to appeal a decision made by SLCA administration, he or she may do so in writing to the Chair of the School Board. This policy appears in our Parent-Student Handbook on page 7 under the heading “Arbitration Agreement.”

Church-School Relationship

This month the SouthLake Presbyterian Church Session and the SouthLake Christian Academy School Board both unanimously approved the terms by which the church and school would separate as legal entities. In reality, very little about the daily operations of the school would be affected by the outcome of these deliberations. Nonetheless, I encourage you to read carefully the emailed document which gives a thorough explanation of the history of this issue, the reasons for separation, the benefits for both entities, and the terms by which the entities would separate. The final decision on the matter rests with the members of SouthLake Church, but I wanted you to be fully informed on the matter. We will host a town hall meeting on November 10 at 7:00 p.m. in the First Building Commons. We will devote the first part of the meeting to the church-school issue, then open the floor for discussion of other issues attendees may wish to raise. I am sure COVID safety protocols will come up. I’ll be back in touch with a reminder about this meeting and details about the format. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you may have about the church-school issue.

Outstanding Classroom Instruction

Recently I had the privilege of observing one of our JK teachers in action. Pam Spano has been at SouthLake for nearly 25 years and is one of our most experienced and masterful teachers. The day I visited she led the class through a graphing exercise whereby students took colored foam objects and sorted them by shape, counted each shape, matched each shape to a color, and recorded the number of each shape by coloring in a bar graph. In a single exercise, students had to demonstrate knowledge of shapes, colors, numbers, letters, and words, using kinesthetic skills and attentive focus to follow directions carefully. This is a sophisticated collections of tasks for pre-kindergarten children. With patience and abundant energy, Mrs. Spano kept the class on track while working individually with students who needed extra help. We are only 9 weeks into the semester and Mrs. Spano’s students have already learned many of the fundamentals they will need to be happy and successful students in the years ahead. Some parents opt to start their kids’ education in kindergarten, but for those who start SouthLake earlier, the advantages are clear, both academically and spiritually. As she finished the lesson, Mrs. Spano prayed for the class and then led the kids to lunch, giving a bunch of hugs on the way.

I am grateful for the faithful dedication of SouthLake teachers like Mrs. Spano.

Blessings,

Matthew S. Kerlin, Ph.D.

Head of School

SouthLake Christian Academy

Academics Leadership

SouthLake Christian Academy – Update October 2021

As you head into your week off from school, let me be a cheerleader for SouthLake and give you a few bits of good news.

First, you should soon receive by mail a copy of SouthLake’s Strategic Plan. I hope you will take a few moments to read the document, or at the very least look at the great pictures. This publication reflects hours of collaborative work by many in our community and outlines our school’s strategic priorities for the future. The goals we’ve set are lofty, but I believe you would rather us aim high. A mentor once told me that most organizations overestimate what they can accomplish short term, and underestimate what they can accomplish long term. I am excited to see what God can accomplish as we work together in the years to come.

Second, this week I received a remarkable compliment from the Principal of Hibriten High School, our varsity football rival from one week ago. She called to tell me how impressed she was with our students, staff, and parents this past Friday night. She received many compliments from her staff about how polite and respectful our folks were, and how much they enjoyed having us on their campus. She mentioned specifically that our players were careful to say, “thank you” and “yes sir” or “yes ma’am” when speaking with the Hibriten staff. Whether we win or lose in competition, how we conduct ourselves among our rivals speaks volumes about ourselves, our school, and our Creator.

Third, I would like to recognize SouthLake junior John Levantino for being selected to the North Carolina Honors Chorus. John auditioned with over 700 students from across the state. Only 176 students were selected from 78 participating schools. To put this achievement into context, there are nearly 1000 high schools in the state enrolling over 1.1 million students. This makes John’s accomplishment even more impressive. And let me add that John also plays cello and runs cross country.

Fourth, I continue to observe our teachers in the classroom, and this month’s report comes from our Upper School orchestra. Students are learning an arrangement of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Procession of the Nobles” from the opera Mlada. How do you take an orchestral piece with 50 different parts and make it work for an ensemble of 5 strings, 2 trumpets, one flute, and an electric piano? Well, our Fine Arts Director Jose Bas is a master at solving problems like this and making music with the resources available. In an orchestra of 9 members, every musician is exposed. Mr. Bas knows all the parts, and can sing them when needed, and he knows theory and technique for strings, brass, and woodwind instruments alike. A virtuoso string player himself, Mr. Bas balances his high demands with frequent words of encouragement. Sometimes during class everything falls into place and genuinely beautiful music results. Heaven knows we have our problems, but in moments like these, I am reminded how much God has blessed SouthLake.

I hope you have a restful and relaxing week. We will return from Fall Break as scheduled, fully in person for all grades. See you on October 11.

Onward,

Matthew S. Kerlin, Ph.D.

Head of School

SouthLake Christian Academy

Fine Arts Leadership Sports

Going the Distance: Resources for Preventing Burnout and Compassion Fatigue in Caregivers

[The following is a presentation I gave at a conference sponsored by the Center for Faith and Health at Samford University, November 2017.]

Introduction

Burnout and compassion fatigue are known occupational hazards for caregivers.  The causes of these conditions are more complex that mere physical exhaustion.  In this presentation, I suggest three ideas that can provide assistance to caregivers for the prevention of burnout and compassion fatigue: a sense of vocation, sufficient margin, and positive social networks.

I spent much of my career in campus ministry, working as a college chaplain on six different university campuses.  My first such job was in 1990. I would wager that my professional experience is similar to many of yours in several key ways.  Chaplains are typically generalists, not specialists, because we often work with a small staff (or no staff) and limited resources.  Chaplains wear many hats.  In 25 years, I have worn many hats: pastor, preacher, teacher, professor, lecturer, counselor, advisor, mentor, supervisor, manager, administrator, coordinator, event planner, travel agent, cook, caterer, editor, chauffeur, sound technician, stage lighting engineer, web designer, graphic artist, photographer, videographer, historian, accountant, DJ, mechanic, pop culture expert, etc. The skills required to continue this work year after year include a willingness to learn quickly, to change readily, and to grow continually.  But maybe more importantly, the job requires determination, endurance, and grit.  We spend long hours, nights, and weekends, dealing with student crises, emotional meltdowns, financial burdens, family dysfunctions, addictions, mental illnesses, academic struggles, and relationship drama.  And honestly, we don’t get paid that well, yet we still love our work and the people at the center of it.  Caregiving in my field requires 10% intelligence and 90% endurance; a little bit of inspiration, a whole lot of perspiration.

I suspect that this sounds familiar to most caregivers, so I also suspect that it comes as no surprise that among the most common occupational hazards of caregiving are burnout and compassion fatigue.  A survey published in 2014 on the prevalence of depression found that over 14% of professionals working in the social services and health care sector suffered from episodes of major depression, the third worst rate of any of the 55 occupations studied. [1]  Frequent interaction with distressed clients and patients, high levels of stress, and low levels of physical activity were found to correlate with depression rates among professionals.  Rates of burnout and compassion fatigue in the healthcare sector could be as high as 60%, further pointing to the costs associated with caregiving.[2]  Additionally, a 2009 study found that nearly 66 million Americans were providing unpaid care for at least one family member.[3]  The emotional, psychological, and spiritual costs of caregiving represent significant personal and professional challenges to many. In my experience, we pay close attention to the details of caregiving, but far less attention to caring for the caregivers.

Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

The concept of burnout was first identified in the mid 1970s by the German-born Jewish-American psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger.  He identified burnout as consisting of (1) feelings of overwhelming exhaustion, including physical and/or emotional depletion, (2) interpersonal detachment or cynicism characterized by intense negative feelings toward aspects of one’s job, and (3) a sense of ineffectiveness or lack of achievement and productivity at work.[4]  Compassion fatigue, also know at Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS), is a condition similar to but distinct from burnout.  STS is described as a state of extreme stress, tension, or preoccupation with the suffering of others to a degree that is traumatizing for the caregiver.  The key factor distinguishing STS from burnout is the presence of trauma in those for whom one is providing care, although burnout is frequently a symptom of STS, along with frustration, anger, depression, sleep difficulties, fear, intrusive thoughts, debilitating anxiety, and decreased feelings of compassion and empathy over time.  Caregivers at high risk of STS include those who are regularly involved in emotionally charged or traumatic situations, such as first responders, trauma unit workers, oncology caregivers, hospice nurses, public defense attorneys, and military chaplains.[5]

Some of the research on the prevalence of burnout and STS may shed some light on its causes.  Studies indicate, for example, that in many caregiving professions, young caregivers are at significantly greater risk of burnout than older ones. This seems counter-intuitive, does it not?  Female and unmarried caregivers are also at greater risk than male or married ones, suggesting that a sense of control over one’s life and work plays a role in preventing burnout and STS.[6]  Additionally, caregivers who report being “quite a bit” to “extremely” religious had lower levels of diminished empathy and emotional exhaustion than those who were less religious.[7] 

The key point here is that burnout and STS involve more than mere physical exhaustion. These conditions result from an absence of meaning, the lack of belief that one’s work is important or significant, and a sense of hopelessness in the face of life’s demands.[8]  These conditions are emotional, psychological, and spiritual as much as physiological, and so a holistic approach to their prevention and treatment seems clinically advisable and arguably unavoidable.

I think you agree that solutions to the problems of burnout and STS involve more than mere rest from caregiving, otherwise I would simply recommend that you go somewhere and take a nap!  But that’s not my recommendation, so it seems to me that my task as a presenter is to help provide you with some emotional, psychological, and even theological resources to help you who are caregivers for people in crisis stay in this profession and remain effective over the long-term.

Vocation

The first helpful resource that I would like to discuss is vocation.  An oft-quoted passage from the American Presbyterian writer and theologian Friedrick Beuchner serves as an effective introduction to the concept of vocation:

“Vocation comes from the Latin vocare (to call) and means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self-interest. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you find your work rewarding, you have presumably met requirement (a), but if your work does not benefit others, the chances are you have missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work does benefit others, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are unhappy with it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your customers much either. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”[9]

The concept of vocation is rooted in the claim that you are the happiest and most energized when you are doing the work that bring you joy and meets a genuine need.  [e.g. cigarette sales and cardiology]  No doubt, the world needs caregivers, but if Beuchner is correct, you are not going to last very long at it unless you find some level of gladness in it.  Vocation frees you to think about your work as a calling rather than merely a job.  Your vocation and your job need not be the same thing identically.  St. Paul, the missionary who authored a considerable portion of the New Testament, was a tentmaker by trade, a job that allowed him to pursue his missionary vocation.  A job is meaningful only to the degree that it allows you to pursue your calling, and can be stifling if it does not.  A series of jobs strung together over a lifetime we call a career, and careers typically follow the paths of ambition and upward mobility.[10]  But they need not do so. 

Henri Nouwen and Albert Schweitzer provide two examples of people who forsook the enticements of career for the rewards of vocation. Nouwen was a Dutch-born Catholic Priest who left a successful academic career that included two decades of teaching at prestigious universities such as Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard.  He left the academy at the age of 53 to live and work with physically and mentally handicapped people in a small community in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. Schweitzer, a German organist, theologian, and medical doctor left behind a brilliant music career in Paris at the age of 30 and became a medical missionary in what is now Gabon, Africa.  During his first 9 months on the continent, he treated thousands of patients and performed hundreds of surgical procedures with the help of his wife, a trained anesthetist, in a hospital that he built on his own out of corrugated iron.

These men left behind prestigious careers to become caregivers.  They traded ambition for vocation.  Their work was not easy and they were not perfect – Nouwen struggled with depression and Schweitzer with exhaustion – but their stories illustrate the powerful pull of a call.  Are you called?  Do you think that you have merely inherited your work by accidental necessity?  Or do you believe that there is a divine providence that organizes our universe by matching others’ necessity with your ability?  Vocation reminds you that you are here for a reason, created for a purpose, and equipped for that purpose.

Margin

I first encountered the concept of margin in a 1995 book by that title, written by the physician Richard A. Swenson. Swenson describes margin as “the space that exists between ourselves and our limits.”[11]  Swenson observes that the stresses of modern life devour margin. Technological progress helps us do things faster, but simultaneously gives us more to do and increases the pace of life. Every space is filled with clutter.  Every moment is filled with noise.  Every dollar is spent, and probably a few more.  We have not a minute to spare.  Our relationships with family and friends weaken, we limp through life physically exhausted, sleep deprived, and emotionally drained.  We lack the time to practice genuine reflection and build true virtue.  So although scientific progress benefits us in many ways, it may also make us less likely to experience lives of meaning and purpose.  As a medical doctor who restructured his own life and practice in order to create margin, Swenson’s prescription for what he calls “overload syndrome” is fairly predictable: work less, earn less, spend less, accumulate less, exercise more, sleep more, rest more, etc. (That actually sounds like vacation to me.)  In other words, we regain margin not by making a few small behavioral changes, but by transforming the way we live entirely.

Good caregiving requires margin, doesn’t it?  We need margin for emergencies, for unexpected or unwelcomed interruptions, for serendipitous opportunities to show kindness, and for timely conversations.  Genuine compassion is difficult to schedule because caregiving is the ministry of interruptions.  Add to that the fact that many of us in this room chose our professions for reasons other than earning potential, so we are particularly subject to the economic pressure to spend more than we earn, and the resulting pressure to work harder and longer in order to earn more.  So in a profession in which margin is sorely needed, the evidence suggests that it is sorely lacking.  We need change, individually, institutionally, and culturally. 

What Swenson is suggesting, and what I am suggesting, is not unlike what Christian theologians have commended for centuries.  In the Christian classic Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster notes that “superficiality is the curse of our age.”  By contrast, “the classical disciplines of the spiritual life call us to move beyond surface living into the depths so that we have the capacity to “be the answer to a hollow world.”[12]  Foster’s prescription for the shallow life consists of three sets of practices: the inward disciplines (meditation, prayer, fasting, and study), the outward disciplines (simplicity, solitude, submission, service), and the corporate disciplines (confession, worship, guidance, celebration).  But who has the time, or the discipline, for all of these disciplines?  Just glancing at this list of disciplines makes me tired.  And here is the irony: how many of us seek to reclaim some margin by avoiding the practice of margin-giving disciplines?  We have become very much like the proverbial woodchopper who has little time to sharpen his axe.  We know we could work more efficiently with a short break, but we feel as if we will fall hopelessly behind if we take one.  And so we continue to chop, with decreasing effectiveness, until exhaustion overtakes us, and the blade becomes almost irreparably dull.  All the while the disciplines of religious faith call to us, or more accurately, God calls to us.  “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.”  If we cannot claim the time to respond to that call, to care for our own souls, then we will not likely care well for others for very long.

Positive Social Networks

Let us turn our attention now to the network of people that you need to survive as a caregiver long-term.  In a 2012 book entitled When Our Leaders Do Bad Things, social worker and clinical psychologist Mangal Dipty argues that people fall into three categories in terms of their impact on us. There are positive, negative, and neutral people.  Positive people are those who, on the whole, contribute more to us relationally than they cost us.  Every relationship costs you something, but positive people make a net contribution to your coping resources and your margin.  Negative people, on the other hand, cost more than they contribute.  Neutral people cost about what they contribute, for zero net gain or loss relationally.  Admittedly, you cannot quantify relationships with exact precision, and relationships change such that people who were once positive can become negative and vice versa.  That said, I still find this idea persuasive, that you need a critical mass of positive and neutral people in your life so that you can help negative people.  We cannot and arguably should not spend all of our time with positive people.  Most healthy adults consider helping others an essential part of life, so we should spend some time with negative people.  The key strategy is to balance the negative people with positive to maintain balance.

The problem for us caregivers is that we are particularly at risk of spending much of our time with relationally negative people.  Notice that I am not necessarily talking about the attitude of the people who need care.  Some may have quite positive attitudes, but relationally they likely require more of us than they can give to us.  And if we surround ourselves with mostly negative people most of the time, then we will eventually be of little help to anyone.  Excessive relational negativity can lead to what University of Washington psychologist John Gottman refers to as “negative sentiment override,” a condition in which a relationship becomes conflicted to the degree that even positive messages are interpreted negatively.[13]  When you reach this state, your environment has become toxic and your physiological response to that environment changes biochemically.  Your blood pressure and heart rate increase, your brain’s ability to process information is reduced, hormones trigger your body’s most basic fight or flight instinct, and compassionate care becomes almost impossible.  Emotionally, physically, and spiritually you cannot sustain critical levels of relational negativity.  They have the power to taint your vocation and ruin your career. 

The bottom line is that we need relationships that nourish us.  All caregivers need caregivers.  We are incapable of surviving long-term in these demanding fields without resources that we simply cannot get on our own.  We are fallible and dependent creatures.  Until we admit this, we are in trouble.  When we admit this, then we are free to seek in humility what can save and sustain.  The Christian tradition calls this grace.  And I know that other religious traditions provide comparable resources. The forgiveness and compassion that was hard earned by Christ is offered to us freely, so that we in turn can offer it to others.  Grace is the relational resource that feeds our vocation, giving us the margin to run with endurance the race set before us.

Conclusion

Three years ago I took up trail running.  I have been a runner and cyclist for many years, but with age I have slowed.  So, when the Red Mountain trail system opened just seven minutes from my home here in Birmingham, I found a new hobby.  Trail running requires of me physically what my vocation requires of me spiritually.  Many trail races are longer than marathons (usually 50k or longer) and as a result, trail running is less about raw speed and more about steady progress.  Trail runners must carefully balance nutritional intake with the strategic expenditure of energy for long hours over difficult terrain.  Even the best trail runners walk or fast hike up steep inclines in the mountains.  At mile 30, every runner wants to quit and every runner needs a good reason to keep going, a calling to continue.  Slow and steady wins the race, or at least finishes it.  Strangely enough, trail running energizes me.  A weekend without a few hours on the trail seems empty, almost wasted.  The physical depletion that accompanies a dozen miles in the July heat also includes for me a reconnection with God’s creation, a time for reflection, and a rejuvenation of the soul.  Everyone needs his or her version of a good trail run.

For the surgeon and author Richard Seltzer, it is the library.  And now I’d like to quote a brief excerpt from an essay that appears in Seltzer’s book entitled Letters to a Young Doctor that will conclude and I think captures the heart of my talk today.  The essay that I abridge here is called “Toenails.”

It is the custom of many doctors to withdraw from the practice of medicine every Wednesday afternoon.  Some doctors spend Wednesday afternoon on the golf course.  Others go fishing.  I go to the library where I join that subculture of elderly men and women who gather in the Main Reading Room to read or sleep beneath the world’s newspapers, and thump through magazines and periodicals, educating themselves or just keeping up.

How brave, how reliable they are!  So unbroken is their attendance that, were one of them to be missing, it would arouse the direst suspicions of others.  And of me.  For I have, furtively at first, then with increasing recklessness, begun to love them.  Either out of loyalty to certain beloved articles of clothing, or from scantiness of wardrobe, they wear the same things every day.  For the first year, this is how I identified them.  Old Stovepipe, Mrs. Fringes, Neckerchief, Galoshes – that sort of thing.

Neckerchief is my favorite. He is a man well into his eighties with the kind of pink face that even in July looks as though it has just been brought in out of the cold. A single drop of watery discharge, like a crystal bead, hands at the tip of his nose. His gait is stiff-legged, with tin, quick, shuffling steps accompanied by rather wild arm swinging in what seems an effort to gain momentum or maintain balance.  One day, as I held the door to the Men’s Room for him, he pointed to his knees and announced, by way of explanation for his slowness: “The Hinges is rusty.”  From that day, Neckerchief and I were friends.  I learned that he lives alone in a rooming house eight blocks away, that he lives on his Social Security check, that his wife died a long time ago, and the he has no children.

One day I watched as Neckerchief , having raided the magazine rack, journeyed back to his seat. As he passed, I saw that his usually placid expression was replaced by the look of someone in pain. Each step was a fresh onslaught of it. His lower lip was caught between his teeth. His forehead had been cut and stitched into lines of endurance. He was hissing. I waited for him to take his seat, which he did with a gasp of relief, then went up to him. “The Hinges,” I whispered. “Nope. The toes.” “What’s wrong with your toes?” “The toenails is too long. I can’t get at ‘em. I’m walkin’ on ‘em.”.

I left the library and went to my office. “I need the toenail cutters. I’ll bring them back tomorrow,” I said to my nurse. Neckerchief was right where I had left him. “Come down to the Men’s Room,” I said. “I want to cut your toenails.” I showed him my toenail clippers, the heavy-duty kind that you grip with the palm, and with jaws that could bite through bone. One of the handles is a rasp. I gave him a ten-minute head start, then followed him downstairs to the Men’s Room. “Sit here.” I pointed to one of the booths. He sat on the toilet. I knelt and began to take off his shoes. “Don’t untie ‘em,” he said. “I just slide ‘em on and off.” The two pairs of socks were another story, having to be peeled off. The underpair snagged on the toenails. Neckerchief winced. “How do you get these things on?” I asked. “A mess, ain’t they? I hope I don’t stink too bad for you.”

The nail of each big toe was the horn of a goat. Thick as a thumb and curved, it projected down over the tip of the toe to the underside. With each step, the nail would scrape painfully against the ground and be pressed into his flesh. There was dried blood on each big toe.  It took and hour to do each big toe. The nails were too thick even for my nail cutters. They had to be chewed away little by little, then flattened out with the rasp. Now and then a fragment of nail would fly up, striking me in the face. The other eight toes were easy. Now and then, the door opened. Someone came and went to the row of urinals. Twice, someone occupied the booth next to ours. They’ll just have to wonder, I thought.

I wet some toilet papers with warm water and soap, washed each toe, dried him off, and put his shoes and socks back on. He stood up and took a few steps, like someone who is testing the fit of a new pair of shoes. “How is it?” “It don’t hurt,” he said, and gave me a smile that I shall keep in my safety-deposit box at the bank until the day I die. “That’s a Cadillac of a toe job,” said Neckerchief. “How much do I owe ya?” “On the house,” I said.

The next week I did Stovepipe. He was an easy case. Then, Mrs. Fringes, who was a special problem. I had to do her in the Ladies’ Room, which tied up the place for half an hour. A lot of people opened the door, took one look, and left in a hurry. I never go to the library on Wednesday afternoon without my nail clippers in my briefcase. You just never know.


[1] Lawson Wulsin, Toni Alterman, et al, “Prevalance Rates for Depression by Industry,” Journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology (2014): 49:1805-1821.

[2] Bernie Monegain, “Burnout Rampant in Healthcare,” Healthcare IT News (April 30, 2013) online at http://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/burnout-rampant-healthcare.  Accessed July 31, 2015.

[3] Lauren G. Collins and Kristine Swartz, “Caregiver Care,” American Family Physician (June 1, 2011): 83 (11): 1309-1317.

[4] H. J. Freudenberger, “Staff Burnout,” Journal of Social Issues (1974) 30:159-165.

[5] L. R. Simpson and D. S. Starkey (2006), “Secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue, and counselor spirituality: Implications for counselors working with trauma.” Retrieved July 2015, from http://www.counseling.org/resources/library/Selected%20Topics/Crisis/Simpson.htm.

[6] L.L. Emanuel, F.D. Ferris, C.F. von Gunten, and J. Von Roenn eds. Education in Palliative and End-of-life Care for Oncology (Module 15: Cancer Doctors and Burnout). Chicago, IL: The EPEC Project, 2005.  Retrieved July 2015, from http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/754366.

[7] K.M. Kash, J.C. Holland, W. Breitbart, et al. “Stress and Burnout in Oncology,” Oncology (2000) 14:1621-1633.

[8] A. M. Pines, “Burnout: An Existential Perspective” in W. Schaufeli, C. Maslach, and T. Marek, eds. Professional Burnout: Recent Developments in Theory and Research. Washington, DC: Taylor and Francis, 1993.

[9] Friedrick Beuchner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, Harper & Row, 1973, page 95.

[10] Brian J. Mahan, Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose: Vocation and the Ethics of Ambition, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002, pages 9-14.

[11] Richard A. Swenson, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Navpress, 1995. A newer edition of this book was published in 2004.

[12] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1978.

[13] John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999, page 21.

Campus Ministry Leadership Theology

How SouthLake Christian Academy Makes COVID-Related Decisions

When setting safety protocols, school leaders evaluate the following:

  • Recommendations by local, regional, state, and federal health officials
  • Guidance from a task force of medical professionals associated with our school
  • The number of COVID-19 cases in the primary zip codes that feed our school
  • The percentage of COVID-19 cases in our area affecting children ages 0-17
  • The best available scientific evidence regarding the transmission and virulency COVID and its most prevalent strains
  • The best available scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of COVID prevention measures and their associated costs and risks
  • Our capacity to identify COVID cases in our school community and follow contact tracing and quarantine protocols to contain viral transmission
  • Transparency and cooperation from teachers, parents, and students sufficient to operate safely

First, we attend carefully to health guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), and the Mecklenburg County Health Department (MCHD). Additionally, the Governor of North Carolina and the North Carolina Department of Non-public Instruction issue guidance, recommendations, and/or mandates to which we must attend. All of these agencies update their guidance regularly, but sometimes in ways that conflict with other agencies.

Second, we try whenever possible to make decisions based on conditions in the primary zip codes that feed our school. Conditions in Mecklenburg County or NC as a whole can, at any given moment, be significantly better or worse than conditions in our primary zip codes.

Third, to help us review this ever-changing volume of data and make the best decisions for SouthLake, a team of medical professionals associated with our school review all proposed COVID protocols. In the end, our Executive Administrative Team makes final decisions, seeking to balance the medically ideal with the educationally feasible. We will continually assess current conditions adjust our safety protocols as needed.

We always aim to find a path between the extremes of panic and denial. We will assess risks in a reasonable way without being paralyzed by fear or pretending the pandemic is over. We will adopt the safety measures necessary to keep our students learning in person, on our campus, as safely as possible. We know not everyone will agree with every decision we make. We appreciate the cooperation of all our families nonetheless, and we recognize that as a part of a diverse community, we must operate with mutual trust and transparency to be successful. Our children deserve nothing less.

COVID Leadership

Why I Am Thankful, Now More Than Ever, For a Liberal Arts Education

I have an undergraduate degree in French Horn Performance. I have master’s degrees in business and theology, and a PH.D. in philosophical theology. Aside from my MBA, all of my education has been in the so-called liberal arts. As opposed to concentrated vocational training in a career-specific course of study, a liberal arts education focuses on the academic disciplines of philosophy, history, language, literature, music, art, and the social sciences. Also called the humanities, these courses of study teach one to think and write and solve problems rather than merely to do a job. The humanities endeavor to make one a better person rather than merely a more credentialed one. I have never held a job that specifically requires me to have any of the degrees I hold, and yet in every job I have had, and at every stage of my adult life, I have been incredibly grateful for a liberal arts education. This is especially true now, for two key reasons.

First, closing and opening a school during a global pandemic has forced me to think carefully, critically, and calmly, skills without which I might have lost my mind or my job long before COVID could get to me. This year I have had to read and study more diligently than ever, sorting through mountains of data, discerning fact from fiction, disregarding hyperbole and speculation in order to attend to relevant information. Leading an organization during a public health crisis requires the kind of information literacy that a liberal arts education helps develop. Sure, a degree in public health would be helpful, but one cannot earn a degree to match every crisis. The abilities to learn concepts quickly and apply them appropriately are valuable precisely because they are transferrable.

Second, the racial turmoil and political polarization we have seen in recent months has exposed our inability as a nation to engage thoughtfully and productively in public dialogue on controversial topics. We are all tempted to exist in an echo chamber, listening to voices that reflect our own, viewing events exclusively through the lens of our own experience, and discounting alternative perspectives. Sustained engagement with the humanities inoculates against the kind of narrow ideology that divides and radicalizes. When we humbly subject our viewpoint to sustained critique, we are much more likely to see our own blind spots and to show empathy toward others with whom we disagree. I see no other way to live peaceably with my fellow citizens.

The free and critical exchange of ideas lies at the heart much of the western intellectual tradition from its inception. As the cost of a true liberal arts education has increased exponentially, I fear the value has been increasingly marginalized. Research shows that the humanities tend to have a moderating influence; serious students tend to view the world with less dichotomy and more nuance, less polarization and more subtlety, less estrangement and more empathy. In the process, perhaps students of the liberal arts also come to see that both politics and pandemics have less ultimate significance than matters of faith. Diseases and democracies rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God remains forever. Worry less about the schools you or your children may attend. Worry less about the fleeting social dramas that tend to occupy our immediate attention. Let us concern ourselves more intently with the kinds of people we are becoming, the kind of society we are helping to create, and the God who sits enthroned above all our fleeting and temporal concerns.

Education Leadership

First Thoughts: SouthLake Christian Academy School Updates, September 2020

Dear SouthLake Christian Family,

For those new to SouthLake, I send a school update on the first of each month entitled First Thoughts, a name I borrowed with permission from a colleague. I take this opportunity to send crucial information that will help you better understand and support our school. Today’s update includes information about our safety measures, enrollment, finances, School Board, and church affiliation.

First, let me begin with a word of appreciation. Thanks to your efforts and cooperation, we have had only 5 cases of COVID in our student population since the start of school. In each case, we were able to identify close contacts, quarantine the appropriate individuals, and provide them with online instruction. We now have first-hand evidence that our safety measures are preventing the spread of the virus at school. This takes remarkable effort on the part of all members of our community. Thank you, and let us all remain vigilant.

Second, our enrollment at this moment stands at 593. On this same day in 2019, our enrollment was 556. Almost all of this growth has taken place in grades JK-4 where we added classes to facilitate demand and keep our class sizes small. We begin this year with more than 150 new students and 23 prospective students still on a wait list. Most of our new families report they heard about SouthLake from other SouthLake families. Our retention rate, defined as the percentage of eligible students who return to SouthLake each fall, remains at 92%. These healthy numbers and upward trends are a testament to our teachers whose reputation has helped sustained SouthLake through multiple economic downturns.

Third, I offer this brief financial summary. Last year we received $6.9 million in net revenue from tuition and fees after awarding $1.2 million in need-based financial aid. 65% of revenue went to salaries, 18% to instructional costs, 12% to facilities (including debt), and 5% to administrative costs. In spite of the economic calamity caused by COVID, we received $115 thousand in cash donations, approximately $203 per student, only a slight decrease from the previous year. These numbers will obviously look different for the 2020-2021 academic year, but they will be different in amount not proportion. Our goal remains to spend most of our revenue on the thing that matters most to your students – the people who teach, minister, and invest in their lives.

Fourth, our school is governed by the SouthLake Christian Academy School Board. Four members of our School Board are also members or ruling elders of SouthLake Presbyterian Church, of which we are a wholly integrated ministry. The remaining three members of the School Board are selected by the school from among parents actively involved in the school. Members serve a three-year term and their primary responsibilities include financial oversight for the school along with supervision and evaluation of the Head of School. You can find more information about our School Board in our Student Handbook and on our website.

I mention this because the relationship between the church and academy is set to undergo some revision. At the conclusion of our annual audit in 2019, the CPA firm Franklin and Franklin recommended that the church and school divide into two separate legal entities to facilitate greater financial autonomy and transparency. Subsequently, the School Board voted to recommend to the church’s governing body that the church and school form separate 501(c)3 organizations. The church has now taken this recommendation under advisement and is considering what forms of church governance should remain to protect the long-term Christian mission of the school as the two entities separate. These discussions involve complicated details about asset allocation, debt management, financial accounting, and non-profit governance. I am happy to discuss these things with you, but I suspect I have already lost much of my audience at this point. Suffice it to say that our mission remains unchanged: to educate and disciple students in all aspects of God’s reality.

I would apologize for the length of this email, but those who would appreciate an apology likely stopped reading a few paragraphs ago. My tendency is to err on the side of transparency, sometimes at the expense of brevity. I want you to know how our school operates, and more importantly, the purposes for which it operates. So without further verbosity, let me close by saying that I am grateful each of you are part of the SouthLake family.

Leadership

Message to SouthLake Christian Faculty and Staff

As we began faculty in-service last week at SouthLake Christian Academy, I addressed our teachers with an annual State of the School update and some words of encouragement and motivation. I commended their unity as a faculty and their commitment to teaching our students in ever changing circumstances, and also acknowledged the challenges they face as our operations are turned upside down in every conceivable way. I offered the following devotional thought and challenge.

Matthew 14 and John 6 tell the story of Jesus walking on water, but they tell it a bit differently. In Matthew’s account, Jesus walks on water through a storm, gets into the boat with his disciples, and “the winds ceased.” In John’s account, Jesus gets into the boat and “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. If you are a contemporary historiographer, this may appear as a contradiction. Some argue that the two writers are telling two different stories. For Matthew and John, however, I believe the gospel genre in which they were writing was use for theological rather than purely historical purposes. Matthew tells us when Jesus arrived, the waters calmed. John says that when Jesus arrived, they were carried across the waters; the voyage ended. Sometimes God intervenes to calm our waters and we keep on rowing. At other times he carries us through the waters, the voyage ends, and the difficulty is over. How God chooses to intervene is his choice by providence, and I believe, for our greater good.

In that light, I challenged our faculty and staff to shift their thinking in the following ways:

  1. Shift from likes to needs. Rather than think about operational changes as things we like or don’t like, conceive of them as things we need to continue live instruction as safely as possible for as long as possible.
  2. Shift from opinions to facts. We may all have opinions about school opening, about CDC recommendations, about the politics of wearing masks, etc. but those matter far less right now than science and data. Opinions matter, but facts are actionable.
  3. Shift from feelings to strategies. As conditions change, and inevitably they will, how we may feel about changes is less relevant than the strategies we implement to cope as well as possible with whatever comes our way.

While I would prefer that God simply carry us through this storm, it appears that we still have some rowing to do. So I will hope for calm waters, trust God’s providence, and pray for endurance to give every stroke of the paddle my best.

Biblical Interpretation Leadership Theology

Working from Home

Since the onset of stay-at-home orders, I’ve been working almost exclusively from home for over a month and going nowhere when I’m not working. The whole experience is disorienting. I have good days and not-so-good days. I sometimes lack motivation and sometimes feel manic. I alternate between eating too much and exercising like I’m in the military. I sleep well mostly, but sometimes have bizarre dreams or lay awake thinking about work, or about nothing much at all. I feel focused and then distracted and then focused again. It all still feels rather bizarre. Here are a few of things I’ve learned about working at home.

  1. I need a schedule. Left to my own whims, work will bleed into every waking hour and many sleeping hours as well. When I started setting a regular time to wake, work, and work out, I felt more settled, worked with more focus, and started sleeping better at night.
  2. I need to take breaks. Some days I can work for hours without distraction and the day passes in an instant. Other days and hour seems like an eternity. I’ve returned to a practice I used in college. I take a 10 minute break every hour. I go outside, walk around the block, lay down, stretch, do push-ups, whatever. This breaks up the day and keeps my mind sharper.
  3. I created a work space that I like. Maybe you’re sharing limited space with several other people. Maybe you have your own office. Either way, set up your work space so that it functions well for you. I use lists and sticky notes and I am usually surrounded by books, reports, budgets, and other printouts. I organize my workspace every couple of hours and keep it clean, especially now. I can’t control many things right now, but I do have influence over my work space and that helps.
  4. I try to dress reasonably well. It would be easy to work in my pajamas many days, at least from shoulders down where nobody on a Zoom call could see. I find this makes me feel lazy, so I get dress, shoes and all. At the end of the day I put on casual clothes or work out attire as I did when I went to the school every day for work. This creates some normalcy.
  5. I try to stay in touch. Needed interactions happened normally when I worked in close proximity to my colleagues. Now I have to reach out. I find that I am using email, text messaging, and good old-fashioned phone calls more than ever. I get tired of Zoom but it gets the job done. The social interaction does my soul good, even if it isn’t as completely satisfying as being with others in person.
  6. I spend very little time listening to the news. In the early weeks of this pandemic, I fed on every bit of information I could get. In those early days of this crisis, I needed lots of information to make operational decisions. Now there is less news but a plethora of political hot takes that mostly cause confusion and don’t impact daily decisions. I scan the BBC app each morning for 10 minutes to get new national and international news. I subscribe to a small number of email lists for information about other schools and local and state government actions. I avoid cable news like the plague.
  7. I make time for the arts. I got a free premium subscription to Spotify and I listen to far more music than normal, especially acoustic guitar and classical music. For reasons I cannot explain, these genres soothe my nerves right now. I now follow some new songwriters on Instagram who post nightly covers or give weekly concerts online. These performances are a gift.
  8. I go to church every Sunday. That is to say that I watch my church online, and then a few other churches as well. Sunday is the one day of the week that feels substantially different from the others. Thank God for those faithful ministers who are keeping the Body of Christ together right now, even as we are apart from each other.
community Leadership Work

Why Christian Education

Why Christian Education

[The following is a written summary of an address to the faculty of Westminster Catawba Christian School on August 5, 2019.]

At SouthLake Christian, we began a strategic planning process earlier this year to identify our main priorities as a school for the next chapter in our history. We spent a few months gathering data from our various constituents – teachers, students, parents, alumni, and members of the community – to clarify who we are and what next steps we should take, to select among all the good options the very best ones. Early and often, people identified two traits that characterize our school and must be preserved at all costs: our commitment to academic rigor and our identity as a Christian school. These conjoined twins represent the two main reasons our school was established and continues to exist, the reason parents hire us and pay us to do a job, the reason volunteers and donors give their time and money, and the reason that independent, public, and charter schools haven’t crowded us out. And yet, there are reasons for Christian education superior to those pragmatic considerations, important as they are. I propose that Christian education casts out fear[1], nourishes freedom, and tells a better story.

Bob Woodward’s 2018 book entitled Fear describes the inner workings of the White House with this phrase: “Real power is fear.” Machiavelli’s The Prince articulates a similar refrain: “It is better to be feared than loved.” Many leaders rise to power and maintain that power because they manage effectively to understand and articulate the underlying fears of their constituents. Some leaders maintain power by stoking that fear while promising to ameliorate it. These strategies work because fear plagues us all. It drives us to work and overwork, robs our sleep, wrecks our bodies, taints our relationships, and blinds us to life’s beauty. Fear. Cable news fuels it, social media feeds it, marketing firms monetize it. And the thing we have most to fear is fear itself. Yet we have a solution. Christians have always taught that the antidote to fear is love. The apostle John, for whom 4 books of the New Testament are named, writes that “God is love” and “perfect love casts out fear” and “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.” (1 John 4.8, 1 John 4.17, and John 15.13 – NIV). The love that led Jesus to lay down his life for us lives in us. As we love each other and our students and their families, we cast out fear. As we teach that love, and acknowledge explicitly its source and power, we smother the fires scorching our society. Christian education literally makes the world a better place, God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

As we cast out fear, we nourish freedom. Years ago, I attended a conference of the American Academy of Religion, one session of which concerned academic freedom. The panel discussion was led by professors at various types of universities – state, private secular, and Christian. As they each described their context, something became blatantly obvious. Only Christian schools have any chance at true academic freedom! Public and secular private school teachers avoid religious conversations like the plague, by necessity. They can lose their jobs if they appear to advocate for any particular religious conviction. In the name of tolerance or open-mindedness or diversity, our society has pushed theological belief to the margins, treating nearly every other form of belief more amicably. A rather strange state of affairs now exists whereby religious belief, so important to so many, can barely be discussed by anyone in a secular classroom. And so, I ask, who is really free? The answer is YOU. You teach at a school that sees theological conviction not merely as a subject worthy of open discussion, but one foundational to all discussion because every belief of any kind begins with an unproven assumption. All learning requires faith. Your students attend a school where they can ask ANY question and get a straight answer. We can actually promote tolerance and open-mindedness and diversity not because these things are fashionable, but because they are beautiful, and good, and right, and true, and biblical. We have rich theological language by which to say that we should treat each other with respect and kindness because we are all created in God’s image, that we value people different from us because such is the Kingdom of God, that we seek community with people who do not look like us because heaven will be filled with people of “every tribe and tongue and nation” (Revelation 7.9 – ESV). We do not fear others because we love them. We love them because God first loved us. God’s love sets us free.

Christian education casts out fear, nourishes freedom, and tells a better story. This summer I spent part of a day with Scott Dillon, Head of School at Westminster Catawba, and we talked at length about the why of Christian education. What sets us apart from other academically rigorous schools? Why do parents pay us to educate their kids? What do we offer that is distinctive? To approach an answer to those questions, play a game with me. Imagine your school is not a Christian school. A student asks, why do I need to learn this math? You could answer, because you will need it for next year’s math class. Why do I need next year’s math class? Because you will need it to graduate. And why do I care about graduation? Because you need a high school degree to go to college or vocational school. Why do I need college or vocational school? Because you need more education to find a job in a competitive global economy? Why do I need to a job? So that you can live, pay your bills, raise a family, enjoy the world. Why do I need to do these things? Because they contribute to the greater good. And why should I care about the greater good? And on, and on, and on. Eventually, every answer becomes depressingly utilitarian. We do these things because they have pragmatic value. BORING! As Christian educators, we have a better story to tell. We teach and we learn because all truth is God’s truth. Because every equation displays God’s handiwork, and every element on the periodic table gives evidence of God’s ingenuity, and every musical note sounds God’s beauty, and every star in the solar system declares the God’s glory, and every language expresses God’s love, and every event in history ultimately tells His story. And we are story tellers. And what an amazing story we get to tell.

[1] The idea that Christian education casts out fear I owe to Dr. Dennis Sansom, Professor of Philosophy at Samford University. He presented this idea in a Convocation address to the university sometime during the 2006-2007 academic year.

Biblical Interpretation Education Leadership Theology

Characteristics of the Creative Leader (versus Authoritative Leader)

Here is a link to an excellent comparison of creative leadership with authoritative (tradition) leadership by John Maeda and Becky Bermont. The comparison summarizes some important features of organizational management and captures something of the spirit of leadership to which I aspire, but don’t always achieve.

Characteristics of the Creative Leader (versus Authoritative Leader).

Leadership