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7 Questions with John Grant
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7 Questions with John Grant
Name: John Grant
Current title: Secondary Principal
Current organisation: Washington School
John Grant is a husband to his high school sweetheart. Together they have three children. He is the Secondary Principal at Washington School. John holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies from Crichton College, a Master of Arts from Reformed Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Education degree from the University of Memphis.
1. What have you found most challenging as a Christian school leader?
The most challenging aspect of leadership is not losing sight of the forest for the trees. We are faced with innumerable issues each day, and because these issues involve people, whether students, parents, or faculty, it is easy to conflate what might be best for individuals also being best for the community. This is not so. It is possible that a leader causes harm to the whole community when the forest is mistaken for a tree. In such cases, we might even “biblicize” our skewed perspective by saying, “Just as Jesus went after the 1 and left the 99, I will do the same.” On the contrary, Jesus would leave towns with good work left undone because he had his eyes set on Jerusalem and his greater purpose. Keeping sight of this big picture perspective is vital for leaders because an institution that wanders too many paths has forgotten its purpose and has likely become less effective.
2. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I am a person who needs solitude and silence as part of my daily rhythm. I rise early, about 5:00 AM, which allows me an hour to an hour and a half to read, pray, and process the coming day. Upon arriving at the office, I write out and prioritize the tasks for the day, and then begin answering emails. This continues until mid day where I have a class I teach. After my class, I try to keep portions of my day available for planning. I normally leave campus about 4:00 and enjoy time with my family until they are down. Once bedtime arrives, I like to go for a walk and spend time with my wife before ending my day reading. My current evening read is The Narcissism Epidemic.
3. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
The most important leadership lesson I’ve learned (or am learning) is the importance of distinguishing between “what is good” from “what is best.” As a teacher once put it, the good can often be an enemy of the best. For example, in Mark 1, Jesus had a successful day of ministry in which many were healed. After Jesus stepped away for a moment to pray, others who needed healing sought him, so Jesus’ disciples came to find him and let him know that more good work was needed in the town. However, Jesus said that other towns must hear the gospel, and it was time to move on. If Jesus stayed longer in this town to teach and heal, he would have been doing good work. But, Jesus knew staying and working was not best. What is good can sometimes get in the way of what is best. Knowing what is best is essential for a leader. A leader has only so much attention, focus, and energy, and those must be devoted to what is best.
4. What's one book apart from the Bible that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Apart from the Bible, James K.A. Smith’s book You Are What You Love has deeply influenced my leadership. You Are What You Love is one of the best books I’ve ever read. In this excellent book, Smith challenges the post-Enlightenment notion that humans are at their core “thinking things.” Smith argues humans, as beings made in God’s image, are at their core “lovers.” 1 John 4 says “God is love” not “God thinks therefore he is.” This is an important distinction. I believe we in Christian education sometimes fall prey to the idea that if our students just had the right ideas about God, then they would live a life devoted to God. Smith challenges this paradigm by saying, “discipleship is more a matter of reformation than of acquiring information.” (p. 19) Information does matter in education, but informing the mind is only one goal of Christian education. We work, as those whose hearts have had their loves reordered to the proper object, to help from others so that they love that which is truly lovely, Jesus Christ. As a leader, then, I must be careful that our focus is directed towards aligning our affections towards God and his kingdom, not merely our intellect. Our heads must grow in love for God’s word, but our hearts and hands must equally grow in love for God and his work.
5. How do you find and keep great Christian teachers?
I think finding and keeping great teachers begins with having a school culture that attracts and keeps great teachers. Great teachers want to be part of a great school, and a great school is one with a clear mission, one that includes academic excellence and spiritual maturity, and an authentic, loving, and supportive community. If you have a staff that loves their work environment, has freedom and ownership in the classroom, and feels the support of their leadership, these faculty members will be your greatest recruitment tool. You find and keep great teachers by developing a culture that attracts and retains great teachers.
6. What's most important as a Christian school leader for developing a culture of wellbeing in your staff and students?
To develop a culture of wellbeing for the staff and students demands that Christian leaders are fully present with the staff and students. Henri Nouwen’s “Ministry of Presence” is a great framework for Chrisitan leaders. You promote wellbeing for people when they are comfortable living life together. Everyone experiences challenges and hurts in life, and if those challenges and hurts are kept completely isolated from others in the community, we can’t live or be well. It is not good for man to be alone, and this applies more broadly than just marriage. We need others to be present in our lives just as we need to be present in others. I think of Job’s friends. Until they opened their mouths and tried to explain Job’s suffering, they just sat in silence and suffered with him. They were present. Developing a culture of wellbeing demands that we are comfortable being fully present in people’s lives, in their joys and pains.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a Christian school leader so far?
Being a Christian school leader gives you an opportunity to develop relationships with students. When I am privileged to be part of their lives after they leave the hallways, it is an honor that’s hard to put into words. One relationship with a young man grew over the years and I was privileged to officiate part of his wedding. Furthermore, my wife and I have been privileged to be part of their lives as friends and examples. Recently, this couple expressed their appreciation of us by commenting how they’ve looked up to us over the years. We were humbled, and we thanked God that we’ve been given the opportunity to be part of their lives. Christian school teachers’ and leaders' work does not stop when the bell rings. Rather, the work of forming people continues until we each stand before the throne of grace.
What's one question you'd love to ask other leaders in our audience to generate discussion about leadership? Eg. 'How do you do difficult conversations well?', or 'What's one tip for leading a remote online team?'
What do you see as the most significant challenges facing Christian schools in the coming years?