I’m not sure graduate school courses for school superintendents and preachers prepared them for pandemics.
But I suspect at this very moment, education and seminary professors quickly are developing content for such a course. Maybe the title of the class should be: Dealing With A Pandemic — How To Make No One Happy.
For more than 30 years, I had the privilege of working in schools, and for the past nine years, I have worked in a church. No matter if you are a school superintendent or a preacher, leading a school system or a congregation is tough work.
Why? People. Everything the superintendent or preacher does in their leadership role pivots off of people.
On his album “Cowboy Songs,” singer-songwriter Michael Martin Murphey reflects on the life of cowboys. One song — “What Am I Doing Here?” — captures the challenges of each day. The cowboy laments the cattle, weather, trail cooking, his horse and the trail boss. Loaded down by these plotters, in exasperation the cowboy asks: “What am I doing here?”
In challenging situations, superintendents and preachers in their self-talk probably ask the same question.
COVID-19 has added to an already long list of items that can cause heartburn for educators and religious leaders. Schools and houses of worship are public places. They are human centers normally full of people seven days a week and often for long hours. Those buildings rarely rest, and I often wonder when their leaders find time to sleep.
School systems and churches already had established manuals of policies and protocols. Federal, state and local codes are interwoven into these. An assortment of topics are covered in these often thick handbooks. But no matter if it is a school or a church, the implementation of its contents will come down to people.
Now, a new chapter will be added to these policy manuals regarding pandemics. Hopefully, the authors of these new sections will have backgrounds in health, law, policy, communication and common sense.
Developing a plan that is practical and user-friendly for those who will be implementing these new protocols is critical. Perhaps the key piece of implementing these changes will be communicating the expectations. This will be challenging.
How come? Well, superintendents and preachers have the privilege of working in public environments where not everyone will agree with their approach. No matter how hard a superintendent and a preacher work with their staffs to develop protocols to meet every need in every conceivable situation — someone will push back.
Attempting to figure out pushback before rolling out new policies is difficult, but extremely important. Here, the responsibility for superintendents and preachers is to ask lots of questions, from lots of angles, with a diversity of personalities in mind.
Even though there is not one musical note in my body, in the fall of 1989, I went on the road for six days as a Project Teach Rep with the Beach Boys and Chicago. In those six days, I quickly learned how essential the people who work behind the scenes of the concert are. No question, the talent of the musicians is vital. But without those production people, there would be no show.
The same holds true for superintendents and church leaders in implementing COVID-19 protocols. The success will hinge upon the people who quietly are working not far out of the public’s eye.
Clearly, administrators, principals and classroom teachers are essential in this process. But these leaders also know schools really are run by office professionals, building caretakers, instructional assistants, nurses, bus drivers, nutrition staff and more.
For church leaders, implementation often will come down to effective lay leadership within their congregation. Again, these are the people who are working to assist program and support staffs within a church.
COVID-19 is a disruptor. Schools and houses of worship have been pushed into new territory. Both institutions have been a part of our American landscape for a long time.
But their capacity to pivot into new environments can be challenging. Careful planning, practical thinking and thorough communication will help initiate these required changes. A reasonable approach could offset stubborn tendencies to hang on to past templates.
As superintendents and preachers work to steer their organizations through the impact of COVID-19, they will need a special ingredient from the people they serve — patience.
We live in an impatient world.
COVID-19 has made the world of superintendents and preachers more impatient. These men and women are asked to do tough almost impossible work. There’s no way they can make everyone happy with their response to COVID-19.
In this transition, I hope I can hold on to this quote from Barbara Johnson: “Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears.”