• LEADnet: Live and Learn

  • Live and Learn

    “Welcome to Epiphany and happy first day of school! Hi, I’m Jon…although, you should probably call me Mr. Fraker…because I’m the principal.”

    The second grade student gave me a confused look as he walked past me and into the building. In case you are wondering about this awkward exchange, this is a true story from my first day as a principal. This interaction was the perfect way to kick-off the 2019–2020 school year because it sums up how I felt going through so many new experiences. New city. New school. New job. Needless to say, my first year as a principal presented a ton of challenges. Parent complaints, families leaving, finding long-term subs, and replacing teachers during the year were just a few of the things that I had to deal with during my first semester. These challenges, mixed in with all of the new items mentioned above, had me ready for a break at Christmas. Friends and family kept reminding me that things would get better as I kept learning from these new experiences, and I was able to carry that optimism into the start of the next semester.

    And then COVID happened.

    Just as I thought I was getting a handle on things, the first questions from parents about this new strain of the Coronavirus, COVID-19, started rolling in. At this point in the year, I had gotten pretty good about posing questions to other Lutheran school leaders in the area. However, this was different. In a matter of days, it seemed like the entire country was where I had been on my first day of school. New rules. New resources. New “classrooms.” In many ways, people had to learn things all over, as if it were the first day at a new job.

    Some things you learn best through hands-on activities and experiencing it for yourself. While it was a uniquely challenging first year, I am thankful for all of my experiences during that time. Some things you learn best through hands-on activities and experiencing it for yourself. I have a long list of lessons that I learned during this first year in administration. Please allow me to share three of those lessons. My hope and prayer is that these lessons may be helpful and encouraging to other educators wherever they are in their calling. Since COVID has made such a significant impact on almost every area of our lives, I revised my three lessons into “COVID-friendly” terms.

    Prioritize Personal Time (PPT)

    By no means a new concept, I would say that most educators often hear how important it is to take time for themselves. This is certainly one of those things in life that is easier said than done. I think this is especially true for church workers in ministry because giving of oneself is so often a character trait that comes with the territory. It can be difficult to take care of our own needs because we spend so much time focusing on others!

    One concept that I learned from my time in leadership training is how to separate work from personal time. While many practices can help educators with this concept, two of them work really well for me.

    The first practice is setting up my next work day. Before I leave the classroom or the office, I take five minutes to make sure I have things in order for the next day. This means that I mentally walk through my schedule, prioritize my to-do list, and make sure I have prepared as much as I can for the following day. I have found that this is much easier for me to do at the end of a day than at the beginning. My days are more productive because I know exactly what I need to do and what I want to accomplish as soon as I get to work.

    Work together to maintain these boundaries and prioritize personal time. The second practice is to maintain healthy boundaries at home. The challenge is not necessarily with setting up boundaries between home and work, I have found the hard part is following through to maintain these boundaries. My wife and I have an agreed upon time when we stop reading or responding to work emails or messages. We work together to maintain these boundaries and prioritize personal time.

    There truly is value in personal time, and I would encourage educators to reflect on how they are using their own. Prioritize the most important things and be consistent in spending time in God’s Word and in prayer. Other areas that should also be prioritized are time with family and friends, time for rest, and time for hobbies.

    You Are Not Alone (Even With Social Distancing Guidelines)

    If you ever have the chance to attend the Best Practices in Ministry (BPM) Conference in Phoenix, I highly recommend it. You will have your fill of encouragement, powerful ideas, and great snacks (and yes, this can count as PPT)! The theme for BPM is a simple truth for church workers: You are not alone.

    Create a list of mentors and people you can turn to when you need support. …Be bold in asking questions, borrowing great ideas, getting advice, and seeking prayer.I once read an article written for new principals that suggested creating a “Principal’s Cabinet” of trusted advisers. This sounded like a great idea. I started a running list of people I knew that would be willing to help if I asked. God blessed me with really great mentors. This helped me to “survive” my first year of administration. I made lots of phone calls, wrote countless emails and text messages, and had many meetings with my mentors. It gave me a new understanding of that “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us according to Hebrews 12:1 (ESV).

    My encouragement to all educators is to create a list of mentors and people you can turn to when you need support. Consider teachers, staff members, congregation members, retired church workers, and more to add to your list. Be bold in asking questions, borrowing great ideas, getting advice, and seeking prayer. If you are not sure where to start or are still needing someone to add to your list, let me know and I am happy to help in any way I can!

    You Are an Essential Worker

    How many times did we hear about essential workers over the past year? I heard and saw the different guidelines for who was considered essential. Teachers in my area did not have too much trouble with access to our school building because we were considered essential workers. Please know that you are an essential worker in God’s Kingdom! The most important thing we do as educators is share the Good News of Jesus with our students and families. Perhaps more than ever, our world is in need of the Gospel. What we do is important, and it has an eternal impact. Thank you for your service to the Lord!

    • What boundaries have you set to help prioritize your personal time?
    • What are the ways you stay connected with others in education?
    • Who is someone that you can reach out to and encourage in their calling?

    This is the primary reason I became a Lutheran educator and why I continue to serve as an administrator. God has blessed me with the opportunity to serve Him in a Lutheran school, and I know that what I do influences the lives of my students. I also know that God has called me to serve Him at this time and in this place. With that in mind, I can see that all of the challenges, experiences, and opportunities are designed by Him to help me learn and grow. I know that many other educators answer this call daily as well, and I appreciate the opportunity to partner with them in ministry!

    Jon Fraker serves as the principal of Epiphany Lutheran Church and School in Houston, Texas. He prioritizes his personal time by spending it with his wife, Emily, and their three kids. He has been blessed with amazing mentors from the SLED program and a leadership mentoring program through NAESP. He is excited to be able to share his experiences and encourage fellow church workers. Feel free to contact him at jfraker@elcsh.org.

    Photos: Jon Fraker; ©iStock/quavondo, Mark Bowden.

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