This is a continuation of my most recent post on the Overseas Christian School Teacher: Adjusting to School Culture.
4. Be Willing to Experience Deep Change:
There is a chance you may find yourself in a place where you realize that you are not a good fit for the environment and the culture of the school. You may be in an area where you are experiencing what Quinn refers to as the “deep change or slow death dilemma” (p. 15). For example, you may discover in time that you do not share the core values or purpose and mission of the school. Or you may discover that the contradictions between what is being said and what is really happening are too difficult to overcome. If this is the case, it’s best to discover it early and look for a school that is more in line with your personal values and mission. Otherwise, you may be languishing in what Quinn refers to as “slow death” (p. 15). To use another analogy, “nothing would be worse than to find out after several years of working for an organization that you are in the wrong seat, riding on the wrong bus.” (Collins).
There is also the possibility that the Lord has put you in that organization for a reason. According to Quinn “One of the most important insights about the need to bring about deep change in others has to do with where deep change actually starts” (p. 11). It’s implied in this quote that deep change actually starts with us. “There is an important link between deep change at the personal level and deep change at the organizational level” (p. 9). Quinn goes on to say that people prefer a slow death to deep change because it’s what we know (p. 24). Deep change is risky and involves letting go of what we have been doing. Deep change requires discipline, courage, and motivation. The adjustment to the school you are serving maybe difficult, and it is probably true that the school is also going through some change. These ideas imply that each member of an organization confronts and experiences deep change, the organization can undergo deep change.
Also, keeping the big picture in mind is essential. God uses his word as well as people, places, and circumstances to bring about change in our lives. (Philippians 2: 13-15.) Living and teaching overseas will change you as a person. The culture you are living in, the school and people you are serving, the stressful situations you find yourself while living overseas may very well be the thing that God uses to bring about a profound change in your life and the organization around you.
5. “It’s The Little Foxes that Spoil the Vines”
This is an appropriate time to address what is all too often a common problem among school teachers in both an overseas and non-overseas context and a problem you will want to avoid. In fact, because of sin, most organizations suffer from this to one degree or another. That is the problem of chronic complaining. You are more than likely going to run into some difficult circumstances during your time teaching overseas. A situation that may be less than ideal, a change in school policy or administrative decision you do not agree with, a request from the administration that seems overwhelming or uncomfortable, scheduling changes that throw off your routine, an application that was turned down. One of the most natural things to do is to go to a co-worker and start complaining about an alleged injustice or a policy disagreement. However, this does nothing to solve the problem. While venting is a typical human response if one is not careful complaining can become poisonous, cliques start forming, and before you know, you are undermining the administration and creating division among the staff. This can eventually result in non-compliance to teacher expectations further resulting in firings and non-renewal of contracts. Not to mention that chronic complaining tends to lead to a lot of negative energy that can suck the life out for your time overseas and may ruin the blessings and experience of teaching at an overseas Christian school.
The good news is that we know from scripture there is a Godly way to deal with disagreement and perceived injustice. Again, another beautiful application of the “Little Big Principal” is when you find yourself in these stressful situations is to be faithful. If it’s a policy disagreement go to the administration and share your concerns. If you can, offer up a suggestion about a possible solution. Once you have shared your interest leave it on the administrator’s desk and let the matter drop, continue to do what is expected of you as a faithful employee and teacher. Remember, God also holds leadership responsible do what is right. Regardless of the situation, you are in or how bad things may be at the school no one can keep you from being a faithful employee who is pursuing excellence and being a blessing to the school and the people around you. An attitude of faithfulness and flexibility will do more to influence the people around you and bring about change than anything else you may say or do.
6. Engage the Fruits of Diversity
One of the significant benefits of teaching overseas is the diversity of the students and staff at the overseas Christian school. The amalgamation of different cultures, language, food, and worldviews bring with it a beautiful and fruitful dynamic that would be hard to find anywhere else. It can result in an incredibly rich teaching experience for the classroom teacher. For example, one year when I was teaching American history in the Philippines, I had two Korean students one whose grandfather fought in the Korean war on the side of the South Korea and another whose grandfather fought in the Korean war on the side of North Korea. In another similar situation, I had a Japanese student whose grandfather fought in the Japanese army in WW2. This kind of dynamic leads to history becoming alive and meaningful to the students. For example, the Japanese student mentioned above wanted to know why American history teaches that the Japanese military was so cruel when the United States were the ones that dropped two atomic bombs on Japan killing thousands of innocent Japanese civilians.
You will also be working with a diverse staff that comes from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Rather than take the attitude of “We have to do it this way because this is the way we do it in the U.S.” which so often happens, be open to other perspectives and other ways of doing things. Mark Twain has famously said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”(Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, Roughing It.) So much the more for those teachers who are willing to take on the attitude of a learner and reap the advantages of engaging the diversity that occurs at an overseas Christian school.
Clinton J Robert, The Making of a Leader Navapress Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1988
Collins, Jim, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap, and Others Don’t, Harper Business, New York, New York, 2001
Elliot, Dan, Simulated Classroom Discussions via CD: LDRS 591 Organizational Culture 2006, Operation Impact, Azusa Pacific University
Smith, Douglass K. “”the Following Part of Leading”” The Leader of the Future. Ed. Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and Richard Beckhard. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.
Quinn Robert, Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within Jossey Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA 1996