Monthly Archives: October 2014

Cultivating Change

I continued my leadership journey with Dr. Scott Cormode at the Vermeer Charitable Foundation seminar on Thursday, October 30, 2014. If you would like to read my summary of the day’s seminar, “Cultivating Change,” please read on.

“Cultivating Change”

By Dr. Scott Cormode

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Vermeer Corporation

Pella, Iowa

Summary Notes and Editorializing of Dr. Bob Stouffer, Principal, Oskaloosa Christian School

Dr. Scott Cormode, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Leadership Development, Fuller Theological Seminary

I write the same thing on the board every time I start a course:

“Leadership begins with listening.”

I believe that very strongly. I like to be interrupted. I would rather play off what you’re thinking, rather than guess what you’re thinking. I want to listen to what you say.

I don’t know where we’re going today. I have a plan. But I haven’t listened to you yet. I decide the order of my material based upon “what comes into the room” from you. You don’t want me to treat you like a stereotype. You need to tell me stories. I’ll go in the directions you want me to go.

For what are we listening? To whom are we listening?

We are listening to the people entrusted to our care. [We are listening to their stories.]

We all have responsibility to the people entrusted to our care – our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, co-workers, those within ministry, etc.

Every one of us is planted by God someplace, and people are entrusted to our care.

Have you ever had someone “dumped on you”? [God gives you “opportunities” to listen and mentor others about Christ and a system of thinking which guides our lives.]

[People are looking for mentors and mentoring.]

If leadership begins with listening, what do you listen for? The leading sociologist of religion is descriptive, not prescriptive. This sociologist tells you about religion, not what he thinks about religion. Eventually, he did tell what he thinks in a book, but he gave a disclaimer that he was departing from his typical role as sociologist.

It used to be that, if you were not in church on any given Sunday, someone would have called to see if anything was wrong. We don’t have the strong ties to church any more. This leading sociologist wanted to blame the clergy, but he blamed the seminaries for the topics of the sermons on Sunday morning.

We as Christian leaders would rather talk about culture war issues and arcane theology than listening for things that keep people awake at night.

Your job is to listen long enough that you can tell me about the people entrusted to their care. Know what matters most to people within your care. Teach them to see those cares and worries and fears from God’s perspective.

To do so, we’re going to practice that. I’m going to show you a short video from a Pixar movie. Shakespeare was wonderful in talking about the human condition. But Shakespeare doesn’t resonate with people today. Pixar knows how to answer these questions about the human condition today.

What does it mean to be human? Who am I? To whom do we belong? Who am I in the world? These are questions that people are asking.

The image of God is imprinted on us. Many people don’t know this.

This clip is from the beginning of the movie, Up.

[Life happens.] Leadership begins with listening. For what do we listen? Listen for the things which matter most to the people within your care.

Listen for longing and loss.

In this clip, what were the longings and losses?

Longings: babies, adventure, oneness, companionship, plans, dreams, investment, stewardship, security, freedom, identity

Losses: babies, goals, opportunities, plans, money

When we are listening wells as leaders, we discover companions we never expected. This happened in Up.

These are the issues faced by the people within our care as leaders.

We identify with each other by “where we’re from” and “what we do.” [But life is so much more than that. What are people’s longings?   What are their losses?]

Your agenda in ministry should be to find out what keeps the people under your care up at night.

Take your story. Take their story. Weave all of that together with God’s story to give them hope.

At its core, the brain works the same no matter where you’re from. But not all [in fact, few] think the same as anyone else.

We fall into the trap of our own experiences and map our experiences over other people, as though they think like we think.

What REALLY matters to the people entrusted to your care?

Chap Clark, one of my colleagues, took a sabbatical, secured a job in a high school, listened to the students in their natural habitat, and wrote the book, Hurt.

The first rule of retail is “the customer is always right.” This consumer mentality has moved into every sphere of our lives. Consumers believe EVERYTHING is negotiable. You still need to listen to people long enough that you can figure out what matters most to them. Take advantage of teachable moments. [Don’t just assert your authority.] Talk to people about really matters to them. [Listen. Mentor.] Find out “what’s really going on here.”

[It’s not about you.] Listen to people. Have longer conversations about issues.

How do you deal with longings and losses with individuals and groups?

For an individual, a discovery someone comes to on his/her own is much more powerful than a person “dumping” something on him/her.

For a group, I tell stories which reach the different layers of response from them. And then, as a mentor, I follow-up with individuals to address individual issues.

Use the biblical narratives. The Psalms are filled with longing and loss, for instance. It’s not about you. What is the appropriate biblical response to loss? A psalm of lament. The message of the Psalm of lament? God can handle your honesty, even and especially when you are angry at Him. People think God is just like you and me, only better. God is qualitatively different. Have you ever been really angry at your boss? Did you believe you could tell exactly how angry you are to that boss – in the baldest possible terms? Probably not. You were too afraid about getting fired. We Christians are too afraid of getting “fired” by God when we’re angry at Him.

My favorite Psalm is 139. It’s beautiful. It’s written as a Psalm as Lament. Most of the Psalm is about God. The Psalmist is honest with Him. He names specific people he wants God to kill! He’d put God on a timetable, if he could! We too often make that Psalm “polite” by removing the language of “wanting someone dead”! People need to know how to express their anger biblically. We need the language of being completely honest. Most people do not believe they have permission to be angry at God, so they put up facades, pretending they’re not angry. God already knows you’re angry! So, be completely honest! But people don’t like to go to places where they’re really angry. We think that’s not okay! Psalms “pre-legitimize” the opportunity to honestly express anger. God is with you always. God did not promise to take away the pain. But he promised to never leave you. He will not abandon you. Your immediate response to that truth is “Neither will I” abandon another human being.

When God uses you in a positive situation, you sometimes get credit for what God does. When God has you in the path of people facing negative circumstances, you sometimes become a lightning rod for those people’s hurts. You signed up for both scenarios. It’s not about you.

In the book of Numbers, the sons of Jacob are now out of Egypt, and they are wandering in the desert. They did not receive the manna with gratitude and thankfulness. They complained. How did God react? God invites some complaints, but other complaints will get you 40 years in the wilderness! Trust in God. The Hebrews had stopped talking TO God. They were talking ABOUT God in their grumbling.

God meets you in your brokenness. He can handle your honest anger, and he appreciates your trusting in Him. Meet others in their brokenness.

We often will not be honest about our brokenness. Invite people to allow you deeper into their lives. [Don’t force it, but earn the trust of others. Be a safe person to others.]

Finances, relationships, caring for children, caring for parents, addictions – these are all burdents of the people entrusted to your care. This is part of what it means to be human. What’s up in their lives? [Find out!]

[Don’t take up the ideal. People find the ideal unachievable – and discouraging when unachievable. Take up the real.]

How do you invite people to see God as a part of their lives?

People are not logical in the sense that we think of “logical.” People try to make sense of something by sticking it into a story. We are story-driven.

After 9/11, the New Yorker magazine did not publish that week. They sent their reporters into the city to document what was happening. The next issue of the magazine was the “Black Issue.” The articles captured the conversations about 9/11. Most people were very inarticulate. They couldn’t figure out what was going on. One writer found it odd that a movie title and plot kept coming up in conversations – Die Hard. In this movie, a bunch of bad guys are assaulting a building to cover the tracks of their crime. The good guys came along, saved the building, and saved the day.   People had mental models of how that story ended. During 9/11, the good guys didn’t come to save the day. These bewildered people were left without an interpretation for the narrative.   Bush spoke an interpretation: “This was a terrorist attack. We are at war.” The act was now understandable. He gave us a story to make sense of what happened. Whether the story was right or wrong, the leader spoke a story into being, and we all adopted the story.

Max DuPree wrote a very memorable first line in one of his books: “The first responsibility of a leader is to [honestly] define reality.” Answer the question, “What’s happening?” What should people be paying attention to? Tell them the story. The 4 P’s of Vermeer are what matter to the Corporation. If you want to make a pitch to the Vermeers, make the pitch around the 4 P’s. Fit your story into their story.

[The 4 P’s are principles, people, products, and profit.]

How do we make sense of “love”? People understand love as a story. Most of you would tell me the characteristics of love. Stories of love make sense to people. When we find ourselves in a situation which doesn’t make sense to us, we glom onto a story which helps us make sense of the situation.

Our brains take us down paths which create stories to fit the data.   Your job is to give people the stories that help them make sense of their lives. Some people are walking around with stories that don’t work. That’s why Jesus’ story is so powerful. [Jesus’ story works.]

We have mental models. We have models of things the way they should be. Mental models set expectations. People judge events, people, and objects of life based on what they expect them to be.

What if you had come here and found out that everyone was going to be expected to give blood today? Would that satisfy your expectations? No, that would violate your expectations. Giving blood was well beyond the boundary.

People will judge you and judge God, based on expectations.

We have mental models of “church music.”   We have mental models of “preachers.” If the reality doesn’t meet your expectation, it’s “wrong.”

One of the most powerful things you can do is to invite someone into new and different mental models.   Make people aware of the options of mental models which are available to them. Too many people are “pulling out” the wrong behaviors.

Jesus tried to change the mental models of others. He had THE MOST authority. He was THE BEST teacher. He tried to change others’ mental models, and that didn’t go well with him on earth with so many people. Mental models are deeply ingrained.

Invite people into stories one-step-at-a-time.

People don’t resist change; they resist loss.   It’s not that people don’t like change.   They don’t like the loss of the comfort zone. There is a cost to change. There is loss with change. People don’t get change instantly. [Some people get it instantly but don’t want the loss, so they resist the loss of what they have recently known.]

Your work is planting and watering. God brings the increase. You cannot give the increase. You can shape and create environments in which God can bring the increase. The rest is up to God. There are no guarantees.

How do you create an environment where people can thrive?

Plant language in people like Jesus planted language in the hearts and minds of His disciples. Prior to Jesus’ death, the disciples thought a Messiah would not die and live again. They thought he was speaking metaphorically. When he died and rose again, they “got it.”

Past, present, and future often work as a story. Set a trajectory which will help them understand their future.

The best way to change the future is to change the past. [Hook the present to the past and the present to the future.]

Jews were children of Abraham. As such, they “belonged to God.” Paul had to figure a way to change the mental models of Jews. Paul said, Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Abraham’s seed – his DNA – is not what’s important. The promise of God to Abraham – as a child of God – applies to EVERYONE, because we have Abraham’s faith. If you want a different future, you’ve got to re-interpret the past.

Some churches say, “We’re not broken.” They have false self-identities. Stories become so powerful that they distort reality. These kinds of delusions are mildly okay, but the falsehoods prevent effective ministry. Some churches say one thing, and they act another way; for instance, some churches say they are “family” churches, but they are “family” in the sense that they want anyone who visits to fit their mental model of 1960s family. What’s good enough for “what was” is good enough for “what is.”

Empathize with those who are trapped within [dysfunctional] stories.

What can you do for those people?

Jesus told stories and invited His followers into the stories, so they were living out similar stories.

People are inviting us ministers into false stories of idolatry and evil. How do we get people out of their false stories? You shouldn’t rely too much on authority; otherwise, people will do what you say to your face – to save faith – and then they will walk away and do whatever they like.   Compliance is as long as your authority reaches. The reality of Christian ministry is that we don’t have the authority to follow people around [and we can’t change them]. God DOES have the authority to follow people around and to change them.

Some commands are impossible to follow unless you have a different story (mental model) to follow. For instance, how is it that I can truly believe that I will find joy in suffering?!

The respected people of the past hold more authority than the current leaders of the organization. Invoke the revered people of history in an effort to solidify the governing values and vision for the future. Keep telling stories which plant and water the ideas. God gives the increase.

Ideas are not “our” ideas. God gives ideas. We don’t “own” ideas. We plant and water the ideas. God gives the increase.

One author once wrote, “Blessed are those who do not have expectations, for they will be satisfied.”

In our lives, we have two sets of expectations: expectations we espouse and the expectations which are rooted in reality.

We leaders too often judge ourselves by our intentions, and we judge others by their actions.

Chris Argyris believes we should treat our expectations as hypotheses, to see if they are grounded in reality. We too often put expectations on people they never agreed to when they “signed up” for the work.

The longer we are in an organization, the more everyone begins thinking like each other over time. How do we unlock ourselves from faulty mental models? Invite outsiders to give perspectives about the mental models.

Look to the places where you complain. Is that telling you something about yourself as a leader?   Is that telling me something about them?

What if there is no great patriarch or matriarch to re-visit the founding mission in order to envision a better future? Every organization has stories. Find the best stories, and tell those stories, which lead to a preferred future. Positive stories define what it means to be in positive community. Certain stories need to define the organization – every group of people. Find the stories which claim who you want to be in the future.

What about the people who want to re-live the “glory days” in a time when the glory days are no longer applicable? The “good old days” were simpler.   Life is more complex today. It is normal to long for the good old days. Lament for/with the people who long for simpler times; they are lamenting the loss of something/someone. Find out what they really want.

My grandmother is 97. She is the kindest, most loving person in her nursing home. She told me she is ready to die. I reminded her that she still has ministry to the other people in the home. She is still contributing to community. I can’t just say to her, “Look at the bright side.” I point her to her possibilities and purposes in life.

I often ask people, “What is God inviting you to do?” Wherever God has planted you, He will invite you to complete work for Him. You can “retire” from the church [but you can’t retire from “ministry”]. [Jesus still has use for people who have breath in their lungs.]

Who is God calling you today? Every single day, what is God calling you to today?

We’re going to talk about conflict.

No conflict?! No honesty!

No honesty? No community!   We must know each other as we are.

You can’t say, “We don’t do conflict.” In too many communities, bringing up conflict is “impolite.” We give the excuse that good people don’t say mean things to one another.

More than one human being brings more than one opinion. God has made us for diversity. God has given us each other. We see things from difference perspectives. We all see the world differently. We need each other to see the whole world as it should be. We cannot agree that we will never disagree. No conflict? No honesty.

You do not have a choice between no conflict and conflict. You have a choice between constructive conflict and destructive conflict.

How do we talk together when we disagree with each other?

Value the dissenter. [Value dissent.]

Do you ever change your mind? Yes. [Why would you hold onto untrue or invalid beliefs, if you would better understand reality?!] You can either believe (1) you are wrong about something, or (2) you are at the apex of Christian history! Someone – many someones – will eventually teach you something and help you remove “wrong” knowledge. If you push away ideas from others, you will sometimes be pushing away something you’re wrong about. Admit, “I’m sure I’m wrong about something.” Let the people know it is safe to be “wrong.” Don’t embarrass people who have wrong understanding. The last line of Psalm 139 is “fix me if I’m wrong.”

Here’s how this connects to evangelism. The “better” Christians are usually “worse” at evangelism. It’s a matter of “strength in weak ties.” The more committed you are to a cause, the less likely you are going to be an evangelist. We live in mostly Christian communities and do not have contact with non-Christians. Our ties to Christianity are so strong – the “strength of strong ties” – that almost everyone we know is already one of us!   You get out-of-practice with evangelism when you are not among non-Christians.

We too often look at non-Christians as “projects.” We seek to “make him like one of us.” You’ve got to take the perspective of “what can I learn from him?” rather than “how can I re-make him in our image?”

The Samaritan woman at the well would not have passed a background check for your church nursery, but she was an excellent evangelist!

Can anyone who does not have Abraham’s blood running through their veins become a Christian? YES!

The council at Jerusalem called Peter on the carpet. He was doing what he promised the others he would not do. Peter’s defense? God was responsible for his actions. God baptized non-Jews. So Peter baptized, too. Peter followed what God had already done.

The dissenter will often tell you a story which may not resonate with the people, but it may be a story you desperately need to hear. Peter was a dissenter in this situation. God had given him a vision. He told the story of what God had done in his life.

What happens when someone comes into your congregation and does what has never been done? That person could say, “I am doing what God has already been doing.”

New leaders tell us things we may not want to hear. In my church, I tell our people that we have to be open to ideas that are older than 1972! Don’t just seek people who “want to act like us.” We should not say, “Come and follow our rules, and we will treat you kindly.”

Figure out what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, so you can see the world from a perspective different than the one shared by everyone else in the community.

Listen long enough to figure out what people need. People have different expectations of the church than decades ago. People expect the church to be judgmental and close-minded today. It’s not safe. They might get “caught” [in their sin] and embarrassed. No one is going to sign up for that! That’s the stereotype people have about church. Defeat the faulty expectations.

The warehouse box church feels safe to non-Christians, because it doesn’t look like the place that was “so mean” when people were kids. Point people to Jesus without the culturally-loaded trappings of Jesus. We are Christ’s ambassadors. If you don’t know anyone who is a non-Christian, you won’t be building bridges from non-Christians to Christ.

Too many churches kick out the dissenters. At no point did Jesus allow Christians to vote dissenters off the island. I have a list of annoying people. At the top of someone else’s list of dissenters is me! It’s our job to disagree with each other – to help others see the world differently. One day, I will be the dissenter, and I will appreciate the opportunity to be taken seriously as a dissenter.

You’ve got to teach people how to dissent reasonably. At a time when the culture of your organization is pretty positive, agree on the ground rules when conflict arises; it often takes more than one meeting to reach agreement; you are inviting the leaders to be on a healthy path. Lower the cost of being in conflict. Guarantee that the conflict will not get out-of-hand. Guarantee safety in conflict. Turn down the heat in the room. But ground rules should not be used as clubs to beat one another.

Tell yourself and others in the room – verbally and with your attitude – memorize the statement – “This conflict WILL NOT undo us. Our commitments to one another – the bonds of love that connect us in Christ – are more important than this conflict – and this matter will not result in division. This issue is serious, and we will deal with it without sweeping it under the rug. We are strong enough as a group to learn from this moment, and to grow from it.”

Most people experience conflict as the first step in separation. [They assume separation WILL occur.]

Conflict must not lead to violence.

Cultivate gentleness. Choose gentleness. Be gentle; gentleness is one of the fruit of the Spirit. Remain calm. Speak more slowly and in a softer voice.

At what point did we “learn” selfishness? At what point did you have to teach your children selfishness. [Sin and selfishness is at our core; we did not have to learn it, and we did not have to teach our children to be selfish.]

We learn different approaches to conflict. Each person is different. Some go on offense. Some practice defense. Some ignore it.

Conflict makes 3-year-olds of us all. Our instincts for conflict are formed early in our lives. The more stress we feel, the more likely we will act like 3-year-olds.

How do those principles of conflict apply to the biblical example of Paul and Barnabas taking different paths? Such was not a model of Christian living. Divorce happens. What I believe is it doesn’t have to happen. At least so far as it depends upon us, we should leave peaceably with others. [Make peace. Don’t just keep the peace.]

If the dissenter/s want to keep talking, the others should keep listening. Get the dissent out in the meeting, so it doesn’t occur in the parking lot.

How do you handle conflict which is directed at you, personally? Be a grown-up. Accept anger that is not yours. In leadership, you sign up for anger from others. It can’t be avoided. Feel compassion for the person who is directing ang which should not be directed at you. Their sense of pain and loss manifest themselves in emotional anger.

Five Absolutely Indispensible Skills for Dealing with Conflict (from the book, Getting Past No)

Before engaging the skills, agree upon the best alternative to a negotiated agreement to keep everyone from walking away ON PRINCIPLE. Don’t walk away with righteous indignation, because you could be making an even worse decision.

  1. Don’t react. Get on the balcony; look to see the patterns you otherwise would not be able to see if you are too close to the situation. Control your instincts. Ask for more information: “Tell me more.” Buy yourself time. Leadership begins with listening. Listen more. Buy time and understanding in listening.
  1. Don’t argue. Step to their side. Focus on listening. If you are in a sword fight, you are either attacking or retreating. Don’t engage in the fight. Listen. Don’t be formulating what you’re going to say in your head and fail to listen. Hand the sword to the other person; say, “I know I’ll ultimately get an opportunity to speak, but I really want to listen to you now. I really want to understand you, so let me make sure I say what I think you are saying, and if I am missing something [with 2 or 3 sentences, not a speech]; essentially, you are handing the sword to the person and asking him to attack you again [and perhaps again and again and again]. This can take some time. People need to listen to each other.
  1. Don’t escalate. Educate. Don’t use your “power” to make threats. The harder it is to say no, the harder to say yes. Threats don’t work. The goal is a mutually-agreed-upon solution, not victory.
  1. Don’t reject. Re-frame.
  1. Don’t push. Build them a golden bridge to retreat. (from Sun Tzu, The Art of War) Often times, the only thing keeping them from agreement is that agreement will cause them to lose face. It’s especially important to offer concessions when you have backed them into a corner. Help them get something that they want, so they don’t feel they have “lost.” Give others authority over you that they might not otherwise have. You are giving up some control, so the other would have some legitimate control of the situation. Giving up some authority to others actually can increase your authority. It’s about relationships, time, and respect. Let’s go all of the way back to my first point: Leadership begins with listening.

These authors have also written the book, Getting to Yes.

We will make a copy of the conflict handout by e-mail.

Cultivating Agile Leaders

I love what the Vermeer Charitable Foundation (VCF) does to support ministry leaders in South Central Iowa. On a frequent basis, the VCF brings the nation’s top Christian teachers and speakers to the Global Pavillion, equipping Pastors, civic heads, and people like me who want to learn as much about effective leadership as possible. On Wednesday evening, October 29, 2014, I was pleased to represent Oskaloosa Christian School at a session presented by Scott Cormode, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary of California. If you would like to read my summary of Dr. Cormode’s message, “Cultivating Agile Leaders,” please read on.


“Cultivating Agile Leaders”

By Scott Cormode

Vermeer Corporation

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Summary Notes and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Principal, Oskaloosa Christian School

Scott Cormode, Academic Dean, Associate Professor, Leadership Development, Fuller Theological Seminary

I would like to address three issues this evening:

  1. Leadership begins with listening.
  2. Great leaders are agile.
  3. How do we nurture a culture of agility?

Leadership begins with listening.

There are a lot of people who think leadership is telling people what to do. That belief misunderstands the definition of leadership and the leaders who are entrusted with leadership.

People are entrusted to our care as leaders.

Leadership begins with listening, because it’s not just about the leader wants; it’s what everyone in the organization needs [for abundance in the organization].

Great leaders are agile.

The world in which life doesn’t allow for as much stability in jobs. As long as you’re in a specific environment with predictability, flexibility is not really that necessary. But environments change moment-by-moment. We cannot know what changes lie on the horizon.

The Internet has changed information interchanges around the world, i.e., research, sales, marketing, talking about our faith, etc.

It’s not possible to prepare an organization or a person for the future. We simply can’t do it. We must teach people to have the skills to respond to the changing landscape in the future. This is “agility.”

Jobs today require a great deal of agility. The pastorate, for instance, has become very complex, for instance. We cannot understand people unless we listen to them; we cannot stereotype people simply from their “looks” or “labels.” Presbyterian can mean a lot of different things to different people.

The ability to learn is the most promising trait of anyone in any organization.   Listen and understand the people entrusted to your care.

Some leaders are good listeners. Some leaders are poor listeners.

Pastors seem to be better listeners when someone surprises them with a unique life story; otherwise, they can rely too heavily on past scenarios which are similar to the ones newly presented to them.

Get yourself new questions to understand your people. Leaders too often walk around with their favorite tools, using only those tools. What if you had to use someone else’s tools to freshen your leadership?

Max DuPree is in the Business Hall of Fame. He was the President of the Herman Miller furniture company. The company had been founded by his father, D.J. He named the company after his father-in-law, because his father-in-law loaned him the money to start the business. That’s humility.

Agile leaders make promises. These are the words of Max DuPree.

Many leaders say, “Don’t let yourself get pinned down. Leave your options open.” But DuPree believes leaders should make promises and ask those entrusted to their care to hold the leader’s feet to the fire.   By constraining yourself as a leader, you open yourself to agility and leading in a more focused direction.

Commit yourself to certain values, which commit you to a narrower breadth of influence.

Trust is about predictability (Peter Drucker). A mafia leader is essentially more “trustworthy” than a local congressman. You can’t predict the agenda of the legislator. You know what the mafia is after – money and power; the mafia is more predictable.

The concept of trust varies by generation. To the Millennials, community builds trust. To Boomers, achievement builds trust. But we should not stereotype generations. Treat everyone like a mentor would treat someone s/he is mentoring. Effective mentors ask really good questions and tell really good stories.   Know what to listen for.

Max declared to his company what Herman Miller stood for. The environment would always be consultative. Anyone in the company could make an appointment with Max. Values should be preserved over the pride of the people. Hand your values to your people, and ask them to hold the leader’s feet to the fire. Again, that makes the company more agile. Change can occur more quickly.

Learning to lead is a cultivated instinct. “Cultivated”? You weren’t born knowing how to drive a car. But now you can drive a car without any real conscious thought. You cultivated an instinct. We slow down when we see police officers on the road. Culture shapes leadership.

Cultivated instincts are powerful, because they teach us what to pay attention to and what we can safely ignore. Your brain can’t keep track of everything. Cultivated instincts make you agile. You learn what to pay attention to.

Point to values which become the values people look to most.

There are certain kinds of problems the leader can’t solve for others. You can’t quit smoking for someone else. You can’t help a person learn to be less angry. People will come to you and want to be told what to do, but the leader can’t make that deal, [because the person must be responsible for his/her own behavior and not be able to blame the leader when the change is not made].

We can’t make promises on behalf of God. We also can’t promise that “everything will be okay.” We can promise that we will be with those who are entrusted to our care, but we can’t promise that everything will be okay. We can’t make promises without the authority to make the promises.

Be very clear about what you’re promising. Reach clarity about the definition. The Methodist church of California talks a lot about “loyalty.” Loyalty to the church means loyalty to the pastor; pastors will take care of their flock as long as the flock is loyal to them, but that’s transactional, not relational.

Don’t make large blanket statements. Give examples. [Be concrete. Don’t wax philosophical.]

Leadership begins with listening.

One of the ways that people violate their promises is by sending mixed messages.

Chris Argyris:

Four Easy Steps to Chaos

  1. Send a mixed message.
  2. Pretend the message isn’t mixed.
  3. Make the mixed message and the pretense undiscussable.
  4. Make the undiscussability undiscussable.

The key word in all of this is “undiscussable.” If you can’t discuss an issue, the issue will not be dealt with.

Build in your own “red flags” which signal your consistently inappropriate behaviors.   Listen to yourself enough to know when you are making mistakes. Give others the vocabulary which will allow them to discuss the undiscussables. Expect those within your care to hold your feel to the fire.

Make the undiscussable discussable. Loyalty is not cultivated through undiscussability and mixed messages. Undiscussability comes from emotional disability. [We are insecure and afraid of losing control or influence. We don’t want to be thought of as incompetent.]

We often keep the peace by sending mixed messages.

Practice talking honestly to one another. Practice NOT sending mixed messages. Honest conversations are so important. Not being able to discuss undiscussables limits agility. [All cylinders are not firing.]

Agile leaders make meaning.

Mental Models

Every leader wants the people entrusted to his/her care wants the person to get better, but you can’t just walk up to a person and say, “Here’s how I want you to change.” You might get compliance to your face, but you’re not going to get change.

You want to see people change how they act in the world. You need to allow them to see the world differently.

We have mental models of how we see the world.

What if I showed up to this seminar in a clown suit? Would that fit your mental model of a speaker? No. I would lose credibility by dressing that way.

Mental models are like soup cans on a shelf. In interpreting a situation, you reach up on the shelf and pull out the right can (mental model). Cultivate new behaviors – new ways of seeing the world.

Look at Jesus. Look at the Gospel of Mark. The high point of Mark is Chapter 8. After that, everything points to the cross. In Chapter 8, Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” Some said Rabbi. Some said Prophet. Some said Elijah. Jesus asked, “But who do you say I am.” Messiah! The Christ! The Son of the Living God! People had different mental models of the Messiah and of Jesus.

Jesus had ALL AUTHORITY. But He still could still not change the mental models of those who killed Him.

[You essentially “earn” the moral authority to lead.]

People don’t resist change. They resist loss. Jesus’ authority on earth was going to cost the religious leaders of the time.

James and John’s Mommy showed up. She asked if her sons could sit at the right hand and left hand of Jesus in an actual throne room. She didn’t get it any more than the disciples got it. Their mental model for the Messiah did not match the reality of Jesus.

You each have people entrusted to your care.   Change the way they see the world.

Change will not occur unless there is mutual respect. Relationship dictates what you can and cannot say to other people. Change the way they see the world. Listen to the people to understand how their mental models can be changed for the better.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the way that people saw the world.

Abraham Lincoln spoke 283 words, and he changed the way that people saw the world with “The Gettysburg Address.”   He started with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to grab the phrase, “all men are created equal,” even though most people’s mental model of the birth of the nation was 1787 (with the Constitution). If he had started in 1787, the mental model was that black men were 3/5 human, leading to a continuation of the mental model of slavery. Lincoln changed the mental model of slavery and the Constitution. He changed that mental model by changing the starting point. The country was born in 1776 with all men being created equal, leading to abolishment of slavery during his presidency. “The Gettysburg Address” told a different story in few words. The speech was printed with large letters, and people had more time to chew on the ideas.

You want to change the world? Help people see the world differently.

You want to change the future? Begin with a different starting point [and paint a vivid, compelling story of a preferred future]. Finding a different starting point allows you to re-interpret the future.
Listen to people well enough and long enough to understand what they value the most.

The more difficult the situation, the more necessary to listen well enough to understand what people value the most. Slowly invite them into a better way of being. Invite them into a new story. It can only happen bit-by-bit.

Invite people into a better way of being. Work on incremental steps. We should all take the next faithful step.

God leads people one-step-at-a-time. There are no shortcuts to real change.   You can only take one step at once. Change the orientation, and build on the momentum.

How do we nurture a culture of agility?

We won’t be able to answer this question, because my time is up.

The Mayor Was in the House!

Sixth Grade Teacher Renee Van Kooten and her social studies students were blessed by a visit of Oskaloosa Mayor David Krutzfeldt first thing on Monday, October 20, 2014!

Mayor Krutzfeldt did an excellent job of engaging the students for around 40 minutes by presenting salient information, telling good stories, offering excellent illustrations, and teaching some outstanding life lessons along the way.

I don’t want to put words in Mayor Krutzfeldt’s mouth, but consider my take-aways from his time with the sixth graders:

  • “This [school] is where memories happen.”
  • “I like to create memories for people from an interesting community like Oskaloosa.”
  • “You should start each week by exclaiming, ‘Thank God it’s Monday!’  Start each day and week by embracing opportunities.”
  • Be accessible as a leader, and listen.
  • Show leadership when change occurs.
  • Don’t always do what the people want.  Do the right thing.
  • “The first item of any City Council meeting agenda in Oskaloosa is to pray.”
  • The authority of biblical dominion has led to governments.
  • Luther talked about the left-hand and right-hand of the Kingdom, which prompts me to lead for harmony among the City Council members.
  • In the words of Thomas Jefferson, when passions are warm, it may be time to cool the emotions, in order to avoid poor decision-making.
  • Think long-term.  Plan.  Follow the plan.
  • “People have responsibility for the ways they conduct themselves with other people.”
  • Make all public facilities accessible to all citizens.
  • What’s the best part of being mayor?  I like to be a part of the initial conversations with opportunities, i.e., RAGBRAI coming to Oskaloosa.
  • “You never stop meeting people are are very interesting.”
  • A leader must be humble.  (Mayor Krutzfeldt gave up his office for use by a new assistant to the City Manager.)
  • “Dress for success.”

How blessed Oskaloosa Christian students are to partner with such an important, influential, and committed servant!  Mayor Krutzfeldt will direct students through a series of experiences throughout the school year, including a tour of City Hall.  Oskaloosa families, please take the time to thank our Mayor for his service to you and the other families of the community!

Setting Your Marriage Free

I have been an educator for 35 years.  Teacher.  Coach.  Associate Principal.  Principal.  And Superintendent.

But I have also officiated 3 marriage ceremonies.  (I hold an official license through the Evangelical Free Church of America; I didn’t just have a good night’s stay in a Holiday Inn.)

I recently finished reading a book which would be a classic body of biblical knowledge for marriage counseling.  Setting Your Marriage Free: Discover and Enjoy Your Freedom in Christ, by Neil Anderson and Charles Mylander is a must-read for any pastor or married couple.

I was not a believer in Christ when I married my bride.  I did not understand my biblical responsibilities to her.  Once I began following Jesus wholeheartedly 12 years later, I still had a lot of “old nature” to un-do, and, even when “the new man” arrived, we continued to struggle through challenges due to my bad habits.

When I allowed the Holy Spirit to work in my life AND IN MY MARRIAGE, life began to change, even if incrementally.

In fact, Neil Anderson helped me understand my life as a new believer in Jesus when I read about my position IN CHRIST as an individual, by reading his book, Victory Over Darkness, and, now, he helps me understand my position IN CHRIST as a married man, by reading Setting Your Marriage Free.

Anyone seeking a biblical model of marriage — and a dependence upon Christ for the humility necessary to make the other spouse more important than self — must read this book.  Anderson and Mylander explore. . .

  • God’s original design for marriage prior to the sin of Adam and Eve;
  • Sin (an unpopular but necessary exploration of the major reason for marital discord, separation, and divorce);
  • The influence of genetics and environment of marriage influences;
  • The differences between men and women (and the ways to avoid conflict due to these differences);
  • The joy and freedom of putting Christ first;
  • Active participation in the process of sanctification to become more like Christ;
  • Being aware of the spouse’s “love language,” and how to appeal to that language;
  • Sexuality from a pure and holy biblical filter, rather than the culture’s “filthy” view;
  • The temptation of and destruction of adultery;
  • Freedom IN CHRIST; and
  • The steps of “setting marriages free.”

The book is filled with excellent stories, illustrations, sound biblical exegesis, practical advice, and resources which would prepare the engaged couple and improve the marriages of couples at any age.

I wish this book had been around when my wife and I were going through our pre-marital counseling and our marriage difficulties.  We should have been divorced in Year 1, 2, 5, 7, 10, and 12.  But I praise God for His grace and for my wife’s commitment to our marriage.  It is only by the grace of God that I have been saved and that my marriage was saved.

Are you soon to be married?  Are you suffering in your marriage?  Is your marriage already very healthy?  This book can benefit you.  Read Setting Your Marriage Free.  See for yourself.

“I Will Ask for Help”

What a joy to again experience an Oskaloosa Christian chapel on Friday, October 17, 2014. Third Grade Teacher Tracy Klucas and her students did an excellent job of leading the chapel. I, Dr. Bob, know that many were not able to attend the chapel, so, if you would like to learn about the exciting chapel activities, please read my blog entry below.

“I Will Ask for Help”

A Chapel Led by Mrs. Tracy Klucas and the Third Graders of Oskaloosa Christian

Oskaloosa School of Christian Instruction

Friday, October 17, 2014

Summary and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Principal, Oskaloosa Christian

Third Grade Teacher Tracy Klucas began the chapel by asking, “How many of you have ever put a puzzle together?”

She directed the chapel group leaders (the eighth graders) to get puzzles and to help their groups assemble the pictures.

The 9 chapel groups – beautifully adorned with like-colored chapel shirts – teal, denim, purple, light blue, blue, lime green, orange, red, pink, and blue – began attempting to put their respective puzzles together.

“Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit” was projected on the screen at the east wall of the gymnasium.

Several parents and grandparents were in attendance for the chapel.

There was a healthy buzz during the chapel activity. (Excellent “anticipatory set”!)

The energy increased, as students got closer to completing their puzzles.

Mrs. Klucas said, “The puzzle represents your life. Every day, every year, you are adding new experiences to your life. But you will come to know that you are missing something. The only thing which will complete your life is Jesus Christ. You told me something was missing in your puzzle. Your life will be complete for success in His plan and purpose for you when you have Christ. When you have Christ, you have a reason to celebrate.”

Mrs. Klucas continued, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.   Your promise is heaven. We can’t get there on your own. It is only through Christ that we will enjoy His blessings.”

She also said, “The third graders will come forward to tell you more about being poor in spirit.”

We stood and sang two praise songs as a full audience.

The third graders read messages on-stage.

“We need to help for God’s help and forgiveness. We can help for his help at any time.”

“There are many people who demonstrate a need for God. Abraham was willing to believe God would make him the father of a great nation, even though he was an old man. Jacob was willing to do what was right, even if it was hard. Moses was scared to obey God when He appeared to him in a burning bush, but he freed his people from Egypt.”

“We’ve got to look for God’s help every day.”

“God will change your life.”

“Have you trusted Him for the free gift of salvation?”

“When we are feeling sad, all we need to do is ask God for help. God is with us. He provides for us. We need God more than anything else.”

The third graders did arm motions to a praise song, “He Lifts Me Up When I’m Down.”   It was beautiful to see the mix of all 9 colors of the chapel shirts, as they were concentrating so hard to do all of the motions correctly!

The students continued to read positive messages:

“Walk with God.”

“Never forget that we should be poor in spirit.”

“We must depend on what Jesus did on the cross to be received into heaven.”

“We are all poor in spirit – in desperate need of a Savior.”

Third Grader Mason Teeter led us in prayer.

We closed the chapel by singing the school’s theme song.


In my 15 years as a CHRISTIAN educator, I have never been more proud of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) than when the organization birthed NEXUS | Live, an innovative professional development delivery system of highly professional and esteemed educators presenting best practices in academic achievement and spiritual formation. This year’s distinctly Christ-centered event was no different. As the Field Representative for the western six states of the Mid-America Region, I attended the satellite site in Lincoln, Nebraska on Thursday, October 16, 2014, as the event was broadcast live from Washington, D.C. to Lincoln West Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and several other venues throughout the world. If you are interested, my notes follow.


NEXUS | Live

Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI)

Lincoln, Nebraska

First Evangelical Free Church

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Summary Notes and Editorializing, by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Principal, Oskaloosa Christian School, and ACSI Field Representative for North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa (emphasis added)

Video Introduction

Using Captain “Sully” Sullenberger’s miraculous landing of the plane in New York City’s Hudson River on January 15, 2009, the NEXUS audience was challenged to be equipped for impossible challenges.

What does it mean to be “equipped”?

God’s miraculous plans, hard work, experience, in-depth training, procedures, and effective leadership can lead to success with impossible challenges.

Character, compassion, and faith mix for success at Christian schools. Courage and confidence are necessary.

Today and tomorrow’s conference provide challenges and opportunities. We must take action to prepare a new generation for Kingdom responsibility.

The world is spinning out of control. How will we respond? We must be fully and masterfully equipped.

Dr. Dan Egeler, President, ACSI

Make small, regular deposits of experience which will reap eternal reward in the future.

What is the foundation of a Kingdom education?

Will your life be marked by quiet acts of honor?


Do nothing out of selfish ambition. In humility, consider others more important than yourself.

Dr. Ernest Shackleton led an expedition to the South Pole. Only 3 biscuits of food remained. One man gave up his biscuit, a quiet act of honor, knowing he had more strength than the Shackleton, who needed the biscuit.

Philippians 2 presupposes your willingness to consider others more important than yourself.

As a senior in high school coming to the U.S. from Africa, I enrolled in a New Jersey school. I wanted to meet the soccer coach. He took a personal interest in me. He introduced me to some of the players at a kick-around. Ninety kids tried out for 18 spots. I made the team. I went into the lockerroom. The players lined up to get their jerseys. I was at the end of the line. They had specific jerseys with “special” numbers. I finally got up to the window. I didn’t know anyone. I asked what number was left. The coach asked which number I wanted. He had set a jersey aside for me. Number 5 was the number he had worn in high school and college. That quiet act of honor shaped me for the rest of my life. Every single one of my kids have worn Number 5 as soccer players. One of my players rescued this picture of me in high school, a quiet act of honor.

I want to talk about the framework of this talk. There’s the micro of individual relationships and the macro of the school as a whole, including analysis of the culture.

A Christian Proverb expresses my belief well:

If you’re planting for a year, plant grain.


If you’re planting for a decade, plant trees


If you’re planting for a century, plant people.


Don’t inoculate your kids with small doses of Christianity to keep them from catching the real thing.

Truth is often considered out of bounds, due to the tolerance movement. We need to teach the truth and live the truth.

The Post-Modern generation is different. Commitment is limited.

Don’t preach John 14:6 right out of the box. Jesus said he was the truth, the way, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Him. That’s a big stumblingblock to this generation. Preach community. Preach the body of Christ. Preach how we care for each other. Young people are attracted like moths to the flame of authentic community. Then, introduce John 14:6. The students will never turn back.

How do parents disciple their kids? When the students are in the home, churches, and Christian schools, we must preach the truth. And you must live the truth. Otherwise, Christianity is viewed as hypocrisy with small doses of inauthentic religion.

Our schools must be genuine communities of faith. The only way a child can grow in spiritual maturity is within a community of faith. This is a shared pilgrimage, not a production line.

We don’t do things TO students. We do not do things FOR students. We do things WITH students.

With the mantle of humility, be an adult in the student’s life.

Most cultures understand community, but Americans struggle with individualism. Community must be a distinctive of a Christian school.

Characteristics of an Authentic Community of Faith

  1. Hospitality
  2. Gratitude
  3. Truth Telling
  4. Promise Keeping

Last year, I spoke about hospitality and gratitude. This year, I would like to speak about truth telling and promise keeping.

Truth Telling is a critical characteristic of a community of faith. We are prone to hypocrisy and duplicity. We compare ourselves too much. We keep up appearances. We cover our failures. We struggle with truthfulness and also take it for granted. We don’t notice the practice of truthfulness unless something goes wrong.

Fully embrace the purposes of God and follow the leading of His Holy Spirit.

The personal and relational aspects of truth telling are shown through people who preach and live-out the truth.

Truth builds up. Truth is not used to tear down.

Worry about truth. Don’t worry about appearance.

We should not say, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

Vulnerability and transparency are key to authentic Christian community.   We must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.

Are we willing to engage with others in this manner? Or do we protect ourselves in fear and disconnection?

We squander time and opportunities.

Perfect and bullet-proof do not exist in reality.

There was a sixth grade boy in Equator. I taught this bright little boy, Takashi. Another boy in the class befriended him. Matthew witnessed to him. They played soccer together. The two friends knelt down in the middle of the field. Takashi gave his life to Christ at that time on that field! He never turned back. He made the team against all odds. His older brother, a junior, was the best player. Takashi’s father was a busy man. He didn’t show up for a single game. A wound was developing from lack of connection of the older brother with his dad. Takashi’s brother dropped out of school, a shameful thing for the family. How could we pull him back into the school community? I tried to keep him connected emotionally to the soccer team. Takasha wanted nothing to do with this “shameful” brother. I went home with a heavy heart. After all, Takashi was a Christ-follower! The Holy Spirit spoke to me. I read the passage from Luke 15 to Takashi. Tears streamed down his face. Takashi had seen himself as the “good son.” Takashi walked up to his older brother and embraced him. The power of the Holy Spirit transcended culture.

Three years later, I was discouraged. I beheld Takahashi delivering the valedictorian’s address, and he used Luke 15 as his text! Takahashi introduced Matthew, who had led him to the Lord. His family spoke in Japanese to me. Takashi had taken off his cultural mask. He delivered the Gospel message. He is a Christ-follower – a truth teller – today.

Promise Keeping
Promise Keeping provides the foundation of a well-built house. We notice broken promises. We must strengthen the culture of promise keeping in our schools. Recognize children’s acts of fidelity. Recognize students when they consistently complete their assignments, rather than pointing out when they are not responsible.

Here is the photograph of a young man, Santiago, in the same class as Takashi. Another school had recommended Santiago to me, even though Santiago had not passed a single class in that school. He begged me for a chance. He was bright. He needed a chance. He was a soccer player. Santiago had a huge problem with anger. And he needed to be held accountable. An opposing player kicked him. Santiago chased him around the field and started choking him. My anger crushed him. I sat him down. He asked to go to the lockerroom. I hustled to him after the game. He was crying and sobbing, agonizing. He didn’t know what was wrong with him. I got him six months of counseling. At the end of that time, he pinned the reasons for his anger at the foot of the cross. I prayed over him for 3 hours on that day. I saw why he was angry. But he pinned the bitterness to the cross. He graduated, and he is following Christ today.

We must continue to hold onto the promise that Jesus is with us even to the end of the age. He will never leave us nor forsake us. Grasp His faithfulness!

One of my favorite stories of the New Testament involved Jesus and the 10 lepers. Lepers were absolute outcasts. They were shunned. They knew no normal community. They heard Jesus could heal them. Jesus performed that miracle. They would have run back to their communities to tell the great news. One turned around and fell at the feet of Jesus, thanking Him. We need to be like the one.

BE THE ONE who lives the life of embraceing hospitality, saying thank you, cultivating gratitude, being vulnerable, and living a life consistently keeping promises.



Dr. Sam Barfell, ACSI Vice-President, Professional Development

In Christ alone – through the power of the Holy Spirit – we must be faithful to the tasks before us in our Christian schools.

The key verse for this conference is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking, and training in righteousness, so that the men and women of God are thoroughly EQUIPPED for every good work.

Tweet during the conference at #NEXUS14.

Visit for the NEXUS resources.

Anita Renfro, Christian Comedienne

You started the conference with a story about a plane going down. How encouraging.

Doesn’t the set on this stage look like giant molars in a dentist’s office?

President Egeler’s soccer shorts were a little short, don’t you think?

Dr. Robert Marzano, Educational Consultant

[Dr. Marzano interacted with a group of Rocky Mountain Region Christian educators live from Colorado.]

I was a teacher. I taught at the college level. I work now in a research lab.

My topic is “The Art and Science of Teaching.”

Let’s look at the human mind. Let’s look at the students who walk in our rooms.

The human mind operates under four systems:

  1. Knowledge: the foundation
  2. Cognitive: decision-making
  3. Metacognitive: processing
  4. Self: the most important


Do K-12 schools do a good job of focusing on knowledge? Yes, they do.


We teach problem-solving better than we did before. We’re seeing movement in this domain as a result of standards.


In general, do we do a good job? From teacher-to-teacher, that happens, but we don’t do as good a job teacher-to-student or system-wide. Individual teachers do this, but metacognition at the entire school level is very rare. Metacognition comes into play when the task is very important to the learner.


Needs and goals are met through this domain. The self system is analogous to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The self domain is how the student views the world and how he fits into the world. A question can question fairness. A spiritual domain has been added to Maslow’s Hierarchy for those who see a higher power than self. We can do a better job in this “self” realm.

Are there any questions?

Why are we not connecting with students when they are adolescents?

We give lip-service to the metacognitive and self. Depression comes when they don’t see themselves connected to something greater than self. They ask, “Why am I here?”

What about the digital age and these domains?

There’s good and bad, and there is compromised community, in the sense that people are not seeing each other face-to-face.

How To Get Better in Pedagogy

Develop a common language of teaching and learning. Give a document to each teacher new to the school – a document which indicates the ways that we talk about good teaching, i.e., “At Oskaloosa Christian, this is how we. . . .”

Provide opportunities for focused feedback and practice – from administrators, parents, colleagues, and students. Teachers need feedback. You can’t just hire good people and leave them alone. Good schools are teams who share successes and failures.

Provide opportunities for observing and discussing effective teaching. Observe other effective teachers for the purpose of improvement. Teachers set goals every year.

Require individual teacher growth and development plans on an annual basis. This is a complex profession. Why wouldn’t you get to this place? Expect goals which focus on student achievement [and spiritual formation]. Measure growth in the goal area.

The Art and Science of Teaching is my book from which I will teach about a model of teaching tomorrow.

  • How do you communicate learning goals to the students?
  • How do you track progress [or lack thereof]?
  • How will students effectively interact with the knowledge?
  • How will students deepen knowledge?
  • How will students hypothesize at deeper levels of inquiry?
  • How will I engage students?
  • What about my rules and procedures in the classroom? Classroom management is foundational to success. Students want order, even if they don’t “like” it.
  • How do we communicate high expectations?

Draw students out. Don’t let them hide.

Other questions?

How would a goal relate to self-actualization or connecting to a higher power?

This is an abstract and complex question. How do you make that goal concrete? As Christian educators, you can do that; you can make that explicit.

Should students set goals for their learning?

Yes, that increases the students’ levels of engagement. You’ve still got to set some constraints.

How can we help teachers be more positive about observations?

Separate observations for and not for evaluation. Maybe the administrator doesn’t observe. Maybe it’s a team of colleagues who give feedback.

Tomorrow, we will pick up where we left off. What does it look like for teachers to set goals and engage in professional development?

Dr. Phil Gilette, Indiana Wesleyan University

IWU is the NEXUS | Live sponsor this year, and we celebrate the difference you are making in the lives of students and families.   I direct a partnership between IWU and Christian schools to help students discover God’s calling for their lives.

What is God preparing you for? What task does He want to accomplish through you?

We walk with students for just a little while, equipping them for future success.

We GET TO work with these kids 5 days a week!

In school, students are being equipped for something else, and they, too, will minister to others.

Drs. Harry and Rosemary Wong, Educational Consultants, Authors of First Days of School

“The Key to Classroom Success”

Rosemary and I are classroom teachers.

Classroom management is the subject which makes or breaks every single teacher.

I’m not talking about “discipline.” You and I were hired to “manage” a classroom, so instruction and learning can take place. Store Managers do not discipline customers. Nor do teachers.

Classroom management is about organization and consistency.

Why do you go to favorite stores and restaurants? Because they are consistent in delivering their services.

Structure and organize your classroom, so it’s very consistent.

Many kids come to schools from unstructured and dysfunctional homes. Classrooms cannot be in chaotic. The greatest gift for kids is the safe, predictable, reliable, dependable, stable, loving, nurturing classroom.

It’s so easy to do.

Kids are crying out to you, “What do you want me to do?”

Tell them to do what you want them to do, rather than on what you don’t want them to do.

We are going to share ideas that others have shared with us.

The website is a good source for our writing and the ideas of other educators. We get no compensation. It’s our gift to the profession. It’s our legacy. We seek to spread the dignity of the teaching profession.

Click on August, 2010. You will read an article about Amanda Brooks.   On the first day of school, she used a PowerPoint presentation on how the classroom was run. She had an awesome day. At the end of the year, she expressed thankfulness for putting procedures in place on the first day of school. She simply taught and enjoyed her students. That can happen to all of you. At the end of the 2nd year, she reported to us that she had a fantastic year, with the highest student test scores in the school, and she attributed her success to the PowerPoint on the first day of school. She learned that all good teachers have a plan. Coaches go into a game with a game plan. Pilots have flight plans.   Wedding officiants have plans. Teachers must have plans.

Look at p. 5 of First Days of Schools: How to Be an Effective Teacher, which is the best-selling book on education in history. Have a plan, so you can succeed in the classroom.

We have also written The Classroom Management Book. Look at p. 4. There are 50 procedures in this book.

The noblest of all professions is teaching. Upon the effectiveness of that teaching hangs the success of every single child.

Strive to be effective! Programs don’t teach kids. Technology doesn’t teach kids. Teachers teach kids. Produce results! Know the intended and expected results.

In August, 1985, Dr. Douglas Brooks wrote an article in Educational Leadership. He had videotaped teachers on the first day of school. He discovered that teachers who explained the way that the classroom was run on the first day of school had much better years than those who didn’t and were forced to chase the kids for the entire year.

As a new teacher, I didn’t have an idea where I wanted to go. Essentially, I had no classroom management plan. A plan makes you and your students successful. It’s filled with procedures for what you’re going to do and what students are going to do. Bring order to chaos. Bring logic to confusion. Winging-it is not an option. The plan is your living, breathing document. The plan becomes your legacy. Perhaps you will share the plan with a teacher who replaces you. Have a plan for the day, the week, the month, the year, and ten years from now.

Anticipate and plan for every situation which could arise. Follow the plan, and you will be successful. Carry a game plan into every single game. Be ready.

The game plan starts on the first day of the school year.

How does it start? Your greeting of the students. Let it come from you. Greet students with a warm smile and salutation. Welcome them into your classroom. On a rotating basis, students can also stand by you at the door of the classroom to greet their students. Stand at the door every single day. Say, “Welcome to your class! Welcome to your future!” Principals should be standing at the main entrances. This is not just common courtesy. It’s not supposed to be “cute.” This is backed with research. Greeting increases classroom engagement up to 27%. That doesn’t cost a penny! Read the October, 2013 article on this subject.

Have a start of class routine, i.e., p. 60 of The Classroom Management Book. First, look at the posted agenda, the plan for the day. A schedule should be posted. Tell the students about the flow of the lessons. An opening assignment will engage students the moment they enter the classroom. Engage the students in learning immediately. The objective for the day’s work is also posted. Posting an objective raises student achievement up to 27%. Tell them upfront what they are going to learn. PowerPoint is a wonderful way of showing the day’s activities. An opening assignment can be called “Welcome Work.” This isn’t a “Where’s Waldo?” game. Post your schedule, beginning activity, and objectives in the same place every day.

Your very first priority as a teacher is to get the students to work. Don’t waste time. If you waste five minutes in a day, you will have wasted 1 week of learning during the year. Thirteen years of this behavior results in 1 lost YEAR of learning.

Make the beginning of the learning time a consistent practice of every classroom of the school.

The number one problem of schools is not student discipline, but a lack of procedures and plans.

Successful Teaching ( is a free publication.

Tell students and teach them classroom procedures. Rehearse the procedures. Football coaches run the plays over and over again. Music directors rehearse the songs over and over again.

Rules have consequences. Procedures have no consequences.

Recurring procedures:

  • Entering the classroom
  • Getting help
  • Turning in homework/classwork
  • Taking lecture notes
  • Reading a chapter
  • Doing homework
  • Transitions

Kids know how to train teachers. They can engage in delay tactics, if the teacher isn’t firm about procedures and expectations.

Too much time is spent on “disciplining” in the classroom.

On the first day of school, show the PowerPoint of the structure, organization, and procedures of the classroom. Explain why you have procedures. Practice the procedures. Know what to do. Be successful. Regret the end of the school year. Have a plan. has such plans.

What do you do when you have 15 hands up, looking for help? Put a note in a sleeve on the desk, and the teacher goes to students individually.

Don’t pass papers forward. Pass them across the row. Those students can see the papers, so you don’t have delays that come from handing papers up the line.

Follow the Cornell Note-Taking system.

Take 3 weeks before you have students turn in homework; practice procedures; and you’ll have at least a 92% hand-in rate in the future.

Transitions can waste time and provoke student misbehavior.

Students want safety and consistency. Kids who are whipped into shape at lower elementary will be prepared for upper elementary, middle school, and high school.

Procedures give you the time to teach. Discipline problems drop.


The April, 2013 includes a good article by the Wongs.

It’s not too late to start. Get kids to do 1 thing with a clear procedure , i.e., how to enter the classroom, what you to get them quiet, etc.

Harry Wong raises his hand, and all students have their eyes on him and are quiet.

Say, “Give me 5.” (1) Eyes on speaker, (2) quiet, (3) be still, (4) hands free, and (5) listen.

The students have to know what to do! Establish consistency.

Principals should be instructional leaders. Teach the teachers what to do.

Every teacher greets at the door. Every classroom uses bell work at the beginning of the day. Procedures are posted and taught. Etc.

Read the Wongs’ August, 2011 article at

Step in and bring order to the classroom, if you’re currently experiencing problems. Procedures work.

Please send YOUR ideas to

Verbally express belief in your students. Say the words!

See an angel inside the marble, just like Michelangelo discovered in a discarded block of marble as David.

Speak to each student about their potential.

Rise to the level of YOUR potential! Help students to realize their potential.

We ARE the difference in the lives of kids.

Dr. Christian Overman, Educational Consultant

We’re going to look at tools which you can use – practically, immediately, when you return the classroom, to make that classroom “distinctly Christian.”

We don’t FIND meaning in education. We BRING meaning in education.

Context is the key to meaning.

What’s the truth about what we’re seeing here?

[He showed a slide of a close-up photograph.]

No one has ever gotten the right answer yet in all of the years I have been doing this. There is not enough of the whole (the context) to decipher the part.

When I show you the whole, you will all agree this is a . . .desk bell.

This illustrates the power of contextualization.

Contextualization in education means putting the pieces of academia into a larger whole, which brings greater meaning to the pieces than the pieces by themselves.
In terms of Christian education, contextualization involves showing our students how their learning is distinctly Christian.

We have the corner on the market. We have the opportunity to show our students how the pieces of mathematics reality, science reality, and music reality by helping the students to put them into the context of a larger whole is TRULY significant.

How do we do that?

I’ll share my tools with you. The format may be new, but the concepts go back to Luther, Calvin, and Paul.

Christian contextualization in real life is illustrated through the way that George Washington Carver brought remarkable meaning to plants. He understood that peanuts would revitalize the soil of cotton fields which were stripped of nutrients because of year-after-year cotton planting and picking.   He brought people from degradation and waste to manhood.” He asked, “God, Creator, why did you create the peanut?” God answered, “I made the peanut, so you could take it apart [and discover other uses for the nut].” Carver gave God the credit. “Without God to draw aside the curtain, I am helpless,” he said. He sought to “discover God’s secrets.” He learned about peanuts from “an old book.” The book tells about “the God who made the peanut.” He had asked God what to do with the peanut, and God showed him.

Carver thought about life from a biblical worldview. He got his daily “orders” from the Bible. In all of his ways, he acknowledged God, and He directed Carver’s path. “My purpose alone must be God’s purpose,” he said. He took Christ seriously every day, and “it’s an every day affair.” Everything Carver said and did was to GOD’S glory. “I am not interested in science or anything else that leaves God out of it.”

I hope that’s what EVERY Christian school teachers believes and lives.

How do we contextualize all of the subjects in a way that makes sense for students and doesn’t require a great deal of time to figure out?

The tool I am sharing with you is “The Classroom Conversation Starter.”

It’s a one-page graphic organizer. Here it is. [He projected the slide I think I had shared with Oskaloosa Christian teachers on the Friday before the first day of school. If I have not, I will do so.]

This is a biblical framework or biblical worldview, if you’d like.

SUBJECT: plants

GOD FACTOR: What do plants show about the nature of or view of God? What is God’s authority in relationship to plants? How does the God of the Bible cast light on plants?

CREATION FACTOR: What is the origin of plants? The design of plants from a biblical perspective?

HUMANITY FACTOR: What is the relationship of plants to humans? What is the human being’s response to plants? The value of plants?

MORAL ORDER FACTOR: What’s the “right” and “wrong” in regard to plants?

PURPOSE FACTOR: What’s the purpose for the existence of plants? What’s the relevance from a biblical relevance?

Put all of these factors together, and you have a whole context with a full understanding. This is what a Christian education should provide. The students can’t see the parts without the biblical whole. Students need to look at subjects from the whole of those parts.

C.S. Lewis argued that theology was the queen of sciences. The Bible served as a sun to cast light on every branch of learning. Without the Bible, we cannot see everything correctly. See things with their God-intended meaning (Albert Greene). See every piece of learning from a biblically informed whole. That’s what makes Christian education distinct from public education.

Teaching Christianly requires thinking contextually. That’s what this conversation starter facilitates. The graphic organizer brings meaning to the teaching and learning. This is to be done intentionally. You must have a plan. You can’t wing-it, as the Wongs explained earlier.

I want to share 2 companion tools.

One piece was developed by the biblical worldview institute:

“101” Biblical Worldview Truths

The factors sort the truths. It’s not an exhaustive document, but it definitely orders a number of truth statements.

As you teach about plants, you can search this document to identify statements which relate to plants [so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel]”

One statement that relates – “God created all things.” And so does “God continuously sustains all things [even when it is not a part of His original creation].”

The 2nd companion tool is entitled “Questions for Contextualizing Subject Matter.”

Questions help you contextualize subject matter. Look at the questions later on. Not all of the questions relate to plants. Don’t ever force it.

How do you think God look at plants? Why do you think plants are really important to God? With respect to plants, what difference does a Christian view of God versus a Hindu’s or atheist’s view? What do plants’ design reveal about the designer? How has sin distorted plants or our relationship to plants? How has a Christian view of plants impacted history, i.e., George Washington Carver?   How can the study of plants benefit humanity? How are plants being misused? What is the biblical teaching about the use of plants to solve the problems of poverty or world hunger? What do plants have to do with world-changing and culture-building?

Ask open questions which prompt student understanding of the whole. Questions can be modified for developmental appropriateness.

Relate plants to the bigger picture through such questions.

Teachers are conversational pump primers.

Students will come up with their own questions, and this is when things really get exciting, because they will be connecting the dots for themselves.

Isaac Newton Christian Academy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is going through a school-wide training of this process.

You may not experience an immediate palpably positive difference in your room, but I urge you to try it when you get into the classroom.

Teach the students how to use this tool! Help them to contextualize their learning. Help them develop their own questions. They will discover answers which have meaning to them. These tools help them to focus on the development of a biblical worldview.

Again, THIS is what makes Christian education distinctly Christian.

Go to, and click on FREE RESOURCES.

Go to, and you will find the 101 statements.

Let me leave you with two thoughts.

We don’t find meaning in education. We bring meaning to education.

Context is the key to meaning – seeing every subject in the context of a biblically-informed frame of reference.

Dr. Maureen Dowling, Director of Non-Public Education, U.S. Department of Education

I was an elementary teacher and principal a faith-based schools. I’ve been with the U.S. Department of Education for 14 years. I represent you and your students.

My office is the liaison to all of the non-public schools and home schooling in the U.S. We facilitate communication between the government and your schools. We listen to your concerns and voice those concerns to the government. We take input from you to shape policy. You are represented. Our mission is to maximize the participation of private school students and teachers in federal governmental programs. We inform policy-makers how private schools shape the country. The federal government doesn’t legislate private schools; states do.

Non-public schools complement the public schools and home schooling.   You represent about 10% of the school population in the country. About 3% of the population are home schooled. Eighty percent (80%) of non-public schools are in faith-based schools. Parents should have options for their students.

Non-public schools are able to access “equitable services” (Title 2A funds)

Check out the U.S. Department of Education website, and click on ONPE to learn about programs.

We educate about the No Child Left Behind Act which has been reauthorized under a different name. No funds are allowed under law. However, teachers can receive professional learning funds through the public school districts.

The Individuals with Disabilities Act is another law which provides services to students in your schools, again through the public schools.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools 30-year-old program which recognizes public and non-public schools, especially those who are closing the achievement gap.

The Green Ribbon program is similar, related to the environment and wellness.

The Teacher Ambassador and Principal Fellowship Programs allow teachers and principals to work at the U.S. Department of Education. These ambassadors help to shape national policies. You can also be regional officers.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) gives a sample of non-public student performance.

To What Vocation Will Our Children Be Called?

“To What Vocation Will Our Children Be Called?”

By Dr. Bob Stouffer, Principal, Oskaloosa Christian School

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I had a very special opportunity on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 to explore a treasure trove which is located only 30 minutes away Oskaloosa.  If you are interested in joining me on my written tour of this unique place — a place which could very well hold the key to your child’s future employment — please read on.

Oskaloosa Christian Board Member Marty Roberts serves as an instructor in the Advanced Technologies at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa.  On this date, he and I toured the many programs which are educating students to be fully-equipped members of the workforce.  In his department alone, I saw future auto mechanics, aviation technicians, commercial truckers, forensic software engineers, construction workers, electricians, renewable energy specialists, diesel mechanics, robotics experts, welders, and, his favorite area of expertise, machinists!

Indian Hills cannot produce enough graduates to fill the necessary spots in the manufacturing world.  The community college enjoys excellent relationships with area industry and high schools, seeking to put hands-on students to work in VERY high-paying jobs.  Marty told me that one of his 19-year-old machinists made over $60,000 in his job last year, almost twice the going wage for teachers in Christian schools.

The college is also producing medical technicians, child care specialists, dental assistants, EMTs, nurses, occupational therapists, paramedics, phlebotomists, accountants, agriculture workers, coaches, trainers, counselors, actors, and pre-professionals.

The Indian Hills campus is amazing.  The grounds are spacious.  The landscaping, absolutely stunning.  The buildings, state-of-the-art and teeming with square footage.  Students are using THE VERY BEST equipment available.  Computers proliferate every wing of every building.  A Catholic sanctuary on-campus was retrofitted into the library, and the beauty of the stain-glassed walls and floors is breath-taking inside.  Students were hanging out in very comfortable lounges, study rooms, and union chairs.  Marty and I ate an absolutely delicious meal prepared by students in the Culinary Arts program.  As with that department, the college is dedicated to helping student-entrepreneurs to discover their future work lives.

For the last decade, the Lord has impressed on me the need for Christian education to do a better job of helping students discover God’s vocational calling on their lives.  There are so many choices for all of us in 40+ hour work weeks when we get to that point in our lives.  How do parents help their children discover the passions and talents which will shape their life work?  I would encourage all parents and grandparents to talk frequently to all ages of children about how we serve Christ in our work, whether paid or unpaid.  After all, the Word of God states, “Whatever you do, do heartily unto the Lord.”  (Colossians 3:23)  The Hebrew word, “avodah,” is the same root for both “work” and “worship.”  Our vocational work must be seen as an act of worship!

Some students are “book learners.”  They ingest and effectively use all kinds of information.  Some students learn best through hands-on experiences.  The educationese for these pupils is “kinesthetic learners.”  Indian Hills is catering to both the book learners and kinesthetic learners.  An affordable investment can launch a student into a career after only 12 months, 18 months, or 24 months.  And, certainly, all credits can be transferred to 4-year colleges and universities to continue on the vocational quest for a lifetime.

Our culture too often assesses a 2-year program of study in higher education as “inferior” to a 4-year school.  But I would contend that the community colleges in Iowa — especially Indian Hills — are doing THE very best job of educating students for the “real world of work.”  We’ve got to get over any negative stigma attached to community colleges or technical schools.  We must help our students discover their unique skills for the world world.

Marty Roberts is justifiably proud of his work and the work of his colleagues at Indian Hills Community College.  I was surprised to hear from Marty that he has seen very few students from Oskaloosa at Indian Hills during his 7 years at the college.  So I am dedicated to planning a field trip for our junior high school students to see the college for themselves!  Students and parents cannot make informed decisions about higher education without seeing for themselves.  Look for my announcement in the future.  Parents are certainly welcome to accompany the group as chaperones and parties interested in their children entering the workforce and becoming strong contributing members of our economy.