Jay Blogs – Good Advice

One of our core values at Grace is “redemptive community.” I love this part of who we are. When you’ve been here for just a little while, you’ll see quickly that this is a community of people who truly love each other well. That’s the “community” part. Yet, we do so with a purpose, one that allows us to love consistently and persistently, even when it’s hard to love: to glorify Jesus, and to serve him through our love.

A fantastic gift of living in community like this is the ability to bring up our children together, and to learn from each other. In the years we had kids I home, I learned almost everything I know about parenting and shepherding kids by watching and learning from my friends. Sometimes I learned from their mistakes, but mostly, these godly people taught Ashley and me how to love our kids through their wisdom and grace.

We are all essentially alongsiders and equippers, walking with you as you parent and prepare your children for God’s calling on their life. And, as we begin another school year, I thought it might be helpful to ask each of our principals what advice they gave their own children on their first days of school, both now and in the past. Here are just a few words of wisdom for kids and parents (together with my commentary):

  1. “Take a deep breath. Everyone else is just as nervous, confused, and self-conscious as you are,” said Mr. Lanny Witt, Grace High School Principal. It’s easy to walk into the first days of school thinking that everyone else is calm, cool, and collected, and I’m the one, solitary insecure nerd. The reality is that everyone has the jitters their first days of school. I always told my kids that those butterflies and nerves was God’s way of getting your mind and body ready for action, and was a perfectly normal response.Share your own “first-day jitters” stories, remind them that everyone in their classroom feels that way, and challenge them to be the one to help another relax by talking to or engaging them in some way. As Mr. Witt’s dad used to tell him (perhaps a little more directly): “You wouldn’t worry as much about what people think of you if you realized how little they do.And, if you want to have good friends, be a good friend. Kindness and generosity go a long way.  Go up and say “hi” to someone new your first day.
  2. You’re getting an education, so let’s try to sound educated (Jay’s “cringey list.”) Make certain you correctly use an apostrophe with the letter “s.” Also, “there,” “they’re,” and “their” are three different words with very different meanings. Learn to use them appropriately, because very few things look worse than when you don’t. “Irregardless” is not a word. You don’t “revert back,” unless you’re not reverting anywhere. The saying is not “I could care less.” It is: “I could NOT care less”; never use the word “like” in class unless you’re making a comparison or expressing an affinity for something.
  3. One more: Don’t use the word “literally,” then speak figuratively. That doesn’t make any sense, either.
  4. “Be a blessing to your teachers,” recommends Mrs. Jennifer Dozier, Grace Elementary School Principal. Principals are probably the best at giving this advice, because they see closer than anyone how hard teachers work. Working hard, being respectful, listening well, and not being a distraction in class are all learned skills (and the key to having teachers go to bat for you when your grade is “on the bubble,” BTW), but they are all skills largely driven by expectations at home. How we parents talk about our kids’ teachers around the dinner table, to a large extent, drives how our kids treat them in the classroom. If we’re respectful and speak of them in appreciative tones, and make it clear that we expect the same from our kids, that’s what we’ll get. But, if we speak about their teachers in derogatory or disrespectful ways, we can’t expect our kids to respond differently at school. Learning to work with and meet the expectations of others (especially those evaluating our work) are fantastic life lessons, and now is the time to learn.
  5. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” remarks Mr. Joshua Webb, Grace Middle School Principal 7th & 8th. Knowing how to differentiate between genuinely difficult issues in life and minor grievances is another indispensable, and increasingly-rare life skill. In our outrage culture, everyone seems to take offense and get mad at everyone else for everything. Since we live in a fallen world, the potential is great for us to just be continually unhappy or upset about something. That’s why emotional resilience is the new superpower to build in our kids. Here’s how. There are certainly some things in life that are “hills to die on,” matters of principle or truth that need to be fought for and defended. But, they are few and far between. I can think of less than a dozen that qualified for all of my three children during their entire collective childhoods (that’s 36 years of school, cumulatively). The rest were things they needed to learn to take in stride, to accept, maybe grieve, then move on, and certainly not make a source of sustained drama or anxiety. Once again, whether they admit it or not, kids take many of their cues whether to get upset from you, just like they did when they were little, fell down, and immediately looked at your face for a reaction to see whether they should cry or not. If you fly off the handle, go into “mama bear” or “papa bear” mode, and overreact, your kids will, too. If you calmly and prayerfully coach them through life’s little grievances, you’ll model for them a set of social and emotional tools that will help them skillfully navigate life’s trials.
  6. “Know who and whose you are,” said Mrs. Jessica Huddleston, Grace Interim Middle School Principal 5th & 6th. So much of school is about identity, learning who you are. In this age, people are lying to them all over the place about that most important question. As a parent, it begins with you. I can’t think of anything more important than for you, yourself to know this (and I want you to read carefully and feel the weight of this): that you are a child of God, loved by our God, so much that he found you worthy of sacrificing his most precious son, making you full and perfect and complete before Him, not someday when you clean yourself up, but right now, in all your brokenness. You are an heir to the Kingdom of Heaven, most valuable to the Most High. Get this deeply in your core, deeply enough that no lie from this sad, broken, world with all its messed-up messages can ever convince you otherwise. Then, hammer that deep, life-giving reality into your children. Every. Single. Day. They can’t hear it too often or too much, because the world is also constantly bombarding them with counter-programming.  When your home, church, and school are telling them the same truth, the same reality, and that reality is from the mouth of God, it’s a powerful force, one that will shape the course of their lives forever.

Pretty good advice, huh? Turns out these folks who love your kiddos every day know what they’re talking about. Have a great year.

Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.