By Matt Thomas
I love being a dad! I even love being a dad during COVID-19. As I write this, I just finished praying with my middle daughter, Elli, because of her frustration with schooling at home. Like, I said, I love being a dad during COVID-19.
What I love about being a dad right now is the unique opportunity to step into moments that I normally would not have. But, these opportunities are also accompanied by feelings of inadequacy and being overwhelmed. Schooling at home is hard. Re-learning math or science was not what I signed up for this semester. So, during this time as a parent, I find that I often need encouragement to remember what matters most.
This is a lesson that Zach Johnson taught us after winning the 2015 British Open at St Andrews, Scotland. While being interviewed after his victory, Zach said this,
“I feel like God gave me the ability to play a game. I try to take it seriously. I realize it’s just a game . . . this [win] isn’t going to define me or my career, at least I hope it doesn’t. It’s not my legacy. Granted, as a professional athlete and as a golfer I’m going to relish this. I’m going to savor this. I’m humbled by this. But my legacy should be my kids and family.”
What Zach Johnson reminds us of is that when it comes to life there is no real success without succession. So, as I wrestle with what matters most during this season, I am learning that what actually matters most is that I pass on to my next generation that which matters most; a legacy of faith in Christ, obedience to Scripture, a love for His church, and a concern for the lost. The Bible says in Proverbs, “The righteous man walks in his integrity; His children are blessed after him” (Prov. 20:7). While each of us strive to leave a financial legacy to our children, more importantly, may we strive to leave a spiritual legacy of faith in Christ and the riches of His grace (Prov. 13:22; 19:14; 2 Tim 1:3-5).
So, what does a legacy look like? I would say legacy involves a
Love for God and others;
Example of gospel humility;
Guidance through Scripture;
Availability and presence;
Consistency of character;
Yearning for heaven.
School leaders, the families you serve need encouragement more than ever before. This is a hard season for all of us, but it is especially hard for the parents of your students. Would you reach out to them today? Would you remind them that nothing is more important in this life than being one of God’s tools used to transform the soul of their child? Would you remind them that the repeated cycle of unplanned moments is the soul-shaping work of parenting?
Every parent in your school needs this encouragement today. Encouragement that the most important work they are doing cannot be measured in grades or academic accomplishments. Remind them that they are leaving a legacy that will not be soon forgotten. This is the only legacy worth leaving after COVID-19.
Today, on two more great micro xchanges with education leaders from across the country, we tackled STUDENT ENGAGEMENT. Instead of a bunch of tools (see below if you need more of those), I want to share some of the great insights I heard. The quotation at the top of this entry was from Chuck Commeret who shared this as a 6-word memoir about his experience related to distance learning. Students will create their own tomorrow. Such a profound statement about the connection between engagement, learning and trust.
Other key insights:
Here are some great tools that will help you organize curriculum, assess student learning, and have some fun - all at distance.
Best Learning Management Systems I have seen:
Tools that are helpful for assessment:
Gimkit - built by a high schooler as an improved Kahoot
Nearpod - great for building lessons and assessments
Quizlet - great for student driven review
Parlay - great for virtual discussions - can track and assess
Floop - give graphic feedback easily
Edpuzzle - create videos with embedded prompts and questions
Flipgrid - great for any levels - various video projects possible
SeeSaw - great for virtual feedback at elementary level
Mystery Science - best elementary online science - every lesson set as a mystery
Newsela - provides same texts at different lexile levels in English and Spanish
Two more great Zoom idea collection events with educators from across the U.S. They are doing some remarkably innovative things to care for students, families, and teachers. Here are just a few of them:
We had another great gathering of more than 70 school leaders from across the U.S. and Canada identifying tools they were using to reach elementary students. Distance learning for pre-K to 2 has been particularly challenging. Ask a teacher about trying to Zoom with a class of 4-year-olds! Below are just some of the tools that teachers and administrators shared that have been helpful. The key - we are distanced from each other physically right now, but we do not have to be distant. The great elementary leaders I know are closing the distance through deep relationships.
More to come on assessment and feedback for distance learning. We have two webinars scheduled with hundred of educators. I love collective wisdom!
Tools for elementary distance learning:
G suite - Example attached here
by Bill McGee
Bill McGee is the head of Legacy Christian Academy in Plano, Texas. He is a member of the Baylor CCE Advisory Board and shared this with his team and the CCE this week. I hope it is an encouragement to you. Here is what he shared:
Nine years ago, I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. Shortly after my diagnosis, a friend sent me an article entitled, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer,” written by Pastor John Piper on the eve of his prostate surgery. This article was both encouraging and convicting as I came to terms with my diagnosis. I have shared it with many other men who faced similar diagnoses, as well as a number of women who have suffered with breast or ovarian cancer. Piper’s article makes ten main points we should contemplate during our journey with a life-threatening illness. Remembering the impact of Piper’s article, I offer the coronavirus version with the hope you are both encouraged and convicted.
1. You will waste this pandemic if you do not believe that God has a purpose for it.
As believers we acknowledge that we live in a fallen world that is sick with sin. It is also physically sick with viruses, plagues, bacterial infections, and all kinds of natural disasters. While it was not God’s intent that his creation be so infected, we humans must live with the consequences of our choice to sin, which distanced us from a holy God. But God has not abandoned us to wallow in our sin and suffer without hope. Throughout mankind’s history we see that God used pain, suffering, tragedy, plagues, wars and many other trials to remind us that we are creatures who need saving. And that salvation comes as a result of God’s own suffering in the crucifixion of his only begotten Son who bore our punishment in the most gruesome way. Our suffering is not in vain when we recognize that there is an ultimate purpose for it. With God’s permission, this pandemic exists and is being used by him to illuminate his glory, remind us of our dependence upon him, and bring about restoration.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28 NLT)
2. You will waste this pandemic if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.
A gift? A blessing? How could an insidious microbe that kills and/or causes great suffering be considered a gift? Many cancer survivors like me paradoxically claim that our cancer turned out to be a real blessing. It brought us to our knees and humbled us like nothing else. Our journeys resulted in a more mature faith that convinced us that our own efforts to fight this disease were futile and that we were utterly dependent on God’s mercy. Such was my experience. My arrogant independence and “boot strap” mentality were rendered impotent. Although not a present that I received with gladness in the beginning, I eventually acknowledged it as a blessing. What gifts will God bestow on us during this pandemic? I’m not sure, but I know my Heavenly Father is a good, good Father who delights in spoiling his children with unfathomable blessings.
And this is God’s plan: both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:6 NLT)
3.You will waste this pandemic if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.
In the early stages of the pandemic in the United States we witnessed the crowded beaches of Florida teaming with young people who, at that time, believed they were minimally at risk because this virus was an old person’s disease. They took comfort from the early statistics that indicated few young people suffered seriously from infection. A few weeks later, that myth was dispelled. Now we know that no age group is immune from the serious effects of this disease. I remember my surgeon telling me that there was a 50% chance my cancer would return within five years. That was nine years ago. My response to him was that my God is the Lord of statistics. My comfort and security could not be found in actuarial tables. It could only be found in a sovereign God who had already numbered my days. No disease can trump the will of God.
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. (Psalms 139:16)
4. You will waste this pandemic if you refuse to think about death.
How can we not think about death as we view the morbid scenes of overcrowded hospitals in Italy and New York City? How can we not contemplate our own mortality when we learn of the death of a contemporary? Perhaps God is using this pandemic to remind us all of our own mortality and finiteness. Perhaps COVID-19 is that stimulus jolting us out of our stupor and forcing us to answer the questions, “Is this life all there is?” and “What happens when I die?” Every human being receives a death sentence at birth. This current pandemic reminds us that we should think more often of the promise of eternal life because this mortal life really is only a vapor.
Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is. (Psalms 39:4 NLT)
5.You will waste this pandemic if you think that “beating” this disease means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.
Lord willing, we will overcome this disease. Treatments and vaccines are already being developed and in time, “this too shall pass.” It is likely we will “beat” Covid-19 like we “beat” smallpox and the Spanish flu. Should we rejoice if we survive infection? Absolutely. But, let’s not pound our chests and shout, “We’re number one!” as if we just won our own personal SuperBowl. This victory will be shallow and short-lived. In time, we will face another grave disease, natural disaster, or mortal threat that may “beat” us. Our mission during this pandemic cannot be to merely survive. We must continue our mission to “make disciples of all the nations.”
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever. (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”—Martin Luther)
6.You will waste this pandemic if you spend too much time reading about the coronavirus and not enough time reading about God.
Google the word, “coronavirus” and the result will be innumerable articles about this disease. Turn on the television and you will find 24-7 coverage on the pandemic. There is no shortage of information about COVID-19. Do we really need to spend huge chunks of time researching this virus? Not if it comes at the expense of reading God’s word. If we research Scripture we’ll find hundreds of verses that apply to our current situation. In fact, many familiar verses now have new meaning and give us a fresh perspective on life in a fallen world. We will waste this pandemic if we don’t allow it to rekindle our passion for God’s written word.
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)
7.You will waste this pandemic if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.
Dr. Tony Evans recently stated that “social distancing” is a misnomer. It should be “physical distancing” that we observe. God made us to be social creatures and to enjoy fellowship with others. I am amazed at the creative ways in which humans are connecting with friends and loved ones despite strict limitations on physical proximity, from balcony ballads to drive-by birthday parties to virtual concerts. It is so obvious that we have a deep desire for human contact and that being with others is therapeutic. Technology gives us the means to reach out to everyone on our contact lists or in our circles of influence. We will waste this pandemic if we don’t take full advantage of the tools and time we have to reconnect with a distant friend, offer forgiveness to an old enemy, restore a relationship that was broken, or simply strengthen the bonds of our immediate family. Now is not the time to retreat to our caves.
Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. (Colossians 3:13 NLT)
8.You will waste this pandemic if you grieve as those who have no hope.
COVID-19 is a killer. Many will suffer the loss of a family member, friend, or co-worker during this pandemic. Even if we escape the loss of life, we, or someone we know, may very well lose our job, our life’s savings, and our sense of security. We will have many reasons to grieve over the coming months and years. But grieving is not the same as despair. It is okay, even healthy, to grieve or to be sad about our losses. God endowed us with emotions and grief is an emotion that is a consequence of The Fall. Yet, believers in Christ Jesus do not grieve like the world grieves. Our hope-filled grief is a powerful witness to a world desperate for hope. Whatever or whomever we lose as a result of this pandemic will cause Believers to grieve, but the loss will not be the final verdict for those whose hope is in Christ.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NLT)
9.You will waste this pandemic if you treat sin as casually as before.
Is God using a virus to punish the world for rampant unrepentant sin? I don’t think so. I believe that COVID-19 is not due to moral evil, but is a natural evil. Mankind has been under a curse since The Fall and this pandemic is but one of many consequences of existence in a sin-sick world. I do believe, however, that he sometimes allows lesser evil to occur to prevent a greater evil from overtaking us. For the Believer, God may allow this present suffering to bring about repentance from a particular sin that is keeping us from full fellowship with him. What a shame it would be if we didn’t take this moment of crisis to reflect on our lives and confess whatever sin(s) is keeping us in bondage. It’s also an opportunity for us to renounce our idols. In my community, prosperity, celebrity, and sports come to mind as idols that are predominant. An existential threat such as what we now face can sometimes shine a light on unconfessed sin and lead to a penitent heart.
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:8-9 NLT)
10.You will waste this pandemic if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.
For the body of Christ, this pandemic presents an unprecedented opportunity to be salt and light. The coronavirus is now present on every inhabitable continent and is afflicting almost every nation of the world. As people who “run towards the plague rather than away from it,” Christians are demonstrating the love of Christ through heroic acts of service and self-sacrifice. When an unbeliever observes a Believer putting the needs of others ahead of her own, he is witnessing the very hands and feet of Jesus in action. And because the Son of Man is the perfect reflection of God and because the church represents the body of Christ, the world is witnessing the One True God who loves his creation and will deliver it from evil. Many will come to a saving faith in Christ Jesus if we don’t waste the opportunity we have to share the love of God with those who are suffering physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:14-16 NLT)
Matt Thomas and I just got off a Zoom conversation with some outstanding school leaders from across the U.S. We were discussing challenges and opportunities for assessment in these unprecedented times. Here are some of the best ideas and resources that came out of our conversation:
1) This is an opportunity to strip away what does not matter and use assessment to focus on learning. We need to bring more clarity to learning through assessment.
2) Stop calculating GPAs for class rank this year and three years and one semester.
3) Get clear on rubrics for what is expected of student work - helps teachers, students, and parents - possibly try a single point rubric
4) Make finals metacognitive reflections on the the year.
5) Record Zoom sessions - particularly anything that is one-on-one between teachers and students.
6) Use Flipgrid to collect good evidence of learning - make students synthesize and summarize
7) Focus on deeper, more meaningful learning through more extended work/projects
8) The Online Learning Consortium has been helpful for some leaders thinking about blended learning and assessment.
I just got off another Zoom session with some phenomenal school leaders from across the U.S. Here are some of the best ideas I gleaned. Bullet form as always for brevity - feel free to ask for more detail if needed.
These are the two best resources I have come across to help teachers and parents in these unprecedented times. I continue to be amazed at the ingenuity of educators. I am praying for you and am willing to help any way I can. Be encouraged we have the best profession in the world. It is the one that makes all others possible!
Wide Open Schools: Created with some amazing partners, Common Sense Media has created a portal of learning opportunities for students of all ages. If you are struggling at home or with lesson planning, this could be an enormous blessing.
Cult of Pedagogy: These are curated distance learning resources for teachers. Jennifer Gonzalez has been doing great work for teachers for years.
"Little touches have made all the difference." These were the words of an elementary principal yesterday.
A vice president for development said, "Teachers have always been the heroes, but it is more evident than ever. How are we supporting teachers?"
On the same Zoom meeting, a teacher shared, "We are getting to model not having all of the answers and telling students, 'We are going to see how this works.'"
Over the last two weeks, I have seen an explosion of creativity in schools - the way we teach, learn, and lead. Yesterday, I was on Zoom for our monthly checkin with three of the best Christian schools in Texas and was inspired by the work they are doing. Many of these ideas apply to any school in any context, and I want to spread good ideas as quickly as we can. I added some information to my resources page before the check in, but I also wanted to capture some of the personal touches that these schools are using to serve their students, families, and faculty well. Given how little time we all have, I am going to list what they are doing in bulleted fashion. Feel free to add comments about good resources and practices you are using. This is an unprecedented time for us to get better together!
This is a tremendous opportunity to let students and families know how much we care about them! Let us know how you are doing this in the comments below.