From Edvance's Director of Leadership

By Marianne Vangoor  |  June 6th

As you wrap up what has likely been one of the most challenging years of your career, I want to ask you a question that I hope you will consider in the days ahead: How is it with your soul? What I mean by that is how is it with your interior self? Ruth Hayley Barton in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership defines soul as the “very essence of you that God knew before he brought you forth into physical form, the part that will exist after your body goes back into the ground. This is you that exists beyond any role you play, the job you perform, any relationship that defines you, or any notoriety or success you may have achieved.” Parker Palmer has taught that good teaching comes from the inside, and I would like to add that strong, effective leadership comes from the inside – from the soul of the leader. Palmer also wrote, “A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside of him/herself, inside his consciousness, lest the task of leadership create more harm than good.” As leaders we need to pay attention to our souls.

After a good long tenure in school leadership, 27 as an elementary school principal, and two years as Edvance’s Director of Leadership, I know that the task is demanding and is often overwhelming. Leading through the pandemic and now helping to decipher the “new normal” post pandemic can be all consuming and take much of who we are. We must guard against this to avoid becoming dry and empty on the inside. In other words, we must guard our souls.

Swiss theologian Emil Bruner looked to the life of Christ and saw a pattern that can be helpful to us as leaders. The pattern he saw was the gift of grace at work in the life of Christ. John Ortberg continued to unpack this gift by naming specific aspects of grace. One he called the gift of accepting grace we are accepted and loved by God, no matter how we perform or what problems we solve. Our value does not rely on things we do or do not do. We do not have to do or be anything to be covered by the great love of God. That in and of itself, is freeing. I can sleep at night knowing I have done my best at what was before me that day and it was enough in the eyes of God. I do not have to earn His love – it is just given to me! Hold onto that after a tough board or staff meeting or a conversation with a disgruntled parent or a staff member. Hold onto this truth as you wrap up this challenging school year. You, school leaders, are accepted and you are loved for who you are!

Ortberg also names the gift of sustaining grace – grace that is given daily. I have a favourite saying that has kept me going during tough times and that captures this sustaining grace: “Manna for today! Tomorrow there will be a fresh batch so let’s use up today’s batch. You do not have to save any for tomorrow.” What God provides each day will be enough for the day. That too is freeing for our souls! He sustains and provides!

The following story illustrates what happens when a soul is fatigued and not feeding off the manna provided daily. There was once a traveler visiting Africa who had engaged a group of carriers and guides. Hoping to make her journey quickly and efficiently, she was pleased with the many miles travelled the first day. On the second day though, all the carriers she had hired remained seated when it was time to leave. They refused to move. She was frustrated and asked their leader why they were so uncooperative. He told her that on the first day they had travelled too fast and too far and now they were waiting for their souls to catch up to their bodies. It may be that many of you can relate to that feeling.  

Throughout my time in school leadership, I know I have not been my most effective self in that place. I did not make the best decisions; I did not strategize with wisdom, and I did not love as deeply as I should have done.

So, my parting wisdom for you as leaders who will carry on in serving the Kingdom, is to seriously and honestly consider the personal practices that allow God’s grace to keep replenishing you with His spirit to let your soul catch up to your body. Look to the pattern of Christ for inspiration. We see that He:

  • Prayed often - alone and with others
  • Worshiped
  • Enjoyed creation and the vast variety of people made in God’s image, including the outcasts of society
  • Rested even in times of great challenge or opportunity
  • He had a circle of friends who understood him and walked with him - that is why the leadership cohorts are so invaluable - these groups can be places where we are understood, supported, and nourished by people who know what our roles demand.

One more essential thing stands out that Jesus did – he regularly sought solitude or a time apart. Solitude is the place where we find rest and healing for our souls. It is a time away from the demand of meetings, emails, and noise. It is a place where God can work and refine our characters and our hearts. Summer vacation should provide some time for this, but even as the new year looms on the horizon, I challenge each of your to be deliberate in regularly setting aside some solitude time. Establish a rhythm and a pattern that works for you.

Mama Maggie Gobran, the mother Teresa Cario, has had a profound impact on my life and so I bless you with her simple yet challenging way of getting to this place of silence. Mamma Maggie says,

“To be in silence is to be fully inside your own self. The silence is the secret – it is the first step to finding treasure. To get to this place of treasure:

  • Silence your body to listen to your words.
  • Silence your tongue to listen to your thoughts.
  • Silence your thoughts to listen to your heart beating.
  • Silence your heart to listen to your spirit.
  • Silence your spirit to listen to His Spirit.
  • In silence you leave many and be with the One.”

God bless and keep you, my friends! May you find the grace you need for your souls as you lead your schools into the future! It has been my pleasure and delight to serve with you these many years!

Marianne Vangoor is the Director of Leadership at Edvance