by Dr. Dennis Demuth
Our second pitfall is failing to move in on a problem when it arises.
Over the years, I have learned some valuable aspects about “problems.” Begin by seeing your “problem” as a challenge. In my first week as the new Victory Christian School administrator, in an administrative team meeting, I was asked, “How are things going?” I responded, “As best as can be expected, except for the problem of filling our teacher vacancies.”
I remember the words of a colleague, “Dr. Demuth, we don’t have problems; we only have challenges.”
A problem is a matter of doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty and “a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation” (Merriam-Webster). When “problem” is used, it’s generally viewed as unfavorable. When something is wrong, complicated, or bad, “it’s a problem,” such as the exploded ostrich egg in the science room, the hallway sprinkler head being hit with a book bag, and a thousand crickets loose in the science room. Challenges come in all shapes and sizes and can surface at the most inconvenient times.
When I saw teacher replacement as a “problem,” it fostered a mindset that limited my belief and faith. I found myself giving power to the problem and making excuses, and my effectiveness in dealing with the issue was limited.
Conversely, addressing teacher replacement as a “challenge,” I sensed a call or summons to engage in a solution (Merriam-Webster). Seeing the situation as a “challenge” became an opportunity for success and growth. It served as a call to battle that required special effort, prayer, and the release of my faith. It was not easy, but when I began to approach an obstacle, such as teacher placement, as a “challenge” rather than a “problem,” I retained the power to act upon it and to influence and determine the outcome. For David, Goliath was not a problem; he was a challenge.
Furthermore, pretending that a challenge will go away if ignored doesn’t make it disappear. For example, I had a staff member who did not follow school policy (arriving to work on time); he also taught a subject which would be a challenging position to fill. Other staff knew about it, yet I avoided dealing with it. When this happens, feelings begin to build for whatever reason. And anger begins to erode the objectivity of those involved. I didn’t even want to even think about this challenge. As a result, I would find myself moving the challenge to tomorrow’s to-do list. And when tomorrow came, I’d do it again – and again. Before I knew it, the challenge became more vicious daily. Each day, it increased and became too overwhelming to deal with.
When this type of staff issue happens, you must deal with your anxiety about the situation. Be understanding and merciful, but don’t compromise standards of expectation. Instead of saying, “Shape up, or you will have to ship out,” ask, “What can I do to help you become successful?” When you take the time to listen and be understanding, you are more likely to get to the root cause and get the situation resolved.
Dr. Dennis Demuth has been involved in Christian education since 1972. Dr. Demuth has served in many different positions including teacher, school psychologist, principal, Superintendent of Schools, educational consultant, Minister of Education, Director of Christian Education, and Director of Development and Information Services. He has taught at several institutions of higher education and has served as an adjunct professor in the College of Education at Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, OK. He retired after 35 years as Superintendent of Schools at Victory Christian School, Tulsa, OK and 49 years in education and serves as a consultant to Christian school ministries. Find more of Dr. Demuth’s writing at www.Delpublications.com.