At the outset, I want to acknowledge that the topic of status is challenging to think about. I think that is the case because it is often a hard reality to identify and impossible to quantify. I’m talking about the connection between a person’s status and the power they wield due to that status. And by status I am referring to one’s standing in a community
Let me offer a couple of examples.
As a high school student, I played varsity basketball. My membership on the basketball team gave me a certain status in the school. Even though I was a pretty awkward and gangly kid, I realized that by being a decent ball player, I had some social power.
Maybe in your high school or college, status was connected to another sport or a specific clique of students. Sometimes status is contained within the subgroup or sports team, but often it moves beyond that and is recognized by a significant portion of the student body. In my personal experience, the status I gained by being a good basketball player was acknowledged by some of my teachers and school administrators. I was given leeway at times because of my status as an athlete. In hindsight, I would say the school placed high value on success in athletics.
Fast forward to my vocation as an educator. I remember working in a school where one of my colleagues was the offspring of a key founder of the school. That colleague had status in the community and seemed to have more power in the staff room and with the board and administration. My colleague knew they possessed that status, and I knew I did not! And, in fact, this status created tension at times, limiting this individual’s ability to grow, and limiting the school’s ability to implement change. Again, in hindsight (always so much clearer!), I would say there was an implicit overvaluing of this person’s family connections to the past.
Both of those situations represent a dark side to the concept of status.
On the flip side, in college I remember a student who was exceptional in his ability to make people feel accepted and important. He was authentically encouraging, kind, and full of life. He reflected a unique Christlikeness in his day-to-day interactions. Over our four years in college, I saw his status grow, and for all the right reasons. I believe his character awarded him power: the power to speak into people’s lives in a way that caused them to listen.
Fast forward to my vocation as an educator again. I remember working in a school in which the full-time maintenance person, who also taught Bible 12 and held a master’s of divinity, had a position of status in the community due directly to his character. He was a person of humility and service and modeled that for all. Both of these examples are the beautiful side of the concept of social status, and they refer back to my December post where I clarified the difference between a traditional view of power and Max Weber’s view of authority: “the ability to move people in a direction because they believe in or trust you based on your actions and character. Mother Theresa was a person of deep authority.”
So how does this idea of status connect to my role in school leadership?
When we work in a school context, we are working in a social context, and each social context contains positions of status. It is essential for us to be aware of that reality and to reinforce status for all the right reasons, for those who have status have influence (the power to impact a culture). I would say that would begin with ensuring those who receive the respect of colleagues, students, and community members do so because their actions align with the core values of the school. In fact, I would say that a measurement of a school’s lived vision (not simply the written version) would be the answer to the question, “Who has power and authority outside of an official role, and why do they have that power and authority?”
Let’s be clear in naming that we live in the context of competing stories. As Christian school leaders, we strive to ensure our schools are defined by our place in God’s story. It is our deep hope that our students will define their personhood in that context. But we are constantly bombarded with competing stories in the Western world: stories of success, stories of body image and appearance, stories of sexuality, stories that seek primacy in our lives and in our schools. It is vital to the development of a Christian school culture that fosters the life of Christ to ensure those who hold positions of status in our communities do so because their lives and actions align with God’s story, and hopefully our school’s vision fits hand in glove within the story as well.
Questions for reflection:
- Who has status among our staff and faculty? Why?
- Who has status among our student body? Why?
- What practices do we participate in (consciously or unconsciously) that reinforce negative positions?
- What practices should we initiate to ensure status is connected to our school’s vision and mission?
– David Loewen