As an educator, you may feel at times like you are watching your students ride down a bumpy road on a bus going the wrong direction and you are running behind, out of breath, trying to catch up to turn it around.

Here I was, as the principal, feeling like we were on that bus and wondering how we got moving so fast in the wrong direction. Students have seemed to be taking detours in various directions with little emotional resilience after the pandemic. SEL programs can be costly, and psychologists and counselors are in high demand. Teachers have been exhausted and they are wondering how to help their students to flourish once again. Tips and steps to conquer social/emotional learning have not solved all the problems. How can we as Christian Educators address the growing unique emotional challenges with students?

Our school decided our bus needed a U-turn.

Being in Christian education, we have the privilege to think about the students of Jesus. After all, he was the greatest rabbi or teacher to model teaching strategies for us. In what ways did his students go through times of trauma and struggling with emotional resilience? How did Jesus teach in a way that helped his students to flourish when going through difficult times to promote spiritual formation?

Jesus gave us the example of teaching through discipleship. Does he ask us to do the same? The Apostle Paul also gave us that same example to follow. “And these things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men, who have also been qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). We have the privilege of transferring what Jesus has told us from one person to another through discipleship. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).

So, our staff came together intentionally to rewire our thinking to become disciple makers. What an honor to walk with students and build relationships through the foundation of God’s Word. To do this, we paired staff with students for discipleship. Cleaning staff, teachers, maintenance workers, coaches, older mature students, the director of the school, and many others collectively volunteered. We gave the mentors tools, accountability, and schedules for discipleship. This was differentiated according to the need. The time frame did not need to be long: 15 minutes of intentional time each week was enough. It could be during lunch time, after school, during a break, before school, or some other designated times.

The mentors who were discipling opened God’s Word. Students started to ask questions and those students who were most troubled and unhappy started to build relationships, and they felt loved, valued, and at peace from understanding God’s truth. This was not easy as some students were hesitant at first. But with diligence, we found that discipleship gives students greater opportunity for feeling befriended, accepted, and supported. The rewards are ongoing. When students are given this deeper relational environment, positive outcomes proliferate.

Unexpected surprises we experienced from this approach:

  • Students enjoyed simply reading the Bible one-on-one with someone and began asking deep questions.
  • Older students enjoyed including their discipleship person with their friends during breaks.
  • Families noticed students were reading their Bible on their own and wanted to join.
  • Some students started memorizing Scripture on their own for later recall and focus.
  • Teachers saw a change in student behavior socially and increased motivation for learning.
  • The staff felt unified by a shared purpose together as a group.
  • The staff voiced reflection on their own journey with Christ.
  • Spiritual formation was happening with other students seeing the process as well.
  • Vulnerable students felt valued for being picked for discipleship.

Our bus is now making a U-turn in the direction of a fixed destination… a journey with Christ to His calling and lifelong service to glorify Him.

Rewiring our thinking for discipleship is a long-term investment in which students can grow to be purpose driven and emotionally stable, and we can see them growing in spiritual formation so they develop a deeper personal relationship with Christ and go out to likewise be disciple makers.

Julia Taves served for 36 years in Christian schools in the US, Africa, and the Dominican Republic. She has taught various levels in elementary, worked as an Elementary Principal in Uganda, and currently is serving as an Elementary Principal at Santiago Christian School in the Dominican Republic. She also worked as a Supervisor at Colorado Christian University in the Student Teaching Program. Julia is a published author including curriculum writing for ACSI, numerous published works through Cook Communications including The Quiet Hour, and a children’s devotional entitled “Hi, God. It’s Me Again.” (Westbow Press) Julia has an M.A. degree in Educational Leadership, and a passion to help school communities live every day in light of eternity, bless others and do hard things.