Over the years, I have often heard people refer to their schools or workplaces as family—as in, “we are just like a family.” I understand the sentiment and the beauty of those comments because belonging to communities where we are loved, accepted, comfortable and safe is wonderful. I believe we need to work, play, worship and learn in communities where we can be authentic, real and “who we are meant to be.”
My wondering about the use of the term “family” for the workplace or for schools is a fear about a lack of clarity around professionalism and boundaries. Schools are places where people learn and work; families are places of ultimate trust and vulnerability—places where we can let our hair down and be ourselves in a very different, intimate, profound way. When we use the word “family” to describe schools and workplaces, there may be confusion on the part of students and between employees and their employers. School and the workplace contribute to our “place” in community but are not ultimately where we find our meaning and purpose—who we are. Our characters shape our contributions to the school and workplace, but confusion can happen if what we contribute comes to define who we are. We can gain much personal and professional satisfaction and meaning for work well done, and the people that we work with can bring us much joy, support and community. However, issues arise when our work is the only—or the main—place we experience community and meaning.
Many of us grew up in the reality of the “three-legged stool”: church, home and school. And so for many of us in Christian education, it may have been difficult to tease out the boundaries of where family, church and school begin and end. It would be still difficult in some communities to separate these distinct places, and yet I think we need to at least consider doing so in real, concrete ways.
If our goal is professionalism in the workplace, we need to talk collectively about what that means, how it can be experienced and what opportunities this type of dialogue affords us as we continue to embrace what it means to be Christian educators for the public/common good. We all need community, and it is important to cultivate close friends and community outside of our work. Often extended family, church and friends are those close community connections that support us and give us meaning outside of our work.
When answering the question “Who are you?”, our role as teachers, principals and educators is going to be close to the surface; however, ultimately that vocation is one part of us and can’t be the only thing that defines us. It sounds cliché, but developing friends outside of school, having hobbies and volunteering for other meaningful organizations are important for a balanced, rich and outward-focused life. You are more than just being an educator, just as your students are more than learners in your classroom. Let’s not confuse our personal and professional needs.
(The Edifide board has presented its membership with a new “Edifide Statement of Ethics and Standards,” which gives more examples on issues that teachers face in the arena of professionalism and community. Edifide encourages you to read, discuss and provide feedback to the board. We look forward to your comments, questions and feedback.)