If you are like me, you read the Portrait of a Graduate and say, “Yes! That’s what I want for my child!” We all want our children to be “better” than ourselves. We quickly sign the contract and hope, “Please help my child become these things.”
We all have a desire to live the best possible life – the good life, full of wisdom and virtue. The Portrait of a Graduate shows us ideals we want for ourselves, as well as the areas in which we fall short of living out these ideas. As we recognize our own shortcomings, it often leads us to set goals for our children. It seems the “older and wiser” I get, the more I realize how much I have gotten it wrong. The more I think of the “good life” as a list of “to-dos” to achieve a certain outcome, the further I get off track from what it means to actually embody virtue.
You may be wondering, “What does it mean to embody virtue?” I am glad you asked. The other aspects of the Portrait of a Graduate are a little more concrete. “Embodying Virtue” is the catch-all phrase that covers all the rest of the areas of our life. It’s how we live out our faith everywhere: with your in-laws, at a basketball game, around the dinner table, in the neighborhood, with students, etc. You get the idea.
This ideal makes us stop and reflect: “Am I really showing the world what it means to follow Christ?” Do I live out my faith? Do I love my neighbor as myself? Even when no one is watching? Or do I consider my needs before others?
Let’s face it, none of us has or ever will master this, but how can we begin to cultivate this in ourselves and our students? First, let’s get one thing straight, from one piece of broken pottery to another: It will be messy and it doesn’t happen overnight. Masterpieces take time just like one well-placed brush stroke after another.
Each day we are confronted with opportunities (brush strokes) to instruct in the way of the Lord. Here’s a quick example from an anonymous classroom – the act of lining up to get Fun Lunch. That sounds simple, but believe me, it’s not. There are many lessons in righteous living taking place. Think about it. Do you push your way to the front? Do you cut in line? (After all, that’s where your friends are standing.) Do you pretend that you didn’t see the line behind you? How are you treating those around you in line? How do you speak to the wonderful people serving you? Do you take the very last Chick-Fil-A sauce?!?
This may seem silly, but there are lessons in moral living everywhere. The world would respond differently to the questions above. Paul warns the believers in Corinth that the wisdom of the world is folly. We are surrounded by opportunity every day in countless ways. It is my desire in my classroom to engage the heart, not so my students will behave in line, but that they would be formed by the Word of God and live it out in places where the impact is far greater. (Of course good line behavior is a bonus!) It matters how we live!
In our fast-paced culture, we want results. I sense the fear in parents as they realize their children really are sinners, and that they are powerless to save them. Fortunately, I know someone who can! To embody virtue is the work of the Holy Spirit. Remember that “to-do” list I mentioned? That’s man’s response to righteous living. Remember the biblical account of the rich, young ruler? To live out our faith takes the work of God and the Holy Spirit within us guiding us.
So, how can we cultivate virtue in the classroom and at home? We must continually lead our students back to their Savior to see their daily need for Jesus. We can create a culture that allows time and space for important conversation, values people, and instills habits that create order in life.
We can’t live something out when it hasn’t become habit for us. Habits are formed in the mundane day-to-day expectations set by teachers, parents, and coaches: muscle memory for hoops, practice for penmanship, weights for strength, and most importantly, time in the Word of God to know Him! There are no shortcuts in habit formation. But when a habit is formed, results follow: shots are made, math facts are learned, God’s principles for godly living are embodied in the heart and mind.
I wish I lived my life in such a way that I never had to apologize for a word misspoken, but I don’t. I am thankful for my Savior who loves me in my imperfection. Do I embody virtue perfectly? Not even close, but I am thankful that perfection is not the goal. So, I choose the next right thing in hopes of pleasing the Lord and loving my neighbors. I don’t have to analyze every move. I am learning to release my tight grip on outcomes, trust the Lord more (He’s got this), and to pray without ceasing.
by Sally Landrum, CCS 5th Grade Teacher