Principal Joan Elango (Chennai, India) was at the helm of what many would consider a tough learning environment. Located within the heart of the city, Anita Methodist Matriculation Higher Secondary School was occupied by students from low-income homes taught by teachers who struggled to find ways to reach them effectively.
Joan had high hopes when she decided to offer a Lead Like Jesus Encounter for her teachers – but even she was amazed at the resulting transformation. Throughout the Encounter, she watched as walls of resentment came crashing down for teachers who were finding common ground with one another. During the foot washing ceremony at the end, several of the teachers were crying and hugging one another. “The Spirit of God was clearly in control,” she explains. “This was not what usually happens when we come together.”
Transformed from within
As a result of the Encounter, there was a definite paradigm shift among the educators. “Teachers began to look at their students and say, ‘I am a servant to you,’” Joan recalls. “That’s very difficult in our Indian culture. It’s always been, ‘I’m the teacher; you listen to me.’ This was so completely different.”
What’s even more amazing is how that transformation filtered down throughout the entire school. Students who had always felt belittled and dominated, experienced what it was to be loved and served – and they in turn began to serve others. Students were offered the opportunity to go through Ignite, the high school equivalent of Encounter, and they embraced the concepts completely. “What a beautiful experience that was!” says Joan. “I’m telling you, the children are renewed.”
Today, the high school is barely recognizable from what it was just a couple of years ago.
While classes begin each day at 8:20, the faculty make it a habit of gathering at 8 a.m. to pray over their students and the activities for the day ahead. The students are not only volunteering their time to make their own school better, but they also initiated a program in which they train students at other schools how to become better leaders.
“I’ve actually heard some of the students – 13 and 14 year olds – tell their peers that the Bible is a manual for leadership,” says Joan, adding with a laugh, “I wonder where they picked that up.”