Our students sometimes use an activity called “elevator speeches” to help practice public speaking and also distill the main idea of a topic into what they could say in the three minutes it takes an elevator to go from the lobby to the top floor. Never mind what the others riding in the elevator would think if someone began giving a speech to them, or the fact that buildings are all different sizes and elevators come in all different speeds. But I digress…it’s a useful activity in school.
I spent several days last week giving elevator speeches about my life. I was at a conference on board governance (never thought I’d be saying those words all together!) for like-minded schools from all over Asia and a few from Europe and Africa as well. The conference was held in Phnom Penh, which was interesting in and of itself. I did learn a lot, but what I am thinking about right now is those “elevator speeches” that fuel the dinner table conversations at conferences such as this.
“So, what school are you from?”
“CAJ, in Tokyo.”
“Oh, I know someone from my organization who used to send their kids to some school in Japan. Do you know ___?”
“Yes, actually, I taught all 3 of their kids!” (This probably wouldn’t happen in other conferences, but the world of international Christian schools, though multi-cultural and multi-national, is a very small town!)
“So what brought you to Japan and to being the head of school?” Here is where I needed that elevator speech, because how does one condense 35 years of life into something that can be said before the dinner gets cold? Coincidentally, the thrust of the themes of board governance focused us on thinking through what values and vision makes each of our schools unique and doing what we do best.
As I was thinking through how to explain the journey that brought me from a newlywed teacher on a Far East adventure to staying in one community for decades and taking on a job I swore I would never do, our board was thinking through what short phrases could describe our own DNA as a school. We are still working on the wording, but to paraphrase, we came up with a shared belief that “all truth is God’s truth”; a conviction that each student, staff member, and connected family member bears God’s image and is worthy of respect; and a passion that we are designed to live in community. These shared beliefs form the web that holds us together and creates the environment where we work and learn.
I was reminded of a family road trip where my husband challenged us to come up with a family mission statement. This assignment can put a real damper on playing the alphabet game with billboards and road signs, but we tossed around a few ideas with no real enthusiasm until the youngest of our tribe gave her own version of an elevator speech. She proposed, “I think we’re supposed to have fun serving Jesus and loving the people he brings to us.” The elevator had reached the top floor. There was nothing else to say.
There will always be plenty of time and room for the unpacking, describing, telling the long, unabridged version of our stories. Sometimes though, it is really helpful to think through the essence of why we do what we do. Of who we are, how we got here, and where we are going. I’m still working on my elevator speech of how I went from 6th grade teacher to head of school, but thinking through mission, vision, and values is helpful to focus me for now.