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Collaboration, Castles, and the Kingdom of God

April 28, 2021 by Admin

by Susan Isaac, Middle and Upper School Assistant Principal and Spiritual Life Director

Recess and RhetoricCollaboration is a sort of buzzword these days; collaborative workspaces are popping up all over town; office and classroom furniture is being redesigned to eliminate individual stations and promote interactions; major companies work with artists or influencers to collaborate on products that sell out online in mere minutes. We’ve quite simply gone nuts for collaboration. 

And with good reason.

What research shows about the benefits and flaws of collaboration

In a 2017 article, Forbes magazine detailed the many benefits of collaboration as it pertains to productivity. Employees who showed even the appearance of collective effort worked on tasks around 64 percent longer than employees who were working alone. Companies that successfully created collaborative environments were generally five times more productive overall.

This same article, however, found a flaw in the system: collaborative environments worked best when employees were incentivized to work together; they also tended to fall apart when recessions or other money-tightening threats loomed.

A study done by Academy of Management Journal found that this was the case because, in simple terms, the threat of limited resources automatically puts people in an “every man for himself” mindset; thus, the spirit of collaboration dies in the wake of fear-based self-preservation. 

It is not shocking to think that collaboration becomes less appealing the less secure the individual feels. Anyone who has ever watched any team sport has seen desperate athletes make drastic decisions in final moments, making desperate plays to get the ball over the line or in the hoop or in the goal or what have you. Sure, we applaud the team player, but we also love our superstars who make herculean efforts to succeed at all costs.

How, then, does this instinct toward self-preservation fit with our understanding that collaboration is the better way? 

The ability to work together with others to achieve a common goal. Involves awareness of how to best use each individual’s talent within the group.”
from Portrait of an Ideal Providence School Graduate


An experiment with sand castles

A few weeks back, I had the privilege of participating in the Providence Middle School eighth-grade beach walk, a five-mile trek beginning at Hendry’s Beach and ending by the East Beach volleyball courts. Throughout the day, Max Beers, Upper School Bible and digital design teacher, led eighth-graders through a series of devotions, challenging them to think well not only about the Middle School years they are completing, but the Upper School experience they will soon begin. Like me, you may only need to think about your own pre-high school self for about five seconds to realize how important and even sacred a moment this was. We face so many transitions in life as eager jumping-off points; rarely do we get a whole day dedicated to slowing down and thinking not only about what we’re beginning but also about what we’re ending.

Solo building projects

One of the object lessons Mr. Beers gave us was to build sand castles. At first, students built castles on their own; then, Mr. Beers told them to defend their castles. You can only imagine the Godzilla-esque scene that followed: forlorn faces of would-be architects standing over the remains of their castles-turned-piles-of-sand contrasted against the gleeful grins of ecstatic castle smashers (to be honest, most students were thrilled to smash each other’s castles—a thought to unpack in another blog post, perhaps). 

Collaborative building projects

After this sad and seemingly spirit-crushing moment, Mr. Beers had us build castles again, but this time we were put on teams, the classic boys vs. girls, with teacher Nate Alker overseeing the boys team and yours truly overseeing the girls. 

I can’t speak for the boys (I was far too engrossed in the miracle of engineering happening on my own team), but when we set to building our castle collaboratively, you would have thought we had been rehearsing for this our whole lives. We began building a moat, some people gathered decorative seashells, others began working on the main structure. By the end of the allotted 10 minutes, we had arches and turrets and seashell-studded staircases and a whole city of sand-drip homes surrounding our castle. Any sand king or queen would be honored to rule over that sand kingdom. And when the boys so much as joked about destroying it, all of a sudden there was a whole gang of lady architects fending them off. No one was going to knock down our castle! (No one, that is, except for the rising tide—but we’re only human). 

We are all building something

Mr. Beers used the castle building experiment to remind our students—and the adults present—that we’re all building something when we make our day-to-day choices. The difference between the first castle and the second castle was the community: when we had a diversity of voices and ideas, we not only built something better, but we also protected it better. This experiment, however, only works if we remember one thing: to listen to others, to be willing to set aside some of our own ideas, to create space for compromise, and to ask for help when needed. 

Love God and love others. The two greatest commandments. And, yet, when set about our days, do we place our own wants, needs, and desires over those of others? We easily think: “What do I want to do right now? What do I want to eat? Do I want to do my work? Do I want to talk to this person? Do I want to exercise?” It’s much more difficult to think “What does my classmate need right now? What does my teacher need right now? What does my mom or dad need right now?” 

Build your castles within the community God gave you

From a psychological standpoint, adolescence is a very normal time to focus on establishing an “I”—who I’m going to be and what I’m going to do. However, it is a lie that the “I” gets established in a vacuum. We need each other. The triune God created us in his image—including his relational, communal nature. 

Christians are called to recognize this need of the other, not just as it pertains to our needs but as it pertains to our calling—we do not exist for ourselves alone. Even in times of recession or poverty, we are called to consider others. In the book of Corinthians, Paul commends the Macedonian church because “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” They gave “beyond their means,” and in doing so, they “gave themselves first to the Lord and then…to us” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). 

Love God and love others. Build your castles within the community God gave you, knowing that community is a gift from the Lord and should not be treated lightly or expendably. Yes, we may go into self-preservation mode in times of leanness; but we have examples like the Macedonian church before us, examples of people who trusted God to take care of their needs while also practicing generosity to care for the needs of others. 

We were never meant to walk alone; God himself walks with us, but also puts people in our lives with whom we can collaborate and share and compromise to establish the one true Kingdom. What a phenomenal message for students going through the formative years of Middle School (and soon, Upper School). What a phenomenal message for all of us.

Susan Isaac is assistant principal and spiritual life director for Providence’s Middle and Upper Schools, teaches a Bible course at the school, and teaches an English course at Westmont College. She joined the Providence faculty in 2017 after teaching high school English at Oaks Christian School for eight years.


Portrait of an Ideal Providence School Graduate 

For more information on the distinctly Christian education at Providence School, contact Tawny Kilpper, admissions director, at tkilpper@providencesb.org