Your students are heading back to school. Teachers, coaches, club advisors, administrators, and yes. . . even the lunch ladies! . . . are spending hours and hours each week with your students and their peers. Over the years, I’ve learned just how important it is to tap into the experience, education, observations, and wisdom of these people. And what I’ve come to appreciate is that as a youth worker, dad, and culture-watcher, there’s a lot I still have to learn. . . some of which can be gleaned from conversations with these folks who keep our schools going.

Why not take some time to intentionally get to know and learn from these people this year? Here are some ways that you can learn from the adults who spend time in school with your kids:

Learn from their experience. Some of these folks have been working with kids for three or more decades. Invite them to share their observations about how youth culture and adolescence has changed. Ask them about the needs they perceive in today’s teenagers. Let them vent, lament, and complain. Ask them about the pressures, challenges, and choices kids face. And, ask them about positive changes they’ve seen. School employees are some of the best and most well-embedded youth culture ethnographers in the world (especially the lunch ladies!).

Learn from their education. Many of us in the world of youth ministry have a very limited knowledge of developmental or educational theory. While we might not agree with many of the presuppositions and conclusions of some in the educational establishment, that’s no excuse to not ask them to share what they know. Respect their education. Show that respect by approaching them in an inquisitive, teachable, and humble manner. There’s always more for us to learn.

Learn from their understanding of character formation. There was no such thing as “character education” when many of us older youth workers were going through middle school and high school. Character formation was the assumed work of the home, church, and village as they cooperated to teach us right from wrong. Now, with relativism the default setting on matters of ethics and character, our schools have had to become increasingly deliberate about teaching virtue and character. . . primarily because everyone else has dropped the ball and it’s now a matter of survival for our schools. Asking teachers about kids and character will give you insights into where what you are trying to teach students overlaps in agreement with your local schools. In addition, you will also learn where the schools may be falling short theoretically or practically when compared to a biblical view of character formation. Keeping your eyes and ears open for this will spur you on to become more diligent as you teach the truth.

While we certainly won’t agree with educators on everything, we can come to appreciate and benefit from the wisdom and expertise of people who, in the end, have dedicated their lives to kids. . . just like we have.