When Joshua “Cool Front” McDonald came to work at the Woods in 2006, he didn’t know it would turn out to be one of the most spiritually pivotal years of his life.
“My dad was a pastor, so I was always in the church in some form or fashion, but there wasn’t a lot of passion or personal relationship,” Joshua says. That relationship began to take shape in college, first, through Joshua’s involvement with Breakaway Ministries at Texas A&M, and then culminating at the Woods. “That summer was the climax of this year of growing deeper in my relationship with God, wanting to study the Word, and surrounding myself with fellow believers.”
Since that transformative summer in 2006, Joshua continues to live out the convictions that took root at the Woods, and they still bear fruit in his personal and professional life today.
After fourteen years as an educator in the Houston area, Joshua stepped into the role of principal at Santa Fe Middle School’s brand-new campus this past year. Not only did he face the expected challenges of any first-year principal, but his school was under construction for the entire year. However, despite these trials, Joshua was determined to work with excellence, care for his staff and students, and lead with integrity.
During this time, Joshua discovered the Pine Cove Podcast and listened to it regularly, finding significant encouragement in each episode. He was especially drawn to the segments highlighting the six transferable skills that Pine Cove staff receive: grit, optimism, problem-solving, being others-focused, creating relational bandwidth, and bumping the lamp.
“I don’t remember ‘transferable skills’ as the language that was used when I was a counselor,” Joshua says, “but I still pick up trash when I’m walking around the parking lot because of that skill I got from Pine Cove.”
Of the six transferable skills, maintaining optimism is a core focus for Joshua at school, especially in his interactions with staff and students.
“When you’re dealing with problems all day, it can be hard to focus on the good,” Joshua says. “As an administrator, you have to stay positive and upbeat no matter what’s coming your way.”
But Joshua doesn’t attempt to tackle this challenge alone. Instead, he asks his team to come alongside him and hold him accountable.
Inspired by the example of Craig “Dutch” Langemeier, Pine Cove’s President and the Director of the Woods in 2006, Joshua encourages his staff to raise their eyebrows. He explains, “I tell my staff at the beginning of every year, ‘If you ever see me walking down the halls and I look frustrated, tell me to raise my eyebrows.’ It’s a reminder that my countenance is a ministry.”
By empowering his staff to hold him accountable, Joshua leads by example and lays the groundwork for a school-wide culture of joy and positivity, where he’s not the only one maintaining optimism—everyone is!
Joshua also remains “others-focused” by prioritizing face-to-face time with his staff. By scheduling regular one-on-ones, writing down prayer requests, and following up on what’s going on in a staffer’s life, Joshua shows his team that they are valued and their work matters. “Being visible helps my staff trust me and know that I’m out there working hard with them,” Joshua says. “If my staff have a direct line of access to me, they’re empowered to do their jobs better.”
But Joshua doesn’t stop with his staff. This culture of intentionality and positivity directly impacts his students as well.
“I hope my students leave here knowing that they’re valued,” Joshua says. “I want them to know that there are other things they can do that are more meaningful and more lasting than what the world has to offer.”
Where Pine Cove ministers to kids one or two weeks out of the year, Joshua has the opportunity to carry this ministry forward throughout the school year in his workplace. Though it takes discipline and constant vigilance, Joshua shows up to work every day with a desire to embody Christ-centeredness in the way he treats his staff and students. “I’m hoping that as I interact with others, they will see my faith,” Joshua says.
Even though it’s tempting to find success through test scores or recognition from the right people, Joshua does his best to remember his purpose as an educator and leader: to love others with the love of Christ. He even keeps one of his old name tags with his camp name, Cool Front, handy to remind him of this purpose. “I want to be a refreshing breeze in people’s lives. When I’m having a tough day, I look at that to remind me: what am I here for?”
Inspired by Dutch, Joshua chooses a theme verse for every school year and puts it in his planner as a reminder. This past year’s theme verse was Psalm 34:8: “I sought the Lord and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
“I always imagine that people see optimism radiating from me,” Josh explains. “And if I’m keeping my heart focused on what truly matters, God will deliver me from what I fear. I can be very fearful, but hopefully my face can reflect not worry but His glory.”
Posted Sep 6, 2023