Monday, 8 March 2021

The Place and Role of 'Play' in Schooling?

My title might seem surprising to some readers. If so, I'm pleased! The title has worked a treat, and hopefully, I've got your attention. But the title isn't just a trick to get you to open the post. I wanted to discuss just how important play is for children and adults. If you look in the index to my book, you won't see a single entry for 'play'. Shame on me! But the place of play is very important at every level off education (preschool to tertiary) and IS reflected in the book. Play is spoken of in varied places, because it is a critical part of learning for adults as well as children. Have you ever heard children and adults saying things such as the following:

"I'm not sure what I'll write, but I want to play with some ideas, and see where they take me."

"I use my scrap book to doodle, sketch and experiment with ideas."

"I need time just to sort out my ideas."

"I'm lacking inspiration today, I need some space to think and ponder."

Every one of these comments can be responded to with the words, then "take some time to play around with your ideas."

One of my academic heroes in life was Donald Murray, who was without a doubt, one of the greatest teachers of writing and could write himself. In fact, Murray was awarded the Pulitzer prize for editorial writing at the age of 29. Murray understood the need for all writers and thinkers to have space and time in which to play with ideas, daydream, experiment, contemplate, and toss ideas around with other writers, learners and friends. He was aware more than most, how important play is to writing and learning. 

"I am never bored. I overhear what is said and not said, delight in irony and contradiction, relish answers without questions and questions without answers, take note of what is and what should be, what was and what may be. I imagine, speculate, make believe, remember, reflect. I am always traitor to the predictable, always welcoming to the unexpected…."

One of my greatest disappointments in life as an aging teacher, is that the place of play, experimentation and messing around with ideas, has almost no place within most of the classrooms and schools I visit. Why? Because our schools are driven by tests, reviews goals and external assessments. 

How sad Friedrich Froebel would be if he could see us now! Froebel was a German educator who created the concept of the ‘kindergarten’, believing that “play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.”

Could I encourage you to return to my framework and think again on the following?

Principle 8 - Do we create opportunities for students to take responsibility for learning?

Principle 9 - Do we foster development of the imagination and creativity?

Principle 10 - Do we encourage risk-taking and problem-solving in all learners?

And while you consider the above, remember also that play does much more than simply help our children to create and learn. 

Educators at your child’s early childhood education and care service might have told you that they use a ‘play based’ approach for children’s learning and development. But as well, play can help our children to grow as people. What do I mean by this? Scott Eberle says it pretty well in the following quote:

"Much of the pleasure we derive from play is social in nature, and play strengthens our social skills. Play propagates itself in our close groups, strengthening old acquaintanceships and rewarding us with new friendships. These bonds shore up our societies with common associations, common experiences, and common purposes. Playing also deliberately rearranges our relationships and so enhances our social wit. At play we learn to read others’ intentions. And by playing we learn to deflect and defuse conflict." 

Could I encourage all of my readers NOT to forget the power and importance of play.


Scott G. Eberle, The Elements of Play: Toward a Philosophy and a Definition of Play, pp 214-233, American Journal of Play, Winter, 2014, pp. 226

Monday, 25 January 2021

Can the Christian School Serve as its Own Apologetic?

Have you ever met a person of faith and been so impressed by them that you say quietly to yourself, "I could never be as good as him or her"? And when you met them, or spent time with them over a longer period, did you quietly distance yourself from them, or did you find yourself being drawn to the person, wanting something of what they seemed to have in their life? I won't share my personal testimony of coming to faith here, but I will say that it wasn't till I was 31 years of age that I came to faith. In large part God used the lives of a number of people who I knew, to challenge me to consider what was central to my life. For a long time, I looked at Christians critically and thought, I can't be like him or her. In time, some people did have an impact on me. And they did this because, in a sense, they were their own "apologetic for Christ". In time, instead of ridiculing and running from them, I found myself being attracted to them and their lives.

In Chapter 2 of my book 'Pedagogy and Education for Life: A Christian Reframing of Teaching, Learning, And Formation', I talk about education being the "whole of life of a community". As Christians and believers in God we are in a sense our own apologetic. The school community likewise can serve this apologetic function. The very lives of Christian students and teachers can be a witness to the things they believe. The foundation of their faith of course, is God and the Savior in whom we trust. So too our faith-based schools and communities can serve as their own apologetic. The Apostle Peter challenged the early church to:

"Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." 1 Peter 2:12 

He didn't do this because the observation of people of faith is the way God saves us. Nor was he talking about social action. No! Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, our observations of people who live with God at the centre, are part of the way God awakens in us the reality that this life is not all there is. He expects us to place him at the centre of our lives.

This is a serious challenge for faith-based schools, because as I've already written in previous posts, it's easy for our Christian schools to lose sight of the fact that the standing of our students before God is far more important than their standing in academic rankings.

In just two days most Australian children will go back to school. Their families have the choice to send them to government run 'public' free government run education, or private largely faith-based schools if they can afford them. You can be certain that there will be different priorities for all of them. Could I suggest you ask yourself a few key questions as you visit and consider the school website, prospectus and comments made by the principal and staff? What does the school you are considering say are their priorities and unique characteristics?

If you're a pedant like I can be, you might even count the number of times the following things are mentioned:

  • Academic achievements
  • Sporting achievements
  • Cultural activities
  • Teacher quality
  • Discipline
  • Post school achievements of the alumni
  • Quality of the staff
  • Non-academic achievements of the students

Once you've finished considering the above, consider how often the following are mentioned:

  • The faith-based foundations of the school
  • The importance of Christian character development
  • The priority given to growth in faith
  • The support and discipling of students of faith
  • Worship at school
  • Christian activities in the school 

Why have I stressed the above? Because if the school is serving as its own apologetic, it will show! What do I mean by this? Is the school promoting the truth of Christianity, God's sovereign control of his world and our place and purpose within it as his children? The things that are talked about in any school reflect the things that are important to the teachers and students. Try to be less impressed by the quality of the buildings, the sporting facilities and the well-groomed playgrounds. Look instead to the quality and faith of the teachers and the executive and the character of the students you are able to observe who graduated from the school. Is the education offered in the Christian school set within the "whole of life in the school, and is this in turn situated within the child’s life that transcends varied and multiple communities of practice, both real and virtual"? If you visit the school, ask students "what's so good about this school"? The answers they give might offer a different perspective compared to the prospectus or website.

I quote Bernard Meland in my book, who suggests that the ultimate goal of education is not technical information, useful practices, or specific moral values, but a search for a “higher goodness.” Our schools are to provide space for developing our students in other ways that are also reflective, imaginative, and spiritual. The education we offer that truly matters - i.e. growth in character shaped by God - is situated within the child’s complete life which transcends varied and multiple communities of practice, both real and virtual. As you consider the best school for your child think about these things.


Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Principle 20: Do our pedagogical practices demonstrate that discipleship is a priority?

Making disciples?

Principle 20 in my book 'Pedagogy and Education for Life: A Christian Reframing of Teaching, Learning, And Formation' seems relatively straightforward. In full, I ask 'Do our pedagogical practices demonstrate a relationship between education and discipleship?' It should, but in some classrooms, it might seem of limited relevance to the teacher. To hold the latter view would be a grave mistake, for if Christian schools aren’t created to enable the discipling of our students to know God, then we are left with just another school that helps children to learn and be successful in life. If this is the limit of the school vision, why bother? We might as well just make our State schools stronger by rejoining them. The reality is that Christian schools have grown in number in Australia because people of faith want their children to have an educational experience that teaches them that God is of central importance in their lives. Every teacher in a Christian school is called to be a disciple of Christ seeking to guide their students to be disciples also. Our role is not simply to educate our students to take their place in a 'cookie' cutter world of work.

God revealed himself to us through his Son to become his disciples, and in turn, expects us to make disciples (Matt 28:18–20; 2 Tim 2:2). So, the way we structure our classrooms and our activities, should offer and promote opportunities for reflection on our faith and what this means for our lives. A key challenge is for our classrooms and schools to be much more than simply places sustaining fierce individual achievement and competition. The Apostle Paul challenged the church in Rome to have a sacrificial approach to life, and a desire to share our faith and seek to make Christ known.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Rom 12:1-2).

So, what is our priority?

Just as the Apostle Paul challenged the church in Rome to be sacrificial disciples, so too Christian teachers are to do likewise and to urge our students to consider the same path. We need to ask ourselves, are we seeking maturity in our students as God transforms and renews their minds?

Do the things we say, and the priorities we demonstrate, show that we see our true citizenship as in heaven? And do we want them to do likewise? Or is our pedagogy directed towards and devoted to simply promoting the achievements and benefits of this world without regard for the next?

More pointedly, how do we view our position and understanding of the gospel account, in relation to our life in the world, starting with our classroom? Do we see our understanding of the Bible’s key story and related teachings as a means to interpret our experiences as teachers and educators? If this is the case, will our biblical understanding act as a lens primarily for critique, and as a filter to test for heresies? Or do we go further?

How seriously do we seek biblical understanding and apply it to our roles as teachers? Where does our love of God and his word sit in relation to our educational knowledge, the views of parents, national curricula, and so on? Can our knowledge of education be supported and informed by our faith and biblical knowledge? I’m convinced that the answer is yes, and that if this isn’t a priority for Christian teachers, we might just as well move back to the state school system.

 The last word?

While this is the 20th and final Principle that has shape the pedagogy in my book and educational philosophy outlined, I intend to continue to do posts that cut across topics and issues. These will relate much more to classroom case studies and will be more practical in nature. So, don’t check out just yet! There is much more to discuss.

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

How important is narrative in your classroom and school? Principle 19

Part of what separates humanity from other creatures is that God made us to be story tellers. From the beginning story was to hold a special place as part of human existence. Harold Rosen (in ‘Stories and Meanings’) reminds us that much of human existence is dependent on story, for it helps us to move through the seeming chaos of life towards understanding. In fact, some of life’s greatest insights are shared through story. As well, much human wisdom, knowledge and understanding have been passed down through the ages in the form of stories.

Alasdair MacIntyre in his book ‘After Virtue’ goes further and suggests that ‘man (sic) is in his actions and practices, as well as in his fictions, essentially a story-telling animal’. We frequently think in narrative, pass on our personal history, envision the future and speak of the present predominantly through story. 

But you might ask, am I claiming that God’s story of redemption is evident in literature? In a sense, I am claiming this. Barth saw it this way, and drew on Calvin’s idea that all of creation is the ‘theatre of God’s glory’. Literature he argued, even that written by the non-believers, can be used by God as part of his general revelation to mankind. Tate suggests that Barth’s use of ‘parable’ is appropriate, as secular stories can point to a meaning beyond the basic narrative. Secular parables might be used by God to speak to particular people in specific contexts. I too believe, that just as God uses the preaching of biblical literature to reveal inexplicable meanings at times for the preacher’s audience, so too, secular parables can be used by God to point to the central narrative of God’s redemptive plans for his creation.


Understanding that God can reveal himself through all of creation, including the works of humankind, should free us to embrace secular literature, Indigenous dreamtime stories from varied nations, folk tales and even the anecdotes of life as vehicles for God’s revelation of truth to us. This is not to suggest that all that is written in the name of literature should be freely shared with our children, but it does allow us to avoid the extremes of disengagement with the literature and stories of the world, as well as avoiding total assimilation and acceptance.


I wrote a number of years ago in my book ‘Pathways to Literacy’ that literature is not just about the enjoyment of story. I claimed that it is about life, and one's world. As such, literature and stories do much more than entertain, they can act as:


• mirrors to enable readers to reflect on life problems and circumstances;

• sources of knowledge;

• sources of ideological challenge;

• a means to peer into the past, and the future;

• vehicles to other places;

• a way to reflect on inner struggles;

• an introduction to the realities of life and death; and

  a way to raise and discuss varied social issues.


Pathways to 'life' and understanding

Chapter 7 of my book 'Pedagogy and Education for Life' is devoted to a discussion of ‘Storytelling and Life’, and in it I explore story in detail. I contend that people learn from stories in their varied forms, and frequently share their lives with other students through stories. The Bible is filled with stories and it is a key way in which God communicates with us. God has given us the ability to tell stories and understand them as a key means of his revelation to us. It is through God’s stories that we understand who he is. And as God’s creatures made in his image, the stories we share directly and indirectly in life, can point to or away from God. How do the stories we share at school suggest implied views on the value of humanity, our beliefs, hopes, fears, and knowledge? Is my classroom a place where children tell their stories, and where others listen and gain hope and inspiration to seek God? To what extent are our stories and those we encourage in school life, echoes of the central meta-narrative of the Bible, that is, God’s redemptive plan for his people? For as Tolkien suggested, the gospel of Christ is “the greatest story of them all.”


Trinity College Library Dublin

What I’m suggesting is that literature as a form of narrative offers readers endless possibilities for exploration, imagination, learning and challenge, and it serves a key role in school education, particularly in the elementary school years. This role for literature is much broader and less explicitly connected to biblical truth than traditional Bible stories for children. But nonetheless, stories can point to, and illustrate, God’s salvation narrative and his work in our lives. They can also be used by God as part of his general revelation and common grace to us, both to enrich our imagined and hoped for view of the ‘good life’, and in the process, drawing attention to aspects of the human condition. As a result of this, stories can bring into focus truth, beauty and goodness, as well as human virtues that reflect the grace and providence of God. The eighth chapter of my book (“Imagination and Life”), might be helpful if you’d like to explore these issues some more.


Related references of relevance to this post


Trevor H. Cairney (1990). Other Worlds: The Endless Possibilities of Literature, Portsmouth (NH): Heinemann.

Trevor H. Cairney (1995). Pathways to Literacy, London: Cassell.

Trevor H. Cairney (2018). Pedagogy and Education for Life: A Christian Reframing of Teaching, Learning and Formation, Eugene (OR): Cascade Books.   


Sunday, 1 November 2020

Principle 18: How much is learning in my classroom related to the world beyond?

The 18th Principle in my pedagogical framework flows very much from the discussion in the 6th chapter of my book devoted to ‘Classroom Life’. One of my recurring observations of education in schools during my career as a teacher, teacher educator, school leader, and researcher, has been the frequent discontinuity between the life of the School and that of the world. Hang on, I hear you saying, isn’t this what we want?! Well yes, but at the end of the day, we seek students so transformed by the Word of God, that as they live in the wider world, it will be obvious to all that they are different in all the contexts and roles they will fill in life. We don’t want students who only display faith at school, we want transformed lives for our students. I have much to say about education as formation in 'Pedagogy and Education for Life' within Chapter 2 titled ‘Education as Formation in Communities’. The chapter is framed by a quote from the work of Douglas Barnes who addresses some of the ideas I explore in my book:

Education is “embodied in the communicative life of an institution, the talk and gestures by which pupils and teachers exchange meanings even when they quarrel.”



In the 1990s when I began to consider, evaluate and apply my previous research and writing in secular schools in the context of Christian education, I was surprised to see that in many religious schools there was a tendency to ‘build walls’ around the school. Metaphorical walls, but nevertheless, significant artificial barriers meant to shut the world out while children were shaped within. In a sense, when schools go down this path, they spend much of their time critiquing and opposing the practices, values and worldviews experienced outside the students’ school. The problem with a strong emphasis on this approach, particularly with older elementary and secondary students, is that students begin to learn that they can mouth the right answers and tell us what we want to hear, without any personal inner transformation and commitment.


Such an approach can often be observed in schools that embrace Worldview approaches to religious education. Many will say in response to my comments, “but why wouldn’t any parent not want the school to shield their children from philosophies and practices that aren’t consistent with the family faith”. True, we would want to do this, but life and child development is not that simple. It is difficult to separate our children from the world and its philosophies, practices and worldviews. We need to ask ourselves, will isolation and instruction in a form of worldview favoured by a school, ensure inner Christian formation and equip them for later independent living. While we can teach children a faith position and how to respond to questions posed by the world, only God can truly transform the hearts and minds of our children. Romans 12:2 speaks of the need for our hearts and minds be transformed; this includes our children.


Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”


The role of the Christian teacher is not simply to teach the Bible and rebut the views of the world, they must create open environments in which students can express doubts and challenges within the varied communities of practice that make up their life, so that they can test them against the Word of God. The Christian teacher must nurture, inspire, transform, and influence the children God places in our schools for ‘the good’. The chief task of the teacher is to:


“… create contexts for education that assist children’s formation as learners, mature humans, communicators, people who work, and people who can cope in community as knowers, lovers, and desirers of God. As James Smith states, the key task of education is the formation of our loves and desires that, in turn govern and generate action (both individual and collective).” (‘Pedagogy & Education for Life’, p.13.)


The challenge for us as Christian educators and teachers is not simply to seek Christian distinctiveness in our school by shaping curriculum to incorporate and reflect specific values, worldview, virtues, and so on. While such concerns and practices are legitimate in Christian education, transformative education needs to be shaped by end goals not simply based on continuous downloads of knowledge, worldviews and Christian values. For our ‘means’ surely follow from our telos, that is “the good” or aimed-for end, or goal of schooling. The teaching of community values, virtues, and alternative worldviews have little impact if in conflict with one’s goals. That is, if they do not represent the telos. They must be in harmony if education is to be transformative. Communities of practice that permit students to be open and even vulnerable are critical.



God has created for us a world with unparalleled complexity, co-dependence, integration, and diversity. And yet all people are our neighbors (Luke 10:29–37). This understanding should shape our response to the world. In our Christian schools, I would encourage teachers to ask questions such as the following of each other. Do we offer opportunities for learning that place great value on seeing knowledge, our world, and our place within God’s world, in an integrated way under God’s sovereign rule? Do we promote our students’ understanding of their role as global citizens, and an understanding that God has plans for the future of his world?


My hope is teachers can challenge and support the emergence of our students’ views of the world, undergirded by an emerging, growing or existing faith. Such a focus is necessary in the broad educational contexts that I find of interest. As a result, I am not convinced that by “naturalizing Christian practices” as Dykstra and Bass suggest, it will lead to the changes we hope for in the ‘hearts’ of our children. I don’t accept that Christian practices are “unique” and that teaching them should be our focal strategy. Love is not unique to Christians, although we might suggest that Jesus is the epitome of love, having sacrificed himself for us.


The central approach I explore in ‘Pedagogy and Education for Life is not where Dykstra and Bass end up. That is, seeking as teachers to identify and replicate Christian practices within life. Instead, my focus is on how Christian teachers and schools can help students to see, respond to, and navigate all of the practices of life (Christian and non-Christian), with a telos that is shaped by and directed toward the kingdom of God. We need to remember that many of the students in Christians schools are not in fact Christians at all, so they are on a journey toward an understanding of how Christians might respond in specific situations. 


David Smith and James Smith make a significant contribution to our understanding of these issues by seeking to clarify what we might mean by Christian practices. I agree with their view that teaching ‘Christian ideas’ - regardless of whether by this we mean virtues, values, or even worldview theory - is not the primary solution to the transformation of our children. If ideas become the focus of our pedagogy, then the prospect of Christian habits reflecting Biblical understanding, and faith constituting a second nature, rather than simply compliant practices, will not be realized.


In contrast to the approaches advocated by some of the writers I explore in my book, I suggest that teachers need to be as concerned with the ‘invisible’ things in school communities and children’s wider worlds, not just the more ‘visible practices’ and liturgies. Two writers whose work can help shape such a pedagogy are Charles Taylor and Lev Vygotsky. I discuss these ideas in full chapters 6 and 7 of my book.


Charles Taylor’s notion of the “social imaginary” has the potential to widen our focus and offer a lens that can assist us to make sense of how children are formed in school contexts. Taylor argues that to understand culture we need to stop assuming only ideas move people. This is also a strong message in the work of James Smith. Taylor suggests that beneath the surface of the cognitive and intellectual arguments of a group or institution, we have human imagination at work which helps the individual to engage with stories, myths, images, iconic hopes and dreams, and connect them with our own present and past experiences, as we imagine the world as we would like it to be. Taylor suggests all groups and individuals are motivated by a “social imaginary.” This helps them imagine the context of their lives and their place within its present and future. I discuss Taylor’s work more fully in chapter 8 of my book, when I consider imagination and creativity.


One final point is worth making. In Chapter 5 of my book I discuss the work of Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s work helps to explain why the relationship between teacher and learner (and I would add learner and learner) is so important. We must remember that classroom life is not just about the things we do or say to one another. There is a dialectical relationship between teaching and learning. Vygotsky labels this concept obuchenie. This isn’t easily translated, as it means both teaching and learning as a unified process. Obuchenie requires both the teacher and the student to adapt to one another. While the teacher has a position of authority and usually greater knowledge and world experience, this does not prevent both from listening to and learning from one another.


Above: Group work in action


Vygotsky was suggesting a shift toward a different context for learning, one in which the relationship between teacher and student is changed. This also requires a shift of pedagogical focus. In short, from simply transmitting knowledge or practices for students to replicate, to:


“… the creation of classrooms where students have the opportunity to see connection between the varied communities of practice they navigate each day as part of normal life.”


Such classrooms are places where teachers “guide, nudge, respond, question, listen, observe, urge, teach, and reveal truth in ways students can connect to their lived experiences” (see p.100 of my book). If you would like to explore these ideas more fully I would suggest that you spend time in Chapter Six of my book.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

The Place of Justice in Schools - Principle 17

The 17th principle in my Framework for Christian Pedagogy in 'Education and Pedagogy for Life' is critical for all faith-based schools. A key question all schools and teachers should ask: "Is justice sought and modelled within your class and school community life?"



As I write in my book, God is just! What's more, his justice is an expression of his holiness. In the book of Micah in the Old Testament, God brings charges against his people for their failure to obey his word leading to wickedness and rebellion. God had acted justly with them and had repeatedly shown mercy, and yet they had failed to show justice and mercy in their lives.


He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God
(Micah 6:8).


Because our God, acts justly and shows mercy, we too must seek and demonstrate justice and mercy in the world (Mic 6:8). Is this demonstrated in the way justice is delivered within our schools? Or are we inconsistent in how punishment is distributed and rewards given? Does the curriculum and the attitude we display show a concern for a limited part of our world beyond? Do you we favouritism in life and teaching? For example, are we shocked and saddened when a famous celebrity dies, and barely notice when thousands die in distant nations from disease or violence?


Classrooms must be places turned towards the world and yet aware of the inequities and injustices within it. Our pedagogy must demonstrate a sense of justice and a broad concern for other people. But even if we as teachers might have compassionate hearts and a strong sense of justice, how do we develop these qualities in our students? And how do we encourage our students to demonstrate this to one another and also the stranger?


An important question for any teacher, and in fact, any school is, how do we show a love of and desire to seek justice? And as a follow up, how do we encourage empathy and respect for others? There is no doubt that what we teach, including our attitudes to and engagement with the world, will have an influence on our students. How are we preparing our students to love their neighbors? “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8)?


I attended school as a student from 1956 to 1969! Many forms of the punishment used then would still be recognisable in 2020. Children are still kept in, lines are still written, forgotten homework is sometimes done at lunchtime, privileges are still withdrawn for bad behavior, and so on. But the varied forms of physical punishment that I experienced at school, would not be seen today. As a primary school child, I was caned many times. In fact, by Grade 4 I’d been caned about 40 times (yes, I was badly behaved). This was usually 1 or 2 cuts of the cane across outstretched hands, often in front of my classmates. However, most attempts at punishment failed to change my behavior. But of course, justice isn’t simply about punishment.



When I grew up and became a teacher, I had to learn very quickly that the ability to exercise discipline and shape behavior in my classroom, was a very important part of what it meant to be an effective teacher. I started teaching as a 19-year-old! True. And thanks to some good teaching by my College lecturers, I had a strong sense instilled in me of the requirement to set standards, to ensure that they were met, to reward those who attained these standards, and to moderate the behavior of those who didn’t.


One of the first lessons during my training was that discipline needs to be distributed with consistency and in proportion to the matter that requires the discipline. But there was little talk about the administration of discipline, simply that once I had decided on the need for punishment, it was important to do it and apply it fairly and consistently. But why was I disciplining children? What was my ultimate purpose in moderating specific behavior? And how did I arrive at my decisions? What influenced my decisions concerning the extent and nature of the discipline? And what were the standards against which the need for punishment was determined? Wojciech Sadurski has some wisdom to share in response to my questions.


Our God is just, and his justice is an expression of his holiness. Hence, God expects his people to seek justice in the world and demonstrate it (Mic 6:8). Is this seen in the way justice is delivered within the school community and through the curriculum? Do the curriculum and the attitude of teachers show a concern for the world? (Wojciech Sadurski in ‘Giving Desert Its Due: Social Justice and Legal Theory’ 1985).


As I write in my book, classrooms must be places turned towards the world and aware of the inequities and injustices within it. How do we demonstrate kindness to others and actively promote compassionate hearts in our students? Do we encourage empathy and respect for others? Do we demonstrate and ‘teach’ justice, forgiveness and mercy?


The first step in answering many of the questions I have posed is to reflect together as professional colleagues on current practices in your classroom and school. In my book (pp 159-160), I share a case study on ‘Justice and Forgiveness’ that deals with these questions. Could I suggest that as first step in assessing current practices that staff might find it helpful to read and discuss the case study together as colleagues.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Principle 16 - Does my classroom model and promote self-sacrifice and generosity? 

1. How serious are we about self-sacrifice and generosity?

How important are the human qualities of self-sacrifice and generosity to us as Christian educators? Truthfully! How often would we say to another Christian “You need to be more sacrificial.” Or, “you know, I think you could be more generous towards other people.” In fact, as teachers, how often might we have a quiet word to a student we see acting selfishly? Now, I’m not suggesting that we run around to our students, friends and family saying this regularly, but as educators we do need to have a close look at the messages our schools give out about self-sacrifice and generosity. Let’s all agree that we’re not going to start a new compulsory unit of study called “Self-sacrifice and Generosity – 101”. But how important are these special qualities to us as Christian teachers in any educational context? How are they modelled in schools? Do we demonstrate that they are valued, and recognized? 

If you teach in an independent school, perhaps look at the student leadership. Are they the people who are most likely to be known for their servanthood, self-sacrifice and generosity? As well, how significant are the awards ‘Dux of Self-sacrifice’ or ‘School Blue for Servant-hood’ on school Speech Day? While this is said tongue in cheek, there is a serious point to my comment. Count the sporting prizes handed out at your graduation or speech nights, as well as the academic prizes. I’ll lower the bar a little, how many citizenship prizes were there? Check these against the sporting prizes. You might counter my comments by saying, “but we don’t want to promote such acts of self-sacrifice and generosity lest that breeds pride.” But of course, the same could be said of academic and sporting achievements. I’m talking about balance, priorities, and focus here, for this will reflect in some way the things that are most important to our schools.

It would be interesting to be able to ask all of my readers what has been your hardest lesson to learn, and alternatively the easiest? Where would ridding ourselves of a tendency towards self-promotion, self-protection and self-fulfillment come in the list? The world seems to scream the message, "talk yourself up!" How many times have I heard “If you don’t promote your gifts who will?” Or, “you’re doing too much, slow down, drop one or two of your church activities, do something for yourself for a change.” Whether it’s television advertising, Facebook posts, television talk shows, university graduation addresses, school promotional material, or prize giving ceremonies at schools and universities, the messaging is often in the opposite direction to self sacrifice.

2. What is our primary purpose?

As I write in my book ‘Pedagogy and Education for Life’, I believe that God’s ultimate purposes for us are that we know him, love him, serve him, and bring glory to him. Indeed Romans 12:1-2 commends us that in view of “the mercies of God” we are to present our 

“… bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

Some might respond by saying “hang on Trevor our students are just kids, give them a break, most adults we know (and their teachers) struggle to live such lives of sacrifice.” While this is true, my point goes to the heart of what we prioritize, what things shape the very ethos of our schools. In fact, how ‘Christian’ are our schools, and what are the signs, practices and priorities that demonstrate that they are?

We need to be careful as teachers and school leaders to ensure that our words and our actions as teachers and school communities demonstrate where our hope rests in life? Do we encourage our children to imitate Jesus in service, self-sacrifice, and generosity towards others? Is this the basis of community in the Christian school?

3. Aligning our School Practices with the Bible's Teaching

In the education world, competition seems to be expected, and is a key means to promote effort. Seeking to do well and to succeed is not wrong, but if it becomes an unhealthy obsession, where our students need to win and succeed at any cost, we know their efforts are wrongly motivated. To do well is good, but to do so simply to be better than others is not. How we encourage our students to have a right attitude toward success at school and to seek God’s glory, not our own, is an important matter for all teachers. As I say in chapter 9 of my book:

Our students need to be encouraged to support other students who need help, to be humble when they do better than others, and to be generous in how they contribute to group projects and non-individual assignments and activities. Whether participating in academic, sporting, cultural, or community service activities, we should encourage our students to support the work and efforts of others, not just their own (p. 153).

Above: Students volunteering and caring for others (Wiki Commons)

Finally, as Christian teachers, we must always look to Christ as the example to whom we need to focus our attention. We are in a sense servants seeking to encourage servanthood in our students. Our schools need to demonstrate this with actions, not simply words on a school website.  

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45