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