Monday, 31 May 2021

Honesty & Service: What is the relationship between these traits in the Christian classroom?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the role of honesty in encouraging our students towards service and support to one another. In particular, I'm interest in the part it might play in challenging others about behaviour, language and even beliefs.



You may recall that I wrote about "Christian Service" as the third key plank in my pedagogy within my book 'Pedagogy and Education for Life'. I still believe that modelling and encouraging ‘service’ is a critical principle in biblical Christian education. But I particularly want to reflect or ruminate on the place that ‘honesty’ plays in relation to service within a Christian community. Do we give enough much thought to honesty when discussing Christian service? In recent times, I’ve observed again and again, that people of faith seem afraid to offer a contrary view when brothers and sisters say things that they feel are inappropriate to us and perhaps even unbiblical. Do we avoid the awkward conversations? Or simply go quiet when someone says something with which we don’t agree? Perhaps, we simply change the conversation?


I’m sure that we’ve all observed members of the church, staff in schools and or students in classrooms, expressing views that are unbiblical. Unbiblical ideas might be expressed in post-church conversation, within the workplace, or just as a group of friends sharing life and aspects of faith. Within the school, such ideas might be shared in the playground, during informal class activities like group work, or after school chapel. But what do we do when we hear such words? And what do our students do? Do we simply remain silent to keep the peace, or are we courageous enough to speak the truth in love?

In Ephesians 4 Paul teaches how we are to challenge wrong ideas in order to ensure unity and maturity as we live together as a community of believers. In doing so, he urges us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15a), and to put off “falsehood” and the while as we speak "truthfully" to others (Eph 4:25). Do we seek to do this with our neighbors and Christian friends? Do we encourage our students to do the same? Or, at times is our default to keep quiet, and not challenge wrong and sometimes dangerous ideas. Paul challenges his readers to avoid such passivity, and to speak up, for we are all members of one body (Eph 4:4-6). As such, we must encourage one another and sometimes, even graciously rebuke each other.


I can recall a Christian colleague within a secular university over 30 years ago who had a big impact on my life with some well-chosen honest words. I had been a Christian for just 3 years and was his boss! And yet, after a meeting, in which he and I were the only Christians, he pulled me aside. He said, “Trev, when you said the Vice-chancellor was an idiot in the meeting because of his actions, you weren’t really setting a great example for our colleagues. As Christians, we need to speak the truth at all times, and in particular, we need to be careful how we speak about our boss, and show respect.”


The key illustration here, is not in my words and actions, but in Fred’s honest and wise words which I have never forgotten. His simple response not only strengthened our relationship, but also our combined witness to colleagues. His words set an example for me concerning the need for honesty in Christian community, and I have never forgotten it.  


As teachers, do we sometimes fail to offer wise and honest words to our students at opportune times, words that might encourage them to be different. If we do fail to do this, then we are failing to speak the truth in love as part of our Christian witness and service.


God our Servant King made us to be servants to him, but also to one another. Jesus, of course, is the perfect model of service, having given his life for us (Phil 2:7; Matt 20:25–28). In shepherding and watching over his flock, he was never afraid to speak the truth when it needed to be spoken (1 Pet 5:3).


What might this look like in our classrooms? You might talk to your colleagues about how honest your conversations are with one another, as you serve our God within the school. Do you avoid saying some things for fear that you might upset others? 


Please note, I’m not suggesting that you lecture colleagues about their behavior and lack of godliness, for this could quickly lead to a display of pride and arrogance. Alternatively, we need to ask ourselves, do we often see and hear staff and students saying things that are inappropriate and unhelpful to building communities. Remember, service to one another is a central trait of Christian communities. We need to keep asking ourselves, do I sometimes fail to offer a godly comment when needed with the right motives as Fred did?


As teachers, we need to add ‘honesty’ to community conversations as a key part of our service to one another. This includes both staff and students. If we do grow in our willingness to speak the truth in love, we will collectively continue to become more Christ like. This in turn will strengthen the collective witness of our school communities.

Sunday, 16 May 2021

Children's Books That Will Make You Think, Laugh & Perhaps Even Cry

This is a cross post from my other blog, Literacy, Families and Learning that is written for a wider educational audience. I thought readers of this blog might also enjoy sharing some of these books with children.

As a regular reviewer of children's literature, I'm never quite sure what books will arrive at my place to review. In this post, I review 7 different and surprising books. Christian readers might come up with varied ways to introduce and share each title. The first could lead you in several directions.

1. 'The Rock From The Sky' by Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen has that rare ability to fascinate the youngest of readers, and yet stimulate the mind of the adult with his 'simple' picture books. It's not surprising that 'The Rock From The Sky' (like many of his other works) has been an instant #1 New York Times bestseller! This is another incredible work from the Caldecott Medal winning creator of the hat trilogy and other wonderful books. 

Klassen is a genius of storytelling and art. With just three characters and a rock, he is able to create intrigue, tension, jealousy and fear of the unknown. In a recent video on his website HERE he explains that this book drew much of its inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock he explains understood the difference between shock and suspense. Hitchcock was the master of how to build and use suspense, the unknown, and the unexpected, to engage the reader or viewer. In this 'simple' book Klassen uses the same devices. The story features a mole, a turtle and snake and seeks to take the reader on a journey that slowly builds tension with the reader, and invites us to imagine what might just be coming next.  

Does the young reader have to grapple with an elaborate plot as they experience this book? Not really, but they will experience tension, intrigue, curiosity and a desire to see what will come next. As Turtle greets Mole at a chosen spot the tension begins as Mole feels uneasy about his chosen spot.

"What do you think of my spot?
Actually I have a bad feeling about it.
A bad feeling?

In short, once again Klassen merges visual suspense with wry wit to create a work like no other children's author and illustrator.

2. 'Wombat' by Christopher Cheng & illustrated by Liz Duthie

Far underground, where dirt and tree roots mesh, are tunnels that lead to a burrow, and in this burrow Wombat’s day begins. A story about the life of a wombat, looking at the interesting way these animals build their homes, look after their family and protect themselves from predators. Wombat is a new addition to the Nature Storybooks series from Walker Books, which feature a lyrical narrative and engaging nonfiction combined with stunning artwork to pique the curiosity of young minds

Wombats might seem to be cuddly creatures you could take home, but they tough creatures with sharp teeth that never stop growing, and limbs that can shovel dirt like a mini bulldozer. They can also live for years without drinking water. The book series features a narrative as well as a factual description of life for the wombat.

Follow one of these powerful marsupials through a suspenseful day in Christopher Cheng’s engaging narration, paired with endearing illustrations by Liz Duthie and interspersed with intriguing facts. An endnote provides additional information about wombats for readers curious to learn more.

3. 'Florence & Fox' by Zanni Louise and illustrated by Anna Pignataro

'Florence can't share her toys with Fox today because today is not Sharing Day. In fact, Sharing Day is not for hundreds of days. Fox has never heard of Sharing Day and he has some questions, but luckily Florence has all the answers.'

This is a delightful book that tackles the challenge of every preschool child - as well as parents and teachers - what does it mean to share things? When Fox reaches for the hammer Florence has put down, he is surprised to find out that it isn't 'sharing day' so he can't use it. But the next turned out not to be sharing day either. In fact Florence tells Fox that it isn't for 100 days!

The author and illustrator have a strong friendship that no doubt helps them to have a seamless connection between the words and pictures. Wonderful!

The author Zanni Louise comes from Byron Bay. She has written 16 books for children, including picture books and junior fiction. She has been twice listed in the CBCA Notables.

4. 'The Great Barrier Reef' by Helen Scales & illustrated by Lisa Feng

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the wonders of the world. It has almost 400,000 square kilometers of amazing coral and sea life. It is one of the most complex ecosystems and has global significance. But that's not all!! This wonderful book looks at the science of the world's greatest reef, ships that have floundered here, and the history of human habitation across at least 40,000 years.

This wonderful non-fiction book from Helen Scales and Risk Fend is almost as vibrant and dynamic as the real thing! The artwork illuminate dazzles the reader with the animal inhabitants of the reef and the people who have embraced it as a centerpiece of their cultures. 

This wonderful book in the series from 'Flying Eye Books' will be read and bring joy to readers aged 7-11 years.

5. 'Bootsy Flies at the Robert Eric Big Top Circus' by Richard Unwin & illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills

Bootsy is a Cockapoo. That is a Golden Cockapoo, which is a cross between a English Cocker Spaniel and a standard, miniature or Toy Poodle dog. If you didn't know this, don't worry, I didn't either until I came across this delightful book. The book is suited for children aged 3-8 years.

It tells the story of a special circus owner who loves animals and doesn't want them to be caged and forced to perform things that aren't natural for them. But after the clowns have performed and people laugh, the trapeze artists are done, the drummer has played, is there anything else? How can Robert add to his circus a special act? Especially as Prince Charles is coming to a performance with his grandchildren turns up.

It turns out a little Golden Cockapoo just might have some skills that will make the crowds (and the Prince & his grandchildren) cheer. Can something special be added? Read the book to find out just what this little Cockapoo does that brings the crowd to its feet.

This delightful book is from Fun Nature Books new series featuring a lovable Golden Cockapoo. You might also like to read 'Bootsy's Picnic Adventure'. 

6. 'Ernest The Elephant' by Anthony Browne

This delightfully simple story from the legendary Anthony Browne tells the tale of a baby elephant who gets lost in the jungle.  Ernest is a happy and safe baby elephant who walks every day with his mother and the rest of the herd. But he begins to wonder what else might be out there in his world?

His curiosity gets the better of him. He sneaks away from his mother and the herd, and ventures into the jungle. Deeper and deeper he goes and becomes lost. He sees many other animals including a rude gorilla, a weary lion, an impolite hippo and an uncaring crocodile. None of them can or will help him find his way home. Will he ever find the herd? You'll have to read it to find out. 

As usual, the illustrations are brilliant as you'd expect from this Kate Greenaway Medal-winning author-illustrator and former Children's Laureate. It might not bring the belly laughs of some of his other incredible books, but children 1-5 will love hearing it read. As well young and older readers (5-7) will love reading it themselves, and will relate easily to the key themes of the book.

7. 'The Lost Child of Chernobyl' by Helen Bate

This remarkable Graphic Novel might look at first peak like a children's picture book, but you'd be mistaken. This wonderful book is a haunting and challenging fictional retelling of 
the global environmental disaster that occurred in the Ukrainian city of Chernobyl in April 1986. It was to have significance for the whole world.

While it is an imaginary story, with imaginary characters, it is inspired by the real events in Chernobyl and disaster that was a great wake up to the world. It begins:

"One April night, people around Chernobyl felt the earth tremble and shake. 
Looking out of their windows, they saw a strange light in the sky."

But what was the ragged creature in fur of a wolf?

On that fateful day in 1986, animals instinctively ran from the danger, families stopped in fear worried about loved ones working in the power station. And all eventually saw the deadly cloud and wondered, what does this all mean? It was to change everything.

We jump to a time nine years later, and forest wolves bring a ragged and dirty child to a house. The child growls like a wolf. The child has been living with wolves in the forbidden nuclear zone. But who is this lost child of Chernobyl? Will Anna and Klara be able to find the child's family after all this time?

This is a challenging and haunting book that all children aged 9-12 should read. Preferably, they will read it with the ability to talk to parents or a teacher.

Helen Bate is an award-wining author, known previously for her book 'Peter in Peril' and 'Me and Mrs Moon'.