P1040781Yesterday, six of us at Christ the Sower were responsible for appointing a new Assistant Headteacher to the school and so it was one of those rare focused days when all your energies are bent to one purpose, rather than the scatter-gun, troubleshooting approach that my days often degenerate into, especially when everyone is tired. We made a fantastic appointment, I believe, and am thrilled at the prospect. But it raised one issue for me that I have needed to think again about – more of that later in this post.

In addition, we are today and tomorrow celebrating our tenth birthday as a school (Saturday is the actual day, but we are not so keen on celebrating this birthday that we will all come back into school for it!) and this has led to a great reminiscing of where we all were ten years ago, of what the school was like at the very start and a great thankfulness for God’s faithfulness in keeping, preserving and honouring his word to see it established, as we now are. Tonight we celebrate with a concert for parents and governors, and tomorrow Teasel class will lead our school worship with our birthday as a theme.

And on top of all that, the earth is singing! We can hardly escape the deep sense of beauty that surrounds us as the earth brings forth flowers, fragrances and the profusion of green stuff that pours forth under the hand of God. Somebody in school said to me last week that living in Milton Keynes is a gift, and it is.

P1080252I have called this post the narrative of love because I am in constant danger of forgetting some important things about our place in the world as a school that seeks to bring glory and honour to Jesus Christ. This came back to me while interviewing and reflecting on the three amazing people we had the privilege of meeting yesterday.

As a matter of course, we ask questions of candidates during interviews that try and find out how they might support, no matter what their own faith perspective, a Christian foundation and approach to “being school”. The clumsy wording of yesterday’s 2 questions (apologies to candidates, by the way – that was my verbosity) was as follows:

  • As you know, this school was rooted in the desire to be a Christian school looking outward to all and welcoming all. This remains a basic intention of governors and leaders at this school. How would you, no matter what personal faith perspective you may have, lead this school to being more effectively Christian in a largely secular society?
  • The ethos of this school is modelled as far as we can, on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Can you tell us what you understand by servant leadership?

The answers we got to the first questions focused, as they nearly always do, on the relationship between a candidate’s own belief system and how that might reflect ours. But that is NOT what the question is about. The question is all about whether a candidate has looked hard at our agreed school vision (two clicks on the website needed), at the parable of the sower and its implications, and (if they follow it deeper) the role of love at the heart of the gospel, and thus at the heart of our vision, which begins:

At our heart is an ever-increasing understanding of God as the source of love. Because we know each child as a unique treasure, we value each other, treating each other as we would expect to be treated ourselves.  Being motivated by love, we strive to be a community where everyone works for the good of everyone else.

The second question is all about whether a candidate has a clearly focused view of how leadership exists to serve the led. Those who struggled to answer it simply needed a paradigm shift, an articulation in their own view of the purpose of leadership. Most leaders in primary schools get this, but few relate it to a belief system, and we should. We are not good at pushing our understanding to the limit, as we ought to. (A good example of this, by the way, is that many teachers say that they have chosen teaching as a vocation. That implies that they have been called, by someone or something beyond themselves. My question is, and it is one that few seem to ask – who is doing the calling?)

What unsettled me yesterday was the realisation that in trying to articulate Christian values – or Christian virtues, which is perhaps more to the point, if we accept a virtue as a lived-out value – is that we depart from the historicity and purpose of the gospel.

God actually came in flesh in the form of his beloved son, Jesus Christ, in the reign of Augustus Caesar in a small province in the eastern Mediterranean where for hundreds of years he had been demonstrating his glory and power to a group of people who he had called to be his own. Jesus Christ taught and had a public ministry of never-before-seen power and authority and affected thousands of people, upsetting an important power structure in the process, and inspiring a group of followers to “turn the world upside down”. Following his death (in which he took upon himself, an deep and sacrificial love, as a sinless man, all the sins of the world, and paid for them – that is, he took their legal punishment) and resurrection (in which he established an everlasting kingdom on earth and defeated death as having a hold on humankind) he disappeared into a parallel “spirit” realm and some days later sent his Holy Spirit in such undeniable power that within a fortnight some 10000 people had become his followers and were empowered by that same Spirit to go over the whole Mediterranean world and preach to millions of people, mainly the poor and downtrodden, who had nothing to do with the original tribe God had shown his glory to. So much so, in fact, that within 300 years the entire empire had (and the consequences of this are not pretty) converted to follow this faith. codex_sinaiticus

The documentation that supports this – the New Testament – is the best-attested collection of manuscripts in the ancient world by an order of magnitude (compare the 5664 partial or complete manuscripts of the New Testament in the original Greek language, plus over 9000 copies in early translations into contemporary eastern Mediterranean languages, many of which date from 325-350 AD – 300 years after the first writing of them, with the 643 copies of the next best attested work, Homer’s Iliad, dating from the 2nd century onwards, about 1000 years after Homer wrote the work). Many other well-known works have no more than 1 or 2 manuscript copies, usually from hundreds of years later.

People can say what they like about values, but being Christian rests upon the historic foundations outlined here. And our school must somehow rest on the same historical foundations. These are not things to be believed – they are there to be researched and then believed. Being Christian is being true to history, not simply adopting a bunch of values derived from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The second thing that unsettled me is that in adopting values and “trying to live a life” we somehow depart from the reality of Jesus in our lives. We do the works and say the words, but lose the fact that his Holy Spirit lives and breathes through us and is transformational, bringing glory and peace to lives broken by fear, marriage failure, abuse, addictions, and that we carry around in our body the authority and power to release captives in the name of Jesus Christ, if only we were bold enough to do this.

The challenge to us is this – how do we do this in the context of a school, as educators and as Christians? We are conscious – all of us who love Jesus Christ and who work at Christ the Sower – of his protection and care, the way he fights for us and speaks to us and directs our paths. But turning this into some other form of “educational power”, seeing lives transformed not just in educational terms but because of the direct action of God’s Holy Spirit on the lives of children and adults around us, this is the nub of our calling as Christians, and the reason I began this blog.

Happy Tenth Birthday, Christ the Sower! May we who work in you be worthy of the name you bear.

 

 
 
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About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011, looking to make education effective for the whole child and keeping a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for all our children. The views on this blog are all my own, and not in any way those of the school I lead!

5 responses »

  1. kayetkm says:

    I always enjoy reading our blog, it can be more or less relevant to my world but I am always interested. Today’s post particularly resonates with me. I live on the other side of the world, I train, write and research about religious education pedagogy and am convinced that love is at the heart of our teaching. It is interesting that you comment on calling, this is very important for the teachers I have interviewed, and like you I am interested not just that they are called, but who the caller is. If love is at the heart of our teaching, then of course, Christ must be at the heart of all that we do. Thanks again for your post. And if it is a gift to live in Milton Keynes perhaps I’ll visit one day 🙂

    • Kaye, thanks for commenting. I see from your “about” page that you are studying Christian pedagogy for your doctorate. This is something that we have looked at and want to incorporate in our new curriculum. We have started with the work of Trevor and Margaret Cooling – their website whatiflearning.co.uk is an inspiration to those of us who want to have a more Christian and ethical approach to the content of the curriculum, but without straying into some of the murkier waters of ACE and its ideology. I would be interested to hear of some other influences in Christian pedagogy that you have enountered. Huw.

      • kayetkm says:

        My doctorate is due in three weeks. I’d be interested in talking more about this, and will write more when I can.

  2. Thanks, Kaye. I am likewise interested in a discussion!

  3. kayetkm says:

    Now that I’ve finished my thesis I’ve got the time to talk more about this.Here are some of my thoughts. I do think love is at the core of the way we as Christians teach. The example of Christ’s love compels us to teach with love.
    Interestingly, some of the writers who helped me to think this through are not Christians. Derrida’s ideas on conditional and unconditional hospitality helped me to think about what it means to offer unconditional hospitality to the students we teach. I think this links beautifully with the hospitality that a loving God offers His people.
    Nel Noddings who talks about caring in teaching also guided some of my thinking. She describes how students are more ready to learn and to participate in learning when they believe they are cared for; and that students need and want teachers to care for them as people and “to convey this care through listening and responding to their expressions of concern” (Noddings, 2005, p. 147). I cannot ignore the work of Max van Manen, and his notion of the pedagogic relation where the teacher intentionally “stands in a caring relation to children” either.
    Noddings argues that an ethic of care should be at the heart of education but it is “not a form of agapism. She states that the ethic of care has: “no command to love nor, indeed any God to make the commandment”. And this is where Noddings and I must part. I think a teacher’s love is a form of agapism, and that we take our lead from the unconditional love of God. Agape is a hospitable love that “is freely given to all, irrespective of their evident failings and inadequacies, and the necessity of receiving anything in return” (Halpin, 2009, p. 92).
    So much more could be said of the connection between love and Christian teaching: of being an ambassador for Christ, of how grace plays out in a classroom, the place of servant leadership, of our role as gardeners who lovingly tend the soil and growing plants, and following the example of Christ in how we seek the good of our students. But these are some of my thoughts.
    Kaye

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