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The blog

A tale of two children

posted Wednesday 28th May 2014 by Robert Hall

Last weekend we went to listen to the band.  Picture the scene: a Victorian bandstand filled with brass band musicians and their instruments.  Hundreds of folk relaxing on the grass, listening.  Generous amounts of sunshine everywhere except under the majestic and elderly trees with their recently acquired mantle of new leaves.  We sat in the shade of the canopy of a venerable copper beech on rising ground, a great vantage point from which to hear the band and engage in people watching.  And there were plenty of people.  Everyone was with someone.  Relationships aplenty; observing the interactions between them was totally absorbing.

About ten metres away from our vantage point was a huge and unusual pine which dropped cones at intervals during the afternoon.  This delighted the children who assiduously gathered them as if they were manna from heaven.  The trunk of this extraordinary specimen was vast and beautiful, spirally patterned, and its roots formed a gnarled, tangled plinth around its base.  This plinth is a great place for children to clamber or perch as it gives them the impression that they have begun to climb the tree although they are scarcely off the ground.

Two children, aged around four and six, spotted the tree, ran to it and began to clamber over the roots, hotly pursued by their minder, a grandmother perhaps. She was the kind of person who might, at one time, have been a deputy headteacher, (discipline).  She harangued the children in a fashion which would have dismayed the sturdiest teenager or member of staff.  Even her body language was intimidating.  At my safe vantage point ten metres away, I felt a tinge of fear.  Clearly this lady had been charged with their care for the afternoon at least, and didn’t appreciate the mindset of the average four year old who cannot resist an exciting and unusual challenge, and does not think in terms of rational risk assessments, and doesn’t have a picture of ambulances and hospitals for ever in the back of their mind.  What struck me was the children’s response.  Whereas I was cowed at ten metres, they looked at her with blank incomprehension.  What were they doing that was wrong?  Nothing bad could possibly happen.

At the very same time, on the other side of the huge tree trunk, was a very different picture.  A young parent was playing with his child.  The child was balancing on the tree roots, and the father was holding him steady.  Emboldened by the security of the parent, the child proceeded to walk up the tree, their body eventually horizontal, their feet firm against the bark, their shoulders held firmly by their father.  He dropped his feet safely to the ground and began the ascent all over again.  This happened several times and it was pure delight.

I could not but help seeing sharp and stark contrast between one side of the tree and the other.  Clearly, we need more parents who engage in playing with their children, keeping them secure and teaching them to trust.  We need fewer parents, or grandparents, who stop their children from experimenting, discovering and delighting in new experiences.

Similarly we need more teachers who engage with pupils, keeping them secure and teaching them to trust, creating adventurous learning environments where they can flourish.

We must encourage teachers to provide these conditions.  Headteachers and others in authority would do well to learn the lesson of the tree and begin to trust their teachers. 

Reflecting on it, I wonder if the grandmother figure was a retired Ofsted inspector?  

Robert Hall

Not just playing at soldiers

posted Thursday 15th May 2014 by Gill Robins 
A conversation this week left me thinking about the challenges that we face in our work as teachers. As I look back over my teaching life and the changes that have occurred to the profession, I can see a very different challenge for today’s young teachers (my own adult children among them) to any that I faced.
I started teaching in the days when Christian values were still acknowledged as part of our social fabric and although ‘becoming a Christian’ was thought of as a bit extreme, nobody really objected much: viewpoints were tolerated, if not respected. In fact, during the years when I was at university and for many years beyond, intolerance was probably the worst sin anyone could commit, in human terms. 
But today, the picture is very different. Our society is economically driven by the twin engines of social mobility and economic success, ensuring that our education service espouses consumerist and materialist values. Where is the room for Christian values in this? The answer is, ‘Nowhere obvious’. And that, I think, is the challenge facing today’s young Christian teachers: how to teach from a Christian perspective, sharing values like respect, kindness, patience and generosity. For example, are we teaching children to read just to ensure their academic, and therefore economic, success? Or are we teaching them to read so that they can become independent explorers and thinkers, able to evaluate all that they encounter and make up their own minds about issues like belief, faith and values?
Throughout my teens, I used to spend my summer holidays working on an Open Air Mission team, which involved street evangelism each evening. I had a protected upbringing, so the first time we were accosted by an aggressive foul-mouthed drunk, I was badly shaken. When we got back to the church where we were staying, the leader said (and I’ve never forgotten it) ‘Gill, we’re in a war. We aren’t just playing at soldiers.’ 
The same is true of teaching today. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that ‘We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world’ (CEV). The forces of consumerism, materialism, secularism, humanism, and a world in which man has replaced God with himself, inform political decisions about education content. It requires a radical repositioning of our thinking to move beyond this and change the education landscape. I often tweet and write about What If learning – a way of being for a distinctively Christian teacher, as an answer to the challenge.
As always, God does not leave us to tackle this challenge alone. Ephesians 6:10 tells us to ‘let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong. Put on all the armour that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil’s tricks’ (CEV). We work and teach in the Lord’s mighty strength, so however tough it seems (and it is tough) the Lord’s strength will be enough. This is true for every generation, regardless of the challenge. So if you are a young teacher, or if you are feeling daunted by godless values around you, trust the Lord’s strength. Don’t just play at soldiers. Work out what form   ‘powers in the spiritual world’ takes in contemporary society, then step out in boldness to meet the challenge with, and for, God.
Gill Robins

Living in trust

posted Thursday 8th May 2014 by Gill Robins

How can anyone begin to make sense of the murder of a kind, caring and widely respected teacher, just doing her job on an ordinary day in an ordinary classroom? How can anyone move beyond the shock and the realisation, especially given the ethos of the school, that there, but for the grace of God, go I? Yes, it was a random act, unprecedented in any school in our largely peaceful country. Yes, it was unexpected and yes, its coming was unseen and unpredictable. And that is what makes it so unsettling.

Following her death, some questioned (not for the first time) whether metal detectors should be installed in schools, to protect both staff and students. The Head of Corpus Christi Catholic College was quick to say that this was not what Ann Maguire would have wanted. Installing metal detectors in schools is like locking children in their bedroom for misbehaviour – it’s an admission of defeat.

Ann Maguire, who had taught in the same school for more than 40 years, epitomised all that is best in our education service. The subject which she taught was Spanish, but her teaching encompassed so much more than just language lessons. She taught countless students about trust, about integrity and about how to care, and she taught by the example of her life. But she understood, too, about the need for high expectations – the very highest that they could achieve, according to her pupils. Less than their best wasn’t acceptable, and many students past and present have paid tribute to her insistence that half measures weren’t good enough either for her or for them. Colleagues, too, have paid tribute to the generosity of her support and advice born out of her many years of experience in the profession. Her death is an agonising loss to those who loved her, and it is a loss, too, to her students, her school and the community which she served and in which she was so widely known and respected.

There is another irreversible loss, too, for a teenager whose life will never be the same again; a teenager whose plans and hopes and dreams may never be realised, also with a family whose lives are in ruins. Metal detectors will find knives. But they can never detect the anger or the hatred that motivates a person to pick up a tool and use it as a deadly weapon. Only God can see that: the Bible tells us ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV).

The school prayer at Corpus Christi is:
Today as we WORK together, we ask you; be with us, Lord.
Today as we LEARN together, we ask you; be with us, Lord.
Today as we PRAY together, we ask you; be with us, Lord.
Today as we GROW together, we ask you; be with us, Lord.
Today as we live our MISSION, we ask you; be with us, Lord.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, ‘We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us,’ (2 Corinthians 5:20) and that is why, as we live out our mission in the places where God has sent us, we will continue to work in open, caring trust with all those around us.

Gill Robins


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