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The blog

Hospitality - a very Christian value

posted Thursday 19th June 2014 by Gill Robins 

At the recent EurECA conference, Experience and Expertise in Christian Pedagogy, I attended a fascinating workshop on avoiding conflict in our classrooms. It wasn’t quite the standard reflection on conflict resolution that I expected – it was much, much more. It looked at some of the causes of conflict and how, as Christian teachers, we can address them. Lazlo Demeter, a Hungarian presenter who works as a trainer with ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) Europe, suggested a range of reasons why conflict arise, many of them either to do with factors external to our classrooms, or due to unresolved baggage that pupils bring with them when they walk through the door.

One word in particular grabbed my attention and got me thinking, because in contemporary use it implies an industry, which provides a service at a cost. It was the word ‘hospitality’. What does the word mean to you? The dictionary has two definitions: the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers, and relating to or denoting the business of entertaining clients, conference delegates or other official visitors. Christian teachers, Lazlo suggested, should exercise hospitality in their classrooms. Well, he clearly didn’t mean ‘entertain’ which is the thrust of the dictionary definitions and which rather skates over the full meaning of the concept. So what does the Bible say?

Answer: a great deal. ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers’ (Hebrews 13:2), ‘Show hospitality to one another without grumbling’ (1 Peter 4:9), ‘You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:34) and ‘hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined’ (Titus 1:8, all quotations ESV). Clearly, God wants us to be hospitable not in the sense of entertaining, but in a much deeper sense, and it’s not an optional extra. It is fundamental to our work for God.

So, we are to welcome people, even strangers from other lands. We are to love them as we love ourselves, in other words, to consider their needs not at the expense of our own, but as equal with them. We should seek to care for others just as willingly as we care for ourselves. Hospitality is about perceiving the needs of others and doing our best to meet them and it’s also about service (1 Timothy 5:10).

So what does this mean in practice, in our schools, every day? The practice of Christian hospitality is about inclusivity. We look for God’s gift in each pupil, we treat each one with dignity and we teach each pupil according to their need. We also provide an environment where individual needs to belong are met and in doing so, we model to our pupils how to practice hospitality towards each other. If we are leaders, we have a role in helping our staff to accept responsibility for practising such hospitality to everyone in the school, not just those who conform to particular norms.

A hospitable classroom is one in which the fruit of the Spirit grows in abundance. And it’s not just any hospitality – this is Christian hospitality, because we are ‘Rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man’ (Ephesians 6:7 ESV). This is what makes us distinctive as Christian teachers, regardless of the context in which we work.

Gill Robins

The path of the pedagogue

posted Friday 6th June 2014 by Gill Robins
In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul wrote that ‘the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ’ (Galatians 3:24).  In fact, he personified the law by describing is as our pedagogue which leads us to Christ, and it is picture language which Paul’s contemporary readers would have well understood.
Our modern word ‘pedagogy’ is defined as ‘the art and science of education’. But this isn’t where the word started its life. In Greek, it derived from paido, the word for boy, and agogos, the word for leader, so a pedagogue was someone who led a child. This is the sense in which Paul uses the word.
In the Roman culture, the role of pedagogue was assigned to a slave. His job was to take complete responsibility for the child from the age of seven, teaching him to read and laying foundations for later learning. From the age of seven, academic learning was managed by the grammaticus, but the pedagogue remained with the child until the age of 16, leading his master’s child to school, supervising, disciplining  and training. He carried a ferula, or master’s rod, as a sign of his authority and he was there, 24/7, to protect and care. Think of it as a form of personalised learning.
What are the implications of this for us as teachers? The key is contained in the phrase ‘leading his master’s child’. Today we are both pedagogue and 
grammaticus, and for 30 pupils at a time, not just one. But we still, as Christians, are charged with leading our master’s children. Each student whom we teach is made in the image of God and we are entrusted, just for a short time, as each student’s pedagogue. 
The pedagogue must have been a much trusted slave, to be given the care of his master’s child. At the end of the 16 years, the pedagogue was charged with returning to his master an upright citizen who was a credit to Rome and a reflection not of the pedagogue’s values, but those of his master. And it is the same for us as Christian teachers. We, too, are charged with reflecting God’s values in our teaching, in the hope of returning students to our Father who honour God and who are citizens not just of our country, but also of his kingdom.
In what ways are we reflecting our master’s values through our teaching?
Gill Robins

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


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