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The blog

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

The mark of a true ambassador

posted by Gill Robins  Thursday 24th April 2014
What an Easter break. There were the predictable union calls for industrial action. There were declarations that Easter is all about caring for the poor: it isn’t, of course, it’s about our glorious salvation from eternal death as a result of which we should, as the Pope encouraged, take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  It’s a gospel for the poor and disenfranchised, and rich, self-sufficient power brokers alike.  And then there was the moment when the Prime Minister decided it was time, in the infamous words of Alistair Campbell, to ‘do God’. 
Was this political expediency to capture middle England from UKIP?  A shrewd move to distance himself from atheists Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg in advance of the election?  An encouragement to Christians to pick up the pieces of broken Britain, neatly aligning with the Lords Spiritual and simultaneously improving care for the destitute with no expenditure from the public purse?  Or a genuine statement of embryonic faith?  Well, as God told Samuel when he was looking for a kingly figure to anoint, ‘the LORD looks at the heart’, 1 Samuel 16:7 and despite the many column inches devoted to its analysis, we don’t actually know what motivated David Cameron to say what he did.
Into the midst of these utterances from the great and the good, there came an article from Lynsey Wilson, Head of RE at The Redhill Academy in Nottinghamshire.  It recounts her four year journey with her students from rookie teacher to the selection of her students by the Religious Education Council as Young Ambassadors for RE.  She tells her story with a vibrancy and passion that I won’t attempt to describe – it’s best to read the article yourself.
What struck me was her students’ enthusiasm for examining values and belief systems in order to understand people.  And in doing so, they learnt to challenge their own thinking and what they thought they knew, learning much more about themselves in the process of understanding others.  The quality of the students’ work has led to appearances on BBC Radio 4 and a chance to visit Westminster to address MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Group on RE. 
It’s a shining example of excellence in RE teaching.  It’s not confessional.  It doesn’t proselytise.  It teaches students to think, analyse, evaluate and challenge.  And in doing so, it also provides a shining example of best practice in teaching itself, nurturing the spiritual, cultural and emotional development of young people alongside their academic growth. 
If you ever wonder what difference you’re making as a Christian in education, ponder on the content of this article.  Jesus never forced his opinions.  He shared.  He discussed.  He cared.  Then he let people decide for themselves.  Living out kingdom values in front of students and colleagues every day, whatever subject or age group we teach, is what marks us as true ambassadors for God.
Gill Robins


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